A good bike computer can be a great way for you to improve your training.
Competitive cyclists, triathletes, and weekend athletes are continuously looking for getting more out of their rides, adding to the training quality and precision. There are a few ways of tracking your cycling, ranging from a multipurpose cycling or tri watch to using an app like May my Ride. If you really want to go all-out, you can invest in a cycling power meter, but then you are talking a significant cash outlay — usually $600 or more.
For most cyclists, one of the best devices to track progress is with a top-notch cycling computer which will mainly keep a record of your speed, distance, and location. Because bike computers are purpose-built for cycling, they really hit the mark for someone who wants to be more informed about their ride stats.
The good news is that you can find a good bike computer at an affordable price, and there are numerous nice cycling computers to choose from. Expect to pay anywhere from $350 for a fully-functioning, wireless computer that is compatible with apps and smart trainers, to $35 for something incredibly basic. To help you with deciding which product to get, we’re presenting you the best items that offer you plenty of awesome functions and come with useful features.
Here are our favorites right now.
Wahoo Elemnt Bolt
Best for people who want a sleek, functional computer. Wahoo has been making excellent bike computers for a long time, and the Elemnt Bolt is a mainstay in the lineup. It is similar to the Elemnt (featured next) in functionality, but is smaller and more aerodynamic.
The Elemnt Bolt has a nice, sleek body and flawlessly integrates with a special smartphone app. It’s a very user-friendly product with screens can be set up through your phone. By syncing with your phone, you’ll be always up to date with your speed, time, distance, and elevation without having to constantly remove the computer from your bike — which is easily done with unit’s bluetooth functionality. One thing we love about the Wahoo brand is that it is also the maker of one of our favorite smart trainers, creating a fully-compatible system for indoor training as well. This helps them be really dial-in when it comes to understanding the precision behind smart bike training, and it helps that they are a brand we trust.
With a pressure-based altimeter, you can get good elevation readouts — although that functionality is now just as good by using GPS. The 15 hours of battery life is pretty good among the units we looked at in this review. Our experience is that setup is a breeze in terms of mounting and starting to use it. You will probably spend the most time customizing it so your in-ride feed is exactly how you want it. This might mean setting up an app like Strava, or focusing on being able to very quickly see your pace and mileage.
The Bluetooth communication for getting call & text alerts, as well as the turn by turn navigation are also integrated, which is extremely useful as long as you are careful with it on the road. Find it here.
Best for anyone wanting a “tried-and-true”, all-purpose bike computer. While the Bolt (above) is a smaller and more aerodynamic version of the Elemnt, it can be argued that the original Elemnt is actually the headliner of Wahoo’s bike computer lineup. It is a little larger than the Bolt, has a little longer battery life, and is quite popular. It might also be a better option for those with triathlon bikes, because it has a better time-trial bar (or aerobar) mounting ability (the Bolt is best using an “out front” mount, where it would extend in front of the bars.) The out front mounting, though, might actually be preferred for some. it is all a matter of personal preference.
The Wahoo Elemnt is powerful and really simple to use. Like the Bolt, it nicely pairs with its companion smartphone app and gets all the settings, together with the GPS integrated. Some features that make this computer stand out include electronic shifting integration, Strava live segments, LED indicators if the zones are exceeded, and turn by turn navigation. The menu is easy to handle and, according to most users, everything syncs flawlessly.
A top seller in this market, it is a great all-around computer for anyone if you are willing to invest the $300 or so. Well worth it, in our opinion, for people who want to be able to track their training without relying on a smart phone or watch. Find it here.
Lezyne Mini GPS
If you want something small and simple, the Lezyne Mini might be a great choice might be a great choice for you. With a compact, neat design, this lovely cycling computer is perfect for those of you searching for a device that’s easy peasy to use and covers off the majority of the basic functions. It’s small, thin, lightweight, and features a customizable display. In terms of metrics, it displays the time of the day, temperature, speed, distance, time, and everything you’d want from a basic, yet very handy product. This is not the choice for people who want to glance down at their computer and see a multi-variable readout on everything from their VO2 max to Strava segment status, but is ideal if you just want simplicity with reliable GPS. Battery life has been reported to be shorter-than-expected in some cases (unverified by us). This is the choice if you are on a budget but still want good smart, wireless features. Find here.
CatEye Velo 7 Cyclocomputer
Lacking some of the features and wireless technology, we know that some people just want a basic computer that won’t break the bank. The CatEye Velo 7 Cyclocomputer amazes with its battery that lasts up to three years. Moreover, it features a wired speed sensor and displays all the stats you need: clock, current, maximum & average speed, pace arrow, total & trip distance, as well as elapsed time. This device knows exactly when you stopped, thus it will automatically stop averaging speed and counting time whenever you’re caught at a red light or take a coffee break. If you can spend more for wireless, do it. If you need to save money, this is a great choice if your budget is under $50. Find here.
Garmin Edge 520
Garmin has definitely won cyclists’ admiration with its Edge 520 computer. This product is able to track your ride through GPS and even estimate your recovery by indicating when you’re ready to go back training. How cool is that? One of the best features, though it that it is highly-compatible with Strava. You can easily see Strava segments and the computer can basically turn into a navigation system as you are following a specific ride. It will alert you when you are on various segments, too. The 520 features a bunch of data screen segments, and offers a rich metrics choice. You can sync it to your smartphone, as well. As an added bonus, we love the ability to sync with weather apps and tell you when the rain is going to start! This is a good all-around computer from a maker we have trusted for years, and depending on where you find it, it may be a little less expensive than other options. Find here.
So Is a Bike Computer Worth It?
We sure think so. Here is the bottom line: If you are at all serious about your training, you need to add precision to it. Some will say that you should simply go out and ride, and enjoy the day. We get it. But for people who would like to get faster, science has shown that you need to be able to track your effort and dial-in your workouts with some level of precision.
In our mind, there are only four ways to measure the bike, and a computer is one of the best and most economical.
You could always opt for a multisport watch such as one from Garmin or Polar. These have the advantage of being used in the run and swim too, but the downside is that it is less safe and convenient to glance as your wrist than to peek down at a well-placed computer. Another option is to simply use your phone with the right app, but there are some downsides there too. A phone isn’t very waterproof in the rain, and the battery life of a phone just isn’t what it is with a good computer.
Finally, you an always go the route of a power meter, but a power meter only provides the hardware for measuring your power, you still need to have a readout somewhere. There is where the combination of a computer and power meter can be really potent.
How to mount a cycling computer on your bike
- Once you’ve taken your computer out of its packaging and installed the batteries, you’ll have some components to work with, such as the computer itself, the handlebar mount, the transmitter, the magnet, and the zip (cable) ties.
- It’s highly recommendable to program the computer prior to installation. After you’ve done that, the first part you need to install on your bike is the computer mount on the handlebar.
- Start by getting it oriented the right way. Take the bottom clip and face it towards you. Grab the ties, feed them through the mount’s bottom slots, and then attach it to the handlebar. Don’t attach it very tightly; slide it up and down the bar until you figure out exactly where you want to place your computer. Once you’re satisfied with the position, tighten the ties.
- Next, grab your computer and slide it into place.
- Continue by placing the transmitter onto the fork. Mount it on the front part of the fork rather than the back. This way, if the transmitter gets knocked into the spokes, the wheel will push it away, not suck it into the spokes. Put the ties through the holes and attach the transmitter to the fork. Let it a bit loose until you make some final adjustments.
- Loosen the magnet up until there’s enough space to fit the spoke into its smallest gap. Slide it onto the spoke, line it up with the transmitter, and tighten it back down onto the spoke.
- Make the final adjustments to the transmitter; make sure it’s even with the magnet, spin the wheel to see if you’re getting a speed reading and if everything’s fine, tighten the ties down.
- Cut all the excess ties and you’re ready to go.
- For wired computers, wrap the wire around either the brake or the derailleur cable in order to take up any kind of excess. You want to be sure that when you have the transmitter connected, there’ll be no slack in the cable anywhere near the wheel. Wrap it tight enough around the cable to get rid of any slack, yet don’t limit your ability to turn the handlebars.
- Test it in a few different postures, and make sure you absolutely have full range-of-motion in your steering. If the cable is too tight, loosen it.
- After you’ve got it all mounted up, spin the wheel to make sure you have an accurate reading on your cycling computer screen and tighten everything down.
These days, cycling computers have become a big part of the cycling landscape. And, with so many wonderful products to choose from, all you need to do is pick the one that best suits your needs and enjoy your rides.
About the Author
Von Collins is an avid triathlete, cyclists, runner, and fitness enthusiast. He is the author of the popular Your First Triathlon Guide, and several other fitness-related books. Perpetually in training mode, he is constantly testing new gear and talking with other athletes about their observations.