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cycling computers

Computer and GPS guide


"Computers are magnificent tools for the realisation of our dreams"
bike computer graphic
  • COMPUTER BENEFITS:
  • Ideal for training
  • Improves technique
  • Great for pacing
  • Motivation and achievement
  • Can help with navigation

A cycling computer is a great gadget which records your rides for posterity, to share with others or to analyse and identify improvements. Put simply, a bike computer can tell you how fast you're going, how far you've gone, and how long you've been riding.

The more they cost, the more functions they'll have, so it's worth identifying what you need before you choose. Invest in the best you can to save a later upgrade. As you improve, your cadence or heart rate might become more important or navigation will stop you getting lost.

You can of course use a mobile phone app to record your ride, but it will drain your battery, hike up your data use and won't record information as accurately as a computer.


Cycle computer features

"Data is a precious thing and will last longer than the systems themselves." - Tim Berners-Lee

Cycle computer features increase the higher up the budget scale you go. However, basic models tend to have a surprisingly good range of functions.

Basic

Ok computer

  • Speedometer shows your current speed in miles or kilometres per hour (mph / km/h).
  • Odometer shows the distance you rode.
  • Riding time the time it took you to complete your ride.
  • Clock lets you keep track of time.
  • Average speed great for improving your training.
  • Mini USB lets you recharge your device and transfer data.

Intermediate

Computer revolution

  • Cadence measured by a sensor on either the chainstay or the down tube and a magnet on the back of the crank arm which triggers the sensor to measure the revolutions per minute.
  • Heart rate/pulse monitor see how fast your heart is racing.
  • Heart rate indicator helps you maintain an optimum level heart rate.
  • Calorie counter shows how much energy you've burned and an idea of how many cakes to eat in exchange.
  • Stopwatch a great tool for training so you can time yourself on a certain section.
  • Temperature shows you how hot/cold it is. Great for choosing attire before setting out.
  • Distance above sea level helps you calculate your effort to attack a hill climb.
  • Automatic data upload ideal for instantly sharing rides to applications such as Strava, Endomondo and MapMyRide.
  • Illumination perfect for riding in the dark.
  • Pace alert really handy for longer distance events.
  • Lap function set a route and try and beat your fastest time.
  • Courses store a course and then compete against yourself.
  • Auto shut down a battery-saving technique where the computer goes on standby after a period of inactivity.

Advanced

GPS, cadence and more

  • Navigation systems say goodbye to searching on Google Maps, directions on Post-Its or asking passers-by for help finding your destination.
  • Speed comparator compare your previous efforts with today's.
  • Freeze frame memory - captures a snapshot of your display.
  • Tracking slightly stalkerish function whereby your nearest and dearest can track your progress (and know when to put dinner on).
  • Waypoints/favourites/locations programme in your favourite pub or shop for instant navigation on the move.
  • Interval training puts you through your paces with mini sessions of exertion and recovery.

What to look for before buying

"Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." - Albert Einstein

DURABLE

Like anything cycle-related, you try to look after it, but eventually it gets a few scratches and dents. Look for a sturdy build with waterproofing for the great outdoors.

USEABLE

Check that the buttons aren't too fiddly and that you can still operate them with gloves on.

INTERCHANGEABLE

An additional mounts will let you swap a wireless computer easily between bikes.

READABLE

The head unit (the computer itself) is no good if the display is too small to read. Look for a nice bright screen with a good size font. A backlight is handy for cycling at night.

MOUNTABLE

The computer should be easy to fit to any kind of bar size or shape, preferably tool-free. Pay special attention when shopping for a device for a bike with oversize suspension forks. Sensor mountings should be easy to fit and be compatible with different frame size and shape and some magnets won't fit flat-bladed spokes.


Recommendations

There are a wide range of computers to choose from but hopefully this guide has helped you narrow down your search. It's all down to budget now…

Wired computers

Wired for sound

Put simply, wired computers have a wire from the head unit to a sensor, whereas wireless are wire-free.

Wired computers are best if you don't need to swap your computer between bikes and need to be carefully positioned so they don't interfere with your bike's functioning.


Wireless computers

The golden age of wireless

Wireless are wire-free - a stand-alone unit powered by a battery. Aesthetically, wireless computers look better but can suffer from interference.

An advantage is that they can easily be swapped between bikes with additional mounts.


Heart rate computers

Listen to your heart

These are specific machines for monitoring your heart rate.

Often in the form of a watch to record your pulse, they are great for showing how hard you're pushing it.


GPS computers

Sleeping satellite

These computers track your location via satellite, making them very accurate.

They work in the same way as car sat navs.


Accessories

Rage against the machine

There's a great choice of accompanying accessories, from cadence sensors, mounts, cases, batteries and software.