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Cycling computers

Computers And GPS Guide

Cycling computers and GPS devices are fantastic gadgets for recording your rides. They show you how far you’ve ridden, how fast you are going, direct you where to go, and even connect to sensors on your bike to give you more info about your riding techniques. Cycling computers allow you to upload the data to training apps like Strava, giving you a chance to see you progress, share your adventures with your friends and analyse your ride to identify areas for improvement, making training that much more efficient.


There is a wide selection of cycling computer available, suiting every budget and coming with a variety of different features that can improve your ride for the better. Many computers connect to your phone, giving you real-time info on your rides.  This makes it ideal for training and can help you improve your training while you’re at it, giving you greater motivation and gives you a better perspective of how to pace yourself.

Cycling computers come as either wired or wireless, and this will depend on your budget and the features you’re looking for.


Wired cycle computers

Wired cycling computers are often the most basic options available, however they do give a range of features that recreational cyclists will find extremely helpful. Wired computers connect to a sensor by your wheel to give information about your speed and progress.

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Wired Cycle Computers

Wireless cycle computers

Wireless cycling computers are more widely available than wired computers, and offer a much wider range of features, catering to recreational cyclists who take to the streets over the weekends, all the way to professional riders who use computers to manage their training regimes. Entry level wireless computers can only connect to their own sensors via basic digital sensors. Mid-level to high end wireless cycle computers can easily connect to other devices such as smartphones, laptops, turbo trainers and other sensors on your bike via Bluetooth or ANT+, allowing them all to be interconnected to give your training and riding that extra level of information.

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Wireless Cycle Computers

Basic Cycle Computers (wired and wireless)

Basic cycle computers are made so you can see your cycling progress in real-time, like speed and average speed, distance ridden and riding time. Wired computers are almost all basic, while basic wireless computers will have added features, like being able to connect to other devices, as well as some sensors. 

  • 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 Cycle Computers

Intermediate cycling computers start to pack in the serious features. They begin to allow compatibility and connectivity to sensors, such as heart rate and cadence sensors, and power meters. This level of cycle computers requires a number of sensors in order for some of the features to work, like the heart rate indicator, where the appropriate sensor is needed in order to give that specific information. GPS cycle computers are mostly sold without sensors, though they are sometimes sold in a bundle with some sensors. Many also come with GPS functionality, allowing you to do without a sensor for tracking your progress, as well as connect to apps like Strava.

Intermediate Cycle Computers
  • Cadence monitor – Records the revolutions per minute by a sensor either on the chainstay or the down tube and a magnet on the back of the crank arm which triggers the sensor
  • Heart rate/pulse monitor - Helps you maintain an optimum level heart rate
  • Calorie counter - Shows how much energy you've burned
  • 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
  • Altimeter - Helps you calculate your vertical climbing and descending during your ride
  • Automatic data upload - Ideal for instantly sharing rides to applications such as Strava, Training Peaks and MapMyRide
  • Back-lit screens - Perfect for riding in the dark
  • Pacing alerts - Really handy for longer distance events
  • Lap function - Set a route and try and beat your fastest time
  • Connectivity – Can connect to your sensors, smartphone and computer, as well as your turbo trainer wirelessly for ease of use and data sharing

Advanced GPS Cycle Computers

Advanced cycle computers pack in all the training and recording features you can think of, including GPS navigation, so you can go out exploring while making sure your route is recorded for training purposes or future boasting. There is no need for a sensor t measure your speed, as the GPS uses satellites to track your location.

Advanced Cycle Computers
  • Navigation systems – Simple and easy to read, they both direct you where to go and measure how quickly you get to your destination
  • Speed comparator – Compares your daily training efforts, allowing you to see you progress
  • Freeze frame memory - Captures a snapshot of your display
  • 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
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What to look for when buying

Compatibility

Compatibility

Wireless computers use either a basic digital wireless connection, ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart to wirelessly connect to sensors and other devices. These are both wireless technologies that are used for exchanging data. ANT+ or Bluetooth Smart allow your cycle computer to connect to your smartphone or sensors on your bike without the need of wires. Certain sensors and computers will only use one or the other of these technologies, meaning that it’s very important to make sure all your devices are compatible. Some devices are only ANT+ or Bluetooth compatible, while others use both. It’s best to check that your cycle computer, sensors, smartphone and computer, as well as your turbo trainer can all work together to make a smooth training experience. Check out our Turbo Trainer guide to learn more about them.

Durable/Water resistance

Durable/Water resistance

Most cycling related devices are made tough, as they often face challenging weather conditions and are meant to withstand them all. Some computers that have altimeters need to have a small hole in it to measure the air pressure, and these may be more susceptible to water ingress. Most, however, will be more than capable of taking on the worst that the weather can dish out.

Usability

Usability

It’s worth checking that the buttons aren’t fiddly or too small, as riding with gloves can make some buttons difficult to use. When riding, you want to be able to easily press the right buttons and not have to stop to change settings. Some top-end computers have touch screen functions, making them even more user friendly.

Readability

Readability

As small and unobtrusive as you want a cycle computer to be, you also want to be able to easily read the display. If it’s too small, or the text/numbers are not clear, then it can be an unnecessary distraction when riding, as you’ll be struggling to read the computer. A nice, bright screen is good if you’ll be riding a lot at night, though some of the entry level options do not have this function.

Know what you need

Know what you need

If you’re going to leisurely rides in the mountains with friends and like to see your progress, there’s little point of getting a cycle computer with all the bells and whistles. However, if you’re serious about training, whether for fitness or racing purposes, you’ll want to get all the features you can, with matching sensors, so you optimise your training efficiency. Using a cycle computer can also be a good indicator of your health status, and can be an early warning system of any health concerns.

Mountable

Mountable

Cycle computers should be easy to fit to any kind of bar size or shape, and either come with bolt-on mounts or strap-on mounts. Many companies also offer after-market mounting solutions that you can use to get the exact fit you want, some even offering aerodynamic options. If you want to be able to swap the computer between bikes, it’s worth looking at getting more than one mount, as many computers can be clipped in and out of mounts, making changing between bikes a breeze.