GPS Bike Computers, A Buyers Guide


GPS BIKE COMPUTERS, A BUYERS GUIDE

Investing in a bike computer can take your training to the next level, give you vital information on your performance and introduce you to a social community of like-minded riders. But with an increasingly busy market, which one do you go for? This guide will show you what to look for when buying a computer for your bike.


The Basics of GPS Cycle Computers

Numerous brands and a large choice of GPS bike computers can look like a confusing picture at first, however when stripped back to the basics a clearer image of what’s on offer is found. Getting down to the fundamentals will show you that bike computers give you either:

  • Performance data (for example speed, cadence and distance).
  • Navigation and mapping.
  • Combination of performance data, navigation and mapping.

 

These factors are the essential building blocks for all bike computers, the only difference between brands being how the data is produced and how advanced the connectivity of the device is. Technological advances in recent years have been pushed by the increased usage of GPS and carried further by the largest cycling tech brands in the industry.

 

Although non-GPS enabled units (those that need to use wires to calculate data) can still be found on the market, the widespread usage of GPS means most bike computers nowadays will work off GPS. This means no fiddly wires are needed and the data is calculated via a Global Positioning System – which in turn goes a long way in creating a cleaner looking bike!

 

All brands producing bike computers now offer a GPS unit and more and more household names in the cycle industry are delving into the computer market. This healthy competition means more intelligent, easier-to-use devises are engineered for a consumer that demands the best.

To make an informed decision and chose the right bike computer, you must first gage a good idea of what you want to use it for and what data you want the unit to give you. Going for the best of the best and paying for the high range products will give you a huge amount of potential, however if you are only after basic features there are plenty of top quality computers to entice you.

 

PERFORMANCE STATISTICS

The most basic performance data that you will find on all bike computers, be it an entry level CatEye or a top-of-the range Garmin are;

  • Distance: how far you have cycled measured in miles or kilometres.
  • Elevation: measured by a barometric altimeter in the device, elevation data can be gained with an accuracy of around +/- 10 feet.
  • Speed: measured in kilometres per hour or miles per hour, most devises will also give you data of speed averages and maximum speed.
  • Time elapsed: total time you have been cycling from point of pressing start.
  • Calorie consumption: total calories used from the start of your ride. The device will give you live statistics whilst on the bike of your calorie consumption and a total at the end of your ride.

From here, the ever developing world of performance data (and now recovery data) is continuous, and statistics that elite athletes use to train for that next big race win are all accessible. Examples of these advanced performance statistics are;

  • Heart rate: Heart rate monitoring enables you to measure ones heart rate in real time and record it for later fitness training.
  • Cadence: Cadence data enables you to see your live crank revolutions per minute and can be used to measure the rate at which the cyclist is pedalling or turning the pedals.
  • VO2 max: This is the maximum volume of oxygen that an individual can use and is measured in millilitres per kilogramme of body weight per minute.

Most manufactures of bike computers will have on offer a device which enables you to measure all, or most, of these performance statistics mentioned above.

 

MAPPING AND NAVIGATION

Taking bike computers to the next level and aimed at enhancing your cycling experience by considerable amounts is the introduction of mapping and navigation. Using the GPS capabilities of the device, paired with pre-loaded maps, many bike computers now offer turn-by-turn navigation on a detailed map which can be extremely helpful when riding somewhere unfamiliar. It gives you accurate guidance as to what the next turn is and enables you to assess how the road unravels ahead – for instance on a tight and twisty decent.

 

GPS mapping and navigation is only found on the more premium devices and in turn do have a higher price tag. Lesser detailed navigation can be found in the form of ‘breadcrumb trail’ mapping. This is where a line and an arrow present the correct direction so you can judge a rough estimate of where you need to be headed – and if you go off the route, the arrow goes off the route too so you know when you have gone wrong! Going for a bike computer that has this function can be a good compromise.

 

CONNECTIVITY AND SOCIAL PLATFORMS

Due to the accuracy of using GPS, the basic performance statistics can be registered through satellites alone, however, for pin point accuracy (and if you want to use your bike computer on an indoor trainer) sensors can be attached. For these to be connected, three commonly used communicators are put into use. These are Bluetooth, ANT+ and to a lesser extent WiFi.

ANT+

ANT+ is an open access platform that many GPS cycle computers use to increase the connectivity of their devices. ANT+ enables you to connect your device with a speed sensor, a heart rate monitor, a cadence sensor and power metre and have all these data lines communicate back to your device for live, in-ride statistics. Of course with the rise of social media and fitness platforms such as Strava and Garmin Connect, all this data is ready to upload to your smart phone or computer wirelessly with an ANT+ dongle.

 

BLUETOOTH

Much like ANT+, Bluetooth communicates between sensors and monitors to your bike computer. The big advantage over ANT+ is that Bluetooth is commonly used in smart phones meaning no extra dongle is required to upload data wirelessly. The rise of Bluetooth Low Energy is also appealing as less battery power is needed resulting in longer rides whilst still being connected.

 

GPS Bike Computers Recommended By Cycle Surgery

 

BEGINNER

Cateye Velo Wireless+ Cycle Computer

The Cateye Velo Wireless+ Cycle Computer offers a great entry to the cycle computer. Although not GPS enabled, the Wireless+ does what the name suggests and enables you to gain performance data wirelessly via sensors attached to your bike. Featuring all the performance data you need to get you going and start recording your training and boasts some great functions such as a carbon offset function and auto power saving mode.

 

INTERMEDIATE

Garmin Edge 25

A brand new model for 2016, the Garmin Edge 25 boasts incredible value for money for the amount of technology you get in this discreet, super lightweight unit. Featuring all the necessary data that you need to take you riding to the next level, this tiny device also is heart rate enabled meaning, heart rate data can be observed when connected with a monitor. Some fantastic features are also found on the Edge 25 including GLONASS enabled so better signals can be had, even under dense tree coverage.

ADVANCED

Garmin Edge 520/1000

At the highest level of GPS bike computers, the Garmin Edge 520 and Edge 1000 represent what can be achieved when pushing the boundaries. Featuring performance data capabilities that pro athletes use to train for that next race win, both these units feature heart rate and VO2 max that will take your training to the next level. The Edge 1000 also includes the benefit of OSM mapping enabling you to have turn-by-turn navigation you ride.