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Most think of cycling as a low-tech activity; you just jump on your bike and go. But some great devices can show you data about your ride, like current speed and the distance of your ride to your exact location or the number of watts you generate per kilogram of bodyweight. There are a lot of great options out there, but seven stand out.
One quick note: you can get a lot of information from cycling apps on your phone. But that often requires strapping your phone to your handlebar or stem, which looks a little goofy and doesn’t seem like the safest place for an expensive phone. But it’s certainly an option.
Best for new riders or those wanting only the basics.
If you want just the basics when it comes to riding statistics, and you don’t want to shell out a lot of money on a computer you won’t fully appreciate, the Sigma Sport BC 5.12 is a great option. Its screen displays speed, distance, total distance, ride time, and a clock — it’s about as simple as it gets. With auto-off and only a single button, once you get this computer set up, there’s very little you need to do other than get on and ride.
The BC 5.12 isn’t rechargeable, so you’ll need to replace the battery. Even so, reviews indicate that it could last up to a year, so it’s not something you’ll need to worry about much. There’s also an optional USB docking station that allows you to download your data.
Best for beginning riders who aren’t afraid of a few more numbers.
The Velo 9 is a great option for riders who are getting ready for an event or just like to know more about their ride. Current, average, and maximum speed; trip and total distance; elapsed time; calorie consumption; carbon offset; and a clock are all available on this nine-function computer. It still only has a single button, making operation easy.
A small lithium battery powers the Velo, and will last up to three years with around one hour of riding each day. The pace arrow is a nice touch and lets you know whether you’re currently above or below your average speed for the ride.
Best for riders looking for easy setup or a backlight.
While setting up a corded bike computer isn’t too much of a hassle, it’s definitely easier to get a cordless one working (though some people find they have occasional transmission problems). If you’re looking for a good cordless option, Cateye’s Micro Wireless will get you set up for less than $50, with nine functions (current, max, and average speed; two trip and total distances; elapsed time and stopwatch; and a clock) and a customizable display that shows you two different pieces of information at once.
The Micro Wireless also packs a backlight, which is great for low-light riding in the morning and evening. The computer and the sensor both use the same type of lithium battery, which is convenient, and they’ll last about a year before you have to replace them.
Best for riders who want to maximize efficiency in their training.
Monitoring your cadence is a great way to make sure you’re using your legs as efficiently as possible and the Sigma computer makes cadence tracking easy. The double wireless sensors make setup simple, and sixteen different functions mean you’ll have all the information you could want.
With the ability to work on two different bikes — and automatic recognition of which one it’s on — the BC 16.12 is great for multi-bike athletes (or those who aspire to buy another bike!). Its weatherproofing, backlight and optional docking station for data download round out this high-value computer.
Best for riders who want GPS capabilities without spending hundreds of dollars.
It used to be that you had to spend a significant chunk of money to get a GPS-enabled bike computer, but Garmin has been pushing their prices down for years, and the Edge 20 is their most affordable unit. It’s also one of the smallest, weighing in at less than an ounce. It can track your current and average speed, total time and distance, and calories burned, and it’ll also show you your current location on the screen.
While the Edge 20 doesn’t give you many features, it’s the most affordable way to get an industry-standard GPS from Garmin (the computer also uses GLONASS, a positioning system similar to GPS). The diminutive size is impressive, and the ability to plug it into your computer with the included USB cord to upload your data is very convenient.
Best for competitive riders or serious fitness enthusiasts.
If you’re a serious rider, you probably already know about Strava — it lets you compete over specific road segments with other riders using the app. The Edge 520 allows you compete on live segments, which can help boost your motivation and give you more information to track (just be careful; KoM attempts have resulted in a lot of crashes). Beyond that, you’ll get all the cycling information you could want: everything about your speed, time, mileage, cadence, heart rate (for strapped sensors), and even power if you have a power meter on your bike.
If you use both a power meter and a heart rate monitor, you can get a ton of information. For example, your functional threshold power, suggested recovery intervals, and VO2 max estimates. You also get notifications from a paired smartphone, which is cool; you shouldn’t answer your phone on your bike, but you can see who’s calling and pull over if it seems like it might be substantial. It’s pretty much everything you need a bike computer. (The Edge 520 Bundle includes a heart rate monitor, cadence sensor, speed sensor, and a couple of other useful accessories for $386.)
Best for gearheads for whom money is no object.
Garmin says this GPS is “competitors and serious achievers,” and they aren’t kidding. It has all of the features of the Edge 520, plus a load of other cool stuff, like a touchscreen, the ability to track other riders in your group, the capacity to download custom apps and data fields, and longer battery life. If you have a heart rate, cadence, or power sensor, you can hook those up too (if not, you can grab the Edge 820 bundle that includes heart rate, speed, and cadence sensors for $500).
If you’re thinking about buying something in this price range, you probably don’t need me to tell you: this is the best way to go. Garmin has a reputation for being one of — if not the — best GPS brands out there, and their cycling computers are well-built and work phenomenally well. If you have the money and want all of the information, you can’t top the Edge 820.
Which Will You Buy?
These seven bike computers run the gamut from the very straightforward and affordable to professional-level, both in features and price. All of the companies possess excellent reputations with track records for high-quality cycling electronics. All that’s left to do is figure out how much data you want!
Will you be buying a cycling computer soon? Will you buy one of the ones listed above? Or something else? Share your cycling thoughts in the comments below and we’ll talk!