Best Cycling Computer
The Best Cycling Computer is looked at here across a range of types of cyclists and what they need their cycling computers for.
If you are treating yourself or a loved one to a new GPS cycling computer (not watch) then you’ve come to the right place for the latest pre-Christmas 2017 recommendations. Luckily for you, it’s a great time to buy a great cycling ‘head unit’. At the mid- to lower end of the pricing there are many feature-full models to choose from and further up the pricing scale there are many technical innovations taking place for more serious tech-cyclists. There are also now some 2 year old models that are still surprisingly good, awesome even, and falling in price to more sensible levels as replacement versions are released.
THE BEST CYCLING COMPUTER FOR WHO?
I’m going to cover devices from $100/£100 and upwards to the high-end cycling computers/watches at over £/Eu/$4-500. You are lucky in that this year there are many well-featured head units with all the key bits of functionality even at the very lower end of that price range.
I’m going to recommend the best devices for the kinds of usage you might put them to. If you are looking for a recommendation to fit within a price range then that’s not what I am doing here, sorry. I think you may well be surprised though at some of the ‘bargain’ prices in some of the categories.
Here are the categories and, hopefully, you might be able to best fit yourself into just one of them. Please don’t take all the descriptions of the types of cyclists too seriously…THAT is a bit of fun, BUT the recommendations ARE SERIOUS.
Which category am I?
If in doubt just work out what you can afford and then add on $50 and buy the Garmin Edge with the highest number 520, 820,1000,1030 🙂
Categories and Special Categories for Best Cycling Computer
- MOUNTAIN BIKER
- WEEKEND/GROUP RIDER
- COOL CYCLIST
- WANNABEE CYCLIST
- BIKE-TECH GURU
- ALL ROUNDER
- THE PRESENT
Made by whom?
Bryton? Garmin? Polar? Wahoo? MIO/Magellan? Lezyne? Acer? O-Synce or Cateye? I’ve looked at most devices but have not considered imminent new brands like HAMMERHEAD nor others like Stages (Dash) where I just haven’t yet got around to it (aka it costs a lot of money to buy them all)
A standalone best cycling computer or an app or a watch?
These recommendations only look at cycling head units not smartphone apps. STRAVA is the popular & obvious choice for an app to use on your smartphone. There is a free version which is good and perfectly usable as well as a premium version offering some more features. If you are buying a high-end cycling computer then often you will also need a PAID-FOR STRAVA account to benefit from some of the innovative features. A year’s subscription to STRAVA PREMIUM can be a good present for a keen cyclist.
You could maybe also look at ridewithgps, WAHOO Fitness or sportrstracker (Suunto/Amer). Once you’ve searched for those, similar ones will come up in your app store.
Apps further complicate things as some offer high-end and/or niche functionality that you will NOT find on a cycling computer and that can work ‘standalone’ on your smartphone OR, in some case, an app within the Garmin hardware ecosystem might provide that niche functionality YOU are looking for. The usefulness of these may well depend on your level of seriousness as well as the associated sensors you already possess; notably a power meter.
Note: An app like STRAVA can be a POWERFUL AND CHEAP tool.
TOP TIP: If you want recommendations for a cycling device then make sure that the recommendation comes from a cyclist who has actually cycled in earnest with the real device and not just read the specs! Hint: You can tell by the stock photos that the ‘reviewer’ would likely not even own a wheel let alone a cycling computer. Please reward authentic, smaller sites like this whose owners are not salaried and who rely on your generosity in buying from one of the included Amazon links – thank you!
- ESSENTIAL READING: Best Triathlon Watches of 2017. Cycling watches there too! Probably the BEST cycling WATCHES are there…
- ESSENTIAL READING: Best Running Watches of 2017. Most running watches have half-decent cycling mode too.
- ESSENTIAL READING: Best Cycling Watch. Most watches havea half-decent cycling mode.
- ESSENTIAL READING: Best Power Meter.
Features of the best cycling computer
To ‘train well’ you will probably consider distance, time, power, speed, cadence and heart rate. The 3 key features you should look for as a minimum are:
- Heart Rate
Most products will meet those criteria with a couple of, often bundled, sensors.
I tend to assume that you are ‘training’. However, I’m sure MANY of you will NOT be ‘training’ and will want a cycling computer for many other reasons like commuting and pure recreation. So…
Other key feature sets cover
- Power meter support (for serious training)
- Barometric Altimeter (for those who are concerned with metres climbed)
- Navigation (for those who want to explore and those who want a BikeNav and those who want to follow simple routes)
- Durability (for MTB or commuting usage)
- Connectivity to special sensors: brake lights, proximity radar; and night lights
- Workouts and Intervals
- Connectivity to other people
- Connectivity to other services both in-ride (weather, STRAVA) or post-ride (STRAVA, TrainingPeaks)
- Connectivity to apps, sensors and wifi
Within each feature SET there will be many, many individual features – WAY too numerous to cover here.
The following list of recommendations links to individual cycling device reviews – there you will find the detailed features that I have taken into account when making the recommendation.
I used to ride with an early Polar sports watch and I used to strap it to my bike’s handlebars and revel in the ‘bike mode’. I think the only difference to ‘run mode’ was that it displayed speed rather than pace and it could also communicate with a miraculous thing called a cadence sensor – that I couldn’t afford at the time.
Bike tech has moved on considerably since then.
In my opinion bike technology DOES make a bit of a difference to your performance, enjoyment and perhaps even too to your motivation on those long rides or on those hard rides. But it is still the hours, miles, speed, recovery and cycling buddies that make the big differences. Whilst you might not see an Olympic track cyclist with too many gadgets whilst racing; you WILL see Grand Tour riders with the exact same kit that the Weekend Lycra boys and girls use. Those GT riders will use the tech kit to some degree, even though it has been supplied by their sponsors.
FUTURES FOR THE BEST CYCLING COMPUTER
Cycling is growing globally as an activity. Cyclists and triathletes typically spend quite a bit more money on their sporting gadgets than, say, runners. In general they also seem to want a few more bits of gadgetry than their running counterparts AND are often prepared to pay for that privilege. Cycling computers/watches are becoming part of ever-more complex apps & online sport-data ecosystems with a rider becoming ‘connected’ to: the sensors on his/her bike; the immediate environment (radar); weather; training plans; social media; locational information; fellow riders; watchers at home or the finish line; and more besides.
Garmin are at the forefront of this, covering all price ranges. Other than the smartphone, I can’t really see any other cycling computer manufacturer taking over that pedestal any time soon.
Despite Garmin ‘owning’ the cycling market place it is having some of that dominance gradually eaten in to by the likes of WAHOO and LEZYNE in selected sub-markets. And whilst Garmin will release at least one new 2018 product (Edge 530) we will also see new entrants to the market, like HAMMERHEAD (KAROO, Q4.2017).
OK, enough already, let’s see how they all stack up.
LEZYNE ENHANCED SUPER GPS
OK neither of us are Nicolas Vouilloz but we still want a device that won’t fall apart at the sight of either a splash of rain or distant tree root.
We are also not to be insulted by our tarmac-bound, 2-wheeled bretheren. We do have power meters. Yes really. We even know what GPS is…honest! But we draw the line at ridiculous automated bike brake lights, a real light has 6000 lumens and costs more than your neighbours ‘so-called’ mountain bike (scoff, scoff).
The Year 10 Lezyne range (confusingly that’s 2017) will all be suitable as they have very similar functionality but crucially a great mount and sturdy construction. Perhaps if you are looking for more advanced navigation for your MTB/trail rides then this might be an option as Lezyne are actively working on improving navigational functionality throughout 2017 (link to: Lezyne.com).
However the ENHANCED SUPER GPS just edges over others in the range it as it has: GPS+GLONASS for all that pesky tree cover; a barometer; and a 24 hour battery life.
As a broad guide if the device supports ANT+ and Bluetooth SMART devices as well as power meters then, broadly speaking, it’s going to be a well-featured device.
And you’ll get that for less than $150 from Amazon. Sorted.
You can get a similarly-specified Lezyne notably more cheaply from a previous year eg the Super GPS (not the ENHANCED Super GPS) but that will not benefit from the added connectivity to the improving ALLY app.
The Lezyne range IS confusingly similar. This might help
Garmin Edge 520
Pretty much everyone you know owns a Garmin. And if they don’t own a Garmin, they don’t own a bike.
As a group of cyclists you might stick to known routes but sometimes you want to venture further afield and need some navigational input and sometimes the rest of the group don’t keep up with you and it would be nice for them to know where you are as they try to catch up. It would also be handy for your partner to know how far from home you are and that you are currently not stopped at a pub to, ahem, “fix a puncture”.
You have to buy a half-decent Garmin so as not to embarrass yourself in front of your mates. Your group kit matches, so your ‘cycling head unit’ needs to match as well.
Simple mapping functionality is great (not re-routing). And live tracking facilities will help the rest of the group find you as well as keeping your nearest and dearest informed as to your whereabouts.
So you get the Edge 520
Actually the Edge 520 is a very, very powerful and extremely competent device. And the key thing is, it works. Your cycling buddies might have the supposedly fancier Edge 1030s or Edge 820s (I do). But your 520 will mostly always work. Their Edges may well not work…ahem…often. Don’t be tempted to go for those models with all those extra fancy functions that you will never use. You will have PLENTY of functions that you will NEVER use in the Edge 520 as it is. You might even be tempted by the GroupTrack & Re-Routing on the 820 DO NOT DO IT.
I know you’re going to ignore me and get the Edge 1030 but, hey, in 3 month’s time I’ll be saying “I told you so”.
I can actually recommend the Edge 520 to you. That’s a rare thing these days. It is JUST what you need AND they are now sneaking down below US$250 (less on black Friday). If you can hold on until 2018, I’ll let you buy the Edge 530 when it’s released (maybe), it’ll have notable bugs though until September 2018.
The Edge 520 has a vast array of connectivity and data presentation options – SO MANY options that you really will never, ever see some of the more obscure menu options.
Even if the Edge 520 can’t do what you want there will likely be a Garmin CIQ app that can.
ACER XPLOVA X5 EVO
Well you might own something that looks vaguely like this bike to the right.
You want something a bit different and with lots of cool onboard tech.
I could make you lots of sensible and boring RECOMMENDATIONS. But I know you will ignore them
So my SUGGESTION would be for you to look at the XPLOVA X5 EVO. It’s kinda REALLY INNOVATIVELY good in many ways and then, politely, “quirky” in other ways. It’s got a built in SIM slot and a built in VIDEO recorder. You could point your handlebars at the Arc de Triomphe and take a short video and then cycle on to the next destination on your city tour and repeat the process. It’s got maps and tech and dials and power metrics galore. The colour might even match your tyres (those are English bike tires).
It’s a certainty that you own an iPhone. You would never, EVER own an Android phone. (EVER). The X5 could be for you.
The X5 is not cheap. But then neither is your ‘bike’.
It is well connected with ANT+, lots of display options and has good routing functionality
DETAILED REVIEW: ACER XPLOVA X5
NOTES: 2017 sees a slightly improved X5 EVO version.
You know what your FTP is. Heck, you know what it was this time last year too. Indeed you never tell anyone your FTP as FTP stated as “w/kg” is more meaningful. You will almost certainly do races of some sorts – be they triathlons or time trials or something else involving hills or lots of tight, fast corners. You have probably had some moment of self-imagined glory and stood on a podium or two at your local village fete. (This is probably me I’m describing, BTW; humour intended…not offence)
You will either; have a coach; think you are a coach; or have downloaded a free coaching plan off the internet. You will probably have a good crack at following that plan and train seriously for extended periods in the year until work or life gets in the way to give you an excuse for why you did not quite do as well in the race as you stats predicted.
If you haven’t got a life you will probably have sufficient time to plan all of your structured workouts into a digital format and your device will most certainly need to let you follow these digitised workouts. Naturally this will probably involve linking to both a fancy power meter; as well as to a fancy indoor trainer; as well as to TrainingPeaks so your real, or imaginary, coach can also look at your data.
You will probably have ‘club mates’ rather than ‘weekend cycling mates’. If you have weekend cycling mates then they will probably belong to a cycling club and you will probably belong to a triathlon club…or the other way around. Either way these mates will lead you on many glorious adventures up hills and through forests and to seemingly pointless places that are invariably at least 100 miles away and 1.5 miles (asl) higher than they should be (IMO). Naturally this will involve you needing to navigate with your device…it will kinda help if you can read the screen and follow a mapped route on the screen.
The device will also need to show your bragging-rights metrics: STRAVA is a must but so are your in-ride power-based achievements.
Obviously it will display NP. Obviously. Sigh. C’mon people. OBVIOUSLY
What a stupid thought. Buying a cycling computer that cannot show NP. And yes I checked, the ELEMNT can show NP-lap and IF and 3s-, 30s-avg power and other stuff that you don’t really understand like muscle oxygenation and pedal smoothness balance – even though you only have a single-sided STAGES crank PM (perfectly fine, not knocking it)
One of the great things about the WAHOO ELEMNT is that the platform is relatively ‘open’. WAHOO are a small company compared to Garmin but because they have an open platform you can leverage powerful stuff from elsewhere. Be that near-seamless integration with TrainingPeaks and STRAVA or connectivity with just about any sensor/device you can throw at it.
There is a polite WAHOO nod to ‘live tracking’ but that’s about it. The peripheral ‘brake light’ and RADAR accessories are not there. ALL the stuff that a ‘proper’ wannabe cyclist needs IS there but where the WAHOO also ‘wins’ is in the sheer usability of the novel interface – most of what you have to do next is only a button press or two away and NOT nested in the depths of a complex menu system.
DETAILED REVIEW: I’ve not yet done a detailed review of the WAHOOs, although I am using them a lot. they’re awesome for me and for this kind of bike rider and they actually WORK. On that basis I can recommend them. I am writing a series of posts <here> about my time with WAHOO.
NOTES: The BOLT is pretty much the same as the ELEMNT but a bit smaller & cheaper.
Garmin Edge 1030
If cycling computers could make a latte you would want one which could put a RAPHA logo in the milk on the top. You want every bell, whistle and foghorn that it is humanly possible to have. You already have N+1 bikes, where N is an infeasibly large number.
You have a garage but there is no car in it because…it’s full of bike stuff
Other than cycling, your 2nd main hobby is collecting Garmin Edge devices.
Perhaps you marvel at the possibilities of the tech (I do) or enjoy playing with it and learning ‘stuff’. Perhaps you are in some way feature-competitive with your cycle-tech buying buddies. You would certainly be an adopter of new technology and might enjoy reading or commenting on blogs like this, or similar to this. You probably wouldn’t mind too much if some of the features didn’t quite work first time and would be happy to trust the manufacturer to eventually fix it. Don’t get me wrong, you would still write a stern email to Garmin support bemoaning the cost of the item in the full knowledge that they won’t even read it. But you would still have your latest Edge on your handlebars the next day despite having pretended to Garmin support that it really was unusable and could you “have a replacement unit that wasn’t a refurbished unit please” in the hope that some imagined hardware problem has secretly been rectified by the Garmin factory on the 3rd day of production.
The ‘latest Garmin’ is the device you would always buy next. You might have previously bought the Edge 810 then the Edge 1000 then ‘upgraded’ to the Edge 820. You don’t really need me to tell you that you will buy the Edge 1030. Let’s face it, you’ve already ordered it haven’t you? You’re just reading this to make yourself feel good 😉
The Edge 1030 is a large, colour touchscreen format cycling navigation unit. It’s fully compatible with every sensor known to cyclekind from your TACX Neo to your MOXY Muscle Oxygen sensor to all your power meters and obscure arm-worn heart rate monitors. Yes, even the tempting-looking, Bluetooth SMART Polar OH1.
It has great integration with STRAVA (Live Segments & Sufferscore) and it supports all the latest Garmin CIQ apps. With your power meter you can get apps that do insightful things eg BARON Biosys with XERT. Even ignoring STRAVA and CIQ you still have AN AWFUL, AWFUL LOT of stuff built into the device.
The Edge 1030 will give you all the racing, pacing and bike training features you will ever likely need. You can race against a pace or race against a previous performance. Heck you can even ride against someone’s else’s performance as your smart trainer adjusts the incline and resistance to match the course they actually raced before they sent you their race file.
It has turn-by-turn navigation and an inbuilt map – it’s a bikenav, after all. It can link to your gear shifters, turbo trainer and radar-activated rear lights (seriously, it can). The colour touchscreen is a nice size and has a good resolution.
It will tell you where your fellow group riders are and tell your family, at home, where you are. It even has incident detection; the renamed “hit-by-lorry” feature, although we shouldn’t joke about these things really.
Obviously all the ‘old hat’ stuff like cycling dynamics and advanced cycling dynamics are included and it’s got a good enough barometric altimeter, (selected) automatic POI elevation calibration and a good-enough GPS, sometimes helped by GLONASS enablement.
It has clever physiological metrics from Firstbeat like VO2max, performance condition and stress score.
It will link and sync to your phone via the improving Garmin Connect Mobile app. It has a good battery life of 20 hours and the ingenious solution of a plug-on battery pack to extend it further.
No other cycling computer has as many features.
Garmin’s app and online ecosystem (Garmin Connect) are good enough and open enough to let you send your data elsewhere.
Comments: The Edge 1030 contains pretty much every Garmin cycling feature. It is unlikely to be superseded until late 2019. As Garmin’s flagship cycling device, new features WILL be added as they are developed. To be honest I can’t think of anything they could add.
Heads-Up: I haven’t yet done a review on the Edge 1030 and probably will not. I have only had limited ‘hands-on’ time but if you know the earlier Edge units there are NOT too many surprises. Evolution…not revolution.
What to watch out for: The touchscreen & teething problems. It seems OK to me so far.
ALTERNATIVE: Garmin Edge 820 Review. The Edge 820 is similarly functioned to the Edge 1030 and in a slightly smaller format.
LEZYNE MICRO GPS (YEAR 10)
There are different kinds of commuter. Some of you will see commuting as part of training; others will see it as light exercise; others will see it as a chance to sneak a few STRAVA segments; others will just want to record the proof to your partner that you left work and went straight home.
You can install STRAVA or the WAHOO app on your smartphone and that should be good enough for most people. So my advice is to do that.
But for those of you who do NOT want to put an expensive phone on public display and unduly risk damaging it then I’d strongly suggest the LEZYNE is a good place to start looking. It’s got phone notifications and STRAVA live segments when paired with the ALLY phone app. It’s currently on Amazon at GBP100 (US$130). It will support your powermeter too. Yep. That price is not a typo.
The LEZYNE is also a well-made brand that has proved durable for me and for many, many others that I have seen comments from on various internet sites.
I extensively use the SUPER GPS model from the previous year as my ‘go to’ backup unit. It seems to always work and has a long battery life. Perfect for that purpose.
Using a Lezyne can be a bit fiddly at times and I find the menus counter-intuitive. But they have recently allowed device configuration additionally by the smartphone app. Which goes a LONG way to allaying my usability concerns.
The Lezyne range are all similarly featured, just being sold in different ‘sizes’ and colour/non-colour versions. the MICRO GPS is recommended mostly because of the durability, reliability, feature set (including connectivity) and price. The MICRO C version is a little more expensive and the ‘C’ is for colour BUT the ‘C’ version also includes GLONASS support.
THE XMAS PRESENT
Garmin Edge 820
This is a tricky one for you. Your best bet is to know what brand the recipient of your generosity prefers rather than just blindly buying what some online reviewer (ahem) has recommended to be the best cycling computer. Also find out if they are currently happy with that brand or not. Try asking the following question to the intended recipient, “You’ve got the Garmin Edge 810 haven’t you? Doesn’t <Jo> have one of the newer ones, the 835 isn’t it?“. That subtly checks what they currently have as well as mentioning a product that doesn’t exist (the 835) when they correct you, hopefully, they will correct you with the model they have been eyeing up 😉 Crafty.
Otherwise: the problem you have to address is that not every cycling computer BRAND will work with every cycling accessory BRAND.
The Edge 520, Edge 820, Edge 1000 and Edge 1030 are all nice presents, generally good devices and current models.
- The Edge 1030 will almost DEFINATELY support ALL OF THEIR other cycling gadgets. But it’s expensive.
- The Edge 1000 is mostly bug free but has been, sort of, replaced by the Edge 1030 (September 2017)
- The Garmin Edge 820 Review ed is pretty sweet and has all the bells and whistles but only supports ANT+ accessories. It will not be replaced until 2019 so you are getting a good and current model full of features. It has got everything going for it apart from the touchscreen which superfically sounds good but many people (including me) have suffered with it. This might be because we got an early model and later ones off the production line were quietly fixed. Many other people I speak to have no problems with it.
- The Edge 520 is a full-button version of the 820 but a bit older and likely to be replaced in Spring 2018.
However all of these Garmin devices are quite expensive. Lezyne might be a good and cheap brand to buy a speculative present from; but many of the other brands, such as Polar & MIO/Magellan, have not innovated much for a few years now.
ALLROUNDER – THE BEST CYCLING COMPUTER?
WAHOO ELEMNT (BOLT)
These two ‘awards’ also go to the WAHOO ELEMNT. Actually you could buy the ELEMNT BOLT instead as they are nearly-identical apart from the BOLT being a smaller format.
The ELEMNTs tick all of the boxes that need ticking for most of you with general cycling needs. I’m talking data metrics as well as usability boxes. So, as I semi-jokingly talked about it incorporating the NP metric (above), that was to illustrate the depth of metrics available. The screen does lack slightly in resolution when mapping BUT that is MORE than compensated for by clarity & readability across many light conditions. Whilst you might like the idea of a touchscreen, the ELEMNT’s buttons are VASTLY superior and will work in the cold when you are wearing gloves AND work in the hot when your sweat lands on the device.
I use mine to control a WAHOO KICKR17 smart trainer via FE-C whilst Zwifting away in the Pacific and it’s great to follow structured workouts created on TrainingPeaks and elsewhere.
It has had some serious creative design going into it with a unique button-controlled, zoom-down facility on the data screens and a super-simple setup just to name two nice quirks. LEDs can also be configured to tell you which zone you are in at a glance; a number could too but the LEDs don’t take up any of the valuable screen real estate..
Finishing up on the TRI/RACER front. I know that quite a few triathletes, me included, seem to have moved towards a bike computer on the bike for the stats in the right place and then using the tri-wrist watch as the recording device for the bike leg. It does make some sense to do that if you are using a TT bike/aero bars so this recommendation would also hold true for pure bike TTs where hitting that target pace is key. The BOLT has a neat pin retaining mechanism to avoid loss or theft whilst left unattended on your bike in transition (I’ve had two attempted thefts). Avid readers will also remember that the BOLT claims to be more aero than any other cycling computer (seriously) and it may well save you half a watt…or so.
It looks sweet. And it works reliably in my experience.