In this article, we review the best bike computers available in 2016. To improve at any sport you need to constantly challenge yourself. Many cyclists ride the same routes at the same speeds, which makes progress slow.
If you’ve hit a plateau, one of these devices can help you improve by giving you real performance data. They are also relatively cheap and easy to install.
There are a range of different bike computers available. Some provide excellent value for money and are a useful addition to your training program. Others are likely to cause frustration, especially if they have a short battery life or are complicated to use.
Basic bike computers are able to measure variables such as average speed and distance traveled, making it easier to track your progress.
Advanced computers, including those with GPS and heart rate monitors, let you track and analyze your performance in-depth.
Mobile Device Users: Rotate your phone to landscape (wide/horizontal) view to see the entire comparison chart.
CatEye Velo 7 CC-VL520 Wired (our top pick)
The Top Five Picks – Reviewed
Note: The comparison table above uses the, “Our Rating” score (out of 100 points) to rank the computers based on our review. The individual reviews you read below may not be in order. We’ve added them in an effort to give you a better sense of each computer’s unique strengths and weaknesses.
CatEye Velo 7
The CatEye Velo 7 is one of the most popular entry-level cycling computers. Some features include a large screen, pace arrow, trip distance, odometer, and clock. The Velo7 also displays your current, average and maximum speeds.
While the Velo 7 has a number of features great features, it doesn’t include more advanced options such as cadence. However, a large majority of people agree that it provides outstanding value for money.
Garmin Edge 200 GPS-Enabled
Options include time, speed, location, distance, and calories burned. It can also store over 100 hours of riding data, meaning you can search through your old rides.
One downside of the Garmin Edge is that it plots a straight line between the last two known locations if it loses GPS signal. This is because it only uses GPS for tracking, instead of a magnetic sensor on the wheel. This isn’t a major problem, but can sometimes add a small error to the total riding distance, especially if a route is obscured by trees.
Fortunately, we feel that the data is still far more accurate than other products, and the lack of a wheel sensor also makes installation easy.
Sigma Sport CB5.12
If you want a simple, straightforward bike computer, then the Sigma Sport CB5.12 is one of the best around. It’s is capable of measuring ride time, total distance, trip distance, and speed.
It also has a built-in clock and is fully waterproof. We feel the computer is easy to install and provides all the basic functions most casual cyclists need.
It’s clear that the CB5.12 is an entry-level bike computer. It lacks the features of more advanced models, but is also durable and reliable. If you just need to see how far you’ve ridden and how long a journey took, then you can’t go wrong with the Sigma Sport CB5.12.
Garmin Edge 500
If you’re a serious cyclist who wants to know everything about your performance, then the Garmin Edge 500 could be the perfect option. It’s a stylish and compact computer that comes with many advanced features, including a heart rate monitor, barometric altimeter for tracking climbs and descents, goal setting and wireless technology. The computer also tracks cadence.
An interesting feature of the Edge 500 is the calorie consumption metric. Unlike more basic models, this is calculated using the heart rate monitor, making it much more accurate. Other useful features include Garmin Connect, an online service for sharing goals and activities with friends, and “Zone Training,” which allows you to set the heart rate zone you want to maintain.
The main downside to the Edge 500 is that it’s more complex to use than other models. This is understandable considering the extensive features it provides. The good news is that it doesn’t take long to learn how to use all of the features, and once you do the Edge 500 provides almost everything you could need from a bike computer.
If you need something a bit more advanced than the CatEye Velo 7, but don’t have the budget for a GPS unit, then the Strada is a good compromise. It’s a lightweight computer that fits onto any handlebar, and provides data such as two trip distances, total distance, clock and total time. Like the Velo 7, the Strada can also show max, average and current speeds.
The main benefit of the Strada is that there is no wire connecting the unit to the wheel sensor. The data is transmitted wirelessly, for a more streamlined and attractive appearance.
You might wonder why it doesn’t have advanced features such as cadence. While this would have been a useful feature, main benefit for this model is the wireless data transfer. If you want to avoid an ugly wire spoiling the sleek frame of your bike, the Strada is a great option.
Bike Computer Buying Guide
The first decision is whether you need a bike computer, or would be better off using a smartphone app. Apps usually provide more information than basic computers, including tracking your location via GPS, although this can run down a phone’s battery quickly.
Most serious riders prefer a dedicated device. The advantages of a high-quality device include:
- Suitable for wet weather.
- Small and compact, especially compared with large smartphones.
- Can be kept on your bike.
- Longer battery life.
- A small screen that’s less likely to be damaged.
Which Type of Riding Do You Need a Bike Computer For?
The type of riding you enjoy has a big effect on which computer is right for you. If you’re a casual rider, you may be happy with a basic cycling computer. These only provide data on your average speed and distance, but can still be useful for tracking your rides and are relatively cheap.
For more advanced training schedules, or if you compete in races, you probably need to buy a computer with more features. Cycling-specific metrics such as cadence and elevation gained are useful for training, along with more standard measurements such as heart rate and calories burned.
What is Your Budget?
Your budget often decides which features you can realistic expect from a cycling computer. Basic computers cost less than $50, but if you want a cadence option you may have to spend more. GPS models nearly always cost $100+. This might seem expensive, but a good computer can provide you with vital data about your performance, and also lasts a long time.
Which Features Do You Want?
Once you know your budget and riding requirements, it’s time to start looking at the different features available. Here’s a list of the most common features:
Current speed. This shows how fast you are moving. Current speed is often the measurement casual cyclists are most interested in.
Maximum speed. The fastest you have traveled during the current ride. This can be useful for comparing with your current speed.
Distance. A basic measurement of how far you have ridden in total.
Trip distance. If you’re planning to stop for a break at some point during your ride, it can be useful to have a trip distance measurement, as well as total distance for the day.
Cadence. This is an option on more advanced cycling computers, and is a helpful metric when training.
Clock. It can be useful to see the time during your ride. Many will have a built-in clock.
Calorie Consumption. Calorie consumption data isn’t always accurate, but it provides a baseline for how much energy you expended during a ride.
GPS. A GPS-enabled device can track exactly where you are, how fast you’re traveling and your route.
Elevation gained. Tracking the elevation gained during a ride can be a useful metric, but is often only necessary for competitive cyclists.
Heart rate. A heart rate monitor is usually only available on the most advanced and expensive bike computers. It shows exactly how hard your cardiovascular system is working during a ride, and also enables more accurate calorie calculations.
Aside from the data a cycling computer can collect, there are a number of other considerations that might affect your final choice. These include:
Battery life. Battery life is rarely an issue. If you want more advanced features such as GPS, however, then it’s vital to choose a computer with a battery life that’s much longer than your average ride.
Screen size and readability. A top rated bike computer screen should be easily readable in all conditions. It’s important that the text is still legible when your bike is vibrating on a fast downhill section.
Data transfer. Basic models show data for each trip, but have no method of automatically recording this data for long-term analysis. GPS models can usually transfer data to your computer or phone.
Backlight. A backlight is a useful feature if you ride at night.
Ease of use. As we mentioned earlier, if it is awkward or difficult to use, you’ll probably stop using it.
Accuracy. There are two main sensor types for bike computers: magnetic and GPS. GPS models don’t just provide location data – they are also more accurate for distance, speed and other variables. The downside is the much higher price of GPS sensors.
Benefits of Owning a Bike Computer
Modern technology has made it easy to track almost every aspect of our lives, from calorie intake to steps taken in the day. While this data isn’t always useful, it provides a number of advantages for both casual and competitive cyclists.
A lot of cyclists train several times a week, but don’t make a lot of progress. This could be for a number of reasons, but a common problem is a lack of progressive overload. In short, you need to consistently train outside of your comfort zone to improve your fitness. This isn’t easy to do if you aren’t tracking your rides.
Bike computers are a great way to track how hard you are pushing yourself during training. Instead of going by how you feel, which isn’t a reliable way to monitor your training, you can use real data to judge your performance.
Compete With Yourself
If you don’t compete in races, then using a top rated cycling computer to record your times can be a great way to create your own challenges. You can time how long a route usually takes, and then try to beat it on your next ride.
By setting yourself goals based on your own performance, you can also tailor training sessions to your current fitness levels. This is far more effective than using a pre-built program.
Analyzing Data is Fun
Many people enjoy analyzing the data of their ride once they get home. It can be fun to see how you performed, and it’s also rewarding to track how much you’ve improved over time.
Bike computers are a simple and effective way to gather data about your rides and training sessions. They can help improve your practice, track your progress and are also fun to use. If you’re serious about improving your cycling, you should consider buying one.
The most important considerations when buying a bike computer are the type of riding and the variables you want to track. If you just want to know how far you cycle, then a basic model with a magnetic sensor is probably all you need. For monitoring performance over time, or tracking more accurate data on speed and performance, a GPS bike computer is a better option.
Your budget is also a major factor. The best bike computers range in price from less than $20 up to several hundred, depending on the features and type of tracking. The most expensive computers are usually only necessary for competitive cyclists, but there are a number of excellent GPS-enabled computers for less than $150.
If you just want a basic device, then we recommend the CatEye Velo 7. It’s a compact model that’s unlikely to be damaged in a crash, and also provides useful information such as current and average speeds. Unless you need more advanced features, such as GPS or cadence, the Velo 7 provides everything you need.