Last updated: August 6, 2021

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You cycle a lot and are looking for a way to accurately measure your training progress? Then you should find out more about bike computers. With a bike computer, you can take precise measurements during every training session.

Many athletes swear by the advantages of a bike computer. But which models are available and what criteria do you have to consider when buying? In our bike computer test 2021 we present the best and most up-to-date devices from various categories. We also give you important tips and helpful advice on how to use bike computers. No matter whether you are looking for a bike computer with cable or with radio, you will find the best bike computers on the market.




Summary

  • Bike computers can be very useful for cyclists when training. They summarise important information from your route and give you important measurement data so that you do not overestimate yourself during training.
  • There is a basic distinction between bike computers with or without a cable. It is said that bike computers with cables are more accurate. But good bike computers also work just as well without a cable.
  • Depending on the bike computer, there are different functions for distance, speed, cadence, heart rate, altitude and more. Depending on the number of functions, technology and design, a bike computer can cost from €10 to €500.

The Best Cycling Computer in the United Kingdom: Our Choices

Guide: Questions you should ask yourself before buying a bike computer

How much does a bike computer cost?

There are countless models of cycling computers. Depending on the functions you want for your cycling computer, you will have to invest money accordingly.

  • A simple wired bike computer with standard functions (speed measurement, time, stopwatch, odometer) can be purchased for less than €10. Bicycle computers without cables are usually a little more expensive.
  • However, if you want a bike computer that can do more, you can expect prices starting at 50.00 €. Professional speedometers can cost up to €500.

What functions does my bike computer need?

Depending on which group of cyclists you belong to and for what purpose you need a cycling computer, there are more or fewer features for you to choose from. Here is an overview of the functions required by the corresponding groups of cyclists:

Hobby cyclists

  • Speed
  • Time
  • Stopwatch
  • Odometer

Experienced cyclists with a training purpose

  • Heart rate measurement
  • Cadence measurement
  • (altitude measurement as required)

Professional cyclists

  • Heart rate measurement
  • Cadence measurement
  • Altitude measurement
  • GPS tracking and navigation
  • PC evaluation
  • (smartphone compatibility as required)

Bike computers or smartphone apps?

Do you really need a bike computer or is your smartphone enough? Again, this is entirely up to you. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do you want to measure with your bike computer?
  • Why do you need a bike computer?
  • Is it worthwhile for you to buy a new bike computer? How often do you cycle and how often will you use a speedometer?
  • How long and what distances do you plan to ride?
  • How much do you want to spend?

To help you make your decision, here is a pro/con list that shows you what speaks for and against a bike computer or smartphone.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a bike computer compared to a smartphone?

Bicycle computer Smartphone
Advantages More stable/robust, usually longer battery life, less distraction, usually better or more concrete measurement data, easier to assemble. more concrete measurement data, easier to mount on handlebars, display data easily recognisable, even in sunlight Usually already available = less expense, larger screen, usually easier to use, many free applications
Disadvantages Additional mounting of sensors, additional investment, navigation usually worse Touchscreens usually do not react to operation with gloves, screen difficult to read in sunlight, many are not waterproof, somewhat more difficult to mount on handlebars, higher risk of distraction (e.g. incoming calls/messages).E.g. incoming calls/messages) = increased risk of accidents

How do I mount a bicycle tachometer on my bike - step by step instructions?

When it comes to installation, a distinction is made between wired and wireless speedometers. We will show you how the installation works in the following:

  1. Attach the computer mount to the bicycle handlebar or stem: Most devices come with accessories for attaching them. These are usually a bracket, cable ties and/or an O-ring. Place the bracket on the desired location and secure it with 2 cable ties or the O-ring. Cut off the protruding ends of the cable ties.
  2. Attach the sensor: With wireless cycle computers, you still need to insert batteries into the sensor. Attach the sensor to the fork of your bicycle. Read the manufacturer's operating instructions beforehand to find out exactly where the sensor should be located and how far the sensor and magnet should be apart. Place the sensor on the fork and secure it with cable ties or an O-ring. Again, cut off the ends of the cable tie.
  3. Attach the magnet: The magnet should be on a spoke within the maximum distance. Place the magnet on a suitable spoke and screw it in place with the fastener provided. Then check that the maximum distance from the sensor fits and that the wheel can rotate without problems.
  4. Install the bike computer: Add suitable batteries to the computer. Now you can put the speedometer into the mount and, depending on the model, you still have to install the PC before you can use it. It is best to check the user manual again.

Mounting a wired bike computer

The installation of wired speedometers is similar. The only difference is the connection cable from the bracket to the sensor.

  1. Attach the bracket: The bracket is attached to the handlebar or stem as described above. Lay the cable as close as possible to the metal parts between the handlebar/stem and the fork. Fix the cable with adhesive tape and cable ties to prevent it from slipping and tearing.
  2. Attach the sensor and magnet: Attach the sensor and the magnet in the same way as described above. However, make sure that the cable does not stick out anywhere on the sensor.

How does a bike computer work?

Before you buy a bike computer, you should know about the basic functioning. In addition to the computer, there is also a magnet that is attached to spokes and a sensor that is attached to the fork. Every time the magnet passes the sensor, the magnet sends an impulse that is intercepted by the sensor and forwarded to the computer. The bike computer then evaluates these impulses accordingly.

What kind of measurement data are there for bicycle speedometers and what do they say?

Speedometer

The speed is part of the basic function of a speedometer and indicates, as you probably already know, how many kilometres per hour (km/h) you have travelled.

Most cycling computers display 3 different speeds:

  • Average speed
  • Current speed
  • Maximum speed

Here is a small overview of what speed is typical for cyclists: Occasional cyclists: 10 - 20 km / h Hobby cyclists with specific training goals: 25 km / h Tour de France riders: 41 - 56 km / h

Did you know that the maximum speed on a bicycle by your own muscle power is 296 km/h? This world record for the highest speed on a bicycle has been held by Denise Mueller-Koronek since 2018. She beat Fred Rompelberg's old mark of 268.8 km/h, which he held in 1995.

Heart rate

Heart rate is measured using a special chest strap with a sensor or a pulse watch. The sensor of the chest strap then transmits the heartbeats to the speedometer. A heart rate monitor, or heart rate monitor, is particularly important for training intensity. To increase your own fitness, it is more important to pay attention to the pulse measurement than to the speed.

Did you know that you can calculate the optimal heart rate for exercise with a simple rule of thumb? For beginners and untrained people, the rule of 180 minus your age is the optimal heart rate. The upper limit for maximum exercise is 220 minus your age.

Cadence

Cadence measures how many revolutions of the crank you can make per minute. For this measurement you need an additional sensor on the crank. The following table shows you what is normal for the corresponding group:

Occasional cyclists: 60 revolutions per minute Hobby cyclists with specific training goals: 80 revolutions / minute Professionals: 100-120 revolutions / minute

Altimeter

The number of kilometres cycled does not tell you much about the distance. If you often cycle at different or higher altitudes, then an altimeter can tell you more. There are 2 methods of measurement. With the help of an air pressure sensor, you can measure the metres of altitude ridden.

If you want exact data, you should use air pressure sensors. With this method, you must enter the current altitude point before the start. Of course, this can be a pain in the ass. The other alternative is to use GPS to measure the altitude.

Calorie consumption

The number of calories burned is usually estimated by speed or heart rate.

Route planning, tracking and PC evaluation

Remembering routes is not your thing? Then your bike computer needs a navigation function. However, cycle computers with navigation cannot be compared to the usual navigation devices.

Fahrradcomputer Sigma

Attention: Many GPS bike computers focus mainly on navigation, so other measurement data, such as altitude measurement, can be very inaccurate.

With the help of a bike computer with GPS function, you can plan and save your route on your normal PC or laptop beforehand or evaluate and analyse your route with your performance data on a PC afterwards. Your route is recorded with the help of GPS tracking.

Combine smartphone with bike computer

Why would you want to buy an extra device for your bike when smartphone apps can do almost all the same things? Apart from the fact that many people are afraid to attach their smartphone to the handlebars, there is also a problem with the smartphone display: many people find it difficult to see anything on the display in the sun.

You can find out more about this topic later in this guide. Nevertheless, your smartphone can remain your friend and helper in everyday life: With newer bike computers, you can connect your smartphone via Bluetooth and the information from your mobile phone is displayed on the speedometer display. If you don't want to spend that much on a bike computer, you can also accompany your training with apps. Apps may be able to compress the functions that your computer cannot do. In addition, you can participate in virtual competitions through live tracking and thus motivate yourself during training.

Other functions

In addition to the other functions, cycle computers also have the following functions, which are self-explanatory:

  • Odometer
  • Stopwatch
  • Date
  • Time
  • Weather/ temperature display
  • Call up messages

Decision: What types of cycle computers are there and which is the right one for you?

There are countless cycle computers on the market with many different functions and modes of operation. In general, you should think about various functions when you want to buy a bike computer. We distinguish between the most common devices according to their connection options:

  • Bike computer with radio
  • Bike computer with cable

In the following, we briefly describe the types and show their advantages and disadvantages.

What distinguishes a wired bike computer and what are the advantages and disadvantages?

With wired speedometers, the transmitter and computer are connected with a cable. This means that data is transmitted directly via the cable.

Advantages
  • Battery needs to be changed less often
  • Are usually cheaper compared to radio devices
  • Fully functional even with cheap devices
Disadvantages
  • Connection cable needs to be laid and fixed with tape, cable ties or similar
  • Can be perceived as unsightly
  • Cable can tear = bike computer does not work

What distinguishes a wireless bike computer and what are the advantages and disadvantages?

With wireless speedometers, the transmitter communicates with the computer via radio. The radio transmission can run via Bluetooth, for example.

Advantages
  • Easy to install (also for additional sensors)
  • No annoying cables
  • Nicer look
  • Easier to remove/dismantle (e.g. for data transmission or bike change)
Disadvantages
  • Easier prey for thieves
  • Batteries have to be changed more often (batteries in sensor + PC)
  • Higher probability of malfunctions and thus incorrect data

Buying criteria: These are the factors you can use to compare and evaluate bike computers

So far we have already told you about various functions and features of bike computers. Now you hopefully have a clearer picture of what kind of bike computer you want. To help you with your purchase decision, we have summarised some important purchase criteria. You can use these criteria to compare and evaluate the many different products:

  • Display and operation
  • Functions
  • Water resistance
  • Scope of delivery
  • Speedometer suitable for 2 bikes
  • Battery life/battery
  • Price and other investments
  • Other

In the following paragraphs you can read about the individual purchase criteria.

Fahrrad Computer auf einem Mountainbike

Due to the enormous selection of bicycle computers, it is very important to inform yourself before buying one. This is the only way to be sure that all your needs are covered. (Photo: IADE-Michoko / Pixabay.com)

Display and operation

You can read the different data on the computer display. Depending on the model, the data is more or less easy to read. Most bicycle PCs have a monochrome LCD display or black and white display. The more expensive ones have a colour display.

The display can be operated either by keys or by a touch screen. Some displays are illuminated for driving in dark light conditions. The smaller speedometers have one or more buttons. The more buttons and functions the computer has, the more difficult/familiar it can be to operate.

Touch screen computers are usually larger and therefore easier to read. In addition to sunlight, the number and presentation of the data displayed can also make the display difficult to read .

Functions

You have already become acquainted with the various functions of a cycle computer and have hopefully considered which ones you would like to use. Every speedometer should have the standard functions of speed measurement, odometer and clock. Here is a brief overview of which functions you can use to obtain which measurement data:

Function Possible measurement data
Speed functions Current speed, average speed, maximum speed, (calorie consumption)
Clock functions Stop watch/ride time, time, ride start/ride end
Odometer Kilometres ridden
GPS Navigation/route planning, pre-installed maps, route recording/tracking, live tracking, estimated time of arrival, remaining ride time, distance to destination
Altitude functions Maximum downhill/uphill gradient, maximum altitude, total downhill/uphill altitude, altitude profile, downhill/uphill altitude metres, current altitude, downhill/uphill ride time, average downhill/uphill deployment, average downhill/uphill speed, average downhill/uphill gradient, downhill/uphill distance
Heart rate functions Graphic display of intensity zones, % of HRmax, heart rate profile, zone alarm, maximum/minimum heart rate, time zone bar, average heart rate, 4 intensity zones, current heart rate
Cadence functions pedalling index, pedalling time, maximum cadence, average cadence, current cadence, average distance, current distance

Not every cycle computer has to have all the measurement data just because it has the respective functions!

Water resistance

Waterproof does not mean watertight. There are certain codes for water resistance (IPX). The description of many cycle computers states that they are waterproof. Depending on which rating the device gets, it is more or less waterproof: Some waterproof devices can withstand a small rain shower/ splash (IPX4) to heavy rain showers (IPX5/6). Waterproof devices (IPX7) can even be submerged completely under water.

Scope of delivery

In addition to the computer, most models come with additional accessories. As you already know, a bicycle computer needs additional equipment to function. The standard equipment includes a transmitter and magnet. A handlebar mount for the computer and mounting materials (cable ties and O-rings) are usually included.

Depending on the device, the computer may need additional sensors. Before buying, find out which additional equipment the bike PC needs and which is already included in the scope of delivery.

For example, you may find that a manufacturer advertises a good, inexpensive computer with many functions, but the necessary sensors are not included. In addition, the device may only be compatible with the manufacturer's accessories.

So it can happen that you spend much more on the additional components than on the computer. Also note that you will usually need a docking station for a PC evaluation and you will have to buy this separately. However, if your chosen product has a USB port, you can usually transfer the data using a USB cable.

Fahrradcomputer Sigma

Before buying, find out what is included in the scope of delivery and what you need to buy additionally. Especially equipment for the connection to the mobile phone/PC is usually not included.

In addition to docking stations and USB cables, the data can also be transferred to your smartphone via NFC and, if necessary, with a suitable app.

Bike computers suitable for 2 bikes

Some bike computers can be used with 2 or more bikes. The computer recognises the respective bicycle by the wheel circumference or wheel size. If you have more than one bike and want to combine your data from both bikes, you should make sure when buying that you can enter more than one bike. If you have a bike computer with a cable, you may need to purchase an additional mount with the appropriate cabling.

Battery life

Most speedometers are powered by batteries. Depending on the device and how often it is used, batteries can last up to 3 years without needing to be replaced. In addition to batteries, some bike speedos can be charged with a cable. These can have an average battery life of 10 to 13 hours.

Price and other investments

For many people (especially those looking to save money), one of the most important buying criteria is price. Most people want as much as possible for as little as possible. However, when it comes to bike computers, the price can quickly skyrocket when it comes to the type and number of functions. Especially bike computers with GPS can be very expensive.

Additional equipment, such as suitable sensors, can also exceed the planned budget. If you are one of the so-called budget savers or have generally planned a rather smaller budget for the bike computer, you should think carefully about which functions you really need and find out exactly about the selected devices whether you have to reckon with additional investments through additional sensors, software updates, docking station, etc.

Miscellaneous

Here is a small list of things that might be relevant for you:

  • Language
  • Memory capacity
  • Usability with gloves
  • Smartphone connectivity
  • Evaluation possibilities

Facts worth knowing about cycle computers

Supporting apps

As mentioned above, you could simply use mobile apps on your smartphone instead of a cycling computer. On the other hand, in addition to a cycling computer, you could also use apps to support your training. Some bike computer manufacturers even have "in-house" apps. There are countless apps in the Play Store or App Store that support training with the bike. Here is a small overview of such apps:

Strava

Why train alone when it's better to train with others? Strava, a well-known app or social network for athletes, offers additional motivation for your training. You can save your activities, analyse them and share them with other members in the Strava network. This way you can compare your performance with others.

In the community, you can arrange to meet training partners in your area. You also have access to maps and routes. For additional features, such as certain filter functions to compare data with athletes with similar body condition and level, you have to buy a Strava Premium subscription. The subscription is very expensive compared to other apps.

Endomondo

Another app and cheaper alternative where you can share your results with your friends is endomondo. You can connect the app to your bike computer and other sensors. This way you don't have to mount your smartphone on the handlebar. Many features like GPS tracking, maps, overview of your training, a community, etc. are free.

For a one-time fee of 4.99 € you get 10 additional functions, including a personal training plan and comprehensive statistics with filters. The app is not only designed for bike training, but also for many other sports.

Runtastic Road Bike

Especially for cyclists, the application Runtastic Road Bike has been developed. It is a cheap alternative for bike computers. (However, as already mentioned, the measurement data is not as accurate as with a speedometer. See Pro-Contra list bike computer vs. smartphone) The app has 50 functions for cyclists, such as live tracking, offline maps, basic bike computer functions and altitude measurement.

If you want more precise measurement data, you can buy additional hardware from Runtastic. In addition to heart rate monitors and chest straps, you can get a sports wristband for your smartphone so that you can wear it securely on your body.

Google Maps

If you don't want to spend too much on a bike computer, but still want to have navigation, then simply use Google Maps, which is already pre-installed on most smartphones. The offline functions allow you to switch off your internet connection and save a little on battery consumption.

Naviki

Naviki offers route planning especially for cycling routes. The app shows you side roads and off-road tours, as well as easily passable paths and your preferred routes. You can also record your routes and measure your altitude.

Other helpful apps for cyclists:

Call A Bike/ Bikekin

You need a bike but can't use your own for some reason? Then simply rent a bike with Call A Bike. With Bikekin, you can even rent a bike abroad.

Bike Repair

Before you plan a longer tour by bike, download the "Bike Repair" app. The app offers you numerous instructions for various bicycle defects. The step-by-step instructions are accompanied by pictures so that you can carry out the explanation professionally.

Tips for reducing smartphone battery consumption

1. Save battery by deactivating/ reducing the following services (if you don't need them):

  • WLAN
  • mobile data
  • Bluetooth
  • GPS
  • Reduce display brightness

2. Turn on power saving mode 3. You can charge your smartphone on the go using a power bank or dynamo charger.

Image source: Pexels.com / Pixabay

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