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How To Choose Bike Computers

Bike computers are perfect for data-hungry bikers.

Thanks to technology, you can now use bike computers to assist you when riding. Whether you want to explore new routes, pull up a map, track your location, calculate your distance from your destination, or determine your speed, bike computers have improved so much that advanced models can even track your cadence and heart rate! Most cycling computers in the market today can also connect to your phone and upload data to sites which help you evaluate your riding performance.

Bike computers are perfect for data-hungry bikers. Are you looking to grab your own but can’t decide yet? Below are some things you need to know about bike computers before buying one.

Bike computers depend on what type of rider you are

There are many bike computers on the market today. Some can be as simple as a speed monitor while others are powerful enough to track your heart rate and power. The type of cycling computer you buy depends on what type of rider you are.

If you are a competitive biker, you will want a bike computer that can do everything — from tracking your distance, speed, elevation gained, heart rate, cadence, and power output.

Enthusiasts can settle for bike computers that measure trip distance, total odometer, and speed (maximum and minimum). Something that can track your location is also a good option especially if you are fond of bikepacking.

Casual riders, on the other hand, can be content with a bike computer that measures distance, speed, and time.

How do cycling computers work?

Bike computers only have 3 components: the sensor, a means to transmit data, and the display unit.

Types of sensors

Magnetic sensors have a magnet that’s attached to a wheel spoke, which spins past a sensor located at the front fork. Cadence sensors have their magnetic components attached to your bike’s crank arm while the sensor seats on the rear stay. Although they don’t have GPS functionality, magnetic sensors are cheap and boast longer battery life.

GPS sensors are heavier, more expensive, and requires regular charging. Despite these cons, a GPS bike computer can do marvels in terms of data options. It can help you track your speed, location, distance, and almost anything else. Most of them come with customizable display units too! And lastly, GPS sensors are very easy to install.

choosing a bike computer

Data Transmission

Analog bike computers with magnetic sensors come with a wire which transmits signal from the sensor to the display unit. Although this is cheaper, lighter, and simpler, installation can be a mess — leaving it almost non-swappable between bikes. Wired transmissions also carry the risks of getting ripped out especially if it’s on a mountain bike.

GPS bike computers come with wireless data transmission technology. Magnetic sensors can easily transfer data to the display unit without the need for wires. Hence, they’re easier to install and look neater.  The only disadvantage here is the price.

Bike Computer features you need to know

Not all bike computers carry the features below. Knowing them, however, can greatly influence your choice.

Battery Life: For me, this a deal-breaker. But again, it depends on what type of rider you are. Magnetic bike computers use 1-2 CR2032 watch batteries which can last for years. GPS cycling computers, on the other hand, use a built-in rechargeable battery which gives you up to 20 hours of juice.

Backlight: This feature makes the screen more readable when biking at night. Way better than shining a helmet light on it.

Data Transfer: If you’re looking to use a program or a fitness app to complement your biking habit, then you have no choice but to use GPS bike computers.

Screen Options: Higher end bike computers feature multiple data screens which you can toggle through easily. More premium models even give you the ability to customize each screen.

Readability: Usually, cheap units like magnetic bike computers, have screens with fixed font size. If you are looking for the ability to customize the font size so the information is more readable while riding, go for GPS units instead.

Multi-Bike Use: Are you using your bike computer for your own? Or are you looking to use it on different bikes? Obviously, magnetic cycling computers can only be installed on one bike — unless you are willing to go through its tedious installation process again and again. GPS bike computers, especially high-end ones, can be easily swapped between 2 or 3 bikes without losing your data.

Smartphone Connectivity: Most modern bike computers can link to your smartphone (Android or iOS), allowing you to use popular apps like Strava. Some even feature push alerts for calls, emails, and texts.

Navigation: Bikepacking is a great way to explore the countryside. You can even explore bike-friendly cities like Chicago and San Francisco. If you are fond of exploring new places, then a bike computer with full-featured navigation and maps system is invaluable. Get one that has GPS, can provide you with turn-by-turn directions, and even breadcrumb trails so you can find your way back.

Best bike computers for 2019

Bike computers are a great way to use technology to up your biking experience. Don’t know where to find one? We’ve made a list for you here.  Check it out and let us know what you think.

Happy biking!

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Written by Sean Kramer

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