Different Types Of Bike Computers

Last Updated on November 9, 2021

Different Types Of Bike Computers

Are you on the hunt for a bike computer and have found yourself a little confused as to which bike computer you should go for?

Well, join the club because we’ve all been there. Bike computers may be simple little gadgets but that doesn’t make finding the best bike computers an easy task.

There are a few different types of bicycle computer each with its own features. Some are minimalistic and give you basic data while others are incredibly advanced and give you all the data about your cycling that you could ever want.

There are also alternatives to a cycle computer though such as a smartphone with its own perks and drawbacks.

Read on and you’ll know all about the types of bike computers so you can make an informed decision when it comes to making the final purchase. If you want some recommendations for bike computers then check out our guide on the best budget bike computer.

Bike Computer Types

Bike computers have changed a lot over the years and have developed many new functions and alongside these functions, new types of bike computer have been made. These types differ in regards to connectivity, being analog or digital, having GPS or not, and other aspects.

So, let’s take a look at the types and what they do so you can have a better understanding of which bike computer is going to best suit you.

Analog Bike Computers

An analog computer uses analog hands to indicate speed, ascent, distance and time ridden. It doesn’t blink or beep like the more digital models, but it does collect accurate GPS data that you can analyze after your ride.

Analog computers are something of a niche in the market and you’ll have to actively seek them out if you want one. this is due to them being quite expensive, bulky, and less functional than their digital counterparts. They’re very basic and not as easy to use but that doesn’t make them obsolete.

Wired and Wireless Bike Computers

Basic wired or wireless cycle computers are the most popular cycle computers and you’ll see them being used by all kinds of cyclists

They’re normally very compact and have a low profile, so they don’t affect the aesthetics of a bicycle too much. Some collect more types of ride data than others but you can easily find one at around the $50 price range.

Basic functions that you can expect to get if you buy one of these cycling computers are speed, average speed, max speed, distance, time, and an odometer. Some advanced models, however, also show cadence and an estimate of calories you’ve burned.

As the name suggests, wired cycling computers use wires to connect the main unit to the sensors, whereas wireless bike computers do not have any wiring. If you have a wired bike computer and need help setting it up then check out our article on how to install a bike computer.

GPS Enabled Bike Computers

This is probably the best bike computer type you can get. But, the GPS and ANT+ enabled cycling computers are normally found in the upper echelons of the cycling computer price range and are intended for cycling enthusiasts and pro riders.

The GPS receiver can be used to track your route, but you can also download it to another device and use apps like Strava to compare your time to other riders for a bit of healthy competition. On top of that, you can create routes on your computer and then upload them to your bike computer making GPS computers the best cycling computer for planning road adventures and trips.

Alternatives To A Bike Computer

Smartphones

Of course, you don’t necessarily even need a bike computer to track your data. A smartphone to track cycling data is the preferred way of doing it for many cyclists. And, it certainly has its perks but as with anything, there are also drawbacks.

The main advantage is that nearly everyone owns a smartphone already and many of the best fitness apps, like the aforementioned Strava, are free to use. However, to put it on your bike you need to buy a bike mount, and you also need a waterproof casing to protect it from the rain. If you’re torn between a smartphone or a cycling computer then check out our article: Phone Vs. Bike Computer: Which Should You Use?

Fitness Tracker

A lot of GPS-enabled fitness trackers have a cycling mode that offers performance feedback and navigation aid. If you enjoy many activities and tracking your progress, this is a great alternative. It’ll already be on your wrist, too, so no additional handlebar mount is required.

Bike Computer Brands

Garmin

Garmin is an American tech company that was founded in 1989 and was formerly known as ‘ProNav’. The company specializes in GPS technology and wearable technology, such as fitness trackers and smartwatches.

When it comes to a Garmin bike computer though, they specialize in high-end and high-tech models that support both GPS and ANT+. Most of their models are expensive and high-quality, so they are the preferred brand of most pro cyclists.

The Garmin Edge 1030 and the Edge 820 are the top models that most performance-oriented cyclists go for. These models will set you back a couple of hundred dollars though, so they are one of the most expensive models on the market. However, this is because of the abundance of features such as detailed navigation, usual training data, have USB and Bluetooth connectivity, ANT+ compatibility, and a lot more.

Cateye

CatEye is a Japanese company founded in 1954 that specializes in the manufacturing of bike computers, reflectors, lights, and other cycling accessories.

Regarding cycling computers, it manufactures low-end, mid-range, as well as high-end models. It offers both wired and wireless computers, as well as smart computers that you can link to your smartphones. Some of the most popular models that it produces are CatEye Velo, Enduro, and Strada.

Wahoo

Wahoo Fitness is the ‘new kid on the block’ when it comes to bike computer companies. Founded in 2010, it’s the official indoor trainer of Team Sky and athletes such as Chris Froome use their KICKR trainer for indoor training.

Their most popular model of Wahoo bike computers is probably the Wahoo Elemnt and its successor the Elemnt Bolt. Both models are intended for the smartphone generation and include an integrated workout but the price will probably make you wince at a whopping $300.

Sigma

Sigma is a German manufacturer of electric sports equipment, founded in 1981. It specializes in the production of heart rate monitors, sports lighting, and of course, some of the best cycling computers.

Sigma produces a wide range of bike computers. Starting from cheap and simple wired models to more sophisticated wireless ones with a ton of cool features.

Cadence Sensors

Cadence is a concept in cycling technique that’s employed by riders to maximize their performance. The technique involves maintaining a constant pedaling speed regardless of the actual speed of the bike itself.

So for example, when you accelerate to a high speed, you progress through the gears in such a way that your pedaling speed remains constant, and therefore your technique is stable and consistent.

It’s a concept regarded by most top cyclists and trainers as essential for achieving the most efficient performance.

Cadence will differ from rider to rider but leisure cyclists typically aim for a range of 60-80rpm while more competitive riders will aim for higher.

Remember though that while most cycling computers will be compatible, not all are compatible with cadence monitoring, so make sure you check the specifications carefully. You will most likely be looking for a bike computer toward the top end in terms of price and may require some additional kit, such as a bespoke cadence sensor or power meters.

Frequently Asked Questions

What has the best battery life?

Generally, any type of bike computer has a better battery life than a smartphone as many of them can last up to 20 hours whereas a smartphone while using a GPs tracking/turn by turn navigation app will only last 2 hours.

How do wireless bike computers work?

The way a cycle computer works is simple. Each time a magnet on the wheel passes a sensor on the fork a signal is generated. The bike computer measures the time between those signals and works out how fast you’re going, based on the wheel dimension you gave it on the initial setup.

Can I use Strava as a bike computer?

Strava turns every iPhone and Android into a sophisticated running and cycling computer. Simply start Strava before an activity and you can track your favorite performance stats while riding.

How long do bike computers last?

Most bike computer batteries last a minimum of 15 hours, even with satellite navigation and ANT+ connections running. You also need to consider the type of battery your device is going to need.

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