The 5 Best Bike Computers You Need To Learn More About

After thoroughly reviewing dozens of bike lock available today, we think the Garmin Edge 520 is the best option available.

To bring you the most relevant, useful and current data, we have done quite a bit of research to bring you our review of the best bike computer for your needs.

We have narrowed our list down to the top bike computers and give our review of each one right here.

Our Bike Computer Reviews

Below, we’ll take a look at 5 of the best bike computers out there and highlight their benefits as well as any drawbacks they may have. 

GARMIN EDGE 520

The Garmin Edge 520 is feature rich. Designed to be the last bike computer you will ever need, it comes ANT+ compatible with every sensor and profile available.

The display is large and has multiple lines allowing you to view different data at the same time. Full backlit display means you can see the readout in any light.

The cadence sensor will mount to any crankarm which enables you to use it on any bike in your garage. The speed sensor will mount to the hub of either wheel giving you the flexibility to monitor accurate speed and distance regardless if you are on the trainer indoors or the track outdoors.

Monitor your time in zone, power output, cycling-specific VO2 and recovery, and cycling dynamics.

With a price​​​​ around $305 for a bundled set, not only is the Garmin Edge 520 a great value, it is a great computer.

What We Like

  • check-circle
    Ease of installation: The sensors have no exposed parts, no magnets to line up and are easily installed.
  • check-circle
    Self-calibration: Put it on and start peddling. The sensors self-adjust

What We Don't Like

  • times-circle
    The signal could be lost due to handlebar or water bottle interference. However: re-positioning the head unit on the handlebars fixes the problem.

Wahoo ELEMNT

We don’t think there is another bike computer on the market today with as many features as the ELEMNT by Wahoo.

This GPS bike computer has the largest display you will find. A huge 2.7-inch “Daybright” display makes it easy to view your stats in any light, glare and night are no problems.

The ELEMNT automatically syncs and downloads routes and turn by turn navigation. ELEMNT uses the interface of your smartphone to pair, customize settings, configure workout pages, and link to popular cycling apps and wireless sensors. Pre and post ride you will be able to view your stats through the cycling app of your choice.

This unit will pair and sync to any sensor using Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS or ANT+. Nothing to tether, no cables ever.

With tactical buttons and the ability to toggle between 2 to 10 data lines, you will be able to view real-time data on over 170 different datasets. No other bike computer comes close.

With so many features, upgrades and available syncing with 3rd party apps and sensors, the Wahoo ELEMNT is a steal at just under $300.

What We Like

  • check-circle
    The Quicklook LED indicators: Get instant visual cues for the available data.
  • check-circle
    Download routes using 3rd party navigation​​​​​​

What We Don't Like

  • times-circle
    Live tracking requires that you have your smart phone paired, with you, open and running. This will use battery and data.

Garmin Edge 25

Enter the world’s smallest bike computer: the Garmin Edge 25. Don’t let its size fool you; it packs a punch.

The Edge 25 is ANT+ compatible for speed and cadence sensors as well as heart rate monitors. You also can pair with GPS +GLONASS, the first bike monitor in this size to include GLONASS. Never lose your position, even under heavy tree cover.

Because it’s a Garmin, you have access to Garmin Connect (TM). You can download courses, view personal records and analyze post-ride stats.

Fully capable and perfect for the casual rider as well as the enthusiast, the Garmin Edge 25 is a great deal at right around $170.

What We Like

  • check-circle
    Highly durable
  • check-circle
    Water resistant
  • check-circle
    GLONASS enables
  • check-circle
    8 hour run time on a single charge

What We Don't Like

  • times-circle
    The screen is on the small side

CatEye Strada

The Strada from CatEye might just be the quickest mounting bike computer today. It’s super slim design and giant readout LCD screen make it easy to use as well as read.

The CatEye Strada is weatherproof, so you never have to worry about the conditions outside.  Fully customization, you can track two courses or two bikes with the same unit.

Your current speed stays on the top of the screen for easy reading. Press the mode button on the bottom of the unit to scroll between 8 different functions, including, current/max/average speed, total distance, trip distance for 2 courses/bikes, elapsed time and current time.

Quick mount, easy to use in any weather, this is the most economical CatEye yet setting you back only about $55.

What We Like

  • check-circle
    No tool installation means you will quickly have your CatEye Strada mounted and be on the road.
  • check-circle
    Single push-button access to all the different modes.

What We Don't Like

  • times-circle
    There is no ANT+ compatibility.
  • times-circle
    You can’t monitor heart rate or altitude.
  • times-circle
    Only used with CatEye brand sensors.

Planet Bike Protege 9.0

Rounding out our top 5 is the Protege 9.0 from Planet Bike. This wireless bike computer has more features than you can handle.

The large display has four lines to show you up to five bits of data. You can easily program two tire sizes so that you can switch between bikes without any effort.

The Protege 9.0 tracks all your essential details such as current speed, ride time, trip distance, average speed, and maximum speed, settings for two wheel sizes, a clock, and a thermometer.

Able to monitor five different sets of real-time data make this bike computer a bargain at just over $50.

What We Like

  • check-circle
    This robust and easy to read monitor is great for every rider.
  • check-circle
    Tracking every vital event, you can’t go wrong.
  • check-circle
    We love how durable the unit is as well as how easy to set up and use.
  • check-circle
    It is virtually hands-free while in use.

What We Don't Like

  • times-circle
    Set up and installation can be a tad difficult.
  • times-circle
    Positioning the sensors correctly to the magnets is a bit tricky.
  • times-circle
    The sensor wire to the head unit is too short to be able to be mounted to the rear wheel.

What Is a Bike Computer?

A bike computer, also known as a cyclometer or cyclocomputer, is a device that works much like the instrument panel in a car. It attaches to your bike and displays or records trip information.

The information is displayed on the head unit which is generally mounted on the handlebars of your bike. With technology, some smartwatches can also be used as a head unit.

A bike computer will usually consist of four main parts:

  • check
    The head unit, which displays the information to the rider
  • check
    The wheel sensor, which calculates speed and distance and sends the information to the head unit.
  • check
    The cadence sensor, a small magnet and receiver, will send crankarm revolutions per minute information to the head unit.
  • check
    Transmission, the wired or wireless sending unit from the sensor to the head unit.

Most models of bike computers will display information such as current and maximum speed, distance traveled, time of day, and temperature. More advanced models will also include such information as altitude, GPS data, heart rate and even power output.

Why Use a Bike Computer?

Bike computers are used by every style of rider; from the casual to the course trainer. You can use a bike computer both for fun, and to track your trip distance and time, or you can use it as motivation to be even better next time.

As Veeder Manufacturing Company, the 1895 inventor of the cyclometer, said in their promotion slogan: “It’s nice to know how far you go.”

what is a bike computer

Benefits of Riding with a Bike Computer

Whether you are riding for pleasure or training for the next Tour de France, the best bike computer has many advantages.

The most obvious of these benefits is in the distance traveled. Knowing how far you have gone helps in training as well as your early morning ride. Coupling distance with time or speed will benefit you by providing motivation to always beat your best.

With the ability to track your heart rate and power production, you will know if you need to change gears for that aerobic workout or taper things off to maintain your preferred heart rate.

Healthy, active lifestyles begin by knowing where you are at and knowing where you want to be. Having a bike computer on your handlebars will help you, in real time, know just how far you have to go to get there.

How Does a Bike Computer Work?

A bike computer uses sensors placed in various positions around your bike to send data information to a transmission.

This transmission converts to the head unit computer.

Once the computer has the data, it transforms it into human-readable information and displays it on the head unit LCD screen.

bike computer sensor

Type of Sensors

There are two types of sensors: magnetic and GPS. Each type has its advantages and disadvantages.

Magnetic Sensors

Magnetic sensors are generally used for cadence and speed. A magnet is mounted to the spoke of a wheel or the crankarm. A sensor is then mounted on the frame or front fork of the bike and reads every time the magnet passes the sensor.

Because the magnetic field is strong, these sensors are immune to dirt, dust, water or mud. The accuracy can be counted on in any condition.

GPS Sensors

GPS sensors use a GPS enabled device to monitor data through GPS signals. This data is then sent to the head unit by the transmission to be displayed on the screen for the rider.

While the GPS sensors can easily be moved between bicycles, they are more expensive. One downside to a bike GPS computer is that the sensor runs on rechargeable batteries that will need to be regularly maintained.

Types of Data Transmission

There are two types of data transmission from the sensors to the head unit: wire and wireless.

The best bike computer for you depends on the type of rider you are (causal, enthusiast or competitive) as well as the type of bike you ride (road, mountain, hybrid, etc.).

Wired Transmission

Wired transmission models are simply sensors with a wire that must be attached to the bike frame leading to the head unit.

Besides the tangle of wires that need to be properly installed, the downside to a wired transmission is that they are not easily swapped between bikes.

bike computer data transmission

These are generally lighter units than wireless making them better for light bike needs. However, they are not the best option for mountain bike computers because the wires can come loose, get cut or ripped off the frame.

Wireless Transmission

Wireless transmission uses a signal to send data to the head unit instead of a wire. The best bike computers with GPS are going to be wireless.

Because of their nature, wireless units are generally heavier than wired units. This could be a problem for those looking to save on the overall weight, such as competitive riders.

Road riders will appreciate the inexpensive and durable wired units, while mountain bikers and competitive riders will like the efficiency and reliability of wireless units.

What Bike Computer Measures/Functions

Bike computers measure a lot more than distance nowadays.

No two models are alike and each will come with different features and measurements. Deciding what features you require and what features you want will help you determine the best bike computer for you.

Basic Functions

The basic functions of nearly all bike computers are standard. You will find functions and features such as:

  • check
    Speed/Average speed/Maximum speed. Your travel speed is measured by an algorithm based on the data sent to the head unit from the sensors.
  • check
    Cadence/Average cadence/Maximum cadence. Cadence is all about rhythm. Being able to monitor your revolutions per minute is important to maintaining a rhythm.
  • check
    Ride time. How long you have been riding is important to know for most riders, even casual ones. This basic functionality will display on the head unit in minutes and hours.
  • check
    Time of day. The obvious feature allows you to know what time it is without taking your attention off the road. Because you may be riding without a watch or able to look at your cell phone, displaying the time of day is vital for all riders.
  • check
    Over/Under average speed. Calculating your average speed and being able to see a readout if you are over or under is a great motivation. If you are trying to beat your record time, or just be better than you were yesterday, knowing your over/under average will help.
  • check
    Ride trip/distance. The distance you travel and the trip you take to get there are vital to knowing how well you are improving. Daily rides that are the same length with faster times will tell you that you are improving your skills.
  • check
    Odometer. Every rider should know how far they have gone. The odometer keeps track of your trip distance as well as overall distance. This vital information is important for keeping track of maintenance as well as milestones.

Advanced Measurements/Functions

A lot of road bike computers and mountain bike computers will offer advanced features. Depending on your riding style these advanced features may prove more useful to you.

  • check
    Heart rate/average heart rate/maximum heart rate. When training or riding to improve your health, being able to monitor your heart rate is essential. Advanced bike computers will be able to monitor your heart rate and provide real-time feedback on the head unit.
  • check
    Altitude/maximum altitude. Conditioning is important to the advanced rider. Being able to maintain cadence, speed and rhythm at any altitude is important.
  • check
    Total ascent/total descent. Hills are inevitable when riding a bike. If you use hills to train or increase production then being able to monitor your ascension and descent is vital.
  • check
    Temperature. Being able to note the current temperature is important to a rider’s health. Knowing the changes in temperature will allow you to maintain your stamina as well as hydration.
  • check
    Gearing. More advanced models can even sense your gear changes. Keeping you informed of shifting can help provide a smooth and efficient ride.

Features

Whether you choose wired or wireless transmissions, magnetic or GPS sensors, or basic or advanced functions, each bike computer will have various features. These features will come into your decision on which model to purchase.

Installation and functionality will play a large part in your buying experience. The features listed here will explain what you should look for and the purpose of each one.

Rear Wheel Sensor

rear wheel sensor

Some models will offer the use of a rear wheel sensor.

These usually tie in with the cadence sensor on the crankarm and use a wire mounted to the frame to the head unit.

When looking for a rear wheel sensor, be sure that the model is designed for it.

Most wheel sensors are designed to be mounted on the fork of the front wheel. 

Because of the chain, pedals and gears, mounting on a rear wheel can have disadvantages.

You may be required to extend the cable, or if you are using a wireless sensor, it may not have a strong enough signal to reach the head unit.

Water Resistance

Unfortunately, we can’t always ride in perfect weather conditions. Having a bike computer that is water resistant is an important feature to look for.

While your sensors are generally going to be weatherproof (especially the magnetic sensors), the head unit may only be water resistant. You should ensure that it is rated for water resistance and take the needed precautions when riding in the rain or after a rain shower.

Checking your head unit for cracks or damage should be a part of your pre-ride routine. Having a head unit short out because of water damage will not only cost you money, but it won’t be able to record your data for that ride.

SmartPhone Pairing

A lot of the best bike computers will offer the advantage of paring with your smartphone. Either using apps or monitoring.

While smartphone pairing is still less accurate, you can use a smartphone, or smart watch instead of a head unit. This is a great feature if you want to take your progress with you even when you aren’t on a bike.

When using your smartphone as a head unit, you have certain advantages such as a larger display and easy to read mapping capabilities. However, you will need a special mount for the phone and without the proper case, there will be less weather resistance and greater risk of damage in an accident.

bike computer and smartphone

GPS

GPS features give you a lot more data capabilities than standard types. You can transfer your data to a computer, for example. Using a satellite signal to transmit your ride data is very accurate and efficient.

The downside to bike GPS computers is that they require a strong signal which can be affected by weather, location and availability. Mounting the GPS is easier than standard mounts as there are no wires. This means they can be transferred between bikes effectively.

That alone could save you money by not having to purchase multiple bike computers. The units are heavier, though, and for competitive riders may not be the best option.

ANT+

ANT+ is a wireless technology that allows devices to talk to each other. Having an ANT+ enabled bike computer means no wires. Your sensors will fit one of three ANT+ profiles and be able to send data to the head unit using the ANT+ technology.

The most common ANT+ profile is speed/cadence combo sensor. Without fail, if a device is ANT+ capable it supports this profile. Speed only and Cadence only are still new ANT+ profiles and may or may not be supported by your device.

You should ensure your device and sensors can support the required ANT+ profile for your particular application.

There are also other ANT+ profiles for other devices that can be used with your head unit. Heart rate monitors, skin temperature monitors and even electric bikes. 

Multi-Bike Options

Most non-casual riders have more than one bike. Different terrains and different needs require different equipment. However, you can find options for bike computers that allow you to use multiple bikes.

Any GPS unit will quickly move to another handlebar. There are also bike computers on the market designed for multiple bikes. When using the same device for multiple bikes, you need to have a few extra pieces.

The mount should stay on the handlebar, so you will need multiple mounts. You should ensure that your unit is multi bike ready. Different wheel sizes and frame distance from sensors to handlebars will affect the units.

Make sure that your device is capable of either manual input for tire size, or can easily be calibrated.

Back Light

One important feature for night riders, or early morning riders, that is often overlooked is a back light. Most riders already have a headlight on their helmet. However, the glare from the headlight might impede the viewing of the LCD display.

Having a head unit with a back light means you can see it at any time. Not only does a back light provide visibility of the head unit in any lighting conditions, but it is also a safety feature.

By keeping your headlamp on the road as well as your eyes and attention, you can avoid accidents and wrecks.

bike computer back light

Multiple Data Screen

Why bother tracking different data if you can’t view it? With multiple data screen capabilities, you can monitor multiple inputs at the same time.

Tracking speed while monitoring the temperature or altitude, can give you real-time feedback on your performance. Likewise, watching your heart rate and cadence together can be useful for training purposes.

Readability

Head units come in different sizes and shapes. Being able to read the display quickly and return your attention to the road is important.

If you have less than perfect eyesight, you may need to opt for a larger display. Another option is to pair your device to your smart phone. The bright, vivid display will allow you to quickly keep tabs on your data and your attention on the road.

What to Consider When Choosing A Bike Computer

There are several factors to consider when choosing which is the best bike computer for you. Needs and functionality are among the top factors. However, you should also decide your wants, expectations and even the type of rider you are.

These factors will help you narrow your choice down to the best bike computer for you.

What Type of Rider Are You?

Knowing the type of rider you are will go a long way to determining the bike computer that will best suit your needs. Casual, trails, training or competitive, the best bike computer for you depends a lot on how you will use it.

If you like to torque on the heavy tread and hit the trails, then the best mountain bike computer will better suit you than the best road bike computers. 

Likewise, if you are trying to train or increase your cardio workout, then you will be better suited for a road bike computer. Deciding on features is easier when you can narrow down how exactly you will be using your bike computer.

what's the best bike computer

In Conclusion

So, there you have it. Our rundown of the five best bike computers. With so many options to choose from it can be difficult to know which to choose.

We hope our reviews have helped you make the right decision. If you are a casual rider, a trail monster or a competitive racer looking for an advantage, you need the right bike computer for you.

Track your distance, your heart rate and your miles and train to get better every day. Cycling in today's’ technologically advanced world means more ride data is available to you than ever before. A bike computer makes sense for any rider, from trainer to enthusiast.

No matter your needs or your expectations there is a bike computer that is perfect for you.

About the Author Max Shumpert

Over the last few years, I’ve taken my love of the outdoors, hiking, skiing, trekking and exploring to the next level by starting this site. I started a bike shop in Denver, CO, and have seen amazing growth over the last few years. Getting paid to do what I love has been a dream come true for me. That’s also what led me to start BikesReviewed.com. In my shop, I spend a large amount of time helping people find the perfect bike for them and the style of biking they’re going to be doing. It only made sense that I expanded my reach and got online, making it possible for me to help people all over the world. If biking and staying fit is your priority, too, you’ve come to the right place.

Leave a Comment: