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The Best Bike Computer Reviews: Measure Performance, Connect with Friends with GPS Cycling Computers

July 6, 2019

​Whether you’re a numbers nerd obsessed by marginal gains or an intrepid two-wheeled explorer who wants to get off the beaten track, the best bike computers and GPS bike computers, in particular, have revolutionized the way riders plan their rides and track their training.

Long gone are the days of cumbersome bike computers with awkward wires and wheel magnets. Today’s GPS computers are a world away from the designs of old, pulling data directly from satellites flying high above Planet Earth or seamlessly and wirelessly communicating with smart sensors elsewhere on the bike or your body.

Garmin Edge 820, GPS Cycling/Bike Computer for Performance and Racing

In fact, uploading your computer’s ride data to Strava and poring over the numbers has become an essential post-ride ritual for many cyclists, comparing your performance from one week to the next, or hunting out new areas to pedal.

Not all GPS bike computers are created equal, though. With a wide range of options and a host of rival brands vying for your attention, it’s easy to become overwhelmed when scoping out the best bike computer for you. 

Fear not; we’ve got all the essential information you need, as well as my pick of the best bike computers on the market today..

What’s New for 2019

It’s rare that a full-featured cycling computer won’t have its own smartphone app for setup and pushing firmware updates, but many units today also support in-device integrations from third-party apps, which offer added features without using the app.

While there are still a few bar-top “phablets” out there, and some miniature models, computer makers are settling on a midsize screen (2.3 to 2.8 inches diagonal) for most of their offerings: enough to show the data you want without putting a giant piece of glass on your handlebar.

Connect With WiFi

Computers that connect to your home Wifi network take a step out of ride uploading. By the time you’ve finished taking off your shoes, your ride can be up on Strava. Some computers, like the SRM PC8, upload data only through WiFi.

Choose the Best Screen for You

​1. Garmin Edge 520 Plus

Off-road navigation with Trailforks integration

Connectivity is the game for Garmin’s powerhouse 520 Plus. You can make use of Garmin’s own suite of features like rider-to-rider messaging via GroupTrack (on compatible smartphones) and turn-by-turn navigation, or add third-party apps like personalized training plans from TrainingPeaks, Accuweather alerts, even detailed trail info from Trailforks.

Garmin Edge 520 Plus, GPS Cycling/Bike Computer for Competing and Navigation

It’s most powerful when paired to other Garmin hardware, like the Varia light and radar system, or Garmin power meters for tracking and analyzing performance metrics like pedaling efficiency.

2. Wahoo Elemnt

A tried-and-true favorite

​Wahoo’s first computer remains one of our all-time favorites, with a sharp single-color screen and easy button-based menu navigation.

No other computer has more third-party app integrations available, ranging from Strava Live Segments to electronic shifting for Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo drivetrains.

Wahoo ELEMNT GPS Bike Computer

Other innovative features include a companion smartphone app to generate cycling-optimized routes for any point of interest, and LED indicator lights to signal if you’re on pace for specified workout elements like power or heart rate.

3. Stages Dash

Packed with the features you need for high-level training

This no-nonsense head unit is a powerful training tool that’s focused on helping you get faster. The Dash skips feature like maps and turn-by-turn navigation in favor of sophisticated training metrics like Intensity Factor, Normalized Power, and Training Stress Score.

The monochrome screen and physical buttons are easy to use even when you’re hammering all-out. Dash syncs wirelessly to Stages’ own Link training program or third-party sites like Strava,

Stages Dash M50

TrainingPeaks, or Today’s Plan to push workout plans direct to the device, with clear on-screen prompts for every interval and effort.

4. Polar V650

Connectivity via Bluetooth only

The first thing you’ll notice on the V650 is its spacious, 2.8-inch (diagonal) touchscreen with a vibrant, full-color display. Polar’s partnership with OpenStreetMap offers a rich database of crowdsourced routes optimized for cycling.

You can also create custom profiles for different kinds of riding, each with its own unique data fields and display. Important to know: Polar made the V650 a Bluetooth-only system.

Polar V650 Cycling Computer with Heart Rate Monitor

There will likely be many more products with Bluetooth on the market soon, but current ANT+ power meters and accessories like some cadence sensors aren’t compatible.​

​5. Bryton Rider 410

Accesses entire Global Navigation System

The Rider 410 is an unassuming little powerhouse, with pretty much every feature you need in a head unit. But its best attribute is a powerful global navigation system for precise route recording.

Most computers use GPS and GLONASS satellite networks, which cover many, but not all, situations. The Rider 410 uses those, plus other satellite networks: BDS (China), QZSS (Japan), and Galileo (Europe).

That means faster signal acquisition and clearer, more precise data even in situations that normally give GPS units trouble, like dense overstory or deep canyons on mountain bike rides.

Bryton Rider 410 GPS Bike Computer

The 410 does not, however, have turn-by-turn directions; the Rider 450 and Aero 60 are better options if you want on-screen maps.

​6. Garmin Edge 130

Tiny and powerful

In the Edge 130, Garmin (finally!) has a spiritual successor to the beloved, discontinued, Edge 500. The Edge 130 is a small (41 x 63 x 16mm), lightweight (35 grams), and relatively inexpensive computer with a streamlined feature set, monochrome screen, and 15-hour battery life.

Garmin Edge 130, Compact and Easy-to-use GPS Cycling/Bike Computer

It has all the features a data-hungry rider needs–speed, distance, and time; barometric altimeter; wide sensor compatibility, including power meters; and long battery life and reliability—without the additional complexity and expense of mapping or other high-end features.

​7. SRM PC8

Designed for interval training, with a massive battery life

The SRM PC8 (Power Control Eight) doesn’t, on paper, compare well to other GPS cycling computers. It’s very expensive and doesn’t offer navigation, smartphone connectivity, or any of the training or recovery guidance features many of the other computers do. 

This is a tool for racers looking to take their training to the next level. It has massive battery life, huge memory, and is specifically designed for interval training.

The display is fantastic arguably the clearest, sharpest, easiest to read of all the computers. And the aluminum case is jewel-like and can be highly customized. 

SRM PowerControl 8

Be aware that the PC8 uploads through WiFi only, or ​is connected directly to a computer with its proprietary USB cable. Don’t lose this cable it’s also the charging cable, and a new one will cost you $29.

​8. Lezyne Mega C

Big value with a long feature list

​Mega C offers a color screen and the value we’ve come to expect from Lezyne’s GPS units. The Mega C lives up to its name with a large 56mm diagonal display, and a long feature list that includes great battery life (up to 32 hours) and enough memory to store 800 hours of rides. 

LEZYNE Mega C GPS Bike Computer Black

The Mega C also offers smartphone alerts, navigation with turn-by-turn directions, compatibility with ANT + and Bluetooth sensors, ANT+ FE-C trainer control, coaching prompts from Today’s Plan or TrainingPeaks training programs, and friend tracking.

​9. Garmin Edge 1030

Long list of features and a huge color screen

The Garmin Edge 1030 is the gold standard for cycling computers with navigation options available on the market right now. The huge color screen makes following an unfamiliar route easier.

Despite its size—slightly larger than an Edge 1000—it’s low profile and the included out-in-front mount set the 1030 flush with your bar.

Garmin Edge 1030 Bundle, GPS Cycling/Bike Computer with Navigation and Connected Features

Preload maps from Trendline Popularity Routing with billions of miles of Garmin Connect ride data for turn-by-turn directions, find out when you’re about to hit a Strava segment, let friends and family live-track you on Garmin Connect, and keep pedaling for up to 20 hours with the updated battery.

And, of course, it does what every good cycling computer does: monitors the basics like speed, altitude, time, distance, cadence, and power.

Buying the best GPS bike computer: what you need to know

Two things should determine the best bike computer for you: the features required and the amount of cash you are willing to part with. Needless to say, the more you spend, the more advanced your computer will be, but that’s not always a good thing.

If you’re after a simple device to display the bare basics, then the number of configurable options on top-end computers can be confusing. Similarly, if you’re a performance-obsessed rider who wants complex data at your fingertips, or you plan on using your computer to go exploring, then you don’t want to be let down by a lackluster choice.

Ultimately, you have four main things to consider when buying a GPS bike computer - mapping and navigation, data and connectivity, display and interface, and battery life - so let’s quickly run through each of those to help you to make the best choice.

Broadly speaking, GPS computers fall into two categories: those with mapping and those without. Computers with detailed mapping and turn-by-turn navigation will cost more than those designed simply to display ride data (although they may also have basic mapping functionality).

If you like to explore by bike, buying a GPS computer with mapping and navigation is a great way to head into unchartered territory, without getting completely lost.

Most computers with navigational functionality will allow you to either directly input a destination, with the computer then putting together a route (often using quiet roads popular with other riders), or to design and upload your own course using the brand’s software.

Unless you’re already out on the bike and going somewhere on a whim, the latter is a far better option. Computers that offer turn-by-turn navigation will let you know exactly how far you have to go before, well, turning, but it’s worth bearing in mind that this will put a strain on your device’s battery life.

On a very basic level, all GPS bike computers will display simple data like speed (current/average/maximum), time and distance (trip/total), but that’s only scratching the surface of the capability of most units.

All credible GPS computers will offer either Ant+ or Bluetooth Smart connectivity (often both), which in turn allows you to pair the computer with a range of third-party devices, including heart rate monitors, power meters and cadence sensors. These will then return a wealth of related data.

Bluetooth Smart connectivity will also allow your computer to display call, text and email alerts when paired with your smartphone, while some devices have built-in WiFi to automatically upload your ride to Strava and the like once you get home.

In reality, the data served up by more advanced GPS bike computers, whether that’s from the device itself or a paired sensor, is so vast that you’re unlikely to use all of it. Far from it. Still, if there’s a particular feature you’re after, check out your favored computer’s specs.

As for the display, your computer will either have a black-and-white or color screen. In some instances, a black-and-white screen will offer improved contrast, but a color display will enable more detail. Ultimately it comes down to preference and budget.

Screen size is also worth considering: bigger is generally better for mapping and navigation, but the largest devices can be a bit cumbersome.

All GPS computers will enable you to customize how data is arranged on the screen, with multiple fields spread across multiple pages, so you can have the most important numbers right in front of you and the less important stuff a quick click or scroll away.

On that note, most computers will rely on physical buttons to operate the device, but more expensive units will have a touchscreen. We tend to prefer buttons as touchscreens can be temperamental when covered in water or if you are wearing gloves.

Choose the Best ​Bike Computer for You

Color screens are cheery but are mostly useful only for more complex navigation. If you’re just using a computer for speed and distance, a monochromatic screen is enough and is easier to read in some conditions.

Touchscreens make some functions easier, but can be glitchy when used with gloved fingers or when sprinkled with precipitation or perspiration. In general, cycling and touchscreens don’t mix well, so we suggest avoiding them when possible.