You’ve caught the bug, getting up at the crack of dawn to squeeze in that early morning ride before work. The miles are piling up and you love every second of it. Continually pushing your speed and distance is fun, but it would be so much better with a cycling computer. Cycling computers are a great training asset, or if you aren’t that serious about competition, are just plain fun to have. Constantly begging you to pedal faster, the speedometer is a great motivator. Here is a look at the different options and price brackets to find a computer that fits your cycling lifestyle.
Before delving into the multitude of computer options, let’s cover the features available on different models so you know what to look for when shopping.
Speed Most cycling computers record speed using two different methods. The first option involves mounting a magnet on a wheel spoke and a receiving unit on the fork or chainstay. As the magnet passes the receiving unit, each revolution is counted and translated into speed information based on your bike’s wheel size. Cycling computers come with a wheel size chart so that you can program the computer during initial setup. If programmed incorrectly, the computer will report an inaccurate speed. The second method of recording speed on more expensive computers uses GPS (Global Position System) signals to continuously track your position. If you have used GPS before, you may have experienced reception issues, but be assured that current GPS systems from reputable manufacturers are very reliable. Of all the rides I have done over the years, I’ve only lost reception two or three times in areas without visibility to the sky, so don’t let it be a contributing factor to your purchasing decisions.
Cadence Cadence is the number of revolutions per minute of the pedals. Cadence is monitored using a method similar to the method for recording speed; a receiving unit detects a magnet on the crank arm, recording the number of times it passes. Cadence is independent of cycling speed and related to the current gear selection. For instance, 90 revolutions per minute is a generally accepted cadence for medium-effort spinning on a road bike. If you are interested in training with cadence, make sure your computer supports this option. Monitoring cadence will help ensure that you don’t push too big of a gear and wear yourself out prematurely.
Heart Rate Some cycling computers support heart rate monitor connections, displaying heart rate data on the computer screen. Some computers use proprietary heart rate monitors, while others use the ANT+ universal connection standard that will work across platforms. If you already have a heart rate monitor, check to see if it is ANT+ compatible and then choose a computer accordingly. If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, read up on the advantages of training with heart rate.
When shopping for a first computer, there are many options, from budget-minded models to full-featured units fit for professional use. Cateye computers offer a reliable, straightforward design. They are easy to use and last for years in the most brutal of weather conditions. A variety of options offer different features depending on what is important to you. The Cateye Velo 7 is an extremely affordable option for those who just want speed and distance. Moving up a level to either a Micro Wireless or Urban Wireless eliminate the wires that run between the computer and the receiving unit. If you are a neat freak and don’t like the clutter and prefer a quick, easy installation, go with a wireless computer. Jumping another model level up to the Strada Double Wireless adds a cadence monitor. I like the receiving unit on the Double Wireless which mounts to the chainstay. The Double Wireless has two pickups built in the monitor crank speed on one side and wheel speed on the other, eliminating the need for two receiving units.
Garmin has become the defacto leader in GPS cycling computers, offering a range of products for most budgets. Their latest model, the Edge 200, offers the most affordable option yet. These, like all the other Garmin models, will upload all of your ride data to their online Garmin Connect ride analysis website, or you can upload to the popular Strava cycling and running website.
All other Garmin models are ANT+ compatible; allowing you to add cadence, power and heart rate should you desire. Garmin accessories are easy to add on along the way. The Edge 500 is a popular lightweight option, while the 510 adds touch screen capabilities and Bluetooth connectivity to your cell phone for live streaming capabilities of your data via Facebook.
The Garmin Edge Touring, 810 and 1000 models offer mapping capabilities. This can be advantageous for riders exploring new routes, and those that desire guidance along their ride. Among the many features these computers offer is the ability to build your own routes at home and then transfer them to the device for use. You might also consider a Garmin Forerunner 910XT. This watch offers all of the same features of an Edge cycling computer, but in wristwatch form for use when running and swimming if you live the multisport lifestyle. The Forerunner 910XT is detachable from the wristband for mounting on a handlebar.
While the Garmin computers come with a mount, K-edge, an Idaho-based manufacturer, has made a business around building quality CNC’d mounts for Garmin computers and GoPro’s along with chain guides. The universal Garmin twist-lock mount style allows you to put a standard K-Edge mount on your road machine, and a Fixed Stem Mount on your mountain bike to easily switch your computer between the two.
Although they are both considered cycling computers, there is a very big feature difference between a base model Cateye and a top-of-the-line Garmin 1000. Your personal goals and training plan will determine the best computer for you. The Garmin’s touchscreen interface is easy to use, so you could grow into the computer as you expand your ANT+ devices and features that you use routinely. I’ve leave you to your devices; now possessing the tools to make an informed decision. Cheers, and remember to keep the rubber side down.
Rubber Side Down is a weekly column dedicated to the fledgling cyclist in all of us. Art’s Cyclery Web Content Editor, Brett Murphy is not a professional cyclist, and doesn’t try to masquerade as one either, but he does love to ride bikes. Whether you are clipping in for the first time or counting down the days until your first race, read on, learn from his mistakes, and keep the rubber side down.