I joined a group ride the other day and spent too much time fussing with the navigation on my new cycling computer. I got to the end of my ride and realized I hadn’t even pressed start! My data was never recorded, and I was very disappointed.
The experience really got me wondering if bike computers are worth it.
In this article, we’ll look at bike computers and if they are worth the money and trouble. We’ll look at the pros and cons of having a cycling computer and discuss the differences between having a bike computer and using your phone or smartwatch instead.
Are Bike Computers Worth It?
If you bike frequently, then you’ll probably find a bike computer to be worth it. However, if you only ride a few times a year, then a bike computer is likely overkill. It’s also worth considering a bike computer if you want to protect your phone, avoid wearing a watch, or if you’d like to use the GPS functionality.
Now let’s get into the details a little bit more, to illustrate when you may or may not want to get a bike computer.
Pros / Cons of Bike Computers
- You’ll have a dedicated tool for bike rides, which means you keep your phone in your pocket and more protected.
- Bike computers have a great navigational system that is easy to follow
- You can track your speed, distance, cadence, heart rate, and calorie burn if you pair with sensors.
- Many cycling computers have a long battery life.
- They are designed to be waterproof or water-resistant in case you get caught in bad weather.
- Cycling computers are designed to survive crashes, and some have crash detection to notify loved ones of an emergency.
- These screens are easier to read in the sun than a phone screen.
- Most cycling computers are both ANT + and Bluetooth compatible.
- They are usually more aerodynamic.
- Cycling computers have great connectivity to your phone and other apps for notifications and additional functions.
- Cycling computers can be costly, considering they are only designed for one type of activity.
- They can be challenging to learn and program.
- They will need a specific mount on your handlebars.
Bike Computer vs. Phone (Which is Better for You)
Depending on your needs, you might prefer to use your phone as a bike computer. In this case, you’ll need a phone-specific mount on your handlebars to give you easy access to your phone while riding, and you may want an extra protective case.
There are some compelling reasons to use your phone as a bike computer. For example, if you’re new to cycling and just want to test the waters of a cycling-specific computer and the data it can provide, you can download some easy-to-use apps to give you a taste of how it works.
If you use your phone instead of a cycling computer, you can breathe a sigh of relief because phones are a little less techy to use. Phone apps are pretty straightforward and easy to set up.
On the other hand, using GPS on your phone while it isn’t plugged in will have a big drain on your phone battery. Unfortunately, your battery could die mid-ride, leaving you without a phone when you need it most.
Also, your phone may not be able to withstand the road conditions, such as rain, heat, and sun. If you crash, your phone will be exposed on the bike and might shatter on impact, again leaving you without a phone when you need it most.
Many cycling computers come equipped with both Ant+ and Bluetooth technology, making it quick and easy to pair your sensors. However, your phone likely won’t have Ant+, and while this is slowly changing, you’ll likely only have Bluetooth capability on your phone. Not all sensors will be able to connect to your phone, so you won’t be able to collect all of the data you need.
So while smartphones can give you a basic cycling computer experience, if you are very serious about riding or if you just want to protect your phone, you’ll probably want to invest in some type of dedicated cycling computer or even a cycling smartwatch.
Bike Computer vs. Smartwatch (Which is Better for You)
Is a smartwatch better for you? Smartwatches are great for triathletes because you can switch between sports activities easily. For example, the Wahoo Element Rival multisport watch was designed with triathletes in mind.
You can’t take a bike computer swimming, but you can take your Wahoo Watch swimming, so if you’re a triathlete, a smartwatch might be a better option for you. It can track your rides, runs, swims, and a host of other sports. You can go from the bike to a swim, to a run without worrying about your cycling computer. Some watches will easily allow you to switch activities with just the touch of a button.
Smartwatches, in general, can connect to sensors such as cadence, heart rate, power, and speed. They can also connect to your smartphone and bike computer. A GPS smartwatch is also great for collecting personal data such as heart rate, oxygen saturation, sleep quality, and hydration, so you only need a watch, not a watch and a computer. Many watches will connect with your phone to show you essential notifications and text messages.
However, fully functional smartwatches can be very pricey, anywhere from $100 to $800 and up. They also can be rather large and bulky on your wrist, especially if you are on the smaller side. The less expensive versions have more limited capabilities. Some of these smartwatches do not have touch screens, and some need a phone close by to function at all. If you aren’t a triathlete, their value may be negligible.
Do You Need a Bike Computer?
You do NOT need a bike computer to ride a bike or even to get in better shape. You can definitely go on group rides, make trips, and get healthier without one. But, if you have specific cycling goals that you would like to meet, a bike computer can be a beneficial tool.
When paired with speed, cadence, and power sensors, your bike computer can tell you how fast you are going, how hard you are working, and much power you are putting out as you ride. It can tell you how many calories you are burning, too.
In addition, many bike computers have a function that allows you to download workouts right into the computer. You can follow the prompts to complete each segment of the workout.
Another benefit of bike computers is navigation with GPS. If you are riding in unfamiliar territory or if you get lost easily, you might need a bike computer. For example, Strava will show you popular routes in your area, and you can download them to your bike computer. From there, when you start your route, it will give you turn-by-turn directions, so you always know where to go.
How Much Do Bike Computers Cost?
There is a wide range of price points when it comes to bike computers. For example, a Garmin 1030 Edge plus many bells and whistles will set you back a solid $500. On the other hand, a basic XOSS brand is just a tenth of the price at $50.
Coming in around the middle is a Garmin Edge 530 ($300) and a Hammerhead Karoo 2 ($400). There is a bike computer for every budget, and it just depends on the level of functionality you desire. But most basic cycling computers will share the same basic characteristics, as you can see in the chart below.
Cycling Computers Comparison Chart
|ANT+ or Bluetooth
|Garmin Edge 530
|Hammerhead Karoo 2
|Garmin Edge 1030 Plus
Are Bike Computers Worth the Money?
Bike computers are worth the money, depending on your goals and how you ride. If you just want to ride around the block or to the grocery store in town, you might not need one. But, if you want to dial in your training, track your health stats, or go long distances, you might find that a cycling computer is indeed worth the money.