Bike computers come in a variety of different packages with various trackable metrics offered on each. Picking the right one for your riding style is crucial, and sorting the differences between models can be confusing. Here’s what you need to know.
What to Look for in a Bike Computer
Before you start looking for a bike computer, think about the types of riding you do and what information you want to have. That’s your baseline for deciding on options and how much to spend. For example, are you a casual rider who just wants to know speed and distance, or are you planning to use lots of sensors like a heart monitor and power meter? Do you want turn-by-turn navigation on a big display? Generally, the more you spend, the more options you can expect, but you may not want or need all the available bells and whistles.
Beyond ease of use, when evaluating mid to high-end bike computers, a primary consideration is how data is collected and then how it’s exported and presented. Sensors like speed and cadence (pedaling speed) can connect by ANT+ or Bluetooth. You want to make sure the device you choose is compatible with the equipment you plan to use with it.
Then, to see your data, you’re going to want to connect to your phone or computer over Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. Manufactures such as Garmin offer apps and websites where you can review and analyze your data. Garmin Connect, for example, integrates with the company’s devices and also lets you do things like set goals to track your body weight and daily hydration. So, in addition to thinking about what kind of riding you do and what data you want, consider what you’re going to do with the data when you get it and how easy it’s going to be able to analyze it in a useful way.
In the budget bike computer category, you can go even cheaper if you pick old-school wired computers, but our choices here are both wireless. Stringing wire all over your bike is ugly. Not only that, wires can get caught on things and ripped out. The electrical contacts under the computer mount often get corroded by sweat, and then you have connection issues.
Best Budget Bike Computers: CatEye Padrone and Sigma BC 14.16
You can expect a few core features in a budget bike computer, like speed, distance, and elapsed time. Some do more than others, and because there are so many options in the budget range, it’s essential to do your homework, compare features between models, and read reliability reviews. We’ve picked two with solid reputations.
If your needs are simple, it’s hard to go wrong with the CatEye Padrone. CatEye started making bike computers in the early 80s, and while it now produces high-tech products too, it’s never abandoned reliable budget basics.
CatEye markets an entire range of computers under the Padrone name, so it can be a little confusing. But the entry-level model includes these features:
- Large and easy to read screen
- Current, maximum, and average speed
- Total distance, elapsed time, and clock
- Automatic pause when stopped
Another perk is with no GPS to power, the replaceable batteries last about a year!
CAT EYE - Padrone Wireless Bike Computer, Black
CatEye has decades of experience producing reliable and affordable bike computers. The basic Padrone features speed, distance, time, and automatic pause when stopped.
Sigma BC 14.16 STS Wireless Cycling Computer with Cadence
For a little more than the basic wireless CatEye, the Sigma BC 14.16 STS offers a cadence sensor, which is especially important to cyclists trying to maintain a high RPM to avoid potential knee issues caused by pushing too hard a gear. Sigma also offers a mobile phone app to access your training data.
Additional Sigma features:
Sigma BC 14.16 STS Wireless Cycling Computer with Cadence
The Sigma BC 14.16 STS features speed, distance, and time. But, it also comes with altitude and temperature along with a cadence sensor and a mobile app for checking your data.
Best Mid-Range Bike Computers: Garmin Edge 530 and Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT
In the mid-range category, you’re going to spend significantly more, but now you’re getting into the realm of turn-by-turn navigation and compatibility with a host of sensors to gather more data about your ride performance.
Garmin Edge 530
Garmin’s new Edge 530 is an upgrade from the 510 and 520 models and features the turn-by-turn navigation the company built its reputation on. The full-color screen lets you follow a previously recorded route or one you’ve created in the many bike route mapping platforms, like Garmin Connect, MapMyRide, or Strava. Alerts can be set up for turns, and you can decide how far in advance you want to get them. For a bit more, you can buy a mountain biking bundle that supports the Trailforks app (Android, IoS), which includes trail ratings, jump distance tracking, and flow analysis of your downhill skills.
Like the 520 (and unlike the 510), the 530 does not have a touchscreen—all the setup and ride use is done through buttons on the side. The unit is ANT+, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi compatible, meaning it will work with a wide range of sensors from power meters to heart monitors, in addition to standards like speed and cadence.
It integrates with the Garmin Connect smartphone app (Android, IoS), so all data is automatically uploaded to your connected phone at the end of your ride. You can also pair your Garmin account with Strava and other popular tracking software for auto-uploads.
The claimed battery life is around 20 hours between charges. The 530 includes safety features like LiveTrack that lets your friends and family track your location in real-time, plus Incident Detection, which uses the speed and cadence sensors to determine if you’ve potentially been in a crash and send an alert to your emergency contacts through your paired smartphone.
The 530 includes rider-to-rider messaging and Strava Live Segments, so you can challenge yourself on rides. It even has a bike alarm that will alert your smartphone if your bike is moved when you’ve stopped at a store to load up on sports drinks and snacks.
Garmin Edge 530, Performance GPS Cycling/Bike Computer with Mapping, Dynamic Performance Monitoring and Popularity Routing
The Garmin 530 is packed with tons of features including turn-by-turn navigation and compatibility with a wide range of sensors like heart monitors and power meters.
Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT
Wahoo is one of the relatively new companies that’s challenging Garmin’s supremacy in the bike computer world. You set up the ELEMNT BOLT with a companion smartphone app. Considering some may find the Garmin 530’s button-only design a little clunky, the Wahoo app is easy to navigate, but you do have to have a smartphone to use it. The more-expensive ELEMNT ROAM—which features improved navigation and a larger color display—allows you to do the setup on either the device or through the app.
With a claimed battery life of 15 hours, the BOLT’s turn-by-turn navigation has a “take me anywhere” feature that lets you open the app, type in the place you want to go, and then the computer will steer you there.
Wahoo touts the BOLT’s aerodynamic features, which it claims are superior to Garmin devices.
Like Garmin, the BOLT features Wi-Fi, ANT+, and Bluetooth compatibility so you can connect the sensors of your choice. It has a Live Track feature that updates a web-based portal so friends and family can track where you are and be sure you’re okay. You can locate friends out riding in real time and receive emails, texts, and phone alerts.
When paired with a service like Strava or RideWithGPS, your saved rides are automatically downloaded to your ROAM wirelessly. Like Garmin, data from completed rides can be uploaded to the same third-party services. Coaching apps like TrainingPeaks and Today’s Plan can be integrated with the BOLT so you can see your training plan and do structured workouts. The BOLT works with Wahoo’s range of indoor trainers to change resistance levels to match your pre-planned workout.
Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt GPS Bike Computer
The BOLT uses Wahoo's free ELEMNT Companion App which automates pairing and manages the configuration process for a fast and frustration-free setup.
Best Premium Bike Computers: Garmin Edge 1030 and SRM PC8
When you get into the premium bike computer range, you can expect more bells and whistles like larger full-color displays or more parsing of training data.
Garmin Edge 1030
Garmin 1030 Garmin
If you want the Rolls Royce of bike computers, the Garmin Edge 1030 is for you. It’s packed with all the features of the 530 but includes a much larger touchscreen that Garmin says will work with gloves or in wet conditions. You can also create rides on the device in addition to uploading them from other sources.
Garmin Edge 1030, 3.5" GPS Cycling/Bike Computer with Navigation and Connected features
The Garmin Edge 1030 features a large touch screen along with all the features of the company's less expensive units like turn-by-turn navigation and training app compatibility.
The SRM PC8 (Power Control Eight) is one of the most expensive bike computers available, and it doesn’t even come with turn-by-turn navigation or smartphone connectivity. This is intended as a data-gathering training tool for serious athletes that centers around interval workouts. SRM rather proudly says its device “forgoes gimmicks.”
The big display is packed with data, and it’s compatible with all ANT+ power meters. The huge 500 MB memory capacity can store data up to 4,000 hours of training, and a built-in motion sensor turns the PC8 on automatically when riding.
SRM PowerControl 8 (Black)
The SRM PC8 is a tool for serious athletes who are focused on training. Its big display shows more real-time data than most bike computers.
While the wide range of bike computers available now can be a little confusing, the good news is there’s one that’s in the right price range for you based on your needs and riding habits. For regular cyclists, we recommend shelling out the cash for a good mid-range computer with turn-by-turn navigation. You’ll find you’re more willing to explore new routes and have new cycling adventures when you’re confident you won’t get lost.