Even if you’re not preparing for this year’s Tour de France, a bike computer can still help you take your riding to the next level. Powered by GPS satellites and sensors worn by a rider, a bike computer can help you evaluate your performance and adapt your training to improve. Technology previously reserved for the top riders in the world is now affordable enough for cyclists of all skill levels and even occasional riders would be smart to check out what cheap bike computers can offer. Our tips below will help you get the best bang for your buck.
Guide to Buying a Cheap Bike Computer
The more you ride your bike, the easier it is to see how useful a bike computer can be. Although there are plenty of expensive computers on the market, the fact is that most people are just looking to keep track of time, distance, and maybe a couple of other data points. That’s why we’ve made this list to help cyclists find a computer that doesn’t break the bank but fits all of their needs.
Although all of the computers on our list are solid options, different riders have different priorities in what they want to track and prioritize. Make sure the computer you buy has the features you’re looking for, whether it be speed, distance, or calories.
Installation of a bike computer can be tricky, and it’s important to take the time to set up your computer properly. There are a couple of important things to be aware of. First of all, you’ll want to check if your computer is wired or wireless. Wired computers require more extensive installation, but they can be more reliable. Wireless computers attach simply with just a sticky, peel-off sticker, or more commonly with zip ties.
For wired computers, you’ll have to coil the wire that connects the sensor to the main head unit around the bike frame so that it is tucked away neatly and out of the way. A pro tip: you can use your brake cables to help guide the wire down to the sensor. Once you’ve got the sensor and computer installed, you can set up your screens to display the data fields that you want. Lastly, make sure you have the proper wheel size programmed into your computer’s ‘settings’ menu. If you don’t have the right wheel size programmed in, the computer will give you an inaccurate reading for speed and distance. It’s worth putting the effort in for a proper setup; otherwise, you’ll have problems down the line.
You can check out this video on how to set up your wired bike computer.
Is an Expensive Computer Worth It?
The short answer is that for most people, a sub-$100 computer works just fine. The most expensive computers are generally for really serious cyclists who are data-obsessed and demand precise, feature-rich bike computers. Very casual riders often prefer a cheaper, more straightforward computer.
For the most part, very high-end ($200+) cycling computers have features that a recreational cyclist won’t even use. For example, racing cyclists often have a ‘power meter,’ a $1000+ tool that they install after buying their bike. High-end computers have to contain the technology to be compatible with these devices, which costs extra money and complexity. Though, most casual cyclists don’t even have a power meter, and therefore don’t need to bother with a more expensive device.
If you ride pretty frequently, chances are you’ll want to start tracking some data points so you can see how you’re progressing. Some of the more data-focused computers on our list, like the Meilan Mini M3 and the Meilan M4, can plug into your desktop or laptop, while the iGPSPORT bike computer can connect to your phone via BlueTooth. From there, you can upload your rides to fitness tracking apps, diet apps, or GPS tracking apps to see and track your stats.
Ride Tracking Apps
There are two leading ride tracking apps where you can upload your data.
The first and most popular app for cycling is called Strava, and it’s a social network for athletes, both casual and serious. Even if you don’t have a bike computer to connect to your computer, you can still manually enter ride times, distances, and calories. This will allow you to track your cycling habits with even the most basic computer! Strava is based around your friends, so you can see what your riding buddies are doing as well as have some accountability that makes you want to get out on the open road!
The second (also free) app is called RideWithGPS, and it’s basically a route-building app where you can plan, analyze, and track workouts. RideWithGPs has great features that can show you graphs of your elevation, your distances, and your average speed. They have a great website that makes planning your route very simple and intuitive. Cycling apps can be a great tool to learn more about riding, connect with friends, and improve your riding fitness.
All the bike computers on this list have the same basic functions that we consider vital. Some computers have additional features, but the most common ones are also the most important. These functions are:
- Distance: Tracking distance is the most critical feature for most bike users, as you probably want to know how far you’ve been pedaling. This is measured in most cases by placing a magnet on the wheel itself and a sensor close by. The bike computer tracks how many revolutions the wheel makes and, this way, can track the total distance you’ve traveled.
- Speed: Tracking speed is useful for pacing yourself, and it’s just fun to see. It’s measured using the same magnet-based system as tracking distance.
- Max/Average Speed: Average speed is useful for seeing the overall trends of your cycling. You can see how fast you’ve gone for your overall average speed over many rides, or you can push yourself to new personal bests on your favorite routes. Maximum speed measures the top speed you’ve hit on a given ride.
- Total Distance: Total distance is the distance you’ve accumulated on all of your rides since you’ve purchased the bike computer. Some computers have the option of keeping track of several different bikes, so if you own a road bike and a city bike, for example, you could track the total distance accumulated on each of them.
- Clock: The clock is simple enough; it tells you the time of day. All computers on this list have this simple feature, which comes in handy if you need to get back on time.
Cycling is an incredible sport that allows you to see the world and enjoy the outdoors at your own pace. It’s also a great way to connect with people and with the communities around you. Some say it’s the most addictive form of exercise!
As you get familiar with your new device, you’ll become more involved in your cycling experience. By tracking your speed, distance, and data, you’ll want to push yourself. You’ll find that your bike computer is a doorway to longer distances, new routes, new friends, and miles and miles of rolling adventure.