If you love cycling and spend a lot of time on your bike every week, a bike computer is one of the most useful gadgets you can buy to make the hobby even more interesting.
This gadget not only allows you to find out a lot of different parameters and travel statistics, but also allows you to draw conclusions from them to make further rides more useful and efficient. Modern technology has transformed these small computers from simple speedometers into real on-board systems.
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Cycle computers are divided into wired and wireless models.
The wired models are mounted on the handlebars, and are connected to the sensor, which is attached to the wheel, by a sturdy wire. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage: the wired connection is much better protected against interference, but it is still quite easy to damage the wire, especially if you drive on rough terrain. It will take longer to connect, but they cost less than the wireless ones.
Wireless models are easier to install and don’t fear wire damage. Their main disadvantages are often the larger size and weight, the possibility of inaccurate measurements due to interference (especially in cheaper models) and, of course, the higher cost.
The bigger the screen, the more information that can be useful to the cyclist and the easier it is to read. But larger cycle computers take up more space on the handlebars.
Most cycle computers can display 2 to 4 lines of data. The more expensive and advanced models are equipped with full colour LCD displays, but in most cases this can be considered a redundancy.
More important is the backlighting – if you spend a lot of time hiking and cycling at night, a bike computer without a backlight would be next to useless.
Nearly all cycle computers have this function. The computer starts automatically when you start riding so you don’t have to remember to switch it on again.
Thermometer and altimeter
These two sensors are great for riders who like to maximise the efficiency of their riding – keeping their body hydrated and taking the best routes up or down. A thermometer and altimeter are seldom found on budget models.
Cadence cadence is a speed-calculating feature designed to help novice riders make sure they get the best cadence for their workouts. Beginners should not pedal too slowly.
For cross-country riding and hiking, this feature is not very important.
A heart rate monitor is best for road cyclists who need to keep their heart rate within limits to suit their training environment. But everyday cyclists should also keep an eye on their heart rate – although in most cases a smart watch or fitness tracker, which you probably already own, will do the job better.
Connecting wireless sensors
Cyclists who wish to add additional sensors (e.g. an external heart rate sensor) to the computer should consider whether they can be connected. The best option is the ANT+ standard, which was specially developed for sports devices. Bluetooth will also provide good signal stability, but digital or analogue radio transmissions may suffer more interference. It does depend on where you’re riding, though.
If you don’t ride your bike just on the road and away from shelters where you can hide from the rain, a waterproof computer case is a must. Of course, you can remove the computer from your bike when it’s raining, or cover it up, but then it won’t perform as well as it should.
The more expensive models, which are equipped with a GPS-sensor, can measure the travelled distance, speed and other parameters much more accurately, and often act as a GPS-navigator as well. Recommended for those who are serious about long bike rides and have plenty of budget.
Many modern cycle computers can send trip information to a personal computer or smartphone. This allows you to see the stats on a large screen and plan future rides in much more comfortable conditions.
The hill and gradient control feature is useful for athletes and frequent travellers on rough terrain. It allows you to see in real time how you’re doing on challenging terrain.
A stopwatch (available on almost all more or less advanced cycle computers) and lap counter are also likely to be useful for athletes.