Whether you’re a numbers nerd obsessed by marginal gains or an intrepid two-wheeled explorer who wants to get off the beaten track, the best bike computers – and GPS bike computers in particular – have revolutionised the way riders plan their rides and track their training.
Long gone are the days of cumbersome bike computers with awkward wires and wheel magnets. Today’s GPS computers are a world away from the designs of old, pulling data directly from satellites flying high above Planet Earth or seamlessly - and wirelessly - communicating with smart sensors elsewhere on the bike or your body.
In fact, uploading your computer’s ride data to Strava and poring over the numbers has become an essential post-ride ritual for many cyclists, comparing your performance from one week to the next, or hunting out new areas to pedal.
Not all GPS bike computers are created equal, though. With a wide range of options, from less than £100 to nearly £500, and a host of rival brands vying for your attention, it’s easy to become overwhelmed when scoping out the best bike computer for you. Fear not; we’ve got all the essential information you need, as well as my pick of the best bike computers on the market today.
What is the best GPS computer for cyclists?
Three brands sit at the top of the tree when it comes to the best bike computers: Wahoo, Garmin and Lezyne. All provide a line-up of top-notch computers, with a range of options depending on the features required and, crucially, budget. However, the Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt is my pick of the bunch as the best all-round bike computer, thanks to broad spread of features, slick design and keen price.
Buying the best GPS bike computer: what you need to know
Two things should determine the best bike computer for you: the features required and the amount of cash you are willing to part with. Needless to say, the more you spend, the more advanced your computer will be, but that’s not always a good thing.
If you’re after a simple device to display the bare basics, then the number of configurable options on top-end computers can be confusing. Similarly, if you’re a performance-obsessed rider who wants complex data at your fingertips, or you plan on using your computer to go exploring, then you don’t want to be let down by a lacklustre choice.
Ultimately, you have four main things to consider when buying a GPS bike computer - mapping and navigation, data and connectivity, display and interface, and battery life - so let’s quickly run through each of those to help you to make the best choice.
Broadly speaking, GPS computers fall into two categories: those with mapping and those without. Computers with detailed mapping and turn-by-turn navigation will cost more than those designed simply to display ride data (although they may also have basic mapping functionality). If you like to explore by bike, buying a GPS computer with mapping and navigation is a great way to head into unchartered territory, without getting completely lost.
Most computers with navigational functionality will allow you to either directly input a destination, with the computer then putting together a route (often using quiet roads popular with other riders), or to design and upload your own course using the brand’s software. Unless you’re already out on the bike and going somewhere on a whim, the latter is a far better option. Computers that offer turn-by-turn navigation will let you know exactly how far you have to go before, well, turning, but it’s worth bearing in mind that this will put a strain on your device’s battery life.
On a very basic level, all GPS bike computers will display simple data like speed (current/average/maximum), time and distance (trip/total), but that’s only scratching the surface of the capability of most units.
All credible GPS computers will offer either Ant+ or Bluetooth Smart connectivity (often both), which in turn allows you to pair the computer with a range of third-party devices, including heart rate monitors, power meters and cadence sensors. These will then return a wealth of related data.
Bluetooth Smart connectivity will also allow your computer to display call, text and email alerts when paired with your smartphone, while some devices have built-in WiFi to automatically upload your ride to Strava and the like once you get home.
In reality, the data served up by more advanced GPS bike computers, whether that’s from the device itself or a paired sensor, is so vast that you’re unlikely to use all of it. Far from it. Still, if there’s a particular feature you’re after, check out your favoured computer’s specs.
As for the display, your computer will either have a black-and-white or colour screen. In some instances, a black-and-white screen will offer improved contrast, but a colour display will enable more detail. Ultimately it comes down to preference and budget.
Screen size is also worth considering: bigger is generally better for mapping and navigation, but the largest devices can be a bit cumbersome. All GPS computers will enable you to customise how data is arranged on the screen, with multiple fields spread across multiple pages, so you can have the most important numbers right in front of you and the less important stuff a quick click or scroll away.
On that note, most computers will rely on physical buttons to operate the device, but more expensive units will have a touchscreen. We tend to prefer buttons as touchscreens can be temperamental when covered in water or if you are wearing gloves.
The best GPS bike computers, in order
The ELEMNT Bolt is Wahoo’s mid-range GPS computer and, by our reckoning, is the best all-round option available to serious cyclists. In short, the compact unit offers all the data a performance-minded rider could need, with excellent mapping, turn-by-turn navigation and impressive battery life. Crucially, it’s a breeze to use – and that certainly can’t be said for some top-level bike computers.
Wahoo Fitness was only founded in 2009 and, as such, the company’s products rely heavily on tech integration – while the ELEMNT Bolt can be used without a smartphone, it works best with an Android or Apple device. The Wahoo companion app makes customising the computer’s screens a cinch, with more than 170 data field options to choose from, and allows you to upload routes to the device at the click of a button.
On top of that, Bluetooth Smart and Ant+ connectivity ensures compatibility with a range of third-party sensors, while Wi-Fi will automatically whisk your ride data to Strava when you return home from training.
The computer itself is also dead-simple to use, and data, mapping and navigation are all clearly displayed on the 2.2-inch screen. It’s not colour, nor is it a touchscreen, but the black-and-white display ensures excellent contrast. That said, if navigation is your number one priority, there are computers available with bigger and more detailed screens. The Garmin Edge 520 Plus has the, erm, edge in that regard. Note also that you'll need the Ride with GPS or Komoot apps for routing.
Other neat features include text, email and phone alerts, pre-loaded training sessions, Strava Live segments and a slick design with an integrated out-front mount which looks great on any bike, although Wahoo’s claims of improved aerodynamic performance are a stretch for most riders.
Update 20/01/2020: A new update will enable users to link any ELEMNT GPS Bike Computer (the original ELEMNT, ELEMNT BOLT, and ELEMNT ROAM) to Specialized ANGi Sensors and helmets equipped with ANGi Sensors.
ANGi, Specialized’s patented helmet-mounted sensor, measures the forces transmitted to a helmet during a crash; both an impact with the ground, and the harmful rotational forces that can occur during crashes whether or not a helmet actually impacts the ground. ANGi pairs to the Specialized Ride App, which tracks your ride, allowing your emergency contacts to follow your ride in real time, and sends them alerts in the event a crash is detected.
Garmin held an almost impenetrable grip on the bike computer market from the moment GPS first appeared on the handlebars of cyclists the world over. A host of brands have tried hard to muscle the tech giant from top spot, but it wasn’t until Wahoo came on the scene that a genuine challenge emerged, and Garmin's computers remain among the very best you can buy.
It can be difficult to keep up with Garmin’s GPS computer range, given the number of devices in the line-up and the rate at which new computers are released. Let’s make things simple then: if you’re a serious rider who wants full mapping and navigational functionality, with more data than you can shake a stick at, all in a compact and easy-to-use unit, then this is the Garmin device for you.
The Edge 520 Plus sits between the existing Edge 520 (no detailed mapping or navigation) and Edge 820 (which gains a touchscreen). The lack of touchscreen is no bad thing, in my opinion – the buttons on the Edge 520 Plus make it simple to use and touchscreens generally can be temperamental, particularly when wearing gloves.
The full colour display offers excellent detail and contrast, particularly when using the maps. Automatic rerouting, which swiftly points you back in the right direction if you go off track, is a neat feature.
You don’t quite get the full feature set of Garmin’s more expensive computers (the Edge 820 and Edge 1030). So, for instance, there's no option to enter a destination address directly into the unit. Consider looking up the range if that’s important, but in reality there’s enough here to satisfy most cycle explorers.
As for data, well the Edge 520 Plus is capable of measuring and displaying tons of metrics, right down to suggesting recovery time when using the computer with a heart rate monitor and power meter. On that note, the device has Ant+ connectivity but not Bluetooth Smart. Nor is there Wi-Fi to auto-upload your ride when you get home.
The Lezyne Super GPS is an excellent option for riders who want a relatively cheap bike computer, without sacrificing any of the important features like a comprehensive data set, mapping and navigation.
The Super GPS offers full Ant+ and Bluetooth Smart connectivity, with good battery life and an easy-to-read display, but the unit itself is on the chunky side and looks a little outdated, particularly against the aero-profiled Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt.
Like the fully-featured Mega XL GPS from Lezyne, the Super GPS requires the use of the company’s own software if you want full turn-by-turn navigation. You can’t just plug in a route from Strava or a similar third-party platform, as that will only give you breadcrumb trail. It’s a shame as while Lezyne’s software is useable, it’s a bit on the clumsy side.
That aside, this is a value-for-money option that provides much of the functionality of its competitors, at a snip of the price. The Super GPS is also available in a wide range of finishes so you can colour-match it to your bike. Smart.
The Edge 1030 sits at the top of Garmin’s range and is the most feature-packed GPS bike computer money can buy. If you want all the bells and whistles, including full-colour navigation, smart connectivity and enough data to keep Team Sky’s number crunchers entertained, then you’re in luck. The flip side, of course, is the price and size of the unit.
The 3.5-inch colour display is comfortably the biggest of any computer we’ve featured here – a boon if exploring by bike is a real priority for you. Smart mapping features like Trendline, which uses millions of miles of ride data from Garmin’s Connect platform to show the best routes, and the ability to search for addresses and points of interest, also mark the Edge 130 out as an adventure-seeker’s best mate.
Running through the Edge 1030’s data options would be rather like penning a PhD thesis, but trust us; they are comprehensive. Other top-end features include the ability to respond to phone calls and texts with prewritten messages, directly from the device. There’s not much the Edge 1030 can’t do. Only question is, do you really need it all?
Strictly speaking, the Padrone Smart+ isn’t a GPS computer as it relies on your smartphone for that data, but it gets a spot in our round-up regardless.
Most of us will carry a smartphone while riding and the Cateye Padrone Smart+ takes advantage of that by harnessing the power of your Apple or Android device. The Padrone Smart+ pairs to your phone using Bluetooth and essentially acts as a display for speed, distance and altitude data pulled from your device. That also includes text, call and email alerts.
The Bluetooth connectivity also means the Padrone can display heart rate and power data when paired with compatible sensors. That data is displayed on the well-sized screen and the unit itself is nice and slim. The coin cell battery offers up to four months of juice, according to Cateye, but we wish it was USB rechargeable.
Lezyne is best known for its excellent range of lights and tools, but the company has also been knocking around the computer scene for a while now and could well carve its own niche with the Mega XL GPS.
Why? Put simply, the battery life is huge, far out-performing any other computer on the market. Lezyne claims up to 48 hours but, as always, that’s a best case scenario with some of the battery-sapping featured (like Bluetooth and the backlight) turned off. Even so, you can ride for a seriously long time on a single charge, making the Mega XL GPS a very tempting option for audax riders, bikepackers or anyone who simply can’t be bothered to charge their computer.
The mapping is fairly simple (certainly not as detailed as the Garmin Edge 520 Plus) but covers everything well and you get turn-by-turn navigation. You need to create a route using Lezyne’s own software for that and, generally speaking, it’s not as intuitive as the Garmin or Wahoo interface. If you want a colour screen, take a look at Lezyne’s Mega C computer, which is also smaller (but has less battery life).
Setup on the computer itself is simple through Lezyne’s companion app, with all the data options you’d expect and need, as well as phone alerts thanks to the Bluetooth Smart connectivity. The computer can auto-sync ride data to Strava, but it’s pretty slow. The device is also on the chunky size, but then that huge battery has to be housed somewhere.
This handsome fellow received a Red Dot Design Award for its sleek exterior but thankfully it packs the brains to match its chiselled features. Unlike the Garmin Edge 520 Plus, Polar opts for a touchscreen interface. We prefer buttons on the whole, but this one is pleasingly responsive, with large menu buttons that are difficult to accidentally prod when out and about. The 2.8-inch high-resolution backlit screen makes it easy to read at all times of day and it's smartphone-esque functionality is extremely user-chummy. However, to accommodate that, the unit has swollen to 62x105x16mm, which is larger than the Garmin 520.
Features wise, the Polar V650 records just about every metric a cyclist could ever need: actual speed, altitude, calorie burn, heart rates (via a Bluetooth monitor) and speed and cadence read-outs via Bluetooth monitors, which are either bundled into the pack or can be bought separately. There's no ANT+ connectivity here though, which will likely annoy those that already own speed, cadence and heart rate monitors with that tech built-in.
The V650 can be a little slow to pick up satellites and a lack of Strava integration could be frustrating to some but Polar's own Flow software, which is free to sign up to online, works as a good training tool and keeps track of each ride, as well as churning out endless graphs of data. The Polar doesn't offer turn-by-turn navigation but OpenStreetMap compatibility means it can be a great navigational partner if you can be bothered to load the thing up with routes before heading out.
Regardless, clever touches, such as a front LED that automatically turns on when it gets dark, makes this one of the most thoughtfully crafted models on the market, while the Bluetooth and touchscreen make it feel more modern than the Garmin and Wahoo computers.