Bike computers are a staple of the triathlete’s gear armoury; in fact, they’re still omnipresent even when armed with a multisport watch. That’s because by sitting on either your stem or bars, they’re easily seen no matter what speed you’re riding at. Or they should be, which brings us onto one of the key areas – visibility.
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In general, the larger the screen size, the easier the info is to read, though pixelated digits or a small font often mean that’s not the case. This is key if you’re relying on your computer for navigation so, when appropriate, check its resolution.
For the most marginal of gainers, obviously the larger the screen, the less aerodynamic a computer is, though that’s a minor sacrifice worth making if it’s easy to navigate via a touchscreen. This is especially important when wearing gloves. But large usually means more features and that means extra cost.
If you choose a GPS model, you’ll have to decide between a ‘backward-looking’ or ‘forward-looking’ model. Backward-looking are favoured by riders who tap into portals like Strava as they offer live data plus detailed post-ride analysis. ‘Forward-looking’ feature built-in maps to tick that navigational box, meaning additional storage and a larger screen. Of course, this all comes at an extra cost. More expensive computers should also feature Bluetooth as standard, meaning phone connectivity if required, as well as cranking up ease of syncing the data to your smartphone for ride analysis. More affordable models strip features right down but don’t let that put you off – for many, speed and distance is enough.
OXFORD MAX 8 FUNCTIONS
There are no airs or graces with Oxford Products, the Screwfix of the bicycle and motorcycle world. They’re reassuringly low on sales pitch and high on value for money, although we must admit we thought wired bike computers disappeared with the dinosaurs. For youthful triathletes out there, you screw the supplied magnet to one of your spokes – no disc wheels, please! – and then strap the sensor to the front fork, which is connected to the unit via a wire. Arguably, it’s more reliable than wireless; arguably it marks you out more as a tourer than a triathlete.
Set-up is dated, too, requiring input of your wheel circumference as calibration. So those of you who deliver instructions straight to the recycling, don’t as they feature the necessary values (in millimetres) for all bike wheel sizes. Once up and running, the digital format’s relatively clear, though understandably not as sharp as some here, and displays the usual speed and time data. It works fine but we’d spend an extra fiver for the wireless version from Oxford Products. oxfordproducts.com
Verdict: Works well but we’d spend an extra fiver for their wireless version 73%
Buy from /www.amazon.co.uk
It’s almost heart-warming to test a bike computer without GPS – even more so when it comes in at less than £20. There are no satellite cut-outs, no illogical oscillations in time, distance and speed. Instead, the B’Twin 500 uses what seems on the face of it a traditional magnetic sensor. But it’s not. The entry-level brand has cleverly utilised a sensor that contains a gyroscope, which works by strapping it to the hub of either your front or rear wheel. It then transmits to the unit every 3m.
We tested its accuracy against our top-end Garmin 1030 (not tested here) and it matched impressively; in fact, it outperformed the Polar in urban areas. It also works on the turbo trainer – again a feather in its accuracy cap over many GPS models. Of course, at this price the feature list is nominal – speed and distance – but calibration is easy as it’s pre-programmed with the most common wheel sizes, including the triathlete’s choice of 700c. The only real moot point is the backlight: it stays on for a blink of an eye. Longer would be better. decathlon.com
Verdict: Under £20 for a wireless bike computer? this is Impressive stuff from b’twin 82%
Buy from www.decathlon.co.uk
By our reckoning, this is Garmin’s smallest unit, measuring just 40 x 62 x 17mm, although the relatively large screen stretches to 46mm. That black-and-white screen is extremely readable thanks to the 303 x 203 pixels. At this size and price there’s no touchscreen and feature scrolling takes place via five buttons. It’s easily mounted on your stem or bars and, as is the way with Garmin, GPS is impressive with the usual metrics displayed on one of up to 10 data fields.
There are no in-depth colour maps but you can drag a route file onto the unit when connected to your laptop. You can then navigate via the rather parochial line that reminds us of Pong. It’s ANT+ and Bluetooth compatible, meaning not only can you hook up to heart rate or power, you can connect to your phone, too, for notifications. You can also set it up to LiveTrack, where your friends and family can follow you on their smartphone so they can check on your progress and work out what time you’re back home or arriving into T2. garmin.com
Verdict: A solid offering from the bike-computer giants with superb GPS connectivity 84%
Buy from www.halfords.com
Continue reading our guide to this year's best bike computers (2/2)