Best bike computers for triathletes 2015
At its most basic, bike training boils down to three questions: can you cover the distance, can you keep up and can you go faster? If the answer to any of them is no, then something about your training has to change. But knowing what to change and how much to change it is where things begin to get complicated, and also where bike computers come in.
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It’s not impossible to gauge your bike fitness or your progress without a computer, but it’s a damn sight easier – and probably more accurate – with one. Being able to put a figure on the average speed you can maintain, the maximum distance you can comfortably cover and the highest heart rate you can hold lets you see exactly where you are in terms of your condition. And from there you can figure out what effect any changes to your training have – for better or worse.
So what data do you need to be gathering? Well, in short, the more metrics you have means the more detailed a picture of your fitness you can get. But if you’re not bothered about the ‘widescreen, HD image’, then speed, distance and time (and the associated averages and maximums) will provide a basic but nonetheless useful sketch of how well you’re riding.
How you intend to collect this data will also have an effect on your choice of computer. Wheel-based units require a sensor on the frame that detects a magnet clamped to a spoke. GPS units, however, track your position in relation to satellites orbiting the earth.
One adds extra clutter to your bike, the other can be flummoxed by tunnels and even tree cover if it’s dense enough. But which one is right for you depends on how much information you want and how much you’re willing to spend. With that in mind, it’s on to the test…
Garmin Edge 810
Price: £319 from www.garmin.com
The Edge 810 is a veritable mine of ride data. Yes, it’s pricey, but it’s also one of the few computers to come with heart rate and cadence sensors. With so few buttons (three), the 93 x 55mm unit is almost all screen, so it has space to display more data without seeming cramped.
The screen is the 810’s main selling point. Aside from its size, it’s also a full-colour touchscreen that lets you swipe between screens just as well with sweaty or gloved fingers. It’s 97g plus 6g for the standard mount or 27g for the ‘out-front’ arm.
It’s easy enough to configure (although customising the display takes patience and a peek at the instructions) and, although it loses the GPS signal through tunnels, dense tree canopies don’t seem to bother it at all. It’s expensive, but it’s also excellent.
Verdict: Easy to use, reliable and all the ride data you could want – at a price, 92%
Price: £174 from www.polar.com
Being the biggest (63 x 105mm) and heaviest (132g) computer here wouldn’t be a problem if it weren’t for the supplied mount being so poor. It’s specific to Polar, but modelled on the Garmin mount and can be attached to either your bars or stem.
But the position of its collars mean you can only tie it down with one rubber band, which isn’t enough to cope with the V650’s size and weight. The test route we used isn’t especially bumpy, but the entire ride was spent repositioning the unit after it shuffled along the stem or slid around it like a drunk cowboy on a loose saddle.
The computer itself is fine. It has a colour display and touch-screen control, offers all the GPS ride data you could ask for and, for £30 more, comes with a chest strap to provide heart rate info as well.
Verdict: A big unit with plenty of data, badly let down by a useless mount, 71%
Bryton Rider 210T
Price: £200 from www.paligap.cc
The 40 x 62mm Rider 210T is the smallest of the GPS units here and, at 52g, including its mount, very nearly the lightest. It doesn’t get any of the fancy colour display or touchscreen features that grace its more expensive rivals, but it does come with a chest strap and cadence sensor.
Given its diminutive size, the space it has is well-organised and the digits are blocky enough to be easily read while riding. With only three clearly-labelled buttons, it’s easy to set up and find your speed, distance, time, heart rate and cadence info while riding (and your calories burned, post-ride).
It’s well-constructed, but its blocky styling and buttons look and feel crude. Aside from that, the only other criticism is that it takes longer to latch onto a GPS signal compared to other units here.
Verdict: Questionable looks, but a chest strap and cadence sensor make this a bargain, 73%
Price: £100 from www.paligap.cc
VDO’s 52g M6 offers you an avalanche of data. As well as all the usual speed, distance and time info, there’s temperature and height-related readings that include current and max altitudes and average gradient (both up and downhill). It even creates a little profile of your ride as you go along.
It’s a wireless wheel-based unit, so 17g of its weight is the sensor mounted on the fork to track speed and distance (and if you buy the pedal sensor and chest strap, it’ll also give you cadence and heart rate info). Using the M6 is easy as its functions are split between three buttons.
Calibrating is simple too, thanks to a fourth button for confirming your settings. The screen’s big enough to clearly show five readings at once so, while it may seem a little pricey for a fairly basic unit, it’s a decent device.
Verdict: No GPS or download capabilities, but this old-school unit is still a good package, 84%
Cateye Stealth Evo+
Price: £179 from www.zyro.co.uk
If all you want is speed, distance and altitude info without the fuss of fitting sensors to your frame, then Cateye’s 50g Stealth Evo+ is worth a look. It uses GPS to track your progress, but hasn’t got the route-mapping capability of the more advanced units here.
The 45 x 70mm Evo+ also provides HR, cadence and power data with the addition of other sensors (sold separately). Using it is easy as a single button switches through its functions, but initial set-up is a pain in the backside.
To calibrate your wheel size, set the time and reset the odometer you need to press two tiny buttons on the back while checking for the ‘formatting mode’ icon on the front – frustratingly tricky, to say the least. When it’s up against the user-friendliness of its rivals, the Evo+ just gets shown up.
Verdict: Frustrating to calibrate so it’s eclipsed by cheaper, more user-friendly rivals, 60%
>>> Continue reading our guide to this year's best bike computers for triathletes (2/2) <<<