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%
We continue our guide to ten of this year’s best bike computers for triathletes…
Sigma Rox 10.0 GPS
Price: £189 from www.todayscyclist.co.uk
GPS units, like the 77 x 50mm Rox, tend to be bigger than computers that rely on wheel sensors. But being bigger means there’s more room – not only for more buttons but also (perhaps more importantly), labels that say what those buttons do.
Thanks to the labels, using the 67g Rox is an absolute doddle. You simply charge it up, switch it on, format it, give it a moment to tether to a satellite and then off you go. After that your speed, distance, time, route, altitude and temperature readings take care of themselves.
It’ll also track heart rate, cadence and power data with additional Ant+ sensors. It’s a bit bigger, heavier and more expensive than the Cateye, but it’s a lot easier to set up. Its speed readings do tend to waver a little, though, especially when you pass under trees.
Verdict: GPS route and performance tracking in a user-friendly package, 89%
Bontrager Node 2.1
Price: £99 from www.bontrager.com
The first, and most important, thing to point out is that, on its own, the 34g Node 2.1 isn’t a bike computer. It’s a heart rate monitor. You can turn it into a bike computer, but to do so you need ANT+ speed, cadence and power sensors or a Trek bike with a Speedtrap or Duotrap device.
All of which are sold separately and will need to be synced to the Node in order to work. You do get a chest strap, though. Pairing sensors to the device and setting up its functions are mercifully easy thanks to big, friendly buttons on the unit and generously-sized digits on the screen.
But it’s worth pointing out that many of its functions, such as inputting heart rate settings or reconfiguring the display, aren’t covered in the instructions and require the tutorials on Bontrager’s website.
Verdict: A basic heart rate monitor on its own. Extra info requires additional sensors, 52%
Garmin Edge 200
Price: £109 from www.garmin.com
Despite being one of the cheapest and most basic GPS units, the Edge 200 still manages to impress. It provides speed, distance and time data but little else, since it can’t be paired to heart rate, cadence or power sensors.
That said, it does have a ‘virtual partner’ facility that allows you to race yourself on routes you’ve previously ridden. The 70 x 48mm computer adds just 64g to your bike (including the stem mount and rubber bands) and is ludicrously easy to use.
Naturally it comes with an instruction booklet but, chances are, you won’t even need to unpack it. Battery life was barely dented by a two-hour ride and it remained tethered to its satellite signal throughout – even passing under a tunnel. If all you want is the basics, it’s difficult to look beyond this little cracker.
Verdict: Easy to use, easy to read, dependable and doesn’t drain its battery, 87%
Sigma BC16.12 STS CAD
Price: £57 from www.todayscyclist.co.uk
At 55g, including the mounts, magnet and fork-mounted sensor, Sigma’s BC16.12 unit is well within range of the lightest wheel-based computers here. It’s also one of the cheapest and for £16 more you can add cadence info to the speed, distance and time readings that the 41 x 55mm wireless computer will display.
There’s no option to add heart rate though. It relies on rubber bands, rather than clamps, to attach to your bike, which makes fitting it a breeze. Setting it up and operating it is equally simple, despite none of the four buttons being labelled in any way.
The screen’s not that big and it only ever displays two metrics at once (as well as a pace-indicator arrow), so the digits can be kept big, bold and easily visible. It’s a basic unit, but there’s nothing to not like about it.
Verdict: Cheap, small and simple, but in the best way possible, 88%
Price: £39 from www.cyclingsportsgroup.co.uk
At 52 x 34mm, the IQ300 is the smallest device here. It’s also the cheapest, lightest (48g for the display, mount and sensor), most basic and by far the easiest to use. It only has two buttons – well, one really because you flick through its functions using the touchscreen, which works even when you’re wearing full-finger gloves.
The single button on the back you only press to input your settings or wake it from sleep mode. As well as the usual speed, distance and trip readings, the IQ300 also approximates the calories your ride has burned off, tells you the temperature and can be configured for two bikes.
It’s fine for a budget item, yet there is a but… although it’ll display speed in either mph or km/h, it seems to only show distance in miles.
Verdict: Cheap, simple and perfectly fine if you want your speed/distance in imperial, 69%
You can split the computers on test here into three groups: computers under £100, computers under £200 and the Garmin Edge 810. At the lowest end of the price spectrum, the Cannondale IQ300 is a decent enough unit, provided you’re happy with imperial measurements. If you want metric units for speed and distance, and the option of cadence info without nearing three figures, your best bet is the Sigma BC16.12.
At the 100-quid mark, things start to get competitive. The VDO M6 is a nice device but, aside from altitude and temperature data, doesn’t offer anything that cheaper computers don’t, unless you shell out extra for the heart rate and cadence sensors. Which leaves only the Garmin Edge 200 and Sigma Rox. And as nice as the Edge 200 is, there’s a lot more functionality to be had if you pay the extra £80 for the Sigma Rox.
Once you’re up at that price notch, Polar’s V650 computer is a strong contender on paper and represents great value compared to the Garmin Edge 810, but is big and bulky and let down by a truly useless mount. The Bryton’s fine, but a bit clunky given its high price. The Cateye’s okay, but a hassle to set up (and expensive when you consider you have to buy separate power, cadence and heart rate sensors).
The Edge 810 is by far the most expensive device here. Yes, you get a lot of computer for your money, but it doesn’t really have or do anything that sets it apart from its rivals. There are others with a touchscreen, others with a colour display, others with heart rate, cadence and power options and, of course, others with GPS route tracking.
But what makes the Edge 810 different is that there’s nothing that lets it down. It’s ridiculously user-friendly, its mount is secure, and it never loses the GPS signal. It’s not just a high-class package, it’s the complete package.
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