Bike computer: what to look for

Is a bike computer the best option for you or would a a more expensive gizmo be a better option? Rob Banino discusses the pros and cons and what to look for in a bike computer


There’s a wide range of bike computers available today. Almost all of them are wireless but while some rely on sensors strapped to your bike, others need to tether themselves to the signals transmitted from GPS satellites. Some computers display nothing but the most basic speed, distance and time info, while others will alert you to incoming phone calls and text messages, map your route and let you download your data for analysis afterwards. But no matter how many tasks they claim to perform, if they’re not easy to operate, they’re no good to anyone.


Whether you’re looking for a precision tool to track your training or just a simple device to monitor how far and fast you ride, a bike computer needs to be easy to use. Easy to use when you’re riding, so you don’t spend too much time fiddling with the controls and too little time looking up ahead at where you’re going, but also easy
to use when you’re setting it up. 

The set-up and calibration process may only represent a tiny part of a bike computer’s working life but it’s arguably the most important. Without accurate details pertaining to you, your fitness and your bike, none of the data the computer subsequently gathers will be of any use. And the simpler the process of inputting those details is, the sooner you can get out on your bike and start building up an accurate picture of your form.

There’s no reason a bike computer shouldn’t be user-friendly. Smartphones, tablets and computers are far more complicated devices that perform an infinitely wider range of tasks and yet, in most cases, all you need to get them up and running is a little intuition. 

A bike computer or a wristwatch?

A bike computer makes sense for cycling but that’s not the only training triathletes do. If you want to monitor your swimming and running fitness too, a wrist-mounted computer is more versatile than a bike-mounted device and will mean you can keep tabs on your performance during every race-day discipline. Garmin, Polar, Suunto and more all make wrist-mounted units that can follow your progress in the pool and on the running track as well as when you’re riding.

 What’s the best size and shape?

If you opt for a bike computer, consider how much space you have available for it – real estate on a tri bike’s handlebars is a precious commodity and you need to make space for your aerobars, armrests and any risers you might need before you start worrying about a computer. Work out where can you mount it, if it’ll fit in the available space and whether you’ll be able to see it easily before you part with your cash.

 Sometimes simple is better


Do you really need a device with hundreds of functions? If all you’re interested in is your speed, distance and time, why bother with something that needs to be tethered to a GPS satellite, synced to your phone and downloaded to your computer after every ride. If you’re not going to pick apart each performance with a coach, do you need a digital debrief? Ask yourself what info you want and what you intend to do with it.