Bike computers: 6 of the best reviewed

A user-friendly bike computer enables you to collect vital ride stats and track your progress. James tests and rates 6 from £20

Garmin Edge 1000 bike computer

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

£19.99 

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

B’TWIN 500

£19.99

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

  

GARMIN EDGE 130

£169.99

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

  

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GIANT NEOSTRACK

£149.99

Only a brand as powerful as Giant would branch out from their bread-and-butter of bikes and ride into the crowded bike-computer market, but they’ve wisely collaborated with Bryton to add credibility to their marketing reach. You also get a lot for your money, its GPS picking up standards like distance ridden, speed, average speed, plus a host of altitude metrics. With the necessary add-ons, you can tap into power, heart rate and even Shimano Di2, where the easy-to-read screen displays which gear you’re in. Connection for each is via Bluetooth or ANT+.

A feather in its navigation cap is its mapping capabilities – impressive at this price – that you can upload via a GPX file from Strava, from previous rides or via the NeosTrack app. The app’s not as intuitive as Garmin’s so allow time to acclimatise. The unit displays up to six pages with 10 data fields each, and is mounted via a standard stem/bar mount or an out-in-front mount. On paper, again that’s impressive for the price, though the out-in-front mount isn’t the most stable, especially on potholed roads. The Neostrack has an excellent battery life of 30hrs. giant-bicycles.com

Verdict: A feature-loaded bike computer at a good price and excellent battery life 86%

Buy from www.rutlandcycling.com

POLAR V650

£229.00 (£189.50 without HR chest strap)

The Finnish training tech experts have gone large with the V650 – it’s capable of storing up to 10,000hrs of ride info. By our reckoning, that’s the most we’ve come across. Then again, post-ride you’ll soon be uploading and analysing on the Polar FlowSync app, which is more usable than times gone by. But it’s the usability of the actual computer that’s more impressive; the vivid 2.8in screen is clear to view and the colourful touchscreen works seamlessly, with or without gloves. It’s also a good-looking beast.

Unfortunately, GPS pick-up and maintenance is erratic, especially when riding in built-up areas. It features a neat routes section, and you can find and import new routes from the Flow app as long as they’re GPX or TCX files. Basic navigation prompts also keep you on track. Our test model came with a chest-strap, which synced swiftly with the unit, although it lacks ANT+, which could cause issues with some users, particularly with power-meter hook-up. The offering’s finished off with Strava Live segments and a neat safety light that’s constant or flashing. But it has a disappointing battery life of fewer than 10hrs.

Verdict: Impressive list of features but the GPS is a touch erratic and battery is poor 81%

Buy from www.polar.com

CATEYE PADRONE

£99.99

Cateye has seemingly been making computers since before the wheel rolled onto this mortal land, and in the Padrone Digital they’ve created a slick and lightweight number. The price intimates its lack of GPS, and explains why it comes with speed, cadence sensors and a magnet. Like the B’Twin 500, wheel sizes are pre-programmed; physical set-up’s easy, too, with the unit clamped into place via an old-school thumbscrew system. For such a small unit, it packs a visual punch with three rows of data, and up to four fields, clearly presented and including standard speed and cadence metrics, yet it has heart-rate for an extra outlay. That’s down to its Bluetooth capabilities – an upgrade on the original Padrone – which also means you can download your ride data to Cateye’s Cycling app before migrating it further to either Training Peaks or Strava. The app’s rudimentary, serving more as a conduit than analytic platform. Auto start and stop’s always appreciated, in cities especially, and, by eschewing GPS, there’s a claimed four-month battery life via a simple coin cell. On the downside, the narrow button interface along its base is fiddly with gloves on. zyrofisher.co.uk

Verdict: A solid enough bike computer that’s let down by the inefficient scrolling 77%

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Buy from www.amazon.co.uk