Bicycle Computers

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Bicycle Computers, How Far Have I Been?

Bike computers are becoming a common sight on the handlebars of nice bicycles, but unless you’re racing or bicycling as part of a specific physical fitness or health program, you may not really need one.

Question: Should I invest in a bike computer, and if I do, what features should it have?
Thanks
Angiepolar_computer_speed.jpg

Answer:
Hello Angie,
In this age of computers, we have become quite accustomed to having enormous amounts of very specific and accurate information almost instantly available. The time is no longer, “Nearly five,” but rather “Four fifty-seven,” and we don’t just swoop down mountain roads on our bicycles at awesome speeds, we go down at 50 miles per hour with a heart beating 110 times per minute while maintaining an average pedaling cadence of 85 rpms.

The Age of (Bicycling) Information

We know these facts because there is a little black mechanism that looks a little like a sports watch attached to our handlebars and a black plastic belt clipped around our chest. Knowing these details of each ride can be interesting and can certainly help you improve your cycling techniques; it can also allow you to see how your bicycling affects your cardiovascular health and conditioning.

A bike computer tells the rider basically anything he or she could ever want to know about their riding. Depending on the sophistication (and expense!) of the model, it will detail speed, distance, temperature and wind speed, heart rate and pulse, calories consumed, pedaling cadence, and even provide geographic information like altitude, slope, or directions. Most basically, it will tell you time, and let you know how late you are for the dinner you promised to be back for! All this, and you don’t even get an extra unsightly tan line to complement the multiple shorts lines on your thighs. Yes, a bike computer is truly an amazing little gadget.

Is a Computer Right for You?

Do you need this amazing little gadget? Most likely, the question is more like, “Do you find this little gadget irresistible?” Most bicyclists do not need a computer in order to have a great ride.

What you need for a great ride is a decent bike, a fine day, and a good attitude. But for some of us, bicycling is more than an incredible sail through fresh air and sunshine; for some of us, it’s a challenge to which we devote long hours, extreme effort, and for which we crave specific data on how we can improve every season.

For this, you should have a really good trainer and/or a bike computer.

Choosing the Best Bike Computer

Bike computers are made by many of the major bicycle manufacturers as well as time piece manufacturers.

Cateye was one of the first and remains among the better known, but POLAR, with their models Polar S725 and Polar S720i Sigma, and Hactronic all have good reputations, and the big bicycle names of Shimano, Campagnolo, and Mavic all produce their own lines of computers.

Basic models focusing primarily on time and distance can be purchased for around $20; cost can go higher than $200 depending on what features you want. If you’re not sure you’ll really like using one, start humbly. You can always upgrade if you find you like the information.

Some of the features you might want to consider follow

  1. Easy to read display. Look for larger screen, clear print, illumination. Remember, you’ll be moving while you’re reading!
polar_computer_wireless.jpg
polar bike computer wireless
  1. Health features. Computers that include the heart rate monitor cost more, but give you a lot more info that is equally essential for the racer and those with health issues.
  2. Ability to print out from your home computers. If you are using your bike computer to challenge yourself to new goals or to chart your progress as a cyclist, you will want this feature.
  3. Ease of use and installation. If you’re using it on an off-road bike, consider a wireless model. If you want to use it on your trainer as well as your road bike, check its adaptability.
  4. Reliability of the computer. The older models, which worked largely on the basis of a magnet on the bike wheel, are far less reliable than the newer GPS-based systems.
  5. If you’re buying a computer with a heart monitor, make sure it’s comfortable, especially if you have an unusual chest girth or are a woman wearing a heavy sports bra.

Having a computer on your ride will give you as much information as you can stand to consider. It may increase your accomplishments, your health, and even your personal satisfaction, but remember one thing: the joy is in the riding.vetta computer

The basic bike computer will tell you your speed, distance and how long it took you to do it, this is good for training or just to know what you are doing on your bike and to compare to previous times and distances.

More expensive ones will give you much more information, altitude, steepness of climb or descent, temperature, power output, pulse and with extra an sensor they can tell you your pedal revs.

vetta computer

The most expensive computers tell you all these things and at the end of the day you can download the information to your home computer and get a printout of your days of activities.

vetta computer

All of the bike computers used to work by having a magnet on your wheel and a sensor on the fork to pick up the speed and distance. The newest systems now work on GPS, it works out all the usual information via a satellite up in the sky for your position and movement, but you would still need a separate heart rate monitor.

gps computer

There are many bicycle computers on the market from the basic to the all singing all dancing computers, Vetta, HACtronic, Cat Eye, Sigma and Polar are the best known. Campagnolo have their Ergobrain, Shimano have Flight deck and Mavic have their Win-Tech systems.

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Comments

  1. Rob J says

    I bought a Bryton Rider 50t. Whilst it has some good features the heart rate monitor leaves a lot to be desired and I am on my second one while I get the first one sorted out under warranty (that’s another very long story, not good back up) If you get too sweaty then the heart rate drops and you need to constantly wipe the back of the belt to maintain a ryhthm. Also it can be prone to static problems associated with lycra which is crazy if you wear it all the time. So I am going back to my Sigma and look at something else.

  2. russ says

    I would recommend getting a bike computer. It tracks your daily and
    cumulative miles and becomes a greater inspiration for improvement – no
    question.

    There are two different bike computer technologies in the market today. The
    older technology is driven by magnets to measure speed and distance. The
    newer technology of GPS also measures speed and distance but adds other
    features that magnet driven technology could not accomplish – like mapping.

    For features you should get speed, distance and heart rate as the must have
    basics. Other features that are very nice to have are auto/pause – this
    pauses your time at stop signs so it does not reflect in your averages.
    Altitude – feet of climbing and descending is also very nice to have.
    Percentage gradient is also nice but this and altitude will require a bike
    computer with a barometric altimeter and/or GPS. GPS is nice because it maps
    out everything in extreme detail after your ride.

    For a well priced bike computer of the magnet technology that does all the
    basics well – heart rate, speed and distance I would recommend looking at
    the Polar CS100 and if you want cadence then the Polar CS200cad. Most
    cheaper bike computers lack the good heart rate technology or lack the
    features of a Polar.

    If you want a GPS bike computer you could look at the new Garmin Edge 200 or
    the Garmin Edge 500 depending upon the features you require. Nobody does GPS
    better than Garmin.

    With bike computers the old adage prevails – you get what you pay for.

    Happy Training,
    Rusty Squire

  3. erich says

    I tried Polar computer, and they zipp ot when you pass power lines. Now I tried the new Nietrider 8.0 w 2.4 Ggh transfer rate, they work great if you get them paired.But the pairing does not owrk all the time. You would expect more from a company providing high quality for their light products.

  4. kath doy says

    I seem unable to get an answer from the trade for this question so lets see if Joe Public can do any better….The wide screen versions of the Topeak V12 cycle computer. Do they offer the automatic start/stop faciclity or not. I was most dissapointed to find the mini version dose not but no one seems to be able to tell me the answer IRO the widescreen version. Some adverts for the product quote that they do and others dont. Topeak dont seem to want to reply and im not gonna spend another £45 to find out.

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