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?

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 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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