Bicycle Computer Shopping Tips

Friday, July 11, 2014 by Jay S. Hardcastle

chitwoododo_w280How far, how fast and how long it took are the most typical questions the average bicyclist wants answered from a bicycle computer. They are also good for record keeping and navigation, especially as your riding takes you on longer adventures. If you are riding for weight loss or improved fitness, a bicycle computer can become your silent coach and an aid in goal setting. However, bicycle computers have evolved to offer a dizzying array of choices beyond speed, distance and time.

Here is an overview of what you have to choose from when shopping for a bicycle computer at Bicycle Garage Indy, and some of the terms you might hear.

Speed, Distance and Time. The simplest bike computers typically offer speed, trip distance, trip travel time, and an odometer for total miles. Bells and whistle features may include average speed, lap timing and timing auto start and stop. The CatEye Enduro ($29.99) is our best selling basic wired unit, and features a rugged design ideal for commuting and mountain bikes.

Cadence. Cadence, or your pedal Revolutions Per Minute (RPM) is a very popular feature for the avid cyclist. Watching your cadence as you ride is helpful in developing a smooth pedaling style, and varying cadence for short periods of time is an element of many bicycle-training programs. Knowing your cadence is also very helpful if you ride your bike on a trainer in the winter. The CatEye Strada ($49.99) is our most popular wired, speed and cadence computer.

Wired vs. Wireless. The basic computers use thin wires running along your bikes frame and fork to a sensor unit, which must be near a magnet attached to a spoke on your bike’s wheel. More advanced models eliminate the need for wires and zip ties on your bike by connecting with a wireless signal. Our best selling wireless computer is the CatEye Strada ($64.99). The Bontrager Node 1.1 ($99.99) is another wireless computer that can be linked to a variety of wireless sensors (starting at $29.99, sold separately) for both speed and speed-cadence.

Integrated Sensor Mounts. Some bike companies, like Giant and Trek, now offer integrated sensor mounts in some bike models. An integrated wireless speed or speed-cadence sensor is installed directly into the frame without the use of straps or zip ties. Trek/Bontrager’s Duo Trap Speed-Cadence sensor ($59.99) mounts directly in the chain stay of select Trek Bicycle models and links to a Bontrager Node computer.

bntr_node2_13_smallANT+ & BlueTooth. These are the two most common wireless standards in the latest generation of bicycle computers and fitness sensors. ANT+ is typically built into devices, like Bontrager’s NODE family, however, ANT+ requires an extra receiver to use it with a smart phone. The latest Bluetooth sensors will talk directly to the latest smart phones, and they are growing in popularity and availability.

Heart Rate. After cadence, heart rate is the most useful measure of your cycling training and effort. A heart rate capable computer will require you wear a compatible wireless heart rate monitor around your chest. The Trek/Bontrager Node 2.1 ($139.99 – speed/cadence sold separately) includes a heart rate monitor. We also carry BlueTooth and ANT+ heart rate monitors from Polar, Wahoo, Garmin and CatEye.

GPS. GPS (Global Position System) bike computers fall into two categories. While both types can provide the bicycle basics, GPS Enabled models are only able to record your route, speeds and times. At the end of the ride you can upload your data to a PC or website that let’s you review your route and riding stats. The CatEye Stealth ($149.99) is a basic, GPS Enabled unit, with an optional speed-cadence sensor and heart rate strap. Bicycle Garage Indy also offers the Garmin Edge 510 in cycling accessory packages starting at $329.99.

garmin_edge_810GPS Navigation. Navigation capable models offer all the bicycle stats recording features, along with real time navigation functions, including the ability to download and follow a previously used route. Garmin Edge 810 is available at Bicycle Garage Indy in bicycle packages starting at $499.99.

The Smart Phone Option. The popularity, flexibility and power of smart phones has led to the availability of wireless bicycle sensors that transmit speed (and cadence) data to your phone, where an app can then display and record the results. Sensors and apps are available for both iPhone and Android phones, though you will need to be sure to check the connection option for your specific phone.

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