There’s a romantic element of me that likes the idea of not using a bike computer. Then there’s a far larger chunk that always wants to know how far the next feed stop is, along with how I’m going to get there.
Linked up to a network of earth-orbiting satellites, a GPS bike computer can pinpoint exactly where you are on the planet, even if you have no clue. Handy both for navigation and collating data such a speed and distance travelled, fancier models can also be connected to further sensors to collect more esoteric metrics like power output, heart rate, and cadence.
Tailored to the whims of their users, some focus more on performance aspects, while others can provide the sort of mapping and automated turn-by-turn navigation that might give the average London cab driver pause to ponder their life choices. Whichever style you’re after, we’ve rounded up four models worthy of your consideration.
£300, Shop Wahoo
Yes, your smartphone looks pleasingly sleek and monolithic thanks to its touchscreen, but when bouncing around on a bicycle controlling your device with buttons might be a better idea. This genius insight is one of many clever design tricks employed by Wahoo in creating a computer that’s both intuitive and painless to use out in the wild. Set up via your smartphone, it’s easy to get data and routes in and out of the device while also customising the way it functions.
Small enough for those that worry a larger unit might lead to them being mistaken for a cyclo-tourist and not a professional athlete, the Roam nevertheless manages to provide excellent and easily readable mapping. With a bright 2.7-inch Gorilla Glass display and minimalist graphic interface, it’s more than averagely pleasing to look at, whether you’re using it for way-finding or just keeping an eye on your metrics. Naturally, it also has all the ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart compatibility you could hope for.
For those at don’t like being beeped at, the LEDs secreted along the edges of the Roam’s casing do a good job of keeping you within your pre-determined zones while also indicating the direction of any imminent turns. The onboard way-finding and rerouting features are also of above-average cleverness. Easy to use, good to look at, and with a battery large enough to allow for several all-day epics between charging, it’s an ideal companion for pretty much any cyclist.
Garmin Edge 1030 Plus
£519, Shop Garmin
It’d be possible to expend several thousand words explaining every feature possessed by Garmin’s Edge 1030 Plus. However, the short version is that this top-end model from the world’s best-known GPS maker is the option to pick if you want to be sure of covering absolutely every base. This takes in everything from hardware to software through real-time third-party app connectivity.
Starting with the device, it’s got a huge touchscreen. This is backed by enormous battery life, which when run in power-save mode can keep it ticking over for up to 48 hours. With three buttons down the side, these turn the unit on and off, start or pause rides, and reset the lap counter, everything else being achieved via the touchscreen. Set up is pretty easy, especially if you already have a Garmin, in which case the firm’s Connect app will port over your existing settings.
With a 32GB internal memory, the Edge 1030 Plus comes preloaded with a base map covering the entirety of the UK and North America. Excellent, if at times a little busy, this is largely mitigated by the enormous screen. With routes synching from Garmin connect or other linked accounts like Strava or Komoot, it’s also possible to route to your destination on the unit itself, either by searching it out or dropping a pin on the map. For people more interested in training than navigation, there’s also an almost endless variety of different insights, all of which are easily accessible on the device itself.
Hammerhead Karoo 2
£359, Shop Karoo
People that understand technology may wince, but the first time I used a Garmin I was outraged to find it less intuitive and speedy than the mapping included free on my phone. I’ve since learned all the semi-valid reasons that this is the case. Still, rightly or wrongly, most millennials expect every human/machine interaction to be of the seamless standard provided by Google or Apple.
Yet while cycle computers might have drastically improved in recent years, none quite replicates the ease of using your phone. Looking to bridge this gap, Karoo has built a bike computer around a powerful unit running the well-known Android operating system. With a large and bright touchscreen that looks like it’s been purloined from a posh phone, this is backed by an ultra-intuitive interface. There’s even a SIM-card slot for mobile data connectivity should you need it along with 32GB of in-built storage.
Once strapped onto the bike, the Karoo’s mapping is super crisp, while you can also zoom via the touchscreen, or use the buttons on the device to shortcut to particular menus if wearing gloves. With the now-standard ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity, it plays well with almost any sensors while also syncing with all your favourite apps. Despite its chunky size, the Karoo 2 is probably the best-looking device out there both in terms of the unit itself and its display.
Thanks to its operating system, Karoo’s scope for updating via firmware also outstrips its competitors. This means users will also be buying partly in the hope of being gifted future improvements to the brand’s offering rather than having to purchase them via updated hardware.
Wahoo scores its second entry in our list courtesy of its recently updated Bolt. Designed to be the racers’ choice, it’s a chunk smaller and more aerodynamic than the adventure-focused Roam. However, formerly it lacked a colour screen, and although its mapping was excellent, its navigation abilities weren’t quite as en pointe as its larger sibling’s.
Wahoo Bolt v2
£250, Shop Wahoo
Happily, this v2 update sees the Bolt acquire a vivid 64-colour display along with almost all the Roam’s key features - just in a much smaller package. This means you now get on-device destination selection that lets you tap the map to set a point to navigate to rather than having to enter it manually. The ability to pause navigation while you go off on a side quest also means you can do so without constantly being pestered with re-routing alerts, plus it can also now guide you to the start of your routes.
Looking at the unit itself, it’s not changed massively. Still chisel-shaped, Wahoo claims this profile will save a watt or so at 20 mph, which is always nice. With a 2.2-inch screen and weight of 70 grams, its small size doesn’t reduce the battery life, which remains a chunky 15 hours. Ditto the internal storage, which is now a huge 16GB.
With its wide range of colours and high resolution, the Bolt’s display is as pleasing to look at as something so diminutive ever can be, while its graphics also help keep data easily readable, even when displaying the maximum number of fields. Wahoo’s signature strip of LEDs along the top remains and continues to do a great job of alerting you to turns or helping you stick to your zones. Set-up via the app is easy, the cost is minimal, and it’s the correct size for a bike computer. Generally, there’s a lot to like.
Garmin Edge 530
£259, Shop Garmin
If either the hefty size or price tag has put you off Garmin’s Edge 1030 Plus, the mid-sized Edge 530 is a better bet. You still get excellent mapping along with natty features like Garmin’s ClimbPro utility to guide you through any ascents on your route. At 2.6-inches, its screen is now also the same size as found on its posher siblings from Garmin’s similarly sized 8-series range. Battery life comes in at about 20 hours.
Easily synching with route planning and training apps via your phone, the in-built route calculation has also been improved. If you so wish, it’ll even remind you to have a drink before you get thirsty. Data nerds will also be happy to find a host of in-depth training features that can be unlocked by adding additional sensors. These include the ability to track and estimate your FTP, training stress, and power curve. If you want, the Edge 530 can even guide you through detailed training sessions while you’re out on the road.
So what don’t you get? There’s no touchscreen, which might not be that much of a loss, as anyone that’s tried to operate one while wearing gloves will probably tell you. However, this does mean that unlike on the Edge 830 you’ll need to use your phone or a computer to create detailed routes. Still, not much else stands out as missing, which is probably why the Edge 530 strikes us as the best value of Garmin’s many units.