The best cycle GPS head units will offer you a wide range of metrics and clear navigation. If you are looking for a cycle GPS and are lost in a sea of choices, this article will help you find your way. As well as looking at must-have features, we will consider ease of use, durability compatibility. Of course, as committed road bike riders, Team Cyclxr has used a wide range of computers over the years. We want to share our experiences with you.
Best Cycle GPS – What to look for when shortlisting Cycle computers
For a road bike rider, the purpose of a cycle computer is two-fold. First and foremost, you want live feedback on your key performance indicators. As any seasoned road bike rider will tell you, long rides demand strategic use of your energy reserves, scientific planning of energy intake and total awareness of your power output zones. Classic novice rider mistakes include expending energy reserves too early in a ride, attacking hills too hard, or riding in a high heart rate zone for too long.
The best Cycle GPS units feedback metrics as you ride. All of the problems listed above can be avoided by understanding two principal metrics. So what are these magic numbers?
- Cadence (or the rate of pedal turns in Revolutions per minute)
- Heart Rate (measured in beats per minute)
As you begin to understand your maximum heart rate threshold, training zones (watch a brilliant video here) and your optimum cadence, you will quickly adapt your riding style based on the feedback on your cycle GPS screen.
This article is not the place to go in-depth about cadence and heart rate, and the numbers are very dependent on your fitness levels and personal physique. However, your cycle computer must offer these two metrics in addition to any GPS functionality. This extra functionality will mean adding a cadence meter and heart rate monitor to your shopping list. We believe these two items are as important as your bike pump and energy bars. Leave home without them at your peril. Cyclxr favourite trainer Grant Goodman has written a great article here.
Other metrics can be helpful too. Most modern cycle computers will allow you to customise your screen to display the numbers which mean the most to you personally. You can even have multiple screen set-ups adapted for different types of rides. For example, the most popular screen set-up in the Cyclxr office displays the map route, with Cadence and Heart rate as priority numbers and miles elapsed as a secondary metric. However, many riders like to track miles ridden, miles remaining, and the amount of elevation left to climb.
Connectivity and Cycle GPS
Given that no one wants wires dangling everywhere and comfort is paramount on long rides, all manufacturers of cycle computers seem to have settled on two wireless standards. You will no doubt be familiar with Bluetooth Smart connectivity. If you want to connect your smartphone or smartwatch to your computer, then Bluetooth is how you will achieve that. The other standard (ANT+) is for connecting heart rate monitors, hub rotation monitors (Speed) and cadence monitors. ANT+ is available on all good cycle computers.
Is a Cycle GPS even necessary if you own a smartphone?
You may be wondering why we suggest outsourcing heart rate and mapping to a cycle computer when smartwatches and smartphones are so prevalent?
We are not fans of smartwatches for cycling. While they offer quality data feedback, you do not want to constantly take your hands off the handlebars to check heart rate or power output. Unless you reach for a bidon or energy bar, hands should be on the hoods or drops. In addition, heart rate often needs careful monitoring on long climbs, and you will lose momentum and control ascent if you spend too much time one-handed.
As for smartphones, well, this is your personal choice. At Cyclxr, we are advocates of switching phones off when riding. Distractions from notifications can be irritating at best. In addition, we have seen smartphones smashing into the tarmac and a multi-bike pile up when someone in the group tried to reply to a WhatsApp message while riding! Rider error due to mobile phone use counted for 20% of cycle incidents in a recent study.
Cycling is as much about mental escape as personal fitness and endurance. So turn, your phone off and use a cycle computer. Not only will you enjoy freedom from your phone, but a cycle computer is designed to sit right in your eye line, with minimal distraction to power output and bike control.
Best Cycle GPS – Why is GPS important?
Many cycle computers have no GPS at all. They do a great job of feeding back your cadence, heart rate and speed and are comparatively cheap. So why even have a GPS feature if there are much more affordable solutions?
Buy cheap, buy twice, or so the adage goes. If you are just starting out with your road bike, you may think that a cheap cycle computer will do. However, all of us in the office can confirm that a non-GPS computer won’t stand the test of time. The human psyche is very susceptible to competitive thinking, which is why so many world-leading brands gamify their platforms. The world of the road cyclist is no different. Tracking your rides will become very important, and it is more than just ego.
OK, some of it is ego. Road cycling can quickly become an obsession, and your rides are your personal trophy cabinet. Rides are the perfect fodder for post-ride pub talk, the stuff of legends. “Remember that time we hit 85KPH coming off the back of an Alpine climb? Classic!” – (This is why friends stop inviting us to parties-Ed)
Ego aside, you will want to track your rides for personal performance reasons. Seeing your progress over weeks or months is a great booster, and for competitive riders, identifying where you are losing time is essential information. Uploading your GPX files to a platform like Strava or map my ride will become a regular part of your post-ride ritual. You can’t build accurate ride history without GPS on your computer.
Also, when you are seventy miles into a one hundred mile sportive, stopping to check directions on your phone gets very tiresome, very quickly. Any sportive worth its salt will supply GPX files of the route for you to upload into your cycle computer. Also, if you intend to ride with a club or even create your own endurance rides, it is convenient to have routes logged into your cycle computer. GPX files are map route data, and they rely on satellite tracking (GPS) to keep you on the right road. Many budget GPS computers offer navigation arrows, even if they don’t have a complete map capability, so GPS is still very relevant.
If you want to tour, then maps are non-negotiable. We have tried riding multiple days of a road bike tour without maps, using directional arrows only and the amount of time wasted stopping to double-check a route on the phone or riding for miles in the wrong direction is not tenable. So invest in a proper GPS computer complete with maps if you want to tour.
The Best Cycle GPS – Our top picks
OK, you can see GPS is a must-have for the aspiring road cyclist, and you have made a note to read up on cadence and heart rate thresholds. So the choice will be easy, right? The truth is, there are a mind-boggling amount of cycle computers on the market. The Garmin range alone consists of seventeen models.
Fear not. The Cyclxr team has pooled its experiences, and we have put together a shortlist of units we would buy or have bought based on budget. When it comes down to it, it’s all about how much you want to spend. Rest assured, every computer on our list allows you to customise your home screen, add cadence and heart rate monitoring (which may require additional equipment) and can track your ride via GPS.
We have picked our top three manufacturers and then our pick of their budget and premium models.
Best Cycle GPS from Garmin
Garmin is the undisputed leader when it comes to cycle computers. While others offer highly competitive products, Garmin has decades of R&D coupled with a long history in quality products. We feel there are two products in the Garmin range that represent value for money. Each hits a price point, depending on your wallet.
Garmin Edge 530 Bundle – Under £300
The Edge 530 is a competent head unit available in a comprehensive bundle. Garmin is on the money with their rugged and easy-to-use cycle computers. The 530 represents an excellent choice for the road cyclist who requires performance metrics with the option to see a map when needed.
What we like about the Edge 530
- We like the clear, user customisable display.
- Training alerts and recovery suggestions based on your performance are a neat addition.
- The synch to Training Peaks option for strategic training is a fantastic bonus.
- Weather alerts are convenient.
- Group riding functionality allows easy regrouping if the bunch gets split. (Multiple 5s required).
Garmin Edge 1030 Bundle – Premium product
The Edge 1030 head unit is at the top of the food chain in the Garmin range. The Edge 1030 is the perfect choice for the road cyclist who intends to cover many touring miles or who likes to see detailed maps when on club rides. A complete bundle is available, and if you are looking for an upgrade to a premium package or want to start with the best navigation as a priority, the Edge 1030 should be on your very shortlist.
Expect all the features of the Edge 530, plus:
What we like about the Edge 1030
- We like the precise, detailed mapping functions.
- You can easily upgrade the preloaded European and North American maps o add other world destinations.
- Mapping is second to none, and the Edge 1030 will keep you on course, both on and off-road.
- We love the tracking facility, which allows family members or sponsors to follow you on your adventures and add peace of mind.
- The Edge 1030 has a whopping 24-hour battery life with an optional power pack that can take you to 48 hours of use.
Best Cycle GPS from Hammerhead
Hammerhead has entered the cycle computer market with a big splash. Although there are some aspects of the Karoo 2 (the only model in the range) that we feel could be improved, we see huge potential here. There is no doubt that the Karoo 2 is extremely capable and represents a viable alternative to Garmin’s industry standards.
Hammerhead Karoo 2 Cycle computer
Hammerhead uses the Android 8 mobile phone operating system and GPS to create a unique mapping system that rivals the Edge 1030 for complexity, ease of use and clarity.
What we like about the Karoo 2
- We love the live Strava Segment overlays, highlighting KOM/QOM and segments as you ride.
- SIM card capability for live updates and ride synching are ideal for adventure/endurance and sponsored rides.
- The touch screen is very useable, and button functionality acts as a backup for wet screens/gloves.
- The screen size is a useful
- The Karoo 2 uses universal connectivity so that you can use any existing ANT+ sensor for cadence, speed and heart rate.
Best Cycle GPS from Wahoo
Wahoo is another manufacturer making a solid name for itself in the cycle computer marketplace. Let’s be honest; if a product is good enough for Peter Sagan, it should cover most weekend warriors’ needs.
Made in the USA, the Wahoo range features tough head units, improved second-generation sensor technologies and long battery life performance. (Claimed 15 hours plus).
Wahoo Elemnt Bolt bundle.
If aerodynamics are important to you, then the Wahoo bolt is designed with you in mind. Although aerodynamics offer marginal gains for the average cyclist, time-triallers will undoubtedly be interested in the Bolts super lightweight and aero design. In addition, Wahoo claims time savings of twelve seconds over 41KM at 21mph, so competitive riders should investigate if these claims hold any merit.
Over and above cutting through the air efficiently, the Elemnt Bolt is a competent Cycle computer. Moreover, its compact design does not detract from straightforward and easy to use navigation functions.
What we like about the Elemnt Bolt Bundle
- The Bolt is nice and compact, and although Aero is not of great importance to most of the Cyclxr team, we all agree that it is one of the neatest units out there.
- We love the get me started navigation, convenient for finding group ride start points and multi-day endurance rides, where the start line is pre-set.
- 15-hour battery life is an excellent feature for endurance and adventure road rides.
- The IPX7 is one of the highest waterproof ratings in its class and allows submersion to five feet of water – although things have gone very wrong if you need this!
- The value for money Versus functionality makes the bolt a perfect choice for competitive riders who want fully functioned navigation. Time trial riders and triathletes take note.
The only sacrifice you make for the Bolts compact size is training functionality. Unfortunately, this unit is not as capable of linking to popular platforms like Strava and Training Peaks and so may not suit casual and weekend riders who need everything in one package.
Wahoo Elemnt Roam bundle.
Wahoos Edge 1030 challenger is the premium level, Elemnt Roam. Expect all the functionality and integration possibilities a premium cycle computer should offer. The Wahoo Roam is a fully blown navigational package with no compromise on training capabilities, and yet it still comes in at under £400 for the entire bundle.
What we like about the Elemnt Roam
- Incredible value for money
- We love the neat navigation screen with easy to use menu options.
- We are big fans of Turbo trainer compatibility with computers, and the Roam has Kickr Climb and Headwind features to add to its training functionality.
- The re-routing and get me started features will be very useful for fans of long endurance rides, club rides and sportives.
- Hardware compatibility for electronic groupsets such as Shimano Di, SRAM RED eTAP and AXS, FSA WE and Campagnolo EPS is also a bonus at this price point.
All of the Cycle computers we have highlighted here offer what we consider the best cycle GPS experience in their class. Of course, there are many more products on the market; however, we would happily buy these products if we were starting out or as an upgrade.
Navigation and performance are two aspects of cycling that cross over into each other. So pick yourself one of these products, and you will enjoy monitoring your gains and discovering new rides for many years to come.
Enjoy the ride!