- A bike computer with GPS can be an invaluable training tool and an even more useful navigation tool.
- Modern bike computers gather all kinds of location and training data for amusement and analysis.
- After testing many bike computers, we think that the intuitive and reliable Wahoo Elemnt Bolt is the best of the bunch.
Bike computers, or head units, are a great way to gamify and quantify your training. A good GPS computer can not only tell you how far and fast you’ve ridden, but also connect to other devices on your bike and body via Bluetooth or ANT+. That way, you can gather data from all kinds of sensors like heart rate monitors, power meters, and cadence sensors.
Many bike computers will also include altimeters, barometers, thermometers, and accelerometers to measure weather, feet climbed, and gradient as well as auto-starting and stopping rides. Most modern units also feature navigation, so if your ride gets you somewhere you didn’t expect to be, the computer will get you home again.
When selecting a head unit, it’s important to think about what you want out of it. A lot of GPS functions can be outsourced to a cellphone, and if all you want is to log your mileage and share rides to a social network like Strava, you might be able to get away with a phone in your pocket. Putting a phone on your bars isn’t the best idea, it tends to make the front end of your bike cluttered and heavy and puts your cellphone at risk. Basic computers will rely on your phone and mirror the data on a screen.
More advanced devices will offer training metrics on customizable screens and turn-by-turn navigation. If you want a computer to improve your training and racing, something small and black and white will be reliable and lightweight. If you want navigation, shoot for a bigger screen and more memory. If you want to really dig down into the minutiae, a more powerful and larger unit with a color screen is just the ticket.
As a professional bicyclist who’s participated in competitive racing, I’ve done a lot of testing and research on many bike accessories, and have even incorporated the best ones into my life. Here are the best bike computers I’ve found that could enhance your ride.
Here are the best bike computers you can buy:
- Best bike computer overall: Wahoo Elemnt Bolt
- Best bike computer for bikepacking and touring: Lezyne Mega XL
- Best bike computer for data nerds: Garmin 1030
- Best bike computer for navigating: Sigma Rox 12.0
Updated on 09/06/2019 by Les Shu: Updated prices, links, and formatting.
The best bike computer overall
- Wahoo Fitness
The Wahoo Elemnt Bolt connects to every sensor seamlessly, offers intuitive controls, and has a clear display so you’ll have easy access to all the data you could ever want.
When I started using bike computers, the process of installing a wheel magnet, running a wire to a sensor on the fork, and then securing that wire to the frame was almost a training session in itself.
Today, it can still be stressful setting up sensors cadence measuring devices, powermeters, and heart rate monitors to work with your head unit. Add in touchscreen devices that don’t work with sweaty hands and menus that don’t tell you what you want to know but do tell you everything else, and you’ll be ready to return to the days of a simple speed and distance computer.
This isn’t the case with Wahoo’s head units. The Elemnt Bolt paired with every device I tried, never once dropped connection or lost data and proved incredibly easy to use.
The Elemnt Bolt comes equipped with an out-front mount as well as a stem mount, meaning that setup on a road or mountain bike is a 30-second job. Once powered up, the free app makes it incredibly simple to choose the screens you will see, and the big tactile buttons on the device make it easy to navigate between screens. Within five minutes of unboxing the device, you can be out on the road and monitoring any of dozens of metrics.
Should your ride take you away from familiar roads or the device’s claims of aerodynamic advantage lead to you travelling further than expected, the included app can give you effective turn-by-turn directions on the the pre-downloaded map.
Unlike some of the larger screen devices we tested, it is a little hard to browse the map on the device screen, but using the companion app made it easy to find a destination and transfer a route to the device. Once you’re done training, simply connect to Wi-Fi or your phone’s data plan to upload the ride to your preferred training app such as Strava or Training Peaks.
Cycling Tips compared the set-up experience of the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt to that of an Apple device, because it is simple and intuitive. I’m no programmer but I found it very easy to determine my data fields and get screens set up for long rides, climbing, intervals, and navigation. It’s equally simple to transfer a route or workout to the device if you find yourself riding in a new area or sticking to a training program.
REI purchasers loved the robust and water-resistant design, the ability to integrate electronic drivetrains and see you gearing and battery life on the unit and the zoom in/out functions, which allow you to focus on one data field during a hard interval. I also enjoy the option to read and dismiss calls and texts during an interval.
For me, what I like most about the Elemnt bolt was not having to think about it. I put it on a bike, it picked up the power meter and the drivetrain and off I went. Any data I want, I could easily find, and setting up my data screens after unboxing was incredibly simple.
There are many other great features, like the LEDs that signal your power or speed relative to average, the aerodynamic shape of the computer, and the tiny bolt that holds the head unit on the mount and prevents loss in a crash.
I really value a bike computer that adds to the experience of riding rather than distracting from it, so I don’t really feel I need a color screen bleeping at me all the time. The Wahoo hides a lot of technology in a small package and it uses that tech to add to your ride experience, which is really all I want from a GPS.
Pros: Intuitive menus and set up, comes with mount, maps pre-downloaded
Cons: Monochrome screen can make map-reading difficult, battery life is not as long as some models
The best bike computer for bikepacking and touring
The huge screen and impressive battery life on the Lezyne Mega XL make it a go-to for navigating multi-day trips in the backcountry.
Nothing is more frustrating than having a map on your device that you can’t quite orient to see if the road you want to take is going to connect you to incredible riding or leave you lost in the middle of nowhere. You zoom in and you can see the road, but you zoom out, and it disappears. You ride down it, get stuck at the bottom of a big hill, and curse the GPS as you haul yourself back up the other side wishing you’d just stuck to paper maps instead of this high-tech nonsense. Then the damn thing runs out of battery.
The Mega XL won’t leave you stranded. The incredible 48-hour run time, combined with the fact that the device can be charged whilst it runs, means that even the most extreme exploring will be recorded on the device’s spacious internal hard drive. Its 2.7-inch high-resolution screen can be run in portrait or landscape mode so you can always see where you’re going and, provided you download maps before heading out, how to get home.
Much like the reviewer at Road.cc, I really like the positive engagement and secure locked-in feel of Lezyne’s 1/8 turn mount. Lezyne also offers an optional mount that places the light directly in front of the stem and incorporates a mount for a camera or light. The unit is slightly larger, thanks to its big screen and battery, which makes this secure interface even more valuable.
During testing, the only glitch I found was, on one ride, where the altimeter suddenly began racking up tens of thousands of feet of climbing that I hadn’t done that day. Lezyne’s engineers know such bugs exist with the GPS chip, and engineered an altitude correction function.
Another great piece of software engineering is the Lezyne track function that sends my wife an email whenever I start a ride and updates her on my location, using my linked smartphone. It’s also great to be able to read and dismiss calls, texts, and other alerts right from the Mega XL‘s huge screen, although I found customizing these alerts a little more challenging than in the Wahoo app.
The included app is generally pretty useable, although uploading of rides is manual rather than automatic as with the Wahoo. Many coaches prefer this as it gives riders a chance to enter their training notes. Amazon reviewers liked that the Mega XL showed the battery levels of all connected sensors.
Setup via the Lezyne app was generally simple, although some users were frustrated by frequent firmware updates. I didn’t find these too burdensome, although forgetting to download a map that covered the edges of one bikepacking trip was frustrating, but largely my own fault. I loved leaving the Mega XL on my bikepacking bike and being able to keep tabs on where I was, the charge state of all my connected devices and my distance covered.
I tended to use the Mega XL in landscape mode, perhaps because it reminded me of the old bike computer that I once raced with. It offers great value, all the functions of the best computers tested, and best-in-class battery life and navigation.
If you’re looking for a bikepacking computer that reliably delivers the functions you want, the Mega XL is great, but it lacks the finesse of some of the other products here.
Pros: Huge screen, incredible battery life
Cons: Maps need to be downloaded, out-front mount sold separately
The best bike computer for data nerds
- Courtesy of James Stout
The Garmin Edge 1030 gives you every possible piece of data analysis you could want in real-time, as well as a capacitive color touchscreen.
I remember when the Nintendo 64 launched with the tagline that it was more powerful than the computer that put man on the moon. These days that’s not that remarkable, but when you consider that a dozen years ago, people were still riding with magnetic bike computers that they had to manually input wheel diameters into, the Edge 1030 is nothing short of miraculous.
The technology in this head unit rivals that of a basic laptop and there’s nothing it can’t tell you about your training or route. For people who love tech and data, this will be the perfect head unit.
The 1030 works via a combination of buttons and a touchscreen – the former can be a little hard to access when using an out-front mount, and the latter can be a little frustrating when trying to access data whilst riding at 25 miles an hour. I find that the 1030‘s touchscreen responded much better to gloves, sweat, rain, and dust, but I accessed the wrong page more often on the Garmin than with other similar devices.
Certainly, with all that data literally at my fingertips, it was fun to swipe through and see everything from left/right balance to training load and recovery time. Data such as weather information isn’t available on other computers that we tested and proved genuinely useful in my testing.
Other notifications were less useful (I don’t need to know when there is a sharp corner coming up), but could easily be turned off on the device or through Garmin’s excellent app.
I did find that the Garmin crashed once or twice, something that less complicated computers never do, but the sort of rider who wants a bike computer that tells them their projected recovery time as soon as they finish a ride will understand that this requires more delicate electronics.
The Edge 1030‘s navigation features are excellent and are only challenged by the Sigma Rox 12.0. Not only can you browse the full-color map for places of interest, you can also see routes based on user-generated data to ensure you take roads cyclists prefer, which usually means safer routes.
I tested navigation in downtown LA and enjoyed being able to easily find to points of interest because I didn’t even have to stop riding to find the nearest cafe.
Road.cc notes that you’ll need to check longer routes as those generated can be a little bizarre, but I found that most of the time I navigated with the 1030 it did a great job of finding me a safe way home. An Amazon buyer noted that the powerful processor and connected smartphone app allows for the Edge 1030 to auto-upload rides to online platforms like Strava and easily configure screens and setup.
Now, is it worth $600? Only you can decide that – not everybody will have a need for navigation features. It does come with an out-front mount, so at least you won’t have to shell out extra money to set one up on your bike. If you plan on navigating with your bike a lot without having to preload routes beforehand, the Garmin and Sigma units are leaps and bounds ahead of the competition.
Pros: Incredible data analysis, touch-capable color display, navigation based on where cyclists ride
Cons: Software crashes can occur, expensive
The best bike computer for navigation
The crystal clear touchscreen and smartphone-like interface make it easy to get the most out of the Sigma ROX 12.0‘s great navigation and training software.
Sigma made a name for itself with some of the best wired cycle computers around, and its latest offering is a much updated but equally reliable computer that packs as much functionality as more widely hailed brands. What Sigma did wisely was to take its expertise in making bike computers and let other brands do what it doesn’t do: design an operating system. The ROX 12.0 runs on Android, and is every bit as fast, clean, and clear as the cellphone that many of you are reading this on.
If you plan to use your bike computer to navigate in areas you don’t know, the Rox or the Garmin are really your best bet. Amazon shoppers liked the accuracy and visibility of the maps provided and so did I. Sigma obtains its base maps from the OSM (OpenStreetMap) database, so the directions should be accurate and up to date. The maps are continually refined and updated and those for the USA and Canada come pre-loaded on the device with other regions available at no cost.
Some maps on other computers can’t be zoomed or moved, which means that if you want to see where a road goes or how to get home you have to stop and pull out your phone. With the ROX 12.0, I could see a road, quickly skip to the map page on the computer, and decide if I should take it or not.
As DC Rainmaker notes, the responsiveness and clarity of the maps on this device is fantastic, I don’t normally use maps on GPS head units unless I have a route uploaded but the ROX 12.0 changed that. I plugged in destinations or searched for them as I would on my phone and was able to discern the route easily, even in bright sunlight.
The ROX 12.0 can be customized with colored cases to match your bike or kit. The bright colour screen works well in all light conditions and we found it easy to customize screens to show exactly what we wanted to see on rides using Sigma’s desktop software or using the device itself.
Of all the devices we tested, this one had by far the most screen clarity and an incredible touchscreen that worked as well as a smartphone even when riding with gloves in the rain, but should you prefer, the device also offers side buttons to switch screens.
Sigma made a wise decision to use the same mount as a Garmin and other industry players to allow users to take advantage of a variety of aftermarket mounts, which integrate accessories such as lights and action cameras. Indeed, Sigma provides a mount from Barfly, although it carries Sigma branding, that allows for a light or camera to be run beneath the computer. This is a nice touch in a computer at this cost. The unit also charges via Micro USB, which means you’ll never have to be without a cable even if you’re touring or traveling.
My only real criticism is not of the unit itself, but of the app that comes with it. In testing dozens of bike computers, I actually found I preferred not to pair them with my phone as the notifications became annoying when I was trying to enjoy a bike ride, but should you prefer to know who is calling or texting, the Sigma is not capable of cellphone connection and showing notifications.
In time, I am sure this will be changed, but for now all ride data is uploaded by Wi-Fi. Obviously this is not a cheap bike computer, and that will be a negative for some, but given that it delivers navigation features for which we normally rely on a phone that costs twice as much, it’s hard to argue that the Rox 12.0 doesn’t present good value for someone who will make use of its full feature set.
Pros: Incredible clarity and precision touch screen, great navigation
Cons: Expensive if you don’t need all the features, app isn’t great