Question: There are so many GPS units out there; how do I decide what to buy? Can you do a comparison, or at least ask readers to weigh in on the
good and the bad? Thanks. — Ann S
There are indeed a lot of GPS bicycle computers out there! We recently covered them here. How do you choose from so many different models?
In general, the “Big Two” brands are Garmin and Wahoo. You can’t really go wrong with either one. They are widely supported by all the major web sites like MapMyRide and Strava and you’ll be riding the same computer as most of your cycling buddies, who can help you learn to use it. From there, it’s a matter how how many features you want and how much you want to spend.
Here’s what some of our contributors and coaches are using for bike computers.
“I mainly use a Garmin Edge 1000. But also have a Garmin Forerunner 920xt (triathlon watch) that I use from time to time. Currently I’m writing a review on the Garmin Forerunner 645 music with wrist HRM. Very nice.
I would tell her that it all depends on the features she wants/needs.” — Sheri Rosenbaum
“I am currently using the Hammerhead Karoo, which I reviewed recently here.
Before the Karoo, I was using the Wahoo ELMNT, which is an outstanding, easy to use and full featured GPS bike computer. What I like about the Wahoo GPS computers is that they have a companion app that installs on your phone. It’s very simple to use the app to set up the computer exactly the way you like it. I owned several Garmin models before that, and always found them very complicated to set up because the settings screens were so hard to figure out. — Lars Hundley
“I have never used – and don’t plan to use a GPS bicycle computer. Because I have something that makes one heck of a lot more sense to me: my iPhone 6S! Just like it does in my internal combusters, it talks to me to provide directions – plus its maps are always up to date. Best of all it’s something I already have, know how to use, and that I carry on most of my rides anyway. Sure comes in handy in case of a crash, which I’m more prone to as I age it seems.
I sometimes listen to podcasts on quiet roads where the speaker can be heard just fine. To carry it on my bikes so that I can see it and access the functions when I stop, it rides in a Rokform mount attached to my stem cap bolt. I reviewed this great bike mount a while ago. Here’s a link. You can even orient the mount to hold the iPhone upright to take rider’s point-of-view videos. The only bad thing is the risk of ruining an expensive phone in a wreck, which hasn’t happened yet. I have insurance for that just in case.” — Jim Langley
“I use a Garmin Edge 1030, which I wrote about as part of our 2017 Interbike coverage. It has way, way more functionality than I will ever use, but you can rest assured it’s the type of unit that can do pretty much anything you would want in a bike computer. If you watched closely, you’ve seen the Edge 1030 on many Tour de France bikes the past couple of years.
Like other large, full-featured head units, I really like it for the size and the ability to customize data screens with a number of data points, each of which is still big enough to easily read at a glance.
Another feature I especially appreciate is the 20-hour battery life, which allows me to go several rides without needing to recharge. I’ve had other computers that couldn’t even last a third of that time.
As for which computer to buy, I would recommend thinking about it terms similar to this: 1. What functionality do I want/need/think I might ever use? 2. What size head unit do I want/need — based on real-world considerations like my age, vision, etc.? 3. How much money do I want to spend on a computer? 4. How long is the battery life (especially important for tours and one-day events where long life is vital)?
As an aside, like Jim, I carry my iPhone on every ride — but tucked safely in a waterproof cycling wallet in my middle jersey pocket. I totally agree with Jim that the mapping functionality on a phone is far better than any cycling computer I’ve ever seen. However, I value my iPhone too highly to ever risk strapping it to my handlebar, exposing it to the potential damage of a crash.” — John Marsh
Well I think most of my opinions have already been covered, but here we go….
I use an old Garmin Edge 510 and it does everything I need and more. Garmin should really be the king of bike GPS units but their software holds them back. The first couple years I had the unit I had so many software problems that required hard resets and completely new SW installs. I still get random glitches, but in general it works ok. Getting Bluetooth connection is real hit and miss.
I also always have my iPhone on me during a ride but in a waterproof pouch in my rear pocket, too expensive to risk up front on the bars. Given my new home in Germany I would like to have a GPS with navigation/maps so I don’t have to stop so often to pull out my phone to figure out where I am and how to get home.
I do think it is pretty easy to get a GPS with way more features than you need and therefore spend way more than you need to. Unless you are seriously training the most basic GPS computers out there will give you all the info you need.
And if you really don’t need a head unit for real time info and just want to track your ride for review later you can use the Strava App for free on your smartphone. Shut off cellular data for the app and you are good to go, tracks the ride and doesn’t use any data. — Brandon Bilyeu
Bryton. Check them out. Bryton Sport GPS units have the same functions as Garmin at 1/2 the price. And more reliable. Going on 3 years without an issue. — Rick Schultz
I don’t need no stinkin’ computer!
— Coach John Hughes
Readers, which GPS bike computer do you recommend, and why? Leave a comment and let us know!
Chris W says
I have been using my iPhone w/ RidewithGPS for awhile…battery life stinks for long rides; I’ve had to put a small battery pack in my seat pack and wire a long cable along the frame. Not good when it rains (which is has, 3x this year after starting out bright and sunny).
I recently got a Garmin 1030 and have been very pleased. Large color screen (better for 55+ eyes) is easy to see, long battery life (20+ hours, more if you get the external battery), RWGPS integration via the IQ app, and lightweight. I figured Garmin would update the 1030 the week after I bought it (since the 530/830 came out this year) but no word yet…probably next year.
Johan Mokhtar says
Perhaps more information than you care to read, but DC Rainmaker has excellent reviews and product comparisons:
Michael Ridenhour says
Have used the Wahoo for years. It seems to be unbreakable and has a very long lasting rechargeable battery. I like to record everything with the iPhone app and Ride with GPS, reads my chest heart monitor right onscreen (important at 75). And sits right in front of me, so I don’t have to take my eyes off the road. I removed the message sync, because I get that on my iWatch anyway and don’t want to be reading while riding.
I’m very happy with the Wahoo.
I use technology, even it makes life more difficult. So it is a Garmin 1030 for me. I won’t leave home without it.
DCRainmaker publishes comprehensive reviews and comparisons of all types of althletic electronics, including bike computers. Very valuable resource.
I tried a Garmin 1030 but returned it as it will NOT work with long fingered gloves. I Portland, OR, that’s a deal breaker.
So I went back to my Garmin 800 which works with ALL my gloves and has all the functions I need/want anyway.
PS – my phone stays safely (and dry) in a bag in my back jersey pocket. That’s my preference. The emergency room nurse used it to call my wife when I went to hospital after a crash that knocked me out for awhile. I survived to write this!
As an update, I just purchased a Garmin 1030 Plus and it DOES work with long fingered gloves. I haven’t quite figured out all of the settings for routing but it pretty much works AND it has a much larger screen than my old Garmin 800. That’s a big plus for my aging eyes.
tom wojcik says
Garmin 800 for me – I’ve had it for 7 years and it’s been great. Had only a few minor problems. Touchscreen is great and map chips (I have one for North America and Europe) have given me lots of alternative route options. My wife has a 520 and I really don’t like the push button functionality – way too clunky and not intuitive.
I also carry my iPhone with me and occasionally use the Strava function especially when I’m on a multi-day trip and can’t download my rides (the 800 is not Bluetooth compatible so have to plug in to download onto the laptop computer).