11 best GPS cycling computers that help you train smarter

Stay on track of your route and your progress with one of these smart satellite-dependent devices

Aaron Roe
Thursday 01 October 2020 18:07
When testing, we even did our best to get ourselves lost by taking wrong turns to make sure our computer companions could put us back on the right track
When testing, we even did our best to get ourselves lost by taking wrong turns to make sure our computer companions could put us back on the right track

Whether you need to know where you are heading, or want to keep an eye on your fitness in the run up to that big sportive you have been building up to, there is a bike GPS unit out there for you.  

Cyclists thrive on data – whether it’s our time up a favourite climb, our speed down a hill or the distance of an epic Sunday ride to give us bragging rights down the pub, we love to do a bit of number crunching.

A bike GPS computer is a great tool for recording all the important information so you can train smarter as well as finding your way around.

They use signals from constellations of satellites way out in space to work out your position on the planet and therefore the speed at which you are moving.

Models that feature ANT+ and Bluetooth allow you to connect a phone or sensors to record your pedalling rate, power output, or heartbeat – great if you are working through a training programme.

Some of our selected GPS units work with the fitness app Strava to offer Live Segments – a feature that can spice up solo rides by offering a virtual training partner for you to race on your favourite hills.

Among our line-up are models that can help you navigate by showing simple “breadcrumb” trails of dots, with arrows popping up on screen to help you find your way through road junctions.

Others come with larger screens which can show much more detailed maps while guiding you to a chosen town or postcode, just like a car GPS system.

We rode around town and out in the country to test out our chosen devices in a range of conditions. We even did our best to get ourselves lost by taking wrong turns to make sure our computer companions could put us back on the right track.

Where appropriate, we also turned off the GPS features and rode them on indoor trainers in conjunction with heart monitors and cadence sensors to get a great workout without ever leaving the house.

Wahoo elemnt roam

We have been using this for more than a year and it’s been brilliant. It’s got great mapping,  a nice big 2.7in screen and superb connectivity with your other devices and smart trainers. The pre-loaded global maps use a splash of colour to highlight features such as major roads and rivers. It’s a feature we found much less distracting than some full-colour alternatives. Wahoo has made it super-easy to customise the metrics you view – clicking direction arrows on the side allows you to see more or less information and lets you zoom in and out of the map. You can set the LEDs on the left of the screen to show heart rate or power zones. But beware – your ride companions might spot you are suffering if your lights turn red! Wireless uploading to Strava is super-quick – usually completed before we have walked back in from the garage at the end of a ride. Features recently added include integration with e-bikes from the likes of Giant and Specialized to give you details such as battery range on screen. Battery life is up to around 17 hours, and along with a standard mount you also get an out-front version in the box to keep your handlebars clutter-free.

Garmin Edge 530

Using the Edge 530 is like having a little sports coach on your handlebars. It does all the usual Garmin stuff such as mapping and letting you keep track of speed and distance, but it can do so much more too – including reminding you to eat and drink on your rides. Another great feature is ClimbPro which will show you where you are on an hill and give you a heads-up as to what lies ahead so you can manage your efforts. If you ride a Shimano STEPS equipped e-bike the 530 will integrate with that, too – giving updates on battery charge, the level of motor assistance you are getting, and even which gear you are in. Battery life is up to 20 hours and the box includes an out-front aero mount as well as standard Garmin quarter-turn ones. Garmin recently bought indoor trainer maker Tacx, so the two pair up nicely when the weather is too bad to ride outside. 

Beeline velo

Looking for a fun way to find your way around? This could be perfect. The “smart compass” works alongside a companion phone app into which you enter your destination. It will then plot out a route for you, or you can freestyle it and just follow the arrow on the screen until you arrive at your destination. You just get basic information on screen, such as the distance to your next turn and its approximate position relative to where you are. If you don’t care about having pages of data at your fingertips and enjoy seeking out new tracks and lanes you’ll love it. It’s available in four colours and you can easily use it on hire bikes as the rubber mount – which doubles up as a carrying case – wraps around the handlebars in seconds.

Garmin Edge 130

This one is great value. It’s small and simple and the 1.8-inch screen won’t take up much space on your bars yet it’s still got ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity and will let you view all your important data including speed, power, and heart rate when paired with the appropriate sensors. Battery life is up to 15 hours and works with Strava’s Live Segments. It’s got LiveTrack to let friends and family follow your progress, and it will show call and text notifications when linked to your phone. It can even give you the latest weather forecast on screen. It comes with three spare stem mounts plus a charging cable.

Wahoo Elemnt Bolt

The sculpted shape of this one is designed to let it slip through the air on its pro-style out-front mount, making it a great choice for time trial riders. Wahoo claims it can save you 12 seconds over the course of a 40km effort. It’s got ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity plus good navigation on the black and white 2.2inch screen, although the maps are pretty basic. You can upload routes and the LEDs across the top of the unit will flash a warning if you stray off the trail marked out by arrows. When paired with a suitable monitor, the same LEDs will let you know whether you are in your chosen heart rate zone when riding. We like the fact you can choose which data appears on screen and can zoom in or out depending on how much of it you want to see at a given time. Uploading your rides to Strava and other apps is done wirelessly and within seconds of you getting back home.

Mio Cyclo 605

The huge four-inch colour touchscreen on this monster makes it a hefty bit of kit to mount on your bike, but that extra on-screen space makes a difference when you’re reading the maps. One fun feature is the “surprise me” mode which can create a random route for you to follow, based on how long, how far or where you want to ride. It’s decent value given that it comes boxed with heart rate, speed and cadence sensors. Battery life is up to 15 hours, and it will pair with your phone, allowing you to view text messages on screen.

Sigma Rox 12.0

If you like to use a GoPro-type camera at the front of your bike as well as a computer, this one is worth a look. It comes packed with an out-front mount to which you can bolt an included GoPro mount, meaning your handlebars are not cluttered up with extra kit. You will see this medium-sized device – about the size of a smaller, old-style iPhone – on the handlebars of top-flight bike racing outfit Team Sunweb. We liked the touch screen – at 3inch, it’s not particularly big but it does feature customisable data pages. We were also impressed with the navigation options, including the option to enter an address and then get turn-by-turn instructions to lead you to it. There’s also a Draw My Route function so you can pen your own path through the local hills.

Mio Cyclo 210

A 3.5in colour touchscreen makes this one great for navigation. You can use it like a car GPS unit right down to typing in a postcode and then selecting a street and house number. It will find the route in seconds and you also get a little elevation profile to let you know what terrain you will face on your ride. The 210 uses the excellent OpenStreetMap system and you can choose between city bike, mountain bike, race bike and run/walk profiles so it can select the most suitable route to follow. We put the navigation to the test by taking a few wrong turns on our test rides but it always managed to get us back on course. It’s got a touchscreen, so there’s just one button on the unit. Things have been kept simple, so it lacks ANT+ or Bluetooth connectivity – meaning you can’t link up sensors and must use a cable to download rides to your laptop. It weighs in around 150g and battery life is up to 10 hours.

Lezyne Mega XL

If you need super-long battery life, this one runs for up to a claimed 48 hours. Its 2.7in screen comes in a less energy intensive black and white rather than power-sapping colour. Despite the pared-back design it will work with your phone and ANT+ sensors and you can customise the array of data fields you see on-screen. Unlike most bike GPS units, it can be mounted in either portrait or landscape format according to your preference. It feels solid enough to stand a few bumps and knocks, making it a good choice if you enjoy riding trails.

Polar M460

Polar is best known for its heart rate monitors, so it’s no wonder the little M460 comes bundled with one. Despite its size, it will still record all your usual metrics, pick up notifications from your phone and show Strava Live Segments. The textured buttons are easy to operate and battery life is excellent for its size – up to 16 hours from one charge. It’s worth pointing out that while there is Bluetooth there is no ANT+, so some sensors will not be compatible. One unusual feature is the built-in LED light at the front. It won’t let you navigate dark lanes in the dead of night but might just catch the eyes of drivers on your ride home.

The verdict: GPS cycling computers

With its decent-sized colour screen, great connectivity and easy customisation, we adore the Wahoo Elemnt Roam – even if it’s badly spelled. It’s been a great riding companion over the past year and keeps getting better as new updates are released. If you are on a smaller budget or want a smaller GPS take a look at the feature-packed Garmin Edge 130. Looking for something fun? Then check out the Beeline with its quirky looks and simple wraparound design.

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