If you ride a bicycle for fitness or racing, a bike GPS is an great tool for tracking and improving your performance. With a bike GPS along for the ride, you’ll be able to calculate distance traveled, remaining distance, speed, time, heart rate, and many more important and useful bits of information. But a bike GPS doesn’t just help you in real time; it records all your info so that you can compare your performance with historical data and closely watch your improvements over time. Some bike GPS devices have features that you’re more accustomed to seeing on smartphones and automobile GPS units, like true navigation, bird’s eye view maps, and live GPS tracking. A bike GPS is an easy and fun way to get the most from your ride. The most popular GPS devices for on a bike are: Garmin Edge, Timex Cycle Trainer and the Magellan Cyclo.
|Garmin Edge 520||Click for the Price||15 hours||4.0 / 5 stars||Full Review
|Garmin Edge 810||Click for the Price||15 hours||3.9 / 5 stars||Full Review
|Magellan Cyclo 505||Click for the Price||12 hours||3.7 / 5 stars||Full Review
|Sigma Sport ROX 10.0||Click for the Price||13 hours||4.2 / 5 stars||Full Review
|Timex T5K615 Cycle Trainer||Click for the Price||18 hours||3.7 / 5 stars||Full Review
There are hundreds of models of bike GPS devices on the market, and choosing one can be daunting. If you know what you’re trying to do with the device before you go shopping, it can make it easier to select one, but many users are new to using a bike GPS and don’t know exactly what these powerful devices are capable of and don’t know what to ask. Here are some of the basic features and functionality that smart shoppers should look for when choosing a bike GPS.
Let’s Start With The Big Three
While you might not be aware of all the exotic functions today’s bike GPS units are capable of, there are three functions that matter the most to almost any cyclist, and should be considered the most important.
- Speed – There are many different ways to look at your speed, but we’re talking about speedometer reading here: How fast are you going, right now? It’s the most important measurement there is, and your bike GPS should deliver it in an easy-to-read number that’s absolutely accurate.
- Distance – Sophisticated bike GPS units can slice and dice your distances into legs, and how far you have left in your route, but most cyclists just need to know how far they’ve gone already at all times.
- Time – Like all cardiovascular exercise, it’s important to know how long you’ve been doing it at all times. Once again, you shouldn’t have to fumble with the device to see this number, and it should be as easy to read as the other two numbers.
Those are bare bones utilities and every bike GPS you can buy will perform them with some degree of accuracy, but there’s a lot more that some bike GPS units can do for the committed athlete. It’s useful to upload ride data onto your computer and superimpose it on a map of your course so that you can tell in an instant where you’ve been and how long it took you to get there.
Sensors Can Extend Your Bike GPS Functions
As bike GPS technology has gotten more powerful, manufacturers have begun to offer small, wearable sensors that pair up with bike GPS devices to measure other important information about the bike rider. There are another Big Three measurements that these sensors can offer:
- Heart Rate – Cardiovascular exercise like cycling, swimming, and running rely on producing higher heart rates, but athletes need to guard against overdoing it and being unable to finish their session because they came out of the gate too fast. Heart rate sensors allow you to train both harder and smarter than just looking at your time and distance.
- Pedal Cadence – Cyclists know that in order to keep their heart and muscles in equilibrium they need to keep their feet rising and falling at a constant, steady rate. Long distance competitive cyclists once had to perform these tedious calculations by counting, which could be distracting as well as dull. The wearable sensors many bike GPS work along with add pedal cadence to a long list of other drudgery that a cyclist can ignore and concentrate on improving performance instead.
- Pedal Power – In order to keep both speed and cadence, riders have to adjust their gears, and then adjust their pedal power. In order to train at a truly optimum level, it’s useful to track how hard you’re working to maintain your pace. Some bike GPS units with wearable sensors can take all the guesswork out of this estimation.
ANT+ Technology Makes Your Bike GPS Work Twice As Hard
Bike GPS sensors use ANT+ technology to capture and transmit information from the rider to the main unit of the device. ANT+ is similar to Bluetooth technology, and is an industry-standard method of accomplishing data transfers over very short distances. It’s superior to Bluetooth in one very important way; it uses much less power, so your batteries last longer and can be smaller in the first place.
Important Design Parameters
When choosing a bike GPS device, you’ll find that most sport a full color screen, and are designed to mount on your handlebars. They’re usually water resistant. When choosing a bike GPS unit, since these features are so common at every price point, you can concentrate on design specs that make your unit more useful for your particular needs instead of the overall look of the unit.
One parameter that’s paramount to most users is how easy it is to read the numbers on the screen without craning your neck to see them. If you wear glasses for reading but don’t like to wear them when you’re hunched over your dropped handlebars, you’ll do well to find a screen with the largest and easiest to read font. You can choose from units that display white text on a dark background, or dark text on a white background, or one that can switch back and forth to get the best effect for you.
Don’t Get Distracted While Riding
It’s also important that the menus that let you drill down to information that’s not displayed constantly be easy to both read and navigate with just the flick of a finger. Fumbling with a bike GPS while you’re riding can not only affect your performance, it can put you in danger if you become distracted on a busy road and wander out of your lane.
Customizable screens that remember exactly the metrics that are the most useful to your workout or race regimen are an important option for many buyers, and you’ll have to search the reviews to see exactly how much customization is possible. By setting up your menus before you ride, you’ll be able to switch without having to read the menus closely.
Software Is As Important As Hardware
When choosing a bike GPS, the software that comes bundled with the device, and the computer interface that processes your information, is just as important as the equipment that gathers it. The depth of analysis of your ride data can be as exhaustive as you’d like, but if you’re not into a hardcore training regimen you might prefer a more streamlined and easier to use interface.
Uploading your information should be easy, and it should also be easy to share your data if you like. Depending on the model, some bike GPS units will automatically upload your data to a training website in real time.
The GPS Capabilities Of A Car Navigation Device
The color screens on your bike GPS look a great deal like a navigation device from a car, and for good reason. Many higher-end models have full satellite map support and turn-by-turn navigation that make finding your way around unfamiliar courses, or even cities a breeze. This kind of functionality is sometimes enough to make the purchase of a bike GPS worthwhile for people that aren’t riding for fitness, but simply want to use the GPS capability to ride their bicycles over unfamiliar routes and still find their way home.
Less expensive units can help you with course directions without having full GPS turn-by-turn navigation capability. Commonly termed breadcrumb navigation, these units let you upload a route into your device from your computer before you set out, and the unit shows your waypoints as you ride. This feature can save you a lot of money if you don’t need a full GPS interactive map often.
Live Tracking Options On Some Units
Some units use the GPS in the unit to allow live tracking or your cycle. If you’re competing in a race, training or just out for a long ride, people can see your progress in real time from a computer or on their smartphone if it’s equipped with the proper app. It’s also possible to locate you immediately to verify that you’re safe if there’s an emergency.
Customer Support Is Important For Your Bike GPS
Bike GPS buyers should also consider the reviews of customer service for the companies that make the devices. A bike GPS is used out in the weather, often in very harsh conditions, and you may need to take advantage of a warranty; and since there’s a great deal of complexity involved in the software and hardware interfaces, you may need to be able to find out answers to your questions from a customer service line.