In this post I will describe what a bike GPS device is and what it can do for cyclists. I’ll talk about the difference between a dedicated device and using the GPS functionality of your phone.
Finally, I’ll share with you a table that I have compiled, which compares the various characteristics (functions, size, weight, battery life etc) of the bike GPS devices currently on the market.
The purpose of the table was to help me choose which GPS device to buy. It certainly helped clarify my own thoughts (I went for a Garmin Edge 510). If you’re looking to purchase your first bike computer, or looking to upgrade, I do hope it will be useful to you as well.
What is a bike GPS device?
GPS is an acronym standing for Global Positioning System. GPS signals are sent out from satellites orbitting the earth. A GPS navigation device picks up these signals and uses them to determine its own location at that particular point in time.
Rather like it says on the tin, a bike GPS device is one that uses GPS for a variety of purposes that might be useful for someone riding a bike.
The device is generally mounted on the handlebars or the stem, so that the cyclist can easily see the ride data being displayed.
What are common bike GPS functions?
A device will usually provide the ability to track the course of your ride, allowing you to download it to your computer or upload it to a relevant website or smartphone app.
The unit will generally also allow the rider to view certain data in real time, for instance, current and average speed, distance traveled and time taken.
They will often show data which is coming from other (non-GPS) sensors on the bike or the rider. These can include cadence (the number of pedal turns per minute), altitude and distance climbed, rider heart rate (current and average).
For cyclists that have power meters fitted to their bikes, some bike GPS devices can be used to display and analyze this data.
That sounds like a bike computer then – what’s the difference?
Well I suppose GPS devices are a type of bike computer – just one that has the ability to use GPS signals to provide location-based information.
The term bike computer refers to all computer-like devices that are fitted on or near the bike handlebars that display and/or capture ride information.
Some of these (the cheaper ones) do not have GPS and instead use on-bike sensors to determine speed and distance covered.
Can I use my phone as a bike GPS device?
Most smartphones receive GPS data and can, with the appropriate app, be used as bike GPS devices.
Some smartphones (such as the latest iphones) use Bluetooth SE as a way of communicating with other sensors attached to the bike.
For sensors that use (the more common) ANT+ protocol (owned by Garmin but used more widely by other manufacturers), a ‘dongle’ needs to be fitted to the phone in order to pick up the signal.
The main challenge for cyclists using their phones as a bike GPS device is battery life.
When using GPS data and with their screens on permanently (ie. to provide a rider display, attached to the handlebars), the charge on most smartphones will not last for more than a couple of hours. This is clearly unsufficient if you are on a long ride or participating in a tough sportive.
(Some manufacturers, such as Wahoo Fitness, are addressing this issue with products like this).
Bike GPS comparison table
|Make||Model||Photo||Weight (g)||Screen||Touch screen||Batt Life||Maps||HR||Altimeter||Power||Price|
|Garmin||Edge 1000||114.5||Colour (color...)||Y||Up to 15h||Y||Y*||Y||Y^ (ANT+)||$$$$$|
|Garmin||Edge 810||98||Color||Y||Up to 17h||Y||Y*||Y||Y^ (ANT+)||$$$$|
|Garmin||Edge 520||60g||Color||N||Up to 15h||N||Y*||Y||Y^ (ANT+)||$$$|
|Garmin||Edge 510||80||Color||Y||Up to 20h||N||Y*||Y||Y^ (ANT+)||$$|
|Garmin||Edge 500||56.7||Mono||N||Up to 18h||N||Y*||Y||Y^ (ANT+)||$$|
|Timex||T5K615 Cycle Trainer||n/a||Mono||N||Up to 18h||N||Y||Y||Y^ (ANT+)||$$|
|Bryton||Rider 20H||40||Mono||N||Up to 20h||N||Y^ (ANT+)||N||N||$|
|Bryton||Rider 21 E||40||Mono||N||Up to 17h||N||Y^ (ANT+)||Y||N||n/a|
|Bryton||Rider 35||56||Mono||N||Up to 35h||N||Y^ (ANT+)||Y||Y^ (ANT+)||$|
|Bryton||Rider 40||54||Mono||N||Up to 30h||N||Y^ (ANT+)||Y||Y^ (ANT+)||$$|
|Bryton||Rider 50||106||Color||N||Up to 15h||Y||Y^ (ANT+)||Y||Y^ (ANT+)||$$$|
|Polar||CS600 GPS||n/a||Mono||N||Up to 20h||N||Y||Y||Y^ (Polar)||$$$$|
Important note: the links in the table are affiliate links. That means that if you click on them and go on to buy something, I’ll be paid a commission. You pay the same price. You can read my affiliate link ‘policy’ here.
How to use the comparison table
The table should be largely self-explanatory. You can sort the data by any of the column headings, both ascending and descending. There is a search function.
Maps = Denotes whether the device has navigable maps (a la satnav). Units that show waypoints or other similar ‘lo-fi’ navigation ability are classified as ‘N’
HR = Denotes whether device can receive, manipulate and display heart rate data (using a compatible heart rate monitor strap)
Altimeter = Denotes that the device has its own barometric altimeter, in addition to elevation information provided by GPS/mapping data
Power = Denotes whether device can receive, manipulate and display heart rate data (using a compatible power meter)
Price = Shows an approximation of the relative price points of each device
* = Denotes that applicable accessory (e.g. heart rate monitor strap) may or may not be bundled with the device, depending on the package purchased
^ = Denotes that applicable accessory (e.g. power meter) is required for designated function (i.e. recording power output)
My intention is to keep the table as up-to-date as possible, adding new models to the table as they’re released.
If there are any glaring omissions (or inaccuracies) or you wish to request a bike computer be added to the table, please let me know by dropping me a line.
So which bike GPS should you go for?
As with most things technology and bike-related, it comes down to the features required and the amount of money you have to spend.
If money is no object, then the Garmin Edge 1000 is top of the range.
As well as the features you would expect in a GPS device, The Edge 1000 has a colour touchscreen display, communicates freely with your smartphone and is almost like a car GPS system in its navigational capabilities
(If you’d like more information on the Edge 1000, I compare it in detail with the Edge 810 in this post.)
At the mid price point, Garmin has just released the Edge 520, which has all the latest software features (apps and the like) – here is a comparison of the 520 with the 510, which I assume it’ll eventually replace .
For those on a tighter budget, but who still want all of the key training features required by a serious cyclist, the forerunner (ha, see what I did there Garmin fans? never mind…) to both the 520 and the 510, the lo-fi Edge 500 remains an attractive option.
Like any buying decision for the discerning cyclist, we should also consider the size of the unit and its weight (whilst consciously ignoring the potential incremental gain from reducing our own size and weight).
You might also think whether you want a colour or a monochrome screen, or whether you are already comfortable with a particular user interface.
If you want more information on the Garmin Edge range of bike computers in particular, then I wrote this massively-detailed post to help you decide which one is right for you.
Until next time, safe cycling!