Here is my guide to mountain bike computers. Most riders love statistics. Distance, speed and ride time are just some of the numbers you can track with mountain bike computers. It is good to keep tabs on these numbers. Whether it is to monitor your fitness and progression, or to have a bit of banter with your mates. Some people even use their mountain bike computers to see how long they have been riding, in order to know when to service their shocks etc. There are many mountain bike computers on the market, but there are a few things you need to consider before buying one.
Mountain bike computers to buy
Cateye Strada wireless
The Cateye Strada Wireless is ideal for any kind of cycling. It is really good value for money, especially when you compare it to its competitors.
What I really like about this mountain bike computer, is the large display allowing you to read your data when bombing the trails. It is also very easy to setup, but it is even easier to use on the move, due to the single button at the bottom of the screen. Therefore, you just tap it to scroll through the functions.
If you are looking for one of the best value for money mountain bike computers, that is very well made and easy to use, you won’t be disappointed with the Cateye Strada.
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Garmin Edge 25
The Garmin Edge 25 is a great way to start your foray in to the world of GPS. It is aimed at those that want to know time, distance, speed, GPS and heart rate if you want it.
This is a really small bike computer, in fact, currently it is the smallest GPS computer in the world. The menu functions are easily controlled using the four white buttons on each corner. With regard to your location, the Garmin Edge 25 uses GPS and the Russian equivalent GLONASS. This means it is very accurate and finds your position quickly.
There are different screens to scroll through, allowing you to see all the necessary data. Which includes, time, distance, speed, average speed, calories, cadence and total ascent.
The other features you might like is the ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity. This means you can connect it to a heart rate monitor or cadence sensor. You can also wirelessly upload your data to Garmin connect and use the LiveTrack function.
Good entry level GPS computer. It is simple, but has some fun and useful features. However, the battery life only lasts about 6 hours. Even with the small screen, it is fairly easy to read, and once you get used to what the buttons do, it is easy to use.
Pro Tip: Disable the GLONASS to extend battery life.
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Lezyne Super Navigate
The Lezyne Super Navigate is a good alternative to mid range Garmin products. This is one of the most feature rich mountain bike computers in this price range. Although it is a little chunky and looks slightly dated, this is a great option. I like the way this computer is mounted to your bike’s stem. It is very secure and you don’t have to worry about it coming off.
With regard to data, the Super can monitor pretty much anything you can think of. It has Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity for speed/cadence sensors, power meters and a heart rate monitor.
It is quite intuitive to use and the battery lasts around 24 hours. One of the features I really like is the GPS Ally smartphone app. This allows your phone to connect with the computer using Bluetooth. You can use your phone to input your required destination, and the directions are displayed on the computer screen. If you want to, you can receive notifications for texts, phone calls and emails. This is very useful if you are waiting for a call.
A great Garmin alternative, packed with features. The only downside is the chunkiness and dated design.
Garmin Edge 520
The Garmin Edge series of mountain bike computers is a very established range of products. The Edge 520 is loaded with so many features you may not even get round to using all of them.
This computer is a very nice compact piece of equipment, with a very simple and easy to read display. The controls are very intuitive making the instruction book redundant.
There are a few different mounting attachments that come with the computer. It also comes with a tether, incase the mounts break in a crash.
With regards to data recording, the Edge 520 has the standard, speed, distance, heart rate, elevation, cadence and calories. But it also has training metrics. These tell you how long you have been in training zones and the power meter metrics. These are useful if you are training for an event and want to keep an eye on you progress.
Unsurprisingly, you can connect the Garmin Edge to your phone. This allows you to keep an eye on notifications and easy analysis of Strava in the pub.
When you set up your Strava account to the Edge 520, it will alert you to when you are approaching a segment. It will also give you simple directions for navigation
This is a very nice piece of kit , that gives you a lot of information. It does all the basic things you expect and a whole lot more. The training features are the biggest bonus with this computer. The only gripe, is that if you have a short stem, it is easy to accidentally press the pause button when playing with the other buttons.
Which one is for you?
If you can afford to go for the Garmin Edge 520, buy it. It will do everything you want and more. However, if you can put up with the style of the Lezyne Super and don’t need all the functions of the Garmin. I think this would be the sensible buy, as it has lots of features and less than half the price. But before you commit, check out my buying tips below.
Go for known brands
There are new brands coming out all the time, unfortunately they don’t always manage to meet the quality of the more established brands. This is because they may not have had time to develop their products to the required level. Whatever type of riding you do, riding bikes is a brutal sport, especially when you consider the following:
- High altitudes
- Bad weather
- Low temperatures
- High temperatures
Products from more established brands are tried and tested in these tough conditions. You may have already built up a lot of data over the years, and you don’t want to jeopardise it with an inferior mountain bike computer.
How mountain bike computers work
Mountain bike computers are pretty simple devices. You mount a magnet on your wheel, and as your wheel rotates, it passes by a sensor mounted on your fork. This makes a signal allowing your computer to calculate your average speed, maximum speed, distance and ride time.
Mountain Bike Computer vs GPS Smartwatch
A mountain bike computer is obviously great for riding however, you may find a GPS smartwatch is more suited to your needs.
For example, while riding, it is easy to look at the data on a computer mounted on your handlebars. Whereas, looking at your watch while riding, isn’t always advisable.
Depending on the model you are looking at, the mountain bike computer will be significantly cheaper. However, a GPS smartwatch can be used for multiple activities.
If you have a habit of falling off your bike, the computer attached to it can be prone to taking damage. But, having a watch on your wrist in hot weather can get a bit sweaty.
Therefore, it is a matter of preference and what suits the type of riding you do.
Features and functionality to look out for
Auto on/off – This function pauses the stopwatch when stationary. This is so you only record when you are moving, and not when you are eating cake in a café. This will also make your average speed and ride time accurate.
Heart rate – Some mountain bike computers have the ability to pick up the signal from a heart rate monitor. This is good if you want to monitor how hard you are working. Monitoring your heart rate is good to if you have a fitness goal. For example, you can make sure you are in the “fat burning zone” or improving your cardio.
Wired/Wireless – Cheaper computers are connected to the sensor with a wire, while the more expensive ones are wireless. The only thing you need to be aware of, is that you will need batteries in both the computer and the sensor. Wireless is best for mountain biking, as you don’t have a wire that can easily catch on twigs and other bits of nature that happens to be pointy.
Waterproofing – Lets face it, we all get a bit soggy on rides sometimes. Water and electronics don’t really get on very well with each other, so you need to make sure your mountain bike computer is reasonably waterproof. However, not all computers can be water tight. This is because, those computers with altimeters need a hole in the case to measure air pressure.
Common features of Mountain Bike Computers
Speed — Obviously How fast you’re going.
Average speed — This is measured only when moving
Maximum speed — Always good to know for post ride top trumps
Cadence — This is how fast your legs are going. You will need another sensor for this, mounted on your cranks
Ride time — How long you have been out for
Time — Good for planning beer o’clock
Ride/trip distance — How far you rode today.
Odometer — How far you have ridden since you bought the computer. A good way of monitoring when your shocks need servicing