GPS cycling computers use satellites to track your position, accurately calculating speed, distance, and time without wires or magnets. They record your route—and data collected from heart rate, cadence, and power—which you can then upload to a ride-logging service to evaluate your performance for fun or training.
Like most electronics, GPS cycling computers evolve and change rapidly. New models are rolling out all the time, but even existing models get new features (and bug fixes) through firmware updates. That said, the core functionality of a typical GPS cycling computer—displaying speed, distance, time, elevation, cadence, and heart rate—hasn’t changed in many years. Building features in addition to these core functions is how the different players try to get you to buy their product or upgrade to the latest model. Some of these features—examples: navigation, incident detection, smartphone pairing, built-in coaching—can improve your safety, fitness, and overall enjoyment of the ride. Brighter, sharper screens are easier to read; smartphone apps can make setup and customization much easier. But some features can be of dubious value or little more than BNG (Bold New Graphics). Consider your needs before investing in an expensive new unit that has a bunch of features you’ll never use.
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Choose the Best Screen for You
Color screens can make navigation easier by making streets and points of interest more identifiable. Color can also be used to accentuate training features like heart rate and power zones. Essentially the more graphical the feature, the more useful color becomes. If you’re just using the computer for reading numbers like speed, distance, elevation, and time, a monochromatic screen is enough, and easier to read in some conditions. Touchscreens can make setup and some functions easier—particularly navigation—but can be glitchy when operated with gloved fingers or when sprinkled with precipitation or perspiration. In general, cycling and touchscreens don’t mix well, so we suggest avoiding them when possible.
Features to Look For
You’re Buying More Than Just the Computer
In most cases, when you buy one of these GPS computers, you’re not only investing in the unit, you’re also committing to the brand’s ecosystem. For example, if the Garmin Edge 530 is better than the Stages Dash M50, you need to consider if you like the Garmin Connect web portal and smartphone app better than the Stages Link web portal and smartphone app—a decision that can be more anxiety-inducing than choosing the computer itself.
If the unit has mapping and navigation, there’s a route builder you’ll need to live with as well. Hammerhead has a nifty Chrome web browser extension that lets you quickly import routes from sites like Strava, Garmin Connect, Ride With GPS, and others. On top of all this, you also have to consider if the unit is compatible with your favorite third-party apps or services such as Training Peaks, Today’s Plan, 2Peak, Best Bike Split, etc.
How Much Navigation Do You Need?
All these computers display and record basic ride data. While most of these units can offer simple turn guidance (“Turn left in 100 feet”), full-featured navigation—detailed turn-by-turn directions, maps, street names, points of interest, elevation data, an address database—that can be accessed on the device is only found in the highest-end computers. For your average rides near home, you probably won’t use these features—it’s only if you plan on going on adventures in far away, and unfamiliar areas, that they become valuable. So, before you drop $600 on a full-featured navigation unit like the Garmin Edge 1030, consider how much you need, or whether you will actually use, that functionality.
Notes On Battery Life
A claimed battery life is listed for every model. In practice, we’ve found these to be optimistic at best, and usually involve limiting features and screen brightness. Many factors can influence battery life: screen brightness, recording interval, sensors, smartphone link, satellite connections, air temperature, and even what’s on the screen—a constantly refreshing color map draws more power than just displaying the current time in white characters on a black screen. Most of these computers should get through a few days of daily rides, a century, or an epic backcountry ride on a single charge. Don’t take claimed run time as gospel, but use it to compare the relative battery life of the various units.
How We Chose the Computers
Every product here has been thoroughly evaluated and tested by Bicycling’s team of test editors and product reviewers. We research the market, survey user reviews, speak with product managers and engineers, and use our own experience racing and riding with these products to determine the best options. We carefully chose all the models here based on their value, compatibility, ease of use, companion apps and portals, and how the overall package meets the needs of the intended buyer. We also included two of our favorite GPS-enabled smartwatches that are good substitutes to a cycling computer.
Garmin Edge 130
Overall Size— 63 x 41mm Screen Size— 36 x 28mm Weight— 32g Battery Life— up to 15 hours
With the Edge 130, Garmin (finally!) has a spiritual successor to the beloved, long discontinued, Edge 500. The Edge 130 is a small, lightweight, and relatively inexpensive computer with a streamlined feature set, monochrome screen, and decent battery life. It has all the features a data-hungry rider needs-speed, distance, and time; barometric altimeter; extensive sensor compatibility, including power meters; and long battery life and reliability—without the additional complexity and expense of mapping or other high-end features.
Garmin Edge 530
Overall Size— 85 x 52mm Screen Size— 52 x 40 Weight— 77g Battery Life— up to 20 hours
The 530 is Garmin’s best overall bike computer, and one of the best you can buy. It has almost every feature imaginable, and it’s (mostly) reliable and (mostly) easy to use. The 530 is compact and light, with good battery life, a nice-sized screen that is sharp and bright, and loads of features. It connects to almost everything—Bluetooth and ANT+ sensors, WiFi, your smartphone—and can be enhanced with third-party apps, widgets, and data fields. One of the most useful new features found in the 530 and other newer Garmin devices is Climbpro, which alerts you to upcoming climbs and displays remaining distance and pitch (this only works when you’re following a preloaded route The 530 has built-in maps and can provide turn by turn directions on a preloaded route, or to locations saved on the device. Endurance athletes can more than double the 530’s run time by linking Garmin’s Charge Power Pack.
1-year update: This computer remains at the top of our list. Battery life is still good enough for a day-long adventure, the buttons haven’t jammed up, and the TrailForks app integration is great for discovering and navigating trails in unknown areas.
Garmin Edge 1030
Overall Size— 114 x 59mm Screen Size— 76 x 46mm Weight— 123g Battery Life— up to 20 hours
The Garmin Edge 1030 is the gold standard for cycling computers with maps and navigation. It’s preloaded with full mapping and navigation features—address lookup, POIs—so you can navigate and reroute from the device. The huge color screen makes following an unfamiliar route easier. Despite its size—slightly larger than an Edge 1000—it is low profile, and the included out-in-front mount set the 1030 flush with your bar. The screen size, and its benefits to the navigation features, are the highlight of the 1030. Otherwise, the 1030 is very similar to the smaller, lighter Edge 830. It has Climbpro, Strava Live Segments, live tracking, smartphone alerts, and a host of training and fitness features. Battery life is 20 hours; add Garmin’s Charge Power Pack and you’ll get up to 44-hours, claimed, battery life. Of course, the 1030 does what every good cycling computer does: monitors the basics like speed, altitude, time, distance, cadence, and power.
Overall Size— 100 x 75mm Screen Size— 71 x 54mm Weight— 192 Battery Life— up to 15 hours
The Karoo 2 is a smartphone turned into a cycling computer. That’s not hyperbole; it has a sim-card slot so you can add a data plan for cellular connectivity (it’s not required to use the Karoo 2), and it runs on the Android OS. It’s also huge, and the heaviest computer in this roundup by a wide margin. Its screen is very smartphone-like, and leagues better than any GPS unit we have ever used. The Karoo 2 also feels faster than any other computer: satellite lock and reroutes are very quick, and working through the menus and settings is swift and easy as well. Its touchscreen is also the best we have used on a cycling computer. You can also use its buttons for navigating through pages, accessing menus, and starting and stopping the ride, so it also works with bulky winter gloves.
The Karoo 2 has Bluetooth and ANT+, and it’ll link with all of the usual power and heart rate accessories, Garmin’s Rearview Radar, indoor bikes, and trainers. It also pairs with Bluetooth headphones. The Karoo 2 does not connect with a wide range of third-party apps or services, though it can link with the most popular. It has Strava integration—including beautifully presented live segments—and can pull-in workouts from Training Peaks which you can complete on a trainer or outside. Hammerhead isn’t opposed to more third-party integrations, so, it is likely the roster will grow in the future.
While the Karoo 2 computer is only offered in black, Hammerhead recently released a Custom Color Kit. This $39 kit allows you to get all matchy-matchy or add a color pop to your bikes. With the kit you can change your Karoo 2’s exterior to one of five colors—red, orange, lime, blue, and white.
Read our full review of the Karoo 2 here.
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MSW Miniac Go
Overall Size— 71 x 47mm Screen Size— 38 x 27mm Weight— 54g Battery Life— up to 20 hours
This little unit is about as basic as a GPS computer can get. It records and displays speed, time, distance, elevation and that’s about it. Rides are recorded to the device, but there’s no wireless uploads here: You mount the Miniac to your PC as an external drive via USB cable, find the .fit file of the ride, and manually upload it to your favorite site like cyclist of yore. This is a small and light unit, so the screen is also small with resolution approximating an old digital watch. There isn’t much to the little Miniac, but it’s inexpensive, easy to use (because there’s not much to it) provides the important ride metrics, and lets you compete against your friends on Strava.
Overall Size— 64 x 71mm Screen Size— 35 x 59mm Weight— 95g Battery Life— up to 45 hours
Despite its astronomical price, the SRM PC8 (Power Control Eight) does not, on paper, compare well to other GPS cycling computers. It doesn’t offer navigation or any of the training or recovery guidance features with which many of its contemporaries in the category do, and some of the functions and features are rudimentary and clunky compared to Wahoo’s (much cheaper) devices. It only connects to ANT+ sensors, and just recently gained a smartphone app for setup and customization. But, it does have its strong points.
This is a tool for racers looking to take their training to the next level. It has massive battery life, huge memory, and is specifically designed for interval training. The display is fantastic—one the clearest, sharpest, and easiest to read out of all the bike computers in this test. Also, the aluminum case is jewel-like and comes in a rainbow of colors. Just be aware that the PC8 uses a proprietary USB cable for connecting to SRM’s desktop apps. Lose this cable and you’ll be spending $29 for a new one.
4-year update: Despite some subtle scratches on the screen from getting tossed around in backpacks, our PC8 is still performing flawlessly. And the internal memory is still less than 50% full.
Stages Dash M50
Overall Size— 79 x 51mm Screen Size— 46 x 34mm Weight— 95g Battery Life— up to 24 hours
The second-generation Dash computer is an impressive piece of hardware. It’s comes in two sizes—the M50, and the larger L50—but features and battery life are exactly the same. The unit is solidly built, with a metal (not plastic) mount interface. The mount system is the most robust and secure available, making the unit particularly attractive for mountain biking. The screen is another highlight—it’s very bright, crisp, and delightfully easy to read—second only to the Karoo in this round up. The screens are highly customizable—you can alter the height and width of each individual data cell—and there is an array of numerical and graphical data fields to pick from. The unit offers turn-by-turn directions of preloaded routes created in Stages Link, or imported from other services (Strava, Ride with GPS, etc). The Dash does not have any navigation features beyond following a preloaded course (or automatically rerouting you if you get off course). The new Dash is also one of the best hardware values going with the unit comparing favorably to devices costing $50 to $100 more, though you realize all of its training and fitness capabilities you need to pay for an expensive Stages Link premium subscription ($200 annually).
Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt
Overall Size— 75 x 48mm Screen Size— 44 x 34mm Weight— 15g Battery Life— up to 15 hours
The new Wahoo Elemnt Bolt looks just like a mini Roam, and that’s because, by most standards, it basically is. There is now a color screen to aid with navigation and more clearly highlight critical training metrics. Improved navigation features—such as automatic “Back on Track” re-routing and navigating to locations without using the companion app, which first appeared on the Roam—are now also on the new Bolt. Beneath the sleek new design, this new Bolt very much remains a Wahoo product. This is a good thing for anyone who enjoys the easy setup and customization in the Wahoo Elemnt App and the extensive third-party app integration (Strava, RideWithGPS, TrainingPeaks, Komoot, SingleTracks, MTB Project) that Wahoo offers. All the other core features, such as turn-by-turn navigation, live tracking, and synced structured workouts, are here as well.
Read our full review of the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt here.
Wahoo ELEMNT Roam
Overall Size— 90 x 60mm Screen Size— 59 x 35mm Weight— 96g Battery Life— up to 17 hours
The Roam is Wahoo’s most expensive computer. It’s styled like the Bolt but has the same screen dimensions as the original Elemnt. It has the sharpest and largest screen of any Elemnt computer. The larger screen size makes it easier to take advantage of all the navigational features offered by Wahoo, like maps with road information (the other Elemnts have drawings but no road name data). The color screen offers more differentiation between roads, and it is more legible when interpreting directions in unfamiliar areas. The Roam allows you to navigate to locations saved to the device or get directions to a point you select on the device’s map without pulling out your phone. While all this is a nice improvement, the Roam’s navigation is not on par with Garmin’s 830, even though the Roam is priced similarly. Overall, this is Wahoo’s best device, with the best screen the company offers, and is still the most user-friendly and compatible device you can get.
GPS Smart Watches
Why Choose a Smartwatch Over a Bike Computer?
A smartwatch is going to make the most sense for multi-sport athletes. Either because they want to track different kinds of sports in one activity file (using one device), such as in a triathlon. Watches are also great when you simply want to have one device to deal with to track all of your activities. For dedicated cyclists, a smartwatch offers the benefit of tracking your training without cluttering your handlebars. If you have many bikes, a watch also removes the need to have a computer mount for each one or needing to transfer one mount between multiple bikes. Finally, for cyclocross racers, a smartwatch fixes the problem of mid-race bike changes interrupting activity files. These are a couple of our test team’s favorites.
Garmin fēnix 6X Pro
Overall Size- 51 x 51 x 14.9mm Screen Size- 35.56mm Weight- 93 g Battery Life- Up to 21 Days
The fēnix 6X Pro picks up where the fēnix 5 left off, adding better battery life, increased ability to customize screens and workout profiles, and the ability to pair to ANT+ sensors in addition to Bluetooth ones. We’re power nerds (TrainingPeaks upload or it didn’t happen) and frequently used this watch as a substitute for a traditional bike computer. The data on the screen isn’t as easy to read while riding as a bar-mounted computer, but the data still gets recorded. A small piece of foam pipe insulation also works very well for mounting a watch on your handlebar. The watch records sleep and stress data, which are easily accessed along with a bevy of other health stats in the Garmin Connect app. The data also auto-syncs with a wide variety of third-party apps including MyFitnessPal, Strava, and TrainingPeaks. The battery lasts so long we regularly forget that recharging it is something we need to do, but the low-battery alert gives a 24-hour buffer to get the watch to a charger. Once on the charger, the watch will be topped off well within three hours.
1-year update: Battery life is still exceptional. It easily lasts for a week in standby mode and can record multiple 4+ hour rides on a single charge.
Suunto 9 Baro
Overall Size- 50 x 50 x 16.8mm Weight- 81g Battery Life- Up to 14 Days
This feature-packed watch has an astounding battery life—up to 25 hours in Performance mode and up to 120 hours in Ultra mode. You get real-time notifications on remaining battery life, allowing you to change modes on the go so you don’t run out of juice before the end of your double century. Optical sensors read heart rate, and you can connect a heart-rate strap for greater accuracy.
2-year update: This watch just won’t die and the battery life is still astounding-we can still record 32 consecutive hours of data using the most accurate GPS function. Suunto just released an update allowing you to create routes within its app, so combined with the fact that there are no visible signs of wear on the watch, we won’t stop using it anytime soon.