I am having trouble navigating the formidable variety of cyclometers on the market.

As a commuter I was more than happy with strictly speed + distance on a simple (and, in retrospect, wonderfully reliable) device from an established brand.

Now that I'm discovering endurance cycling, I'm looking for more.

How can I segment the large market for cyclometers? By "segment" I am asking for broad product categories, not for a recommendation of any particular product or brand.

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    I'd eliminate any make that uses a proprietary protocol, since you will be stuck with their own sensors that may no longer be replaceable. With those that can handle ANT+ and Bluetooth you will always be able to add a sensor from a different make should one die on you. Also get a device where the batteries are user-replaceable, others do exist.
    – Carel
    May 30, 2020 at 11:17
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    So, what's your question? "is this shopping comparison correct?" is probably not a great fit for the site. You might consider Bicycles Chat for a less-structured discussion.
    – Criggie
    May 30, 2020 at 11:36
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    What's the point with "the Japanese maker" and "some Cupertino-based brand"? It's not like they're Voldemort and even Voldemort isn't real.
    – ojs
    May 30, 2020 at 12:38
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    Big question is in 2020, 'What is a bike computer?' With the ability to connect to bike specific sensors, then you have to look every smart watch manufacturer as well.
    – mattnz
    May 30, 2020 at 20:53
  • 1
    Please remove the update and ask as a new question. It may help you to understand how this site works if you Take the tour
    – mattnz
    Jun 4, 2020 at 1:09

4 Answers 4


In 2022, I think that the main split is between GPS bike computers or sports-specific watches vs. your existing smartphone or possibly non-sports specific smartwatch. Older non-GPS bike computers still exist, but I don't see them a lot. In comparison, your existing smartphone offers enough capability for many cyclists, especially leisure ones. It's true that using it as a bike computer drains the battery, but the target population is also not usually on a marathon ride. Further, basically everyone already has a smartphone. The mount costs a bit, maybe the same or less than a non-GPS computer. You get a lot more capability than a non-GPS computer, e.g. the ability to upload rides to social media or to Apple Health or similar.

For sensors, the older bike computers had an integrated speed sensor that was connected by wire or an older, non-ANT+ or Bluetooth protocol. (example product: the Cateye Padrone) Some had cadence sensors as well. GPS bike computers or watches will need to connect to an external sensor. Smartphones and non-sports smartwatches won't have ANT+ connections, and they may not natively support pairing with cycling sensors.

In my view, an exact cadence measurement isn't critical for experienced cyclists. It is possible to train yourself to maintain a high cadence. If the concern is knee health, then I believe that strength and mobility exercises plus correct bike fit are probably a bigger priority than raw cadence (unless you have typically maintained very low cadence).

Differentiation points in the GPS unit market

There is a market for basic, low-cost GPS units. Some units may have excluded compatibility with power meters. However, you need ANT+ or Bluetooth to be compatible with other cycling sensors. Therefore, I'm not sure how many units do this. The Lezyne Macro Easy (MSRP US$80) may be one of these; its description omits any mention of power meter compatibility. The Wahoo Elemnt Mini and the Garmin Edge 25 are other examples I remember.

Otherwise, lower-cost GPS units may be less refined than the higher-end ones. They may use cheaper screens, and probably use a monochrome screen. Software does play a major role in keeping the computer up to date with other apps and in refining the user experience. The more basic GPS units may have less refined software. Bryton (a Taiwanese company) and Lezyne (based in the US) are two example companies who offer a number of lower-cost GPSes. The original question includes a few manufacturers based in mainland China, and they are probably playing in this market.

Some higher-end GPS units are explicitly aimed at providing better navigation functionality. Examples include the Garmin Edge 1030 and Wahoo Elemnt Roam. Higher-end units are also more likely to use a color screen, which can help with visibility and reading the map, if you're displaying a map. These two examples also have relatively large screens. The second version of the Roam offers an enhanced GPS chip that has better resolution, which can be effective in remote areas, and I would bet many higher end Garmins do the same.

Regardless of tier, what would differentiate GPS units from different manufacturers? Most likely build quality and usability. Note that usability includes the software interface as well as how well the manufacturer maintains and updates the software. Garmin may have a past reputation for software issues. Wahoo's units are generally regarded as more user-friendly than Garmin, although Wahoo's mapping functionality lags Garmin's.

I don't see that there is a market for cycling computers that lack GPS but have ANT+ or Bluetooth connectivity. By the time you add those chips, I assume that adding a GPS chip would not cost much more. I recently checked the Bontrager link, and the RIDEtime Elite is actually an example of this type of computer. It was listed at US$75 MSRP. However, again, this type of computer competes with your existing smartphone, so I'm not sure how much demand there is for units like this.

Considering sports watches

Sports-specific smart watches may make sense if you do a lot of activities other than cycling. For example, perhaps you hit the gym in the winter, or you hike, swim, canoe, etc all round the year. A sports watch may make sense, as it will have protocols for specific sports. Many dedicated ones can pair with cycling sensors. You can often get bike mounts for them, although if you use them you'll lose function from the on-board optical heart rate sensor.

These are distinct from general purpose smart watches like the Apple Watch. In particular, the Apple Watch can't natively pair to cycling sensors (and it doesn't have ANT+ anyway, although some apps may let it pair via Bluetooth to other sensors), nor can it natively transmit its heart rate data to a head unit. Nevertheless, a watch like this may suffice for many leisure cyclists.


It's worth discussing sensors briefly. First, a GPS head unit can measure your speed with the GPS chip. While this is less accurate than a bike-mounted speed sensor, it suffices for most people.

A number of companies offer separate speed, cadence, or combined speed and cadence sensors. Power meters measure cadence, as this is required to calculate power. Thus, you basically get a cadence sensor for free if you use a power meter. Heart rate monitors are another common sensor type. Chest straps measure electrical signals and are regarded as more accurate than the alternative, which uses optical sensors and is usually placed on the wrist or arm.

For general interest, there are a number of less common sensors:

  • Core body temperature sensors
  • Blood glucose sensors
  • Muscle oxygenation sensors, e.g. Humon
  • Tire pressure sensors, e.g. Quarq Tyrewiz
  • Possibly you can link a smartwatch and its optical heart rate monitor to the head unit, but I haven't investigated
  • Lights: Not a sensor, but smart lights link to your head unit and can be controlled from there. Garmin may be the only major manufacturer that has implemented this protocol.
  • Rear-facing radar: the Garmin Varia is a radar linked to a light that warns the user of incoming rear traffic and transmits the signal to a head unit. Garmin originated this, but many computer manufacturers implement a protocol for the radar. Additionally, other companies have started manufacturing radar units using the same (open source) protocol.
  • Cameras, e.g. GoPro units.
  • Electronic shifting systems can be linked to the head unit to display gearing or battery information. Older Shimano units require a separate transmitter.

Historical note

In the past, e.g. the early 2000s and prior, I think the main differentiation point for cycling computers was wireless vs. not wireless, plus some units had cadence sensors. The Shimano Flight Deck and Campagnolo Ergobrain would display what gear you were in and were an early attempt at premium differentiation, although these never really caught on.

I can't remember exactly when GPS units were first introduced, but it was probably mid to late 2000s, and probably by Garmin. They were perceived as very expensive. Power meters began to be introduced around this time frame. I believe that companies used proprietary computers, e.g. the SRM PC7 and earlier, and I think PowerTap had a proprietary computer as well. Later on, the ANT+ standard became accepted throughout the industry, and computers started adding Bluetooth compatibility as well. This would have been a differentiation point at the time.

Before GPSes, some people trained with heart rate. I remember that Polar was the main player in the space, or one of the main players. The HRM readout had to be displayed on a separate display from your bike computer. I remember my first HRM having a watch that you could mount to the handlebars.

Smart phones were only coming into widespread use around this time, and I don't recall that it was common to use phone mounts.

Other miscellany

A side note about non-GPS units: some ultra-distance races in remote areas may require you to have a non-GPS unit on your bike. These types of races will often hand out paper cue sheets at checkpoints, and you must arrive at a checkpoint by a certain time to be allowed to proceed on the course. In my subjective opinion, some organizers give off an attitude that seems snobby and retro-grouchy to outsiders. However, for these rides, you may not have reliable GPS reception. You will need an accurate distance measurement to use the cue sheets. In addition, many of these events want to conceal the route from the riders so that some of them don't arrange for external logistical support; this levels the playing field among all riders. Last, there's always the possibility that you a GPS unit could run out of power.

  • A quick sequel question: is it an option to connect a pair (speed + cadence) of Wahoo, Garmin, or Lezyne sensors to a smartphone, perhaps paired to a shrink-wrapped mobile app from the same vendor?
    – Sam7919
    May 30, 2020 at 22:41
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    @Sam I am not familiar with this as I have a head unit, but it appears that at least Garmin have that functionality. www8.garmin.com/manuals/webhelp/cadencespeedsensors2/EN-US/…
    – Weiwen Ng
    May 31, 2020 at 0:29
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    I can use my Garmin watch to broadcast its HR data to my Garmin Edge during an activity
    – Paul H
    Jun 2, 2020 at 20:28
  • Great answer, but I doubt that magnets are sensed by reed switches in bicycle computers and such; I'd think that Hall-effect sensors, which sense magnetic fields, or inductive sensors, which sense changes in magnetic fields, would be much more likely to be used instead. Those sensors are much more rugged and reliable over the long term than reed switches, and probably cheaper too.
    – rclocher3
    Jun 3, 2020 at 18:49
  • @rclocher3, reed switches are (or at least were) used in some devices. My previous Sigma sensor had a soft but distinctive 'click' when the magnet passed over it. (I haven't checked the current one). After all, Hall sensor needs power, whereas a switch is entirely passive.
    – Zeus
    Jul 19, 2022 at 1:02

Wireless bicycle computers have more problems than wired. The transmitter battery is much more expensive. Passing under high voltage power lines can reset the computer. Outside radio interference can confuse the computer.

For the few the bicycle computer companies you listed, Cateye has been making bike computers the longest. Since the 1970s.

Most new smart phones and fitness watches have acceleromters built in and that can provide more accurate speed and distance data than GPS and it works in doors, in caves, under bridges and every where on the planet. There are parts of the world that GPS does not cover.

People believe their smart phones to be the ultimate in data collection devices. They can store all the waypoints from a ride to upload to Strava and other maping sites and software. A low cost app on a smart phone can do what most traditional bike computers do and so much more. They can include mapping and turn by turn voice directions. A handlebar mount for the phone and an app will cost less than many bike computers and you still have your phone for other tasks like weather radar and finding the nearest tavern.

For all bicycle computers that use wheel mounted magnets for the sensors, mounting the magnet and sensor on the back wheel will be more accurate. The front wheel weaves side to side as a rider steers to maintain balance and so it covers more ground than the bike or rear wheel.

Most bike computers allow the user to input the wheel size. Some to the nearest centimeter, others to the nearest millimeter which can be up to 10 times more accurate. Many have preprogramed tire size options but those are just general estimates as each tire size will not be exact. Air pressure, rider skill in riding a straight line and rider weight will affect the accuracy.

Event time cut offs at certain check point is purely about logistics. When the organizer has to provide support, it's quite unreasonable to ask volunteers to wait at those check points for many extra hours or days to accommodate the slowest of participants. Most of these events are races so there is some expectation of speed. The SPOT tracker is a commonly used or required device. It uses gps to collect location data and transmits such data to earth orbit satellites every 5 minutes and is forwarded to central computers for evaluation and mapping on the internet. The Spot units also include an SOS button for emergencies. Some models include pre-set outgoing text messages.

Lasty, possibly the most important sensor on your bike could be the accelerometer in your helmet. The one that detects that you crashed and instructs your phone to call 911 for you. Just don't disable your location tracking. Your average speed or distance traveled becomes really useless information at that point.

We have too many cyclists getting run over by auto drivers too focused on their electronic devices, why add distractions yourself. Pay attention to the world around you instead of a screen and stay alive longer.

  • Very incisive comments. Re safety: A cyclocomputer can also be a safety guard. In one instance I recall that the wheels that I had thought were perfectly true at the occasional 45-50kph, were in fact far from it once I hit 65kph (downhill). I felt one wheel might fly off. Hence a speedometer can act as a deterrent: cross your prior peak speed, but only in small increments, also to test the quality of your reflexes.
    – Sam7919
    Jun 1, 2020 at 22:54
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    How exactly does speed and distance tracking based on cell phone accelerometer work on bikes?
    – ojs
    Jun 2, 2020 at 9:38
  • @ojs good point. The accelerometer should track steps but not your cycling speed and position. However, maybe the Op meant the phone GPS.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Jun 2, 2020 at 21:11
  • Almost the same thing. Adding to the confusion, at least Suunto has algorithms that do quite decent job of tracking position using accelerometer and gyroscope when walking or running, but they depend on the walking motions to work.
    – ojs
    Jun 3, 2020 at 8:50
  • Great start - keep up the good work!
    – Criggie
    Jun 3, 2020 at 20:36

Yes, several.

To start with, "I'll mention that even the best designed smartwatches may not help much as a cycling heart rate monitor, since the second electrode is in the crown." is so nonsense it's not even wrong. There exists an entire category of non-smartwatch sports watches that use optical sensor, not electrode, for heart rate.

In addition to ANT and possible other proprietary protocols, there are open Bluetooth profiles for heart rate, cycling speed and cadence, cycling power etc. I would not call them secret or proprietary, but there are reasons why Garmin sellers don't tell you about it. Also, with wireless sensors you trade the hassle of setting up cables to the hassle of replacing batteries or charging sensors.

Also, you somehow managed to miss Suunto from the list of manufacturers.

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    However, heart straps (even cheap from Aliexpress) are much more accurate than the optical sensor on my TomTom. Hence, I often carry a compatible strap, most of the time one does not really notices it. Even in sports where one moves the uper body much more. May 31, 2020 at 7:19
  • Yes, the chest strap is more accurate, but that doesn't make the claim that wrist HR has electrodes in watch face and crown any less ridiculous.
    – ojs
    May 31, 2020 at 7:31
  • I’d ask you to refrain from calling the OP’s assertions ridiculous. It’s possible to make the point that the OP is wrong without going ad hominem.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Jun 2, 2020 at 22:49
  • Normally I'd have been more polite, but the idea is just too much over the top. To start with, you can't detect electric field from heart with two electrodes at one wrist. On the other hand, if you see a sports watch in person or even in a photo, you'll notice that there is the thing with LEDs and apertures that might be an optical sensor. If you read any product descriptions, they will tell the same thing. And last, there's the detail that the other electrode would be in watch crown even though most sports watches don't have one.
    – ojs
    Jun 3, 2020 at 8:46
  • BTW, with more recent more accurate optical sensors, my need for a strap is gone. Dec 4, 2022 at 20:54

As Weiwen explains, the market can very loosely be divided into cyclometers with and without a GPS sensor. The GPS sensor allows the cyclometer to know where you are, and to upload your rides to sports sites, even if you do not take your smartphone, or even if you take your smartphone, but don't use it to track your rides (to save its battery for potentially important calls, etc).

For reference, and to illustrate the sheer variety of this marketplace, here is a long list of some of the cyclometer brands presently on the market.

The list will surely change. It is meant neither to be an exhaustive one nor a recommendation for one brand or another, but merely as a way for you to read online the product offerings and users reviews.

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