17th August 2017. Cyclists have plenty of time to think during a ride; there are many situations where you'll find yourself alone on a path with nothing but the road in front of you. During those times, you can wonder things like: how far have I gone? How much longer do I need to ride today? Maybe you wish you could check out your route after you finish up for the day. It's true that you could install an app on your smartphone and rely on GPS tracking to help you follow along with your ride. You could even clip your phone to your handlebars for better visibility. Is that really the best option? Not necessarily. Even before smartphones, cyclists have relied on other technology to help them track progress: cycling computers. As a small dedicated computer whose only purpose is to interface with your bicycle and provide you with valuable data, it can offer a better option for some. It also means you don't need to keep your smartphone exposed to the elements during a ride ? and you won't need to reach into your pocket for it, either. Before you head to your local cycling shop to start perusing models, though, you should take the time to understand what this technology can offer. Let's start by looking at what they are.

What are cycling computers?

If you've never seen a cycling computer before, it's tough to envision just what they could offer to you that a smartphone app can't. Before we had smartphones, though, these little machines were our primary way guide-to-cycling-computers-placementfor tracking ride data, counting miles or minutes, and more. Most often, these are small, lightweight devices that attach directly to your handlebars. An easy to read digital screen displays stats such as your current speed or distance travelled. Cycling computers can use a variety of methods to track this information. Some use magnetic devices attached to your bicycle hardware to count strokes and measure distance. Others interface with GPS satellites for an accurate fix on your location. A fundamental difference between a cycling computer and a smartphone is this potential for GPS functionality. A computer is a dedicated unit; your smartphone experiences some delay and may not always track accurately. Due to a lack of sensors that cycling computers can employ, your smartphone might also not be able to track everything a standalone unit can. In short, these computers are a new way for you to gather information about your ride and to find ways to use that data. What are some of the benefits you might see from such a device?

Should you use a cycling computer? Pros and cons

There are ups and downs to using these devices, just like there are with any technology. Let's focus on the positives first. If you want to stay accountable to yourself regarding how many miles you ride each session, guide-to-cycling-computers-pros-consa cycling computer can help you keep track with ease. At the same time, some cyclists find them to be a useful motivational tool. You can glance down at any time and see your numbers ticking upward. If you're a fitness lover, some models even come with a heart monitor for you to wear. The computer then displays related information. Other useful features include a cadence meter, and an average speed/distance travelled. All of this can help you plan and make tweaks to your style. What are some downsides? Cycling computers can be somewhat pricey and you do already have a smartphone, after all, even if it's less effective in some ways. Not all computers can offload your data to third-party applications or your home computer. You could also realise it feels more like a distraction than an aid in your journey. For some, that will be true; you could be better off just focusing on the road ahead rather than looking down at your computer all the time.

What features and price points are out there?

If you do want to try one of these devices, what will you find on the market? Even with the proliferation of smartphones, there's still a very active scene for cycling computers. You can find a range of options from guide-to-cycling-computers-mapthose down in the bargain basement to very high-end machines. It all depends on how much functionality you want. For example, do you just want an easy way to track distance, time, and speed? You can opt for a magnetic unit that lacks GPS. These are typically very inexpensive yet effective at their job. Some basic units will come equipped with GPS, though. You won't get any fancy applications, but you will gain the motivational aspect. As you increase the price point beyond £100, you will find more features. Sensors become wireless to transmit data seamlessly. GPS accuracy improves. You'll encounter more features, like the heart rate monitor, and even an altimeter. If you live in a hilly area, the ability to track your total altitude changes over a ride can let you gauge intensity for future rides. These features can even help you plan your trip. At the highest price levels, you'll find smartphone integration, easy PC data transfers, feature-rich devices, and ease-of-use features too.

Choosing a computer based on your skill level

Which type is right for you? If you're a casual cyclist who only bikes two or three times a week for fun and fitness, you probably don't need a "top of the line" model with all the bells and whistles. A simpler unit guide-to-cycling-computers-stravathat's easy to install and maintain is a good place to start. Use these computers to help you track towards milestones in your efforts to cycle further or to go the distance faster. Eventually, you can consider upgrading to a more advanced model. There's no need to distract yourself with additional screens and menus on your ride right now. If you take more of a "professional" approach to biking, these pricier models could be just what you're seeking. If you enjoy "social biking" with platforms like Strava, a computer that can wirelessly sync to your smartphone app could be just what you need. For those who take a scientific approach to their fitness through hard data, these are also the better choice. While you'll need to look closely at features like water resistance to protect your investment, this could become a valuable tool in your arsenal. Many pro cyclists rely on these devices to keep them on their training pace in the lead up to a race.

Popular cycling computers today

What are some of the leading brands out there if you want to get a head start on your search? There are a few to watch for when you shop. Cateye is one favourite budget brand; they stock a range of beginner's cycling computers that cover the basic functionality we've discussed. For entry-level computers, they're a good place to begin. You can learn the ropes and discover if this is an accessory that makes you feel like more motivated or invested in cycling. For medium to high priced computers full of everything you want, you'll want to check out Garmin. As makers of GPS units for some time, they're well positioned to bring their technology to the cycling world. One of the most popular units is the Garmin Edge, which comes with built-in maps, charting functionality, and all the data tracking that you could want. It does come with a high price tag, though. Luckily, Garmin also makes more affordable models of the Edge. You can choose the feature set that best aligns with your needs and your budget.

Keep your smartphone safely tucked away

From the basic to the feature-rich, there are cycling computers available for every kind of rider. Should one of them be among your next fitness-related purchases? It all comes down to the way you want to use technology during your ride. As a motivational tool and a way to track your progress over time, it's one of the easiest ways to gather valuable data. For some, though, the array of smartphone apps available on the market will offer a more convenient and less expensive alternative. Weigh the pros and cons carefully yourself, and don't forget to read reviews online before purchasing if you do choose to buy a cycling computer. It could be one of the most useful tools you use.