Bike GPS Review
How to Choose a Bike GPS
The top performers in our review are the Garmin Edge 510, the Gold Award winner; the Garmin Edge 1000, the Silver Award winner; and the Garmin Edge 810, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a product to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.
A bike GPS uses satellite navigation technology to track your speed and distance traveled. You then upload that data to one of several available training computer programs. These programs use maps and the data gathered by the bike GPS to display your route, speed, elevation and more.
You can easily see a clear summary of your ride, which helps you track your progress and improve more quickly as a cyclist. Many bike GPS units also work with optional sensors that monitor your heart rate, pedal cadence and pedal power as you ride.
The Global Positioning System, or GPS, is composed of 24 satellites that each orbit the globe twice per day. A GPS receiver, such as the one built into a cycle GPS, needs at least three satellites to calculate its location. GPS units are astonishingly accurate, often to within 30 feet. To learn more, keep reading or check out our additional articles on cycle computers.
The United States government began developing GPS in the 1970s and authorized it for civilian use in 1995. There is no subscription fee to use a GPS; you just have to purchase the unit and you will have reception for life.
Bike GPS or Smartphone?
The biggest question to answer is whether you need a dedicated cycle computer or should just use your smartphone. (Smartphones have built-in GPS receivers.)
The biggest downside to using your smartphone can be summed up in two factors: weight and battery life. Sure, you can buy a dedicated smartphone mount for your handlebars and put a rugged case on your phone, but that combination will weigh several times what a bike GPS does.
Secondly, your smartphone likely does not have the same excellent battery life as a bike GPS. This means your phone could run out of battery on an all-day ride and be unavailable in an emergency.
Bike GPS: What We Evaluated, What We Found
Functionality: You Pay More for More Features
After evaluating every bike GPS on the market, we learned several important things about the state of the industry. We found that the overwhelming majority of bike GPS units can calculate your speed, distance traveled and altitude in real time. All but a few models – those that cost less than about $200 – also have a built-in temperature monitor.
The less expensive (and lower-ranked) models are also the only units we reviewed that aren't compatible with ANT+ sensors that can track your heart rate, pedal power and pedal cadence. ANT+ is an ultra-low power wireless transmission protocol, similar to Bluetooth. You can buy ANT+-enabled sensors that communicate wirelessly with your bike GPS and display their data on the screen. The most common ANT+ sensor is a heart-rate strap that you wear across your chest. Many cyclists like to train by keeping their heart rates in a certain range, and the sensor enables you to do that with precision.
Design: Battery Life is Important
We found that bike GPS units vary wildly in design. Some of the best (and priciest, at upward of $300) models have color screens and touch interfaces, but the majority have monochrome screens and buttons. All the bike computers that we evaluated come with an IPX7 waterproof rating, so they'll even work submerged in 3 feet of water for up to 30 minutes.
The biggest thing to look out for when it comes to design is battery life. The best bike GPS we reviewed has a battery life of 20 hours. This enables you to go on all-day bike rides without having to worry about recharging your device. Since cycle GPS units don't have removable batteries, you can't swap in a fresh battery, so you should look for a GPS with at least 14 hours of battery life.
Additional Features: More Navigation Niceties
Beyond the basics, the highest-quality cycle computers add a host of other features you won't find on budget units. Live GPS tracking is the most important of these. Only the very best cycle computers have live GPS tracking, which allows your friends and loved ones to actually track you live (you appear as a small dot on a map). This works through Bluetooth integration with your smartphone. The GPS gets its location from the satellites and sends that location data to your smartphone via Bluetooth. The smartphone then uses its cellular connection to send that location information to a server, which updates your location on the map. You'll have to pay upward of $400 to get live GPS tracking.
Turn-by-turn navigation is another premium feature, although we found that it has few real-world applications. Few people train in areas they are unfamiliar with, and since the point of a bike GPS is to train, it may not be worth the extra $100 or so to have turn-by-turn navigation.
Our Verdict and Recommendations:
The best bike GPS units all cost at least $350. (If that's too much for your budget, we identify an economy choice further down.) The Garmin Edge 510 is the Top Ten Reviews Gold Award winner because it has everything you need and none of the extra features that clutter a user interface, hamper battery life and drive up the price. It has full ANT+ compatibility and live GPS tracking. It has the best battery life of any bike GPS, a simple interface, a lightweight design and a touchscreen.
The Garmin Edge 1000 is the Top Ten Reviews Silver Award winner and the most heavily featured bike GPS ever made. It has everything the Garmin Edge 810 has, plus Bluetooth-enabled smartphone integration that allows you to read text messages on the screen of the bike computer. However, it's expensive and heavy with a mediocre battery life of 15 hours.
The Garmin Edge 810 is our Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award winner. It's loaded with features, such as a color touchscreen, turn-by-turn navigation and live GPS tracking. It has everything you'll need in a cycle computer, plus a lot more. Its biggest downside is that it's expensive and relatively heavy.
If you just need a basic bike GPS, the best value currently on the market is the CatEye Stealth Evo+. It has all of the basic functionality, plus compatibility with ANT+ sensors to track your heart rate, pedal speed and pedal power. Its biggest weakness is a poor battery life of just 10 hours. If you plan to go on bike rides of eight hours or longer, you probably need one of the very best cycle computers.