Ever since the invention of the bicycle, cyclists have traversed the globe on two (sometimes one) wheel in search of adventure. The more advanced the bicycle has become, the more adventurous mankind seems to be… and technology has finally caught up.
It has been just under 200 years since the invention of the bicycle. We have come a long way since then, with lighter frames, more advanced brake and gearing systems, and suspension systems that that were unheard of a decade ago. Along with the mechanics, technology has also caught up and today’s bicycle computer features more advanced technology than what NASA had in 1969 on the first moon landing.
Bicycle computers have grown in popularity and functionality ever since the first Cycleometer counted the rotation of a bicycle wheel in 1895. Today, many cyclists use a cycle computer of some sort to calculate time, distance, speed and cadence but there is a lot more one can do with the right technology at hand, and it is all about the data.
It’s all about the data
In order to extract real value from the data on your bicycle computer, you’ll want to correlate your data to more advanced parameters and be able to export your data to map it against the benchmarks you choose. Add to this other data such as your heart rate, elevation and power measurements per pedal, you’ll be able to examine every aspect of training and race results. It’s thus no surprise that as with the motoring industry, GPS technology has become an indispensable part of cycling today. But it is not just for routing your cycle trip anymore, it is being able to map, backtrack and record segment results that make cyclists so excited about the tech.
Smartphone vs bike computer
A few years ago there was no question that a dedicated bike computer was the way to go but with smartphones becoming the powerhouses they are today, using the built-in GPS of your smartphone seems like the way to go, but there are some drawbacks.
While an app like Strava and a smartphone is a formidable force to any bicycle computer, your phone’s size alone makes it less than ideal to mount on your bike. It is easy enough to get a mount for your smartphone, but if you are serious about cycling you’ll opt for a dedicated GPS bike computer as it is purpose built and has a much longer battery life than your phone - especially while using GPS. Your smartphone is also not designed to sit on your handlebars in the hot sun and you are likely to cause some damage if you use it for that purpose often. A dedicated GPS bike computer also features a screen that is designed to be visible in direct sunlight. Also changing functions while out on a ride is often more tricky with the buttons on your smartphone than your cycle computer which was designed to be used on the go. Garmin recently launched the Edge 520, a bike computer offers in-ride challenges through Strava live segments.
To get the most from your dedicated GPS bike computer, you’ll want to connect it to your smartphone. Indeed, today’s bicycle computer is not just a delivery vehicle for your RAW data, it is also designed to communicate, store and track the data it collects. Here’s our handy guide on how to get the most out of your bike computer, and if you don’t own one, keep this as a checklist for the features you want.
Let’s get the most obvious one out of the way, a GPS enabled bike computer offers a myriad features that you can use on your cycle trip. If you are a street cyclist, the GPS routing capability will allow you to find your way around town without having to stop and plan your route. With devices such as the Garmin Edge 1000, you can input a distance on the devices and it will route the best route for you to cycle. Mountain bikers on the other hand will appreciate the trackback feature on some GPS enabled bike computers to get them back on the road should they deviate off the single track. Maps can be loaded on to some of the devices in the Garmin range to provide a visual indication of your route navigation.
Strava is a smartphone app that allows you to track your cycle (or run). One of its most useful features is the segment leaderboards which turn virtually every point-to-point cycle path you ride into a competitive segment that you can challenge your friends on. Using geolocation, segments are marked and your time is automatically recorded on each segment. Some of Garmin’s range of Edge devices also allows you to upload directly to Strava segments. Allowing you to capture the most accurate segment times on your route.
GPS enabled bicycle computers can connect to the Internet via the smartphone in your pocket. This allows for your data to be stored online as soon as your ride is complete. Another great feature that some devices feature is Live Tracking. Live Tracking is a paid-for service on Strava, but is built-in and free to use with some models in the Garmin Edge range. Be aware though, there will be some data charges when pairing your device to your mobile phone.
Many professional athletes have a dose of their training data with breakfast every morning. The data from their previous rides assist both riders and cyclists in understanding how their performance improves and if any techniques they are trying is working as planned. Training data is always recorded in conjunction with the heart rate and sometimes even special pedal sensors are employed - like Garmin's Vector range - to show the power output of each pedal. Devices like the Garmin Edge 1000 is also able to connect with some electronic shifting systems like the Shimano Di2 to also record your gear selection.
If training and race data is what you are after, then connecting sensors to your bike computer using Bluetooth or ANT+ technology should be your next step. There is a trove of data to be mined from your training plan and analysing the results from your last couple of races or training rides can enable you to compete much more competitively. Sensors include a heart rate monitor, cadence and speed sensor as well as power sensors that measure the output from one or both pedals.
The bicycle computer has become an indispensable tool for many cyclists. Not only to collect ride data but also to navigate and communicate with your smartphone. Reading a text message on your bicycle computer may seem like overkill when on the bike but these tools enable you to stay connected while focussing on your ride. The technology we add to our bikes are not just to keep us focussed but there is a very strong safety aspect too. As with Garmin’s latest product, called Varia, this bicycle radar is designed to let you know when vehicles are approaching from behind, giving you the right information you need to keep out of harm’s way.
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