Do You Need a Bike Computer? Benefits & Disadvantages Explained

Detail on my MTB handlebar with and without a Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT v1 bike computer.

This article helps you decide if you should invest in a bike computer or not.

When I started cycling, I didn’t use it because I didn’t have the money.

Over time, I discovered their advantages (and disadvantages). I will share them with you below.

For those of you who like short answers. Let me answer the mighty question:

Do you really need a bike computer?

You don’t need a bike computer if you are a casual cyclist who just wants to enjoy the ride without knowing his ride data. However, bike computers are crucial for those who want to learn more about their performance. They can record advanced metrics and are compatible with additional sensors like power meters or HR monitors. They can also navigate, display maps, and more.

Continue reading to find more ways to benefit from a bike computer and why you should get one.

Benefits of Bike Computers and Why to Get One

The main benefits of bike computers are the following:

  1. They track your ride data and advanced metrics.
  2. They help you train more effectively.
  3. They can navigate you through places you don’t know.
  4. They are easier to read and access.
  5. They are more suitable for cycling than your smartphone.

Let’s go through them in detail now. 

1. They Track Your Ride Data and Advanced Metrics

Bike computers record multiple metrics that provide you with insights into your performance. 

Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT v2 zoomed data fields
Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT v2 data fields

Besides the basic metrics* like your speed, distance, time, and cadence (the number of rotations per minute of your crank arm), bike computers can also record more advanced data such as heart rate and power.

*NOTE: Cycling speedometers can also measure basic metrics. However, they are incompatible with additional sensors and, therefore, can’t record advanced metrics. This is the main difference between speedometers and bike computers.

Remember, you will have to pair additional sensors like a power meter or HR monitor to a bike computer. Otherwise, it won’t have a data source and display the data.

Then, you will learn, for example, what is your average power, watts per kg, average HR, maximum HR, and more.

Additionally, bike computers can automatically sync your rides to popular cycling apps like Strava. 

This synchronization is convenient, and you will get a helpful overview of your rides based on the app.

2. They Help You Train More Effectively

A bike computer can help you push yourself to the next level. Especially if you pair it with a power meter and HR monitor, you will get the data necessary for effective training.

Once you get to know yourself and your training zones, you will know when to go hard and when to rest.

Garmin Edge 1040 on a bike with the Real-Time stamina feature turned on
Garmin Edge 1040 Real-Time stamina feature

Most bike computers can also guide you through structured training. They will display the intervals (e.g., power zones, their length, etc.), so your training won’t be just guesswork anymore. 

Using subsequent data analysis, you will find your strengths and weaknesses, so you will know what to practice on each ride (with the help of a personal trainer). 

3. They Can Navigate You Through Places You Don’t Know

Most bike computers come with pre-loaded maps. They are helpful mainly when you want to ride in areas you don’t know. 

You can, for example, create a route using Komoot and then export it to the bike computer. It will then provide you with turn-by-turn directions. 

Garmin Edge 1030 Plus navigation
Garmin Edge 1030 Plus navigation

I’ve been using this feature on holidays abroad, and it saved me a lot of time looking on at a map on my smartphone.

Remember that not every bike computer can recalculate the route if you go off-course. You can learn more in my how to choose a bike computer article, where I explain navigation and mapping.

Some bike computers (mainly the Garmin Edge lineup) can help you find new trails and routes to ride, for example, by using trail recommendations from other riders.

4. They Are Easy to Read and Access

Bike computers are designed for bicycles. They have easy-to-read screens in direct sunlight and are easy to access. 

Garmin Edge 1040 in an two bolt out front mount of my integrated cockpit
Garmin Edge 1040 bike computer

You don’t have to worry about dropping your phone. You also don’t need anything else to use a cycling computer* besides a bike computer mount. But it’s often included in the packing.

*Some bike computers require a connection with your smartphone if you want to access advanced navigation features, for example.

5. They Are More Suitable for Cycling Than Your Smartphone 

As we all know, smartphones are like Swiss Army knives – they can do many things, including navigating and recording your ride. 

We can also use them for paying for coffee and everything in between. But they are not too suitable for cycling, mainly in bad weather conditions or in terrain, where there is a risk of dropping them. 

Same street (Pionýrská, Brno, CZ) on Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT v2, Garmin Edge 1040, and Apple iPhone 6s (Google Maps)
Comparison of Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT v2, Garmin Edge 1040, and iPhone 6s

Bike computers have longer battery life and are more durable because they are designed to withstand all kinds of weather conditions and cold temperatures (e.g., -4°F to 122°F [-20°C to 50°C]). 

Their screens are also not as glossy, providing better readability even in direct sunlight. 

Yes, you can use a smartphone as a bike computer alternative, but invest in a bike computer if you can. My comparison of bike computers vs. smartphones explains why.

Disadvantages of Bike Computers

The most significant disadvantage of bike computers is their price. They require an initial investment that varies depending on the features.

As I explained above, basic speedometers start at dozens of dollars, but they can’t measure the advanced metrics.

Budget bike computers start at around $200 but can exceed $500 (e.g., the Garmin Edge 1040). You can check out the Garmin bike computers lineup, where I explain the differences between individual head units and their prices.

Garmin Edge 1040 review: Edge 1040 in my hand
Garmin Edge 1040

You will also have another device to recharge (and, therefore, another MicroUSB or USB-C cable in a drawer).

However, apart from these little things, there aren’t many of them, don’t you think?

Bike Computers FAQ

Conclusion

Buy a bike computer if you are serious about cycling, tracking your rides, or having a device to navigate you in places you don’t know.

You don’t have to buy it when you are just starting. Instead, you can buy a cheap speedometer and replace it with a bike computer once you save enough money.

If you’re considering buying it now, check out my selection of the best bike computers. It includes budget, mid-range, and premium ones.

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