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Bike computers – From Speedo to Training Partner

Cycling has been with us since the 19th century – without bike computers, of course. But the competition to cover distances ridden solo as fast as possible soon gave rise to the first odometer – an early mechanical bike speedometer. It was fitted on the axle and counted the wheel revolutions, calculating the distance. Read more

Odometers couldn‘t provide any information about distance or pace, but the mechanical bike computers derived from them could. These consisted of a “sensor” on the front wheel and a display on the handlebars, both connected by a flexible shaft – similar to the models on older motorcycle.

Electronic bike computers have been around since the 1980s, before LC displays and the appropriate micro-electronics had been developed. Cat Eye and CicloSport® launched early models, for example. But they were still far off from today’s wireless computers and GPS computers for bicycles.

How a Bike Computer Works

The basic operating principle of the early bike computers still applies to many models, but they have obviously become more reliable and up to date:

  • A small magnet is attached to a spoke.
  • A wired or wireless sensor is mounted to the fork at the same height.
  • The wheel circumference (e.g. in inches or centimeters) is set on the bike computer.
  • The magnet passes the sensor with each revolution, generating an impulse.
  • The signal is communicated to the bike computer and the display in real time (e.g. as trip distance or current speed).

Performance Data and Extras: What a Modern Bike Computer can Do

Unlike the early models, wireless cycle computers are now standard. Signals are transmitted in coded form to prevent disturbance from other wireless devices. Some modern bicycle speedometer models have multiline monochrome and/or high-resolution colour displays. Extra sensors enable multiple measurements: you can use your bike computer to record your cadence, heart rate and watt output. Expensive devices can be linked to a smart phone and special tracking apps. Bike computers transmit via Bluetooth, ANT+, NFC, WiFi and the like.

The Basic Functions of a Bike Speedometer: Speed, Distance and Time

Common basic bike computer functions include:

  • Speed: current pace, average speed and measured top speed
  • Distance: trip distance, total distance
  • Time: ride duration, time

The display usually has a switchable backlight, so you can read values regardless of daylight levels.

Smart Bike Computers: GPS Trackers, Navigators and More

Premium bike computers offer a lot more functions, enabling the creation of sport activity and competition profiles, supporting targeted performance improvement and much more. Data respectively data fields can be displayed in individually configurable training views, and the computer can suggest ways to improve your performance. In addition to distance covered, bike computers with altimeters also record elevation gain in meters and incline percentage and can also display the elevation profile graphically.

Smart bike computers with GPS offer extra features: they record completed tracks and display previously created routes. They also show your chosen route in detail during the ride. Acoustic and/or visual signals help you navigate. You can usually set new waypoints at will. An automatic start-stop function allows you to measure your riding time only, so that the average pace isn’t distorted by traffic lights and breaks, if you don’t want to include them. And real time speed and distance measurement functions mean you always have the estimated arrival time in your sights.

Smart bike computers have high connectivity, meaning you can transfer data to your smartphone, tablet or PC for later evaluation.

Even More Powerful With These Bicycle Speedometer Add-Ons

Turn your bike speedometer into an all-round training companion with these add-ons!

Cadence Sensor and Heart Rate Belt

These accessories enable comprehensive training analysis, so you can focus your training and increase performance.

The number of crank revolutions per time unit (cadence) is key for any endurance cyclist. The measurement is performed by a sensor attached to the chainstay and a magnet on the crank arm.

For heart rate-based training, you need a chest strap, which is worn tight below the chest. You can read the data on your bike computer display for monitoring and improving your performance in your chosen training zones.

Tip: before you buy, check what is included with the bike computer! Some devices come with cadence sensors and/or a heart rate strap as standard, and others have optional accessories as a bundle. Combine them with a compatible bike speedometer and you can access your current, average and historical data.

Power Meters for your Bike Computer

Powermeters are among the most comprehensive but also expensive add-ons for bike computers. The choice includes special cranks and individual crank arms, hubs and pedals, for example, with which you can measure your performance precisely for display. Depending on the measuring method you can get information about the following with such a power meter:

  • current total output
  • right / left leg performance
  • desired performance zone

Smart: Link Your Bike Computer to a Smartphone

By coupling your bike computer with your smartphone, you can store and access your performance and distance data in the private or public cloud wherever you are. You stow your mobile safely in your rucksack or jersey and simply read the data on the bike computer on the handlebar.

Seeking thrills? Share your date with services like Komoot and Strava and be virtual King of the Mountain (KOM) or Queen of the Mountain (QOM) with the best time on a certain segment of your ride!

Buy your bike computer from BIKE24!

Along with lights, pannier racks and mudguards, bicycle computers are the most popular accessories and are a real must-have for ambitious cyclists and athletes.