Sport: is the technology of the GPS bike computer reliable?

Nowadays, it is rare to see a cyclist riding without a connected watch, a smartphone or a bike gps meter attached to the handlebars.

The best ones will give you all the data you need on a ride, whether on a road bike or trail riding.

Although there is value in using a GPS watch or smartphone app for cycling, having a specific GPS computer will give you lots of valuable data during your travels or your sporting events.

Gone are the days of cables and wires, even for the cheapest GPS. Most wireless bike computers use Bluetooth Smart and ANT+ technologies to connect to external devices to make your bike ride smarter.

The benefit as a cyclist is that this technology allows a bike computer to measure your speed without the need to attach a magnet to a spoke and a sensor to a fork leg. It can also display and record routes taken, which can then be downloaded to a computer.

What is the interest of a GPS bike computer?

The real mini-computers that are the GPS for bicycles use satellites to follow your position, calculating with precision speed, distance and travel time. They record your route and the data collected from heart rate, cadence and power developed. You can then upload the collected data to a ride recording service to assess your performance.

Depending on the models, the data provided during the ride may include topographic maps, as well as navigation, an overview of upcoming climbs, or the fastest times set by other cyclists on the section you are on. pedal.

The main thing is to decide why you buy a bike computer with GPS in the first place. If you want outstanding mapping that can guide you on and off-road, you'll need to look to options that offer navigation capabilities.

If you are a data junkie, you will need to assess the connectivity of the device before purchasing it. However, if you only use your device to upload your ride to the Strava app, you may be better served by a budget option.

SmartWorkout Elite

What's new on GPS counters?

Like most electronic devices, these meters evolve and change rapidly. New models are released very regularly, and even existing models benefit from new features (and bug fixes) thanks to software updates.

That said, the basic functions typical of these devices, such as displaying speed, distance, time, altitude, cadence and heart rate, have hardly changed since then. several years.

However, these functions have gained in precision, with increasingly reliable data. Also, brighter and sharper screens are now easier to read. Apps can also make setup and customization much easier than on older models.

How to choose the best bike GPS for your needs?

Your choice must take into consideration your real needs. There's no point hoarding gadgets if you never use them. Before acquiring this material for your bike, you must first know everything you can do with the use of a GPS counter before determining what you really need or want.

Here are some ways to make the best choice of GPS computer for your bike.

Choose the best monitor for you

A large color screen can make navigation easier by making streets and points of interest more easily identifiable. Color can also be used to accent training features such as heart rate and power zones.

Essentially, the more graphical the feature, the more useful the color becomes. Screen size and resolution are a bigger concern if you want to use the bike's GPS for directions and navigation. In this case, being able to clearly see the changes in direction and the desired route is crucial. To achieve this in good conditions, a screen size of at least 2.5 inches (6.35 cm) is recommended.

If you only use the on-board computer to read numbers such as speed, distance, altitude and time, a monochrome screen is sufficient and easier to read under certain conditions.


Touch screen or not?

This is a question that should be asked before buying your device.

Indeed, a touch screen can facilitate configuration and certain functions, in particular navigation, but can be problematic when used with gloved fingers or when wet from rain or sweat.

Take this criterion into account when choosing…

GPS bike computer

Features to Look for When Buying a Bike GPS

In most cases, when you buy one of these computers for your bike, you also choose brand ecosystem. For example, if you opt for a Garmin Edge GPS computer, you must consider whether the Garmin Connect application is the most intuitive for you or if you prefer a Polar device with Polar Flow, for example.

If the unit has navigation, it calculates your routes, even if you don't want it to. On top of all that, you also need to find out if the unit is compatible with your favorite third-party apps or services, such as TrainingPeaks, 2Peak, Velobook, VeloHero, etc.

Notes on the battery life of the GPS bicycle computer

Each model indicates a average autonomy. In practice, this data is often optimistic and usually involves limiting screen functionality and brightness.

Many factors can influence battery life, such as:

  • screen brightness,
  • the recording interval,
  • connection with a smartphone,
  • satellite connections,
  • the air temperature.

Most of gps counters can handle multiple days of riding or an epic backcountry trek on a single charge. But do not consider the claimed autonomy as a static and immutable given. Just use it to compare the relative battery life of different devices when making your selection.

Bike gps in the rain

How does the device mount on the bike?

A key, but often overlooked factor when choosing is how the device attaches to the bike.

Most GPS units attach to the handlebars or stem. Generally speaking, the better known the brand, the more mounting options available.

Garmin is undoubtedly the leader in this field with many mounting possibilities spare. This mark therefore allows you to decide exactly how and where the device sits on your handlebars or stem.

Both Gamin and Wahoo use brackets that rely on a quarter-turn lock to hold the unit in place. A small 90 degree rotation makes it easy to install your device, but also to easily remove it when you enter a store or a cafe for example.

Forward offset mounts are a popular choice for cyclists because they place the device in front of the handlebar bar, making the GPS computer easier to watch while moving. These brackets also allow the bike computer to be aligned with the bar, giving a nicer look to the whole thing.

What kind of navigation do you need?

All these on-board computers display and record the basic trip data. Most of these bike GPS can offer simple guidance (“Turn left in 50 meters”). But the higher-end ones offer full navigation with turn-by-turn directions, maps, street names, points of interest, elevation data, and an address database.

For trips near you, you probably won't use all of these features. But if you plan to go on an adventure to distant and unknown regions, then they will become valuable.

So before you spend $500 or $600 on a full navigation unit like the Garmin Edge 1030 Plus, think about how much information you need or if you'll actually use this feature. Also ask yourself if your bike rides are intended to return to sport gently or to carry out sports and endurance training.

Do not hesitate to visit a site dedicated to equipment for equipping bicycles, you will undoubtedly find a large selection of counters, suitable for all budgets. You will of course find the Garmin brand, a pioneer in GPS bike computers, but also Sigma, Polar, Bryton, Wahoo, IGPSport and Lezyne. I encourage you to take a look there to find out more.

Now let’s answer the question posed in the title of the article…

bike gps navigation

The reliability of GPS data for bicycles

Before buying, it is legitimate to wonder if the information provided and recorded by these counters is really reliable, especially since their many features come at a cost.

The use of different satellites

GPS technology cycle computers use the Global Positioning System, a satellite navigation network owned by the US government. It allows real-time geolocation of a GPS receiver anywhere on the planet.

Navigation satellites in orbit around the Earth transmit information about their position at regular intervals. Your GPS positioning system receives signals from several satellites and uses the information to calculate your location. As your location changes over time, your device can calculate your speed and record your routes.

Although we are talking about GPS, devices from brands like Garmin and Lezyne also use signals from Russian GLONASS satellites. Some also use the European GALILEO system since 2020 or the Chinese BEIDOU system. We really should be talking about GNSS (Global Navigation Satellite System) devices today, but GPS came first and therefore became the umbrella term.

Navigation device makers say adding GLONASS helps fix positions faster. This is understandable because there are then more satellites available. This is especially important in built-up areas where the direct line of sight to satellites might be obscured.

More and more precise

This is certainly true today for major players in the market, but the US government has officially committed to providing a certain precision level for signals transmitted by satellites.

It promises to broadcast the GPS signal in space with a worldwide average user range error of less than or equal to 7.8 meters in 95 % situations. Actual performance exceeds this specification and your device may also receive signals from GLONASS, GALILEO or BEIDOU satellites.

Of course, there is always a margin of error in the information provided by any GPS device. The data received on the counter depends on the position of the satellite, factors blocking the signal (such as a large number of buildings) or atmospheric conditions. Besides, the characteristics and quality of your device also play a role in the performance of the result (both hardware and software).

Conclusion on GPS bike computers

Initially, the GPS range was primarily aimed at cyclists who wanted to benefit from navigation and guidance on the trails.

However, their use and basic functions have evolved considerably. These devices now combine navigation, cycle computer functions, connectivity to devices, such as heart rate monitors or power meters, and much more.

Various bicycle computers now offer the possibility of upload training sessions and plans directly on the device, which facilitates a structured training.

These maps are available through brand-specific software (Garmin Connect for Garmin bike GPS units, for example) or, in some cases, through apps such as TrainerRoad and Velobook.

The hiking GPS is now just as much a training tool dedicated only one tracking route and a guide. This type of equipment is now much more complete for your cycling outings than connected watches or smartphone applications.

Yes, it's true, there is no perfect bike GPS, but it is a real on-board computer. Its current level of performance makes it incredibly useful and motivating for your workouts.

It's a real coach and I doubt very much that you will be able to do without it one day, if you have ever tasted this equipment!

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