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Basic Guide to Cyclocomputers

A Cyclocomputer is basically a digital speedometer with some other useful features added on. Using a cyclocomputer is a good way to keep track of the time and distanced ridden. Basic models will have a few essential features such as speed, distance, odometer and the time. Top models can have other functions such as Heart Rate, Power Output, GPS functions and some can even be downloaded into a personal computer to track all the data.

Cyclocomputers are really fairly simple. A magnet is mounted to a spoke and a sensor is mounted to a fork blade or chainstay. When the magnet passes the sensor the sensor sends a signal to the computer head. The computer head measures the amount of time between signals and uses a set wheel size calibration number to compute the speed of the wheel. This is why it takes at least 2 revolutions of the wheel before a cyclocomputer can display and accurate speed.

Features of the cyclocomputers

Let's take a look at the various features that are included in different brands of cyclocomputers,so you can determine what product best for you.

Basic Features

These models will have a few essential features such as speed, distance, odometer and the time.

  • Current Speed -expressed in either miles per hour or km per hour
  • Average Speed -displays the current average speed by diving the distance traveled by the ride time. Most average speed readings update at specific intervals like 5 or 10 seconds.
  • Maximum Speed -the top speed achieved.
  • Trip Distance -how far you have traveled since the last reset.
  • Total Distance -all of your trip distances added together, usually can not be reset without removing the batter of the cyclocomputer.
  • Ride timer -amount of time ridden for this trip. Ride timers can be auto/start stop or they can run continuously. Auto start/stop timers will not record the time you spend waiting at stoplights or sitting at the mid-ride coffee stop.
  • Clock -usually can be set as either a standard clock or a 24hr clock.

Deluxe Features

Top models can have other functions such as Heart Rate, Power Output, GPS functions and some can even be downloaded into a personal computer to track all the data.

  • Cadence -the number of times per minute the pedals go around. Usually this feature requires an additional sensor mounted near the crank-arms.
  • Dual Bike Settings -if you have 2 bikes, say road bikes and mountain bikes that have different wheel sizes a dual bike capable cyclocomputer is the trick. A dual bike computer holds 2 different calibration numbers, so you can swap the computer from one bike to another and change the setting at the press of a button.
  • Service Timer -typically a small icon that displays on the screen when bicycle maintenance may be required.
  • Speed Comparator -an indicator that displays whether the current speed is above or below the average speed.
  • Programmable Odometer -allows you to set the odometer at what ever number you wish. For instance if you need to change the battery you can write down the odometer reading, change the battery, then set the odometer back to where it was.
  • Altimeter -know how high you have climbed and more. Most cyclocomputers equipped with an altimeter will have several altitude features like grade, total feet climbed and max altitude.
  • Power -some advanced units will have a way to measure power in watts. Most require additional sensors, special cranks or special hubs.
  • Heart Rate-some units come with a chest strap to display heart rate while riding.

Wired or Wireless

One final consideration is the choice between Wired or Wireless computers.

Wired

  • do not pick up interference from power lines or cell-phone towers
  • can be lighter as they only have 1 battery
  • are more water proof
  • typically start reading faster
  • often have problems with mangled wiring harnesses
  • take longer to install
  • don't look as clean once installed

Wireless

  • have a very clean look
  • are faster to install
  • don't have wires to damage running up the bicycle
  • can pick up interference
  • typical range is 22 inches from the sensor to the computer head
  • are usually more expensive