I average 10,000 miles a year. Here’s what I recommend
GPS computers are like smartphones these days, as options, features and pricing keep going up. Garmin still owns the market, but Wahoo is giving the GPS giant a run for the money, and Lezyne’s new units are worth a look.
I’ve tested GPS units for years – sometimes running two, three and even four head units concurrently when also testing power meters. Yes, my friends just shake their heads in shame. But hopefully the takeaway for you is helpful: after 10,000+ miles a year and dozens of GPS units tested, here are the five units I recommend.
Instead of creating a massive comparative chart with every last feature, I’ve distilled my recommendations down by rider type. The more I ride and the more I talk with pros and coaches and everyday riders, the more I believe that more features does not equal better. Most riders just need a GPS computer that does a few things very, very well. For some, that is navigation. For others, it’s training. And for all of us, it’s a crisp, visible screen, dependable battery life and performance and – perhaps most of all – ease of use!
Garmin Edge 520 Plus $279
Best for performance-minded riders
- 49x73mm, 63g body
- 200×265 pixel color screen
- USB, Bluetooth
The Garmin Edge 520 has all the basic metrics plus features like Strava Live Segments, FTP testing and tracking, Di2 integration, a VO2 Max calculation and recommended recovery time.
The 520 Plus has seven buttons, not a touchscreen like the Edge 820 or the Edge 1030. For me, buttons are superior to a touchscreen on a computer this small. So many of us are accustomed to the touchscreen performance of iPhones and Android phones, and cycling computers just can’t match that sensitivity and still be rugged enough for outdoor use. All that to say – don’t buy an 820; you’ll likely be annoyed with the touchscreen.
The 520 has turn-by-turn directions and color maps, but its real strength is as a full-feature training tool in a compact size.
On the practical side, the Bluetooth connection to your smartphone means automatic wireless uploads to Garmin Connect, Strava, TrainingPeaks and more, plus on-screen notifications of incoming texts and calls.
Wahoo Elemnt Bolt $249
Best for the smartphone generation
- 48x75mm, body
- 240×320 pixel black/white screen
- USB, Bluetooth, WiFi
Wahoo, maker of the Kickr smart trainers, is Garmin’s biggest competitor. The original Elemnt offered a lot of great features – including Wahoo’s handy zoom in/zoom out buttons that work for increasing viewability on data and maps – but the thing was big and clunky. WIth the Elemnt Bolt, Wahoo has an excellent cycling computer for most riders.
While the Bolt has a laundry list of features and metrics, the best things about it are the usability. Battery life easily doubles that of a Garmin. Configuration of the screen is done with your phone, which you probably know your way around pretty well. And getting routes onto the Bolt does not require a USB cable and dropping and dragging files on your computer. Your phone handles all that – often automatically, if you connect and use apps like Strava or RidewithGPS.
The thing is just super easy to use.
LEDs on top of the computer can be configured for alerts when training or navigating. The navigation works well, but the black and white screen can get a bit muddled when a lot of streets converge in a tight area.
Garmin Edge 1030 $599
Best for those wanting robust and on-the-fly navigation
- 59x114mm body
- ANT+, Bluetooth, WiFi, USB
- 282×470 pixel color screen
Do you need all these features? Well, do you need a high-end bike? This is pleasure and recreation, people. The Garmin Edge 1030 is the grand puba of bike computers, with every feature you can think of, plus a few dozen you don’t even know exist. Graphic display is exceptional, whether through various stock options or via Connect IQ apps.
Training data has virtually everything – more than you will use – especially when paired with Garmin’s Vector 3 power-meter pedals.
The big units displays up to ten fields per page of data, customizable on the fly by holding down any field on your screen and selecting another.
Navigation with the Edge 1030 is about as advanced as you can get on a dedicated bike computer, with detailed maps, proper turn-by-turn instructions and warnings for sharp bends. While an increasing number of bike computers can give good instructions once a file is loaded, or leverage your phone’s processor or internet connection for directions, the Edge 1030 works very well on its own to figure out routes when you punch an address into the unit.
After the Wahoo Elemnt spanked the Edge 1000 on battery life, Garmin upped its game considerably with the 1030, which will run 20 hours.
Compared to a smartphone, the screen isn’t as bright or responsive. But compared to other bike computers, it is superior. The size, price and performance offerings are all about as large as you can get for a cycling computer.
Lezyne Mega XL $199
Best for those hunting value in a full-featured GPS
- 58x78mm, 83g body
- USB, ANT+, Bluetooth
- 240×400 pixel black/white screen
Although better known and respected for its tools, Lezyne’s lights and computers are worth a look for the value.
In addition to all the usual metrics, the Mega XL has some cool features like visual indicators for the battery life of your phone and connected sensors like a power meter or heart-rate monitor. Notably, you can use the Mega XL in vertical or horizontal orientation.
When connected to your phone, you can incoming call/text/message app notification plus navigation through the Lezyne app.
Older Lezyne computers weren’t great with elevation; this one has GPS/GLONASS and a barometer, and my results have been much better.
The full pack comes with a heart-rate strap and cadence monitor, but the coolest thing is the X-Lock mount that mounts on extended stem bolts, effectively floating the computer in front of your bars without anything on your handlebar.
Battery life is a claimed 48 hours. I haven’t yet ridden that long, but I have yet to get anywhere near a low battery with this thing.
Best for those doing shorter rides who just want the GPS track
If your rides are two hours or less and you are primarily interested in capturing data for looking at later, like on Strava, instead of referencing it during a ride for navigation or training, then a phone works really well.
I’m not advocating strapping your phone to your handlebars. Come on, that looks silly. But with a your phone in your jersey pocket and a free app running, you can capture virtually all the same main points of data you can with a cycling computer. Beyond the GPS-based things like time, distance, speed, elevation, etc., you can also capture heart-rate and power data. You just can’t see it while you ride.
Roll Massif editor
Ben has been riding bikes and slinging stories since he was a paperboy. Professionally, he’s been a cycling journalist since 1999, when racing bikes and studying journalism at the University of New Mexico led to pulls at VeloNews, BikeRadar, Cyclingnews and elsewhere. After traveling the world to report on pro cycling in Europe and manufacturing in Asia, Ben is happy to be at home in Colorado, writing about the incomparable riding and the creative people who drive the cycling culture.