If you are using cycling as a training activity with various goals to be attained, then a bicycle speedometer is the best piece of equipment to use for data collection which you can analyze later. This is essential in helping you decide if you are making any progress. They are the best way to keep track of your bicycle speed, distance covered, pedaling speed and many others. More advanced units can tell you all kinds of useful information, such as your revolutions per minute of the cranks, trip distances, pre-planned trip distances, your heart rate, lap time, max speed, average speed, temperature. Many advance units also calculate pacer functions, which lets you know if you’re going faster or slower than your current average speed.
The best of these bicycle computers is that they offer real-time information when riding which makes you aware of your current performance. This will help you adjust your performance accordingly.
How they work
Bicycle speedometers use magnetic signals to detect the speed of the bicycle wheels. A magnet mounted on the bicycle spokes generates a signal when it passes another one referred to as a reed receiver, mounted on the wheel fork. The signal produced is transmitted to the speedometer head mounted on the bicycle handlebars where it is interpreted and readings are displayed on the screen.
Important features of Speedometers
Bicycle computers have improved a lot since the early days of cable operated analog speedometers. With today’s technological advancements, these important bicycle accessories come with a wide variety of useful functions. Some of the common features supported are:
- Distance: One of the most basic features is to keep track of the distance covered. This can be used as a means of tracking your training goals over time.
- Current cycling speed: Bicycle computers can calculate the speed at which you are cycling using the distance traveled and the time spent cycling.
- Average cycling speed: This represents your speed over the total distance covered during cycling sessions.
- Cadence: Cadence measures the revolutions per minute. It is used to determine the most efficient gear for the highest productivity.
- Clock: This feature helps you keep track of the time while cycling. Some speedometer even includes a reminder alarm feature.
- Stopwatch: this feature is useful in case of a time-bound ride.
- Highest speed: It indicates peak performance during training runs.
- Odometer: this feature keeps track of the total distance traveled on your bicycle.
- Altimeter: When training for a specific race, it is important to replicate the race conditions during training. Altitude has a lot of influence on cycling performance and a speedometer equipped with one will help you track your training altitude level.
- Types: When shopping for bicycle speedometers you will come across both wired and wireless speedometers. The price of speedometers depends upon type and features.
- Basic wired Speedometers: On the most basic level cycling computers record distance, speed, and time. They get the information from a speed sensor attached to the front fork that records the passing of a magnet attached to a spoke on the front wheel. Once the computer knows the circumference of the wheel and tire, it can generate speed and distance information based on the frequency that the magnet passes the sensor. These computers do not allow you to transfer your ride data to a computer or tracking service, and most will not store individual ride details. The connecting wires can be damaged while riding and are there one of the main drawbacks. The wired speedometer is cheaper than wireless versions.
- GPS based Wireless Speedometers: GPS is wireless internet. A GPS based speedometer tracks speed and distance using GPS. It is not compatible with any other sensors, so the available data field is limited. The advantage to a GPS-only device is primarily lower cost.
- ANT+: These speedometers get data from wireless sensors that use the ANT+ communication protocol. ANT+ is an open, standardized protocol used by hundreds of fitness accessory brands around the world.
- Bluetooth: With smartphone technology in raise so is Bluetooth Smart or Bluetooth Low Energy. Lots of units are starting to use Bluetooth as their main wireless connectivity and many alongside ANT+. The bonus of Bluetooth is that most new smartphones also have Bluetooth, and compatible apps can communicate straight from the computer to the phone with no extras needed.
- Smartphones: A smartphone can be used as a speedometer with the applications like Strava which tracks data in a similar fashion to GPS devices. The main drawback to using your phone is limited battery life. Beyond that, you will also need to purchase some type of case or mount to hold your phone while riding, and these can cost as much or more than a dedicated cycling computer. You also run the risk of destroying a very expensive phone in case you crash with a phone attached to your handlebars.
- Wired vs. Wireless: Using wired speedometer will give you results without the risk of interference. If you are ok with having wires running from the head unit at the bars to the sensors, then wired is just fine. Otherwise, choose a wireless. A wireless set-up will allow you to swap a computer between bicycles more quickly and easily than a wired system. With wireless speedometer, your bicycle will look a little prettier without the wires. Wireless systems can suffer from interference. The transmitter requires a battery or batteries as well as the head unit.
- Size and screen: Bicycle computers content should be visible enough so that you can just briefly glance down at the bars when you need to, without any prolonged looks. Day by day bicycle computers has been getting bigger. It means they require more space on your handlebars, or you’ll need a bigger out-front mount. So it’s very important to think about screen size and quality. There are some very small ones, but you need to make sure that you can cope with that small a screen. Ideally, choose a large clear display that is easy to read and shows more than one bit of information at once is essential.
- Buttons: All the available buttons should be placed properly on the device so that multiple buttons are not pressed simultaneously. They need to be positive in their action. They should be usable with gloved hands when riding in cold and wet.
- Map and Navigation: While riding unfamiliar terrain especially mountain riding it’s always good to know what coming next corner. It’s always better than barreling into a blind corner far too quickly. On-screen mapping is a pretty useful feature. The ability to glance down and see roughly where you are is vastly underestimated and can occasionally be really useful. In case of unfamiliar terrain, it can give you a general idea of whether you’re heading in the right direction.
- Head unit mountings: Head unit should be easy to fit and adaptable to suit all kinds of bar sizes and shapes.
- Sensor mountings: Sensors and mounts should be easy to fit and be able to cope with different sizes and shapes of frame or fork profiles.
- Magnet: Magnet is attached to a spoke. It triggers the sensor as it passes on every turn of the wheel. There may be some magnets which may not fit flat-bladed spokes.
- Backlight: If you need to ride in the dark then a backlight feature makes your screen more readable.
- Battery life: All your accessories and efforts will go waste if the battery is not fully charged or the speedometer battery life is bad. So choose a speedometer which has good battery life or low power usage.
- Multiple data screens: Data may be restricted to a single screen or several screens you can scroll through with the push of a button. Screen options may be fixed or customizable.
- Data transfer: Do you want to transfer data to training program software, website or a social fitness site? GPS models, including smartphones, cater to this.
- Readability: How easy to read is the screen data? Magnetic units have a fixed font size. GPS models may have the option to change font size. A small font that is easy to read while stationary may be blurred by road vibration when on the move.
- Additional mounts: Available for units that have multi bicycle functionality, aftermarket mounts can position the computer out in front of the handlebar. This is of benefit to cyclists losing near-distance focus. It also means less time with eyes averted from the road or trail when glancing down at the screen.
- Multi-bicycle use: Some units, typically the higher-end GPS models, can be swapped between 2 or 3 bicycles and save cumulative data for each bicycle in a separate file.