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Polar or Garmin and other bike GPS: which one to choose

Polar or Garmin and other bike GPS: which one to choose


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The cycle computer that is the history and evolution of what we used to call simply odometer. The enthusiast and the amateur cyclist know that in recent years technology has made giant steps forward and the object "bike computer" as well as other meters in the field of wellness have been hit by this wave of innovation such that it was unthinkable even just ten years ago, even more so if you consider that the classic odometer also has more than a hundred years of history behind it.

In this article I will try to list what the basic functions of a modern cycle computer, its pros (and cons too) and what they are the most important developments on the market so that those who intend to equip themselves or update their tool find one that is most suitable as possible for their personal use function.

Cycle computer: how it is born what its basic functions are

The odometer was born as a simple mechanical object that measures the number of rotations of the wheel (via a magnet affixed to the front fork) e sends the data to the analog meter which calculates the distance traveled according to the circumference of the front wheel. Those who have an odometer know that among the various set up options when setting the object, they must enter the value corresponding to the circumference of their wheel (examples: 26 ', 28' etc ..). It is clear that the classic odometer or "computerino" as we call it in jargon has been enriched and has allowed us to have simple but very useful data such as:

  • Instantaneous speed
  • Average speed
  • Distance traveled
  • Time spent on the bike
  • The mileage history in a given time
  • Time like any digital clock
  • Sometimes the altimetric barometer and the degree of humidity

This and little else. Some models before the hi-tech explosion already allowed data to be downloaded or made portable to other devices (computers) but otherwise we had stopped. The most passionate cyclist and attentive to his performance at the end of each year reset and expertly noted his data in a personal notebook which was the maximum in monitoring his performance. Now not only the functions have been enriched (and we will see it shortly) but also the data of the functions already present in the previous models are collected in another way (see GPS). On reflection, these are great developments which, however, should not deceive us: in my humble opinion for the exquisite psychophysical well-being deriving from the practice of sport the above data are more than sufficient (except for heart rate measurement) and perhaps superfluous if we don't make absolute performance our mantra.

Innovation and new functions: the GPS cycle computer

Probably and without the risk of being denied, the greatest innovation of recent years in the field of cycle computers has a very specific name: GPS. Today, all mid-to-high-end bike computers use this system. Through the Global Positioning System and the network of satellites in orbit it is easy to provide a mobile or GPS terminal with information on the geographic coordinates of that object in real time. Practically the extension of the concept of a satellite navigator translated onto its handlebars.

But let's think carefully about what has changed: no more magnet on the fork and detection and acquisition of the data in another form as regards instantaneous speed, average, time… etc. Nothing extraordinarily new like functions that were not present before two very interesting things:

  • navigation with gps: with a cycle computer equipped with an integrated navigator it is possible to follow gps tracks in the same way as the road directions provided by car navigators. If you think about it for a cyclist, therefore not a person who knows and often frequents the same routes, it was a revolutionary innovation in the field of hiking (obviously here I am talking about bikes but the same goes for other sports where the tracking and mapping part have it as master)
  • the live track: of course I will forgive my privacy but the security through the live track allows you to see, if enabled, to yourself but above all to others (and perhaps to a community such as that of strava) where I am going in real time. For an athlete it means always having their coach on their heels; for a sportsman it can become a tool for sharing their passions as well as a safeguard on the safety front as mentioned above.

The most modern cycle computers: the top functions for a sportsman

Although the GPS innovation can probably be considered the most important overall for the cyclocomputer object, it has a relatively functional impact with regard to sports performance and the data that are connected to it. Even in this more exquisitely competitive environment, cycle computers have been overwhelmed by a wave of innovations such as the following

  • heart rate detection: many cycle computers can be connected wirelessly to a chest strap, equipped with a sensor for detecting the heartbeat. This way you can keep your heart rate under control while pedaling. What is the advice or the mistake not to make? The bands are equipped with different standards so it is very likely that if you have a band and a heart rate monitor it is not certain that the band is compatible with the cycle computer and vice versa. The best known example is that of the market leader (Garmin) who developed its own wireless communication protocol ANT. Then always make sure you have equipment compatible with your computer.
  • power detection. Have you ever seen extensions / sensors present in the lower part of the frames of professional or high level cyclists? Here are those detectors or appendages present in the central transmission area of ​​the movement try to capture the mechanical torsions that occur at some point due to pedaling. It follows an estimate of the power expressed in watts expressed by the cyclist during the gesture. If you are a gym goer, these mechanisms are also present in electric exercise bikes and more recently also in spinning bikes to better monitor power but also pedaling frequency in real time and throughout the entire work session. and heart rate under exertion.
  • pedaling frequency detection: Modern cycle computers are equipped with a sensor to detect the pedaling cadence, which combined with the calculation of power and heart rate are the three main detectors to try to plan your work on the bike. Currently, the trend sees a reduction in the number of gears and an increase in pedaling frequency unlike what happened up to about twenty years ago.

From a purely aesthetic and user experience point of view, many current cycle computers use screens and dimensions similar to those of smartphones from which much of their evolution originates. Unlike the latter, however, there is still a small resistance to pure touch and there are often buttons that are undoubtedly more comfortable for use during sports. When I try to block the apps on my mobile phone with sweat-soaked hands, I am quite embarrassed and from them I understand better why you prefer some extra buttons in relief.

For some years now it has been increasingly fashionable share your workouts, their performance as well as the routes taken during their outings. A typical modus of runners but which has also invaded the people of bicycle road riders above all thanks to the introduction of data from the first hour by professional cyclists who attended school.

Is all this necessary for the amateur cyclist? I was skeptical but I admit that for the sake of fun it is very stimulating to share a passion with your community, perhaps more than simply focusing on lateral or unimportant data relating to performance alone. Obviously the social aspect it can be treated in two ways:

  • through the most recent smartphones that also act as cycle computers, and on which the usual apps such as Runtastic or Strava are installed, to name the most famous. Therefore we use both the cycle computer but also the smartphone that every cyclist always carries in the pocket of his rear uniform.
  • through the cycle computer itself: many high-end computers have these compatible features and allow to manage on a single instrumentationand everything the cell phone itself would do, so too Strava, Runtastic and their respective children.

Cycle computer: what elements to pay attention to for a good purchase

In the vast majority of cases, the most important elements for a good choice of a cycle computer are personal and depend on the use of the instrument itself: there are those most interested in the weight, those interested in GPS tracks and those suffering from the aesthetics of the object. In my opinion, however, there are two discriminating characteristics that an excellent computer cannot ignore:

BATTERY: the more complex and multifunctional the instrument is, the more it will be a cannibalizer of batteries, especially very interactive, colorful and excellent definition screens.

SIMPLICITY OF USE: personally I have to have a screenshot after I can clearly see no more than 3 or 4 data at the same time. I am not very interested in cartographic elements (interest that a cyclist can have) and I prefer to see on shot: cruising speed, pedaling frequency and heart rate at the maximum. Other data must be usable in no more than 3 other screens.

Cycle computer: an expanding market

Today, therefore, as we have just seen, the new cycle computer products are able to measure and track as well as analyze any type of data imaginable and it is certainly no surprise to know that they are considered essential for cyclists almost like clothing.

On the major online stores you can find hundreds of products and accessories for cycle computers starting from a few tens of euros for the basic models but already equipped with excellent functions and wireless mechanisms as well as tested for years. A wide choice with many brands known to enthusiasts such as:

Sigma Cycle Computer: the German company has been producing and selling specific products for years such as bike computers, gps, lights for front and rear bikes as well as for running. Its basic products are among the best known and if in particular you need a product with an excellent quality / price ratio but without too many pretensions in terms of advanced features, these products could be for you.

Polar cycle computer: the Finnish company has been known for years on the "cadio" market and its products show this peculiarity well. If you need a cycle computer with this function integrated, think about considering these models with the heart rate monitor integrated. Band that can be very useful even outside the outdoor bike context. The most advanced heart rate monitor models also communicate well with indoor bike apps such as that of Group Cycling (ICYFF - Indoor Cycling and Fitness Federation) and this allows you not to have to equip yourself with too many devices depending on your training.

Garmin cycle computer: is the market leader on the GPS side and its flagship products (Garmin Edge 1000) are equipped with very high definition maps and are compatible with various sensors that allow you to detect countless data on pedaling and the power developed. They continually improve in size and battery life. Prices suitable but not affordable for all budgets or at least not suitable for non-habitual and non-professional use. The most modern and advanced integrate systems of bike radar that signal the approach of vehicles on their monitor. If you want to know more about what they are, there is this useful guide from Garmin

On the market then there are other excellent brands such as Sportek Bryton, CatEye, Lezyne, Whoo and Xplova each with its own peculiarities in terms of price, battery, operating system, extra functions such as the camera and the aerodynamics of the interface.

By following the links indicated above you will find an abundant assortment of GPS and cycle computers for bikes so that you can evaluate prices and features.
Amazon shipments can take place within 24 hours and are often included in the price. And if you already have Amazon Prime you can take advantage of free and fast shipping for almost all items in the catalog.

Experts speak of a market in full evolution thanks to new data acquisition and presentation technologies. And to think that until a few years ago no one would ever have thought of carrying a real magic control unit on their wrist or handlebar.

Curated by Tullio Grilli

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Curated by Tullio Grilli



Video: Garmin vs. Apple Watch 2020 (July 2022).


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