If you’re not using a GPS device to record your ride then you’re missing out on a fun aspect of cycling. Keeping track of routes and ride data can be interesting and help make you a better cyclist. I used to manually enter all my ride data into a website so I could keep track of my mileage, it wasn’t very time consuming but very prone to error and forgetfulness. Now it’s nearly automatic thanks to wild inovations in technology that seem almost like magic to my early 90s brain.
So I’ve assembled a small collection of various GPS devices that correspond to the major types available and I’m going to give what I believe are the pros and cons of each type.
GPSmap 60CSx, Handheld
The grandfather clock of GPS units. This is actually a great unit, very high end for its time but the technology is definitely dated. That being said it’s by far the most capable GPS unit I’ve ever used and is still great today. The color screen is easy to read in daylight, the unit is very accurate and can be used in just about any capacity, dedicated geocaching, all kinds of maps via a microSD card, it’s even got turn by turn directions if you install Streets and Maps. Probably the best feature, extreme durability, trust me on this, I’ve really abused this thing and it still works perfect.
So why don’t I use this all the time? Size, bike mount, and connectivity. The Garmin bike mount for this unit is horrible, I’ve had the unit pop out and hit the ground on small bumps. I’ve never even tried it mountain biking. The large size of the unit means that it takes up alot of space on your handlebars. Another issue is this unit lacks compatibility with Garmin Communicator meaning that all rides must be manual downloaded from the machine then uploaded to Strava.
Finally there is no wireless connectivity in these kinds of units, no heart rate or speed/cadence sensor, pretty much breaks the deal for anyone using it for training. I’ve mainly used it in a camelbak or rear pocket on rides when I need the mapping. The maps on this thing have saved me many times.
Edge 500 Cycling
The Edge 500 is the gold standard for bicycle GPS units. It’s light, small and has lots of features that make it ideal for training. Ant + heart rate, speed and cadence and power meters for the really serious. I bought this unit because I wanted a great cycling computer with sensors for indoor training and that’s what I got. The custom screen setups are great when you’re doing intervals and want a page for lap times and heart rates. Its small size is just right for handlebar mounting, and it works flawlessly.
It’s not perfect though, there is zero mapping function, not even a track map, which is usually not to useful but can be really handy in the woods. The buttons are on the small side and not always easy to hit. Probably the biggest complaint is the stock mount. The rubber O rings are super easy to install, but the unit isn’t firmly attached to the stem making it kind of squirm when you try to push buttons. Many custom mounts are available though.
Lastly I do not use this for mountain biking, it’s just too expensive to have hanging there on the front my handlebars. Way to much chance of getting knocked off, lost, and destroyed, plus the dirt and water is a bad idea.
Forerunner 205 Running
The Forerunner is a watch style GPS and my most recent addition. There are many options available in this category from the stripped down 205 to a fully fuctional Fenix. The watch style is by far the most versatile, the wrist mount can easily adapted to a handlebar mount that is very secure. The forerunner 205 can not connect to a Ant+ devices which is a big letdown for training, but for a bit more money there are models available with full Ant+ like the 305.
The biggest drawback is probably screen size, which is not really only small compared to the full size models.
Iphone or android and Strava
Perhaps the cheapest and easiest option is using the Strava App on a smartphone. I have an iphone that is not connected to cell provider but it still makes a great cycling computer, and lots of other stuff. There are all kinds of mounts available for these, I’ve never bought one, but they range from totally crap to really great depending on how much you want to pay. I used the iphone in a pocket or camelbak while mountain biking for a long time and it works great in that capacity. Using it on the bars would has problems with battery life and durability. THe iphone isn’t ant+ compatible without additional hardware so don’t plan on using for your indoor training.
For awhile I used a 30 dollar android phone that someone gave me and though it wasn’t to responsive it would run strava for about 4 hours, probably the cheapest way to get GPS records of your rides.
So what should you get?
The simple answer is the Edge, since it’s designed for cycling, but there is more to the answer than that. The edge may not be the best for you.
In my mind the ultimate Sport GPS is the wrist mounted unit. Wrist mounting is the most versatile since you can wear it for swimming, running, walking, and mountain biking. With an simple handlebar adapter you have an excellent cycling computer. If I could have only one GPS it would be a wrist unit with Ant+
If mapping is a concern Garmin has finally released an affordable solution with the Edge Touring. A dedicated cycling computer withing maps like the Edge 800 and 1000 series was way to expensive. Now the Edge Touring and Touring plus offer great mapping and routing capabilities at a good price. the 250 dollar Edge Touring is a fantastic value.
I highly recommend tracking your rides on a GPS, it’s fun and having the data collected on a service like Strava is amazing and just keeps getting better as you add more data. If you can’t afford a dedicated GPS then use your smartphone and strava app!