Even a cheap GPS cycling computer can record where you've been on your ride, logging your speed and other data every second or so, and providing you with a rich and complete log of each bike trip.
The best cheap GPS cycling computers are easy to use, reliable and can even provide you with maps and navigation help.
The functions of a cheap GPS cycling computer are useful whether you're training and want to track effort and hills against speed, or whether you're exploring and want to know where you've been. There are probably as many ways of using GPS on a bike as there are cyclists.
Even a basic cheap GPS cycling computer can record your rides in far more detail than a standard computer
Many cheap GPS cycling computers have a 'back to start' function that'll help get you home if you get lost
You don't get maps and full car-satnav style directions with many cheap GPS cycling computers, but some have rudimentary breadcrumb navigation that can help you find new routes
If you also want fitness data, pick up a cheap GPS cycling computer that can read heart rate or even power from ANT+ or Bluetooth sensors
GPS-enabled bike computers work by picking up signals from a network of satellites that orbit the earth at an altitude of about 20,000km. These Global Positioning System satellites use atomic clocks to transmit time and position very accurately. A GPS receiver uses the signals from several satellites to work out its position to within five metres.
US-based company Garmin dominates the field of GPS-enabled cycling computers, partly because it has a wide range of good quality products, partly because it was first to market with the Edge 205 and 305 models in 2006.
As GPS receiver chips have become more widely available in the last few years, more manufacturers have entered the market. GPS-enabled computers are available from traditional bike computer makers such as CatEye and Sigma, as well as new players like Lezyne, Bryton, and Mio.
If you have multiple bikes, a big advantage of GPS computers is that you can swap them from one to another without faffing changing set-up.
There are two types of GPS bike computer. Less expensive units use GPS to replace the sensors of a traditional bike computer and display data such as speed, trip distance and time, as well as recording your ride for later analysis.
More expensive GPS units have full satellite navigation functions, with map display and turn-by-turn navigation of a preset route, or one the computer generates on the fly.
Some GPS units are able to pick up signals from heart rate monitor straps and on-bike sensors to log additional data such as heart rate and cadence.
You can get started with on-bike GPS logging for as little as £50 if you shop around. Mapping GPS units start around £150 because of the larger screen and battery and more sophisticated electronics.
We have one of these very modestly-priced units on test and first impressions are good. The interface is straightforward, it gets a location fix quickly and it works with ANT+ sensors, including power, which is unusual for such a cheap GPS. With Coospo's Android & iPhone app you can have it send your rides straight to Strava, though it's slightly odd that the app is the only way to download your ride data from the device.
Despite its very modest price, this new base model from Bryton picks up signals from just about every constellation of navigation satellites up there: GPS, Galileo, GLONASS, BDS and QZSS. It has a built-in barometric altimeter and works with Bluetooth LE sensors for speed, cadence and heart rate.
An excellent price for a modern ride-recording GPS with a barometric altimeter and a nice big clear display.
If you want a bigger screen that displays more data at any given time, this inexpensive unit could be just what you're looking for.
If you just want to log your rides then this GPS watch from French sport store giant Decathlon provides a basic set of GPS functions, has a built-in heart rate monitor (and works with a Bluetooth Smart heart rate strap), communicates with your Android or iOS phone and outputs GPX files so you can upload to Strava or your other favourite activity website.
If you're one of those strange multi-sport types, you can use it for running too.
The Bryton Rider 420E is a competent and compact GPS computer that packs in a lot of tech for its diminutive size and small price. It has excellent battery life too.
With no colour touchscreen, detailed maps or wi-fi, the Bryton might seem a little bit lacking in this day and age. If you want a computer that is simple to set up, use and that works with all of your ancillary devices, though, you won't really be disappointed.
The Rider 420E is a top-notch unit. It feels well built and is certainly durable – it got dropped a few times just to see how it would cope with a crash and there isn't a single mark on the body or screen. As far as the software goes, that worked flawlessly too. I haven't had the unit crash on me when out riding, and all the uploads have been taken care of without issue.
Currently widely discounted, Garmin's Edge 130 offers a lot of performance in a small package, with ANT+ and Bluetooth sensor and smartphone connectivity, decent battery life, an easy-to-use button-controlled layout and, perhaps best of all, an absolutely pin-sharp display. You don't get fully fledged navigation like the pricier Garmin models but the basic setup is usable if that's not your top priority.
Garmin's GPS computers have been getting bigger and more feature-packed over the years, but the Edge 130 Plus harks back to the iconic 500. It's not only compact, but the stripped-back features focus on offering the core functions and fewer superfluous ones that, in my opinion, have been bloating some of the bigger and pricier Garmins at the expense of solid reliability.
As far as we know this is the cheapest bike-specific GPS with map display. It has a touchscreen too.
It uses Open Street Map files for its mapping, which helps keep the cost down. This open source mapping effort has improved in leaps and bounds in the last few years, but it's still not quite as good as Ordnance Survey maps. For this price, though, you really can't grumble.
The downside is that the Cyclo 210 has no ANT+ or Bluetooth connectivity so you can't hook up cadence, power or heart rate sensors and you have to use a cable to connect to your PC to upload rides to Strava and the like. If you can put up with that limitation, though, this is a good-value, capable little GPS.
The Edge Explore is something of an outlier in Garmin's range of GPS-enabled computers in that it's focused on touring, just going for a ride and, as the name suggests, exploring, rather than fitness and training. That means it has a nice big map display, an excellent touchscreen and ANT+ and Bluetooth sensor compatibility, except for power meters which recreational riders are assumed not to use. Garmin has also stripped out a load of other fitness and training-related features like Strava Live segments and training metrics like FTP and VO2Max.
If you're not fussed about training and fitness, the Edge Explore is a really good cycling GPS with a big screen and nicely-executed navigation for a very sensible price.
The Polar M460 is a nifty little device with plenty of advanced features, a very good companion app in Polar Flow, and great Strava integration. You can get it for £158.99 with a chest-strap heart rate monitor, or grab this version for a bit more with Polar's highly-regarded optical armband. Oddly, it's not ANT+ compatible (though the OH1 is, go figure), but since there's now a vast range of sensors that do both ANT+ and Bluetooth that's not as much of a downside as it once was.
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John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.