Best Cycling Odometers

Updated October 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

30 Models Considered
24 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
180 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for shopping guide for best cycling odometers

Cycling odometers are a great way to keep track of data from your daily commutes, after-work group rides, and weekend adventures. They can provide a wealth of useful information depending on the type of cycling you’re interested in: basic speed and distance for the leisure cyclist, cadence and wattage for the serious competitor, and GPS mapping for the more adventurous.

If you’re simply interested in tracking your mileage or average miles per hour, a basic model will do the trick. If you’re looking to monitor your heart rate or track your revolutions per minute, a more advanced odometer might be a better pick. Manufacturers have come up with a wide selection of options to appeal to various categories of cyclists — which can make selecting the right model for your needs a bit of a challenge.

After looking at the full spectrum of features and functions offered, we’ve made some recommendations that cover a broad range of price and performance options. In the following buyer’s guide, we break down the critical components in more detail.

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How many functions do you need? If you’re just cycling for fun, the more basic your requirements, the cheaper the odometer.

Key considerations

A cycling odometer can be as simple as a speed and distance tracker or as complicated as a Bluetooth-enabled touchscreen GPS device. Despite the apparent complexity, you can break things down into three main specs: method of data acquisition, range of functions, and other features.

Method of data acquisition

At its most basic level, a cycling odometer functions by determining the speed of a bike and the distance of travel. Cycling odometers that are not GPS-based typically do this through the use of a magnetic sensor attached to the spokes of the front wheel, a receiving unit attached to the fork (often with zip ties), and a handlebar-mounted bike computer. Connection between receiver and computer is either via wire or wireless, and they are usually very easy to install. The receiving unit tracks the revolutions of the wheel in order to calculate speed and distance, which are then communicated to the computer’s display screen.

There are several important things to check when setting up your sensor:

  • The gap between the sensor on the wheel and the receiver on the forks is critical. Some bikes — particularly mountain bikes and fat bikes — have wider forks than standard. In some cases, these can be too wide for signal transmission. Finding the maximum gap in manufacturer data can be difficult, but customer comments will often help. If there has been a problem, someone is likely to have mentioned it.
  • If it’s a wired setup, check the length of that wire. Occasionally they are quite short, making them difficult to fit on tall bikes — like certain touring-style bikes, for example.
  • As with wire length, some wireless models have a limited range. The manufacturer usually provides figures so you can measure your bike before ordering.
     

The other alternative for data acquisition is a GPS odometer, which you simply attach to your bike’s handlebars — no sensor or receiver necessary. This variety of bicycle odometer is considerably more expensive than the sensor variety, but it can often pair with more gadgets if you want to know cadence, power output, heart rate, and more.

Range of functions

The most basic of the cycling odometers we looked at give you at least four functions: current speed, average speed, total distance covered, and time. Any features beyond that depend to some extent on how much you want to spend.

The following is an extensive list of what might be offered by a given odometer:

  • The maximum speed reached during your ride.
  • Your overall trip distance, which can be set at any point during your ride.
  • The elapsed time from a chosen point.
  • Temperature, wind speed, or weather.
  • Altitude (height above sea level), ascent (how much you’ve climbed), and grade (how steep the climb is).
  • Lap times.
  • Number of calories burned.
  • Cadence, or the rate at which you pedal. This is important to serious athletes, and it may require a separate device. The industry standard is called ANT+, which covers any wireless gadget that can transmit data to your odometer. Some use Bluetooth, but that does slightly restrict the available options.
  • Heart rate monitors can sometimes be added, though a separate ANT+ unit is required.
  • The latest development in personal performance monitoring is the power meter — another potential add-on. Functional Threshold Power (FTP) is the ability to sustain power over a given timespan. Additional data available via some power meters. It can also assess recovery rate so you know how long you should wait before similar exertion.
  • Direction indicator or compass, various maps (including full world map in a couple of cases), and turn-by-turn directions may be available on GPS models — much like the one in your car.
  • Mountain bike specific units exist that will record things like jump count, jump distance, and hang time. They can be switched to normal road use as needed.

Other features


Screen

Cheaper cycling odometers have a single screen, but that isn’t practical for advanced models — you couldn’t fit all the data on a single page. So, multiple screens are provided, scrollable at the touch of a button or via touchscreen technology. 

Most odometer units are controlled by buttons, but some high-end models have touch screens that make use easier while riding. Screen content is usually fixed, but on top models some customization is possible.

A backlit screen, often available on more complicated models, will allow you to read details in the dark. This can be especially important if you’re relying on GPS to get you where you’re going.

Battery life

On sensor models, battery life can be several years. GPS models run perhaps 10 hours or more before they need recharging. This can be extended by using data logging intervals. Rather than record continuously, data is taken in one-, two-, or five-second gaps.

In order to save battery power, many odometers have a sleep function and will shut themselves off after a given period of inactivity. To wake, simply start pedaling or turn the power back on.

Social media capability

With more advanced cycling odometers data can be saved, downloaded, and/or shared via social media. Smartphone compatibility gives a number of additional options, as do third-party apps. They offer extra training plans, enable downloadable routes, compare your performance with others, etc. Some cycling odometers will sync automatically. It’s important to check compatibility carefully.

Strava compatibility opens up a social network for athletes, providing advanced performance analysis and the ability to compete against other members.

Weather protection

You’ll see the bike computer unit described as “weather-resistant,” “weather-proof,” or “waterproof,” all of which are a bit vague. The only way to be sure is if the manufacturer has had them independently tested and provides an IP or IPX (Ingress Protection) rating. You can then check the numbers against a defined standard. If it’s not IP rated, it may offer the protection claimed, but there’s no guarantee.

Prices

You can get a budget cycling odometer for under $20. If you’re a casual leisure cyclist and don’t mind the wired connection, these offer information and entertainment. Added functionality can take the price up to about $30, and you’ll find a few wireless models at this price too.

Above $30 you’ll find a wide range of fully-featured wireless bike computers. At about $50, basic GPS models start to appear, though features are quite limited. Expect to pay $80 or more for more complex features.

High-end, multi-function GPS cycling odometers with features like cadence and the ability to add heart monitoring are mostly in the $200-$300 range.

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A good cycling odometer is like having a personal fitness trainer — it won’t let you lie to yourself about how fast you pedaled or how far you traveled. This can be a great motivator.

FAQ

Q. How accurate are cycling odometer calorie counters?
A.
It varies. If you have an ANT+ heart rate monitor paired with your odometer, this calorie count can be quite accurate. Without one, the unit is making a ‘“best guess.” The more information required — like weight and fitness levels — the more accurate the result. Relative speed over distance is used in order to calculate energy expended. In general, most cycling odometers overestimate calorie burn by around 20%.

Q. What’s the difference between a speedometer and an odometer?
A.
Strictly speaking, a speedometer measures how fast while an odometer measures how far. However, as you can see from our buyer’s guide, the majority of bike computers offer much more information than those two simple statistics.

Q. Will my cycling odometer need to be calibrated?
A.
Each model has certain setup routines that you need to follow carefully for accurate feedback. It’s not usually difficult (though on cheaper models, instructions can be poor). The main calibration factor is wheel size, which is how the computer calculates distance and therefore speed (based on wheel rotation).

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