You’d think that GPS (Global Positioning System) is something that is linked only to your car and to automotive navigation. But those passionate about biking, especially mountain biking, know how important it is to have a GPS device with you. There are so many roads in the mountains or anywhere you’re travelling that you definitely need a bike GPS or at least a bike GPS app to have peace of mind.
Of course, if you are going with your bike in the mountains or even hiking, then you definitely need to learn how to master a map and a compass. Don’t get me wrong, I support the evolution of technology and all the goodies that come along with it, but there are important drawbacks so far, such as the poor battery life. A map and a compass don’t have a battery, so if you’re a true survivor in the wild, then learn to efficiently use them before jumping to bike GPS devices and apps.
Things to consider before buying a bike GPS device
If you have the money and if you’re looking for a dedicated device to help you in your orientation, then a standalone bike GPS is the right solution. Besides doing the traditional things of providing a complete and detailed map and other navigational options, some bike GPS units can even monitor your heart rate, count calories, compare personal stats, provide climbing & descent data, and cadence.
Since, most likely, your bike GPS device will run on its own battery, you have to be extra-careful about its life span. If you’re a mountain biker or you’re just roaming around in unknown territories, you might get caught in rain or some bad weather. Therefore, your bike GPS has to be water-resistant in the first place and also highly resistant to shocks. Since you’ll be mounting your GPS unit to your bike, you need to know for sure that it is attachable to your bike and how well it mounts to your bike’s handlebars.
You’d also want to have a bike GPS device that is really easy to use and is very intuitive, as well as a good customer support. Manuals, tutorials, user forums, frequent updates of maps, FAQs and customer service are of top notch priority. Also, as SingleTracks correctly observes, bike GPS devices are very useful for your own safety:
The track log feature on a GPS is essentially a digital breadcrumb in case you get lost. Most mid-range units allow you to “back track” over the route you traveled, a great feature for an out-and-back trail. You can also mark landmark points (called waypoints) such as where you parked your car (always a good idea). If you find yourself lost you can navigate back to any waypoint via a straightline route and you can even see how far you are from that point. Because waypoint navigation is given as a straight line, as-the-crow-flies direction, you’ll want to make sure you have plenty of waypoints marked so you can travel from one to the next without doing too much trailblazing.
Also, don’t make the confusion of thinking that a bike GPS device is actually a bike GPS tracker. The latter will help you find your lost or stolen bike. One such device that we’d recommend is the recently Kickstarter funded BikeSpike which works as a traditional bike GPS and also alerts your dear ones in case of a crash and also helps your recover it if it gets lost or stolen. Some bike GPS devices might have these functions, as well but there aren’t so many of them. Besides all that I’ve mentioned, there are some other important things that you should consider before getting a bike GPS, such as:
- The price: set a maximum amount you can afford for your bike GPS, but don’t get cheap if you’re really passionate about biking and you want some extra features to go along with your fun. If you go biking once or twice in a few months, then it doesn’t make sense to get a bike GPS and to spend money on it. If this is something that you do often, then it’s better to save money and to get something professional.
- Size, weight, design: how big you want the screen to be and do you like a heavy or light device? You’ll also want to have a bike GPS device that’s not ugly, with an appealing design. A color screen is almost a must, because it’s easier to look at and understand routes. And most likely, you’ll want your bike GPS device to be as light as possible.
- Screen type: do you want a touch screen or a non-touch screen bike GPS device? A touchscreen is more advantageous because it allows you to input text faster than traditional screens. However, they are more difficult to see under bright sunlight and they also don’t behave ok in colder temperatures and most likely, you’ll need bare fingers to input (unless the screen allows you to wear gloves). The traditional screen of a bike GPS seems like a better solution and it also eats less battery life. But if you input a lot of text, then touchscreen is your solution.
Best Bike GPS devices
We’ve tried getting into consideration all the above mentioned details, we have looked at bike GPS ratings online in order to find the best ones there are currently on the market. We’ve given a special attention to bike GPS brand series instead of enlisting only individual devices, to make it easier for you to search. It’s pretty hard to say which are the best, so all the brands that we’ve gathered here deserve your attention. The first four are, what we consider to be the leaders in this branch but you may say something else depending on your personal experience. Without further ado, here is our list of suggested bike GPS devices for you to consider buying.
Garmin is one of the best companies to look at when buying your next car GPS. They retain their reputation when it comes to cycling GPS devices, as well. The Edge series of bike GPS devices is one of your first choices, without a doubt. Some older models are discontinued on Garmin’s website, but you can still find them on Amazon. Prices range from $130 to almost $500. But besides Edge, Garmin has so much more bike GPS devices, that’s virtually impossible to cover them all. Look for them on Amazon, as well.
DeLorme is another experienced company in making satellite tracking devices. Its Earthmate series encompasses handheld GPS devices that aren’t meant only for biking, but are perfectly suitable for that. While Garmin’s Edge devices have cheaper models, Earthmate seems to be in comparison like Porsche to BMW, having currently only bike GPS units at around $450.
I have recently bought a GPS device for my car and I opted for a Mio-branded one, being advised by my friends. So far, so good. Only later did I discover that they also have cycling GPS devices and that they are quite appreciated. What’s special about Mio’s Cyclo devices is that they come in small sizes, from 1.8 to 3 inches. Prices range from 170 euros to 400.
Just like DeLorme’s Earthmate series, Magellan’s eXplorist handheld GPS devices aren’t meant only for biking and can be easily used by virtually anybody that has is passionate by an outdoor sport. The eXplorist bike GPS units also have a pretty small screen size, but it’s just perfect for your bike’s handlebars. Prices range from $130 to $500.
The brands from the list below are not meant to be considered worse than the above mentioned, just that according to your research, the above mentioned brands are better appreciated. If you feel like you can make a contribution to evaluating every brand, feel free to do so in the comments section.
Bike GPS apps for your mobile device
With bike GPS apps it’s much easier, of course. Creative developers have worked on GPS apps to be used especially when you go biking. It’s not even worth talking about the disadvantages of a bike GPS app versus a dedicated device, it’s obvious that the latter is much more useful.
However, if you don’t have the money at the moment or if you think your smartphone can also act as a bike GPS, then you should give a try to the following mobile apps. Please note that some of these bike GPS apps won’t work exactly as your standalone GPS device, meaning that some of them might be just apps that, for example, compare your results with others or apps that just measure your heart rate. If you know some reliable GPS bike apps, then let us know in the comments section.