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Speed, Distance and More: Keeping Track on the Road

We all like to know how fast and how far we're going when we're out on our training rides.

We all like to know how fast we’re going and how far we’ve gone when we’re out on our training rides. Remember the days when setting up a cycling computer seemed like an all-afternoon ordeal? Those days are long gone – now you can set up a wireless unit in just a few minutes that will provide los of great information for your next ride.

When you’re buying a computer, you need to ask yourself how much information you actually want and need during and after your rides. Sometimes it’s best to stick to the basics and get yourself a computer that offers speed, distance and time. From there the sky is the limit – computers can provide everything from that basic information to heart rate, altitude and power output. Here’s a look at a few of your computer options:

Speed Zone Elite Altimeter ($185)

Speed Zone Sport Wireless ($55)

These easy to use wireless computers are a breeze to set up and offer outstanding features and usability in a tiny package that mounts unobtrusively onto your handlebars or headset. Setting up either of the Speed Zone computers couldn’t have been any easier – you simply pull them out of the box and literally within a couple of minutes you’ll have either one set up on your bike and ready to go. We especially loved the easy calibration option, although we were hunting for one more wheel choice (650 x 19 c tires weren’t an option, which meant we had to measure the wheel circumference). Once you’re on your bike you’ll find the buttons are easy to use and the triple line readout provides lots of information. The more basic Speed Zone wireless offers lots of features including speed (including max and average), odometer a trip meter, a speed comparator and an auto timer. The Speed Zone Elite Altimeter costs a lot more, but offers an unbelievable amount of options that will keep even the most serious of cyclists happy. The barometric-based altimeter provides all kinds of information on altitude, elevation gain and per cent gradient slope – a mainstay for those who like to see how much climbing they’re getting done. All the other functions you’d expect in a high-end computer are included – time, temperature, current, maximum and average speed, odometer, trip meter, battery indicator and speed comparator. There’s also some add-on features that are extremely useful for serious trainers, who will no-doubt use the auto-stop feature and the lap and interval timers on a regular basis.

Cycle Computing X2DW ($100)

The 16-function X2DW is quite compact, but still has a nice sized screen that offers lots of information while you’re riding. It’s very easy to set up and quickly pairs up with the wireless mount so you can get on the road within minutes. You can use the X2DW on two different bikes and the odometer will actually provide total kilometers for bike one, bike two or both. You can even set the computer up for different wheel sizes on each bike, which makes this a great choice for keeping track of your mileage if you spend time on a road and mountain bike. The computer will actually automatically pair with whichever bike you’re on. Other features include current speed, maximum speed, trip counter and there’s also a clock, stopwatch and a comparison of current and average speed.

CS500 ($380)

It’s hard to imagine what else you could ask for in a cycling computer than you’ll find on Polar’s CS500. Known for its industry leading heart rate monitors, it comes as no surprise that the CS500 provides lots of heart rate information and can even pre-determine individual pulse-related target zones. That info is easy to see thanks the huge display that displays everything from speed (including average and maximum), cadence, altitude, per cent gradient, temperature, time, odometer, distance and, of course, all kinds of heart rate data that can even be broken down during intervals. There’s an auto start/stop function which makes it easy to accurately measure the time you’re riding, too, and you can set up three different bikes. One of the most innovative features of the CS500 is the way you can move through the various functions – you cycle through all the options thanks to a unique rocker switch on the unit. All you have to do is press on the side of the computer and you’ll quickly move to the next screen. Polar’s WIND engineering ensures easy transmission to both the speed and cadence censors and enables the CS500 to become a full-fledged power meter thanks to the optional Polar Output Censor, which used to only be an option on the higher end CS600 (which remains one of TMC’s favourite computers, but is now being closely rivaled by the CS500). While some might question the overall accuracy of the power numbers, we’ve found the power data on the Polar computers to be remarkably consistent, which makes it an outstanding training tool. There’s also an optional Polar Datalink device that will allow you to download your training data to Polar’s personal software program for those who want to keep track of all their training information. While the size of the CS500 might be a bit daunting for some, you’ll find little to ask for with this remarkably complete computer.

Joule ($549 with heart rate monitor)

Designed specifically to be used with power meters, the CycleOps Joule provides the ultimate in performance reporting opportunities. It is probably best suited to athletes who, well, love to analyze every aspect of their training rides. While you’re on your ride you can see, at any moment, power, heart rate, cadence, speed, time and other basic data. Once you get back homeĀ  the Joule provides a series of eight reports that are grouped logically in order to easily summarize your ride. (We did say it’s best suited to athletes who love to analyze their rides, didn’t we?) Each report can be compared to previous rides over time frames like two weeks, four weeks, eight weeks, six months and even a complete year. You can even compare those reports during your current ride. There’s even a dedicated workout and courses feature so you can keep track of your next interval. Triathlete Scott Bermon took the Joule on a training camp to Spain and came back with some positive feedback. “The dashboard is impressive,” Bermon says. “You can select any one of the metrics and have it displayed and the two associated values are displayed at the bottom. If you select heart rate (HR), for example, you’ll see max and average HR along the bottom.” Bermon also appreciated the ability to check out reports, even while still out on the ride and was especially impressed by the interval reporting, which showed averages for power and heart rate as well as duration and distance. He also liked the ability to pair the Joule with different sensors “so, when you’re heading out on your training ride you can select the training wheels sensor. Then, when you’re ready to crush the competition, pick the racing wheels sensor.” He also found the estimated 20 hours of battery life to be fairly accurate.