Cyclists are all too often left out of the wearable tech revolution, and while many of the latest GPS sports watches and fitness trackers claim to have a dedicated ‘bike mode’, few of these amount to anything more than a simple display of distance and time out riding.
Well, we cyclists deserve better. That’s why we’ve taken to the roads to test the crop of dedicated cycling wearables and devices on the market.
Essential reading: The big swimming tracker test
The modern info-hungry cyclist, just like today’s runner, demands the ability to track and absorb data whilst out riding, then to be able to log and share it when they return home.
The devices we have chosen in some ways are difficult to compare side-by-side, but as most people are likely to buy just one tracker, the winner of this test will be the device we deem most essential to the every day cycling fan.
I was initially sceptical of this diminutive device for two reasons: I prefer not to ride with an earphone in and I wasn’t sure if I really wanted a computer talking to me during my ride. But I was willing to give it a chance.
The Moov Now band straps around your ankle and communicates with your smartphone, so you’ll need to take this with you as you ride. Download the app as per the instructions, plug a single earpiece in, and as you set off, simply press Start. At this point you can tuck your phone away, or use a cycling mount so you can get a live visual readout of your progress.
Essential reading: Moov Now review
I set off and waited to hear from my cyber coach, intrigued by what it might tell me. Sure enough, upon passing the first kilometre I was briefly updated with how long I’d been riding, the average speed of the preceding kilometre and also my cadence.
Surprisingly, the updates weren’t too intrusive, even over a 100km ride, and I actually began to look forward to them. There was the odd interruption to the service and occasionally it would wildly miscalculate the cadence. This often meant that sometimes the useful advice about shifting gears would become flawed, telling me up switch up a gear in response to an anomalously low cadence, but on the whole it worked fine, and it’s useful advice for beginners.
I was extremely impressed with the Moov, when you consider the price, you get a superb digest of stats, normally reserved for much more expensive gear.
Once home, you can digest your ride on the app where the data is dissected and reconstructed for you. I got on really well with the Moov, but my phone died after 76km, so do note that it uses a lot of juice and make sure you charge your battery before setting out.
Polar has been making gadgets for cyclists for as long as I can remember, and the M450 is one of its latest offerings. The sleek, simple head unit is the centre of a system that collects data from a number of sensors on the bike as well as the GPS and the heart monitor strapped to your chest.
The M450 looks great on the bike and it’s possible to match it to your colour scheme by swapping the LCD surround. The heart rate strap adjusts easily and is suitably comfortable and the signal was received right away. When you set off for a ride, just press the red button on the top to start your activity – although this isn’t easy if you are wearing gloves as it lies flush with the fascia.
There are six screens to flick through which show speed, altitude and heart rate but what I really wanted was to see all this data on one screen, and I didn’t enjoy cycling through menus to find the desired information. The basic LCD display is also a little old-fashioned and this absence of immediate feedback is certainly a downside.
With a lack of information on the ride I expected big things from the app when I got home and I wasn’t disappointed. The Polar Flow app and website are excellent and the analysis, dissection and plotting of the data is stunning. Once you’ve explored all the options on the Polar site, you can also further analyse your ride by sharing it with other services such as Strava if you wish.
Promising phone-free tracking thanks to its built-in memory, the TickrX chest strap can be used alone or together with a phone or smartwatch if you want to gather more information.
Once you have the strap adjusted, and the device is attached to the terminals on the band, it immediately begins to record – not ideal if you’re not actually outside and ready to set off on your bike yet. The way to get past this problem is to use the unique double tap feature to segment a workout. Once on the bike, simply tap the unit twice to stop and again to start recording. You do have to trust it’s recognised your commands though as it offers no feedback.
Essential reading: Wahoo TickrX review
There are two LEDs on the front, confirming HR recording and letting you know if there’s an ANT+ or Bluetooth connection. For peace of mind it would certainly benefit from a third LED or basic audio alert to say if it’s recording or not.
If you don’t take your smartphone along for the ride, the Wahoo TickrX will only record time, heart rate, calories burnt and cadence, so for the data hungry cyclist I’d always recommend packing your handset to add GPS data such as accurate data and speed into the mix. If you’re willing to use a handlebar mount you can start and stop your workout and get more feedback via the app.
The TickrX represents a straightforward and reasonably priced device to collect basic data, but the other products in our test captured more data about our ride and the Wahoo may fall short of expectations for real data nuts.
Garmin Edge 520
Garmin really moved the goal posts when it came into the cycle computer market and this, the latest in the Edge 500 range, carries on the company’s tradition of excellence.
You don’t need to take your phone along for the ride as GPS is built into the unit and you attach it to your handlebars using the supplied stem mount.
You can buy a bundle with a heart rate chest strap to feed in all the biometric stuff as well as a speed and cadence sensor for an extra $100. We just tested the Garmin Edge 520 without these sensors, but added an ANT+ Garmin chest strap, which can be picked up cheaply. Serious cyclists can add the Vector sensor into the mix, which tracks power through the pedal, balance and advanced cycling metrics, if you’re willing to spend another $1,000.
When you head out for the first time, there’s a series of simple calibration tasks to perform before you head out on your first ride, adding the usual height and weight details. If you’re using a chest strap, you’ll pair it at this point.
The sheer amount of data this tiny head unit can display is outstanding, as well as being clear and simple. The screen customisation is really handy, for getting the right mix of data in your eye line. I proceeded to pack the display with 10 data fields before I realised that perhaps this was overkill and settled on six: current speed, average speed, altitude gained, time ridden, distance covered and heart rate. There’s no cadence or power built in, which means that it falls behind the Moov in terms of data breadth, although the performance was much more reliable.
Out on the road the heart rate strap was comfortable and the Garmin Edge 520 performed flawlessly. Once home, you have the choice of uploading to the Garmin Connect site or a social media platform of your choice. Another huge boon was being able to hook into Strava Segments live from the device, which adds that competitive element into your ride.
On paper these glasses look like the ultimate cycling wearable – but how does the Recon Jet perform out on the road?
Before you ride in them you should familiarise yourself with the controls, get used to the screen, and make sure you know how to scroll through the various features. There’s an app to complement the headset but mapping and GPS are all built in so there’s no need to take your phone with you.
There are five functions to scroll through: music, camera, riding stats, mapping and a compass. The riding stats screen has four clear fields that display current speed, altitude gained, calories burnt and the pitch of the road.
Heading out through London’s streets I felt incredibly self-conscious wearing them and got more than a few stares from other cyclists. The glasses do take some getting used to whilst riding, not so much glancing at the screen, but the restrictions they place on your field of vision.
You lose a large chunk of sight out of your right eye and when looking over your right shoulder to manoeuvre around an obstacle, as you turn your head to look behind you see nothing but black. I had to try and look below them to see if a vehicle was approaching and only just about managed it. This is a major flaw, however, on the continent it wouldn’t be as bad as you’ll be looking over your left shoulder and there isn’t as much to block your vision on that side.
Although the display was sufficiently visible, if heading into the sun it suffered, and I failed to see any advantage it presented over looking at a standard handlebar mounted computer. While in the future the Recon Jet may well replace more traditional devices, it doesn’t feel quite ready yet.
Verdict: Garmin Edge 520
As you’d expect, the Polar M450 and Garmin Edge 520 are best suited for hardcore cycling, which is no real surprise as both companies have been making such devices for many years. For long rides the seamless and reliable data from the Garmin and extensive battery life makes it an essential companion, with plenty of room to add sensors as your needs change.
However, special mention should go to Moov Now as a product that surprised us in our testing. Better suited for shorter rides, the coaching elements offer something different to any cycling tracker out there, and with its mix of detailed stats and low price, I’d definitely give that another go.