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A detailed comparison of the top cycling GPS units
Garmin vs Bryton vs Magellan vs Wahoo
Differences, specs, prices and our personal thoughts
What is the best bike GPS? Why a GPS device? Among the many bicycle travelers we met, most use a mobile phone for navigation, we think though that a real bike GPS is definitely a great companion for a bicycle adventurer, almost a must.
This blog article aims to give some reasons and guide you through the choice of the perfect bike GPS computer for your need.
There are many smartphone apps, also very valid, some have a vertical learning curve (such as Oruxmap) while others are much simpler, featuring only the basic functions. A well-balanced example is Komoot (that we have tested extensively).
However we traveled for years, cycling more than 30,000 kilometers, with a Garmin GPS device and when, after years of mistreatment, we lost it, we felt lost too. Garmin certainly makes some of the best cycle computers in the world but there are also valid alternatives.
Let’s dive into the “why” you should get a GPS for your travels or bike trips, what are the main features to keep in mind, and the list of the best bike GPS models to date.
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Why a bicycle GPS device
The first reason is undoubtedly the battery life, at least for the type of use that we make of it; if you only use your smartphone and you are in a big city or in unfamiliar roads you will be forced to consult the map often with the consequence that the phone’s battery, however good it may be, will be drained in a very short time.
It is not always easy to find a place to recharge, especially if you are camping in the wild. Of course, there are battery packs or portable solar panels that can guarantee you a few days of battery life… but nothing will be comparable to the life of a GPS cycle-computer, which can reach up to 72 hours of juice in constant use.
Another reason, which for some might not be so important but it’s vital to us, is the ability to save the tracks you rode with a high degree of detailed data. While most apps will allow you to do that, again you’ll struggle with the life of your phone’s battery, since recording tracks is a consuming activity. Of course, routes can also be imported from external devices, PCs, phones, tablets, or fellow GPS computers.
Moreover, not less important, the GPS devices for outdoor use are almost indestructible, our Garmin fell several times from the mount on the handlebars in particularly bad roads, and a couple of times after the fall we also passed on it with the fully loaded bike, about 50 kilos, it has always survived and continued functioning properly.
Fourth reason: even under the pouring rains of South East Asia, most cycling GPSs do not need any special protection, being tested to be completely immersed in water or at least for full water-resistance. Let’s say the same can’t be told about smartphones, except or some heavy-duty models.
So, in summary, the strengths of GPS for bikes are:
- battery life;
- resistance to falls, impacts, and accidents in general;
- possibility to save, record and share tracks.
The only flaw of almost all GPS cycle computers is the screen scrolling sensitivity. Even on the most modern touch-screen devices, the responsivity is way far from the cheapest smartphones. With the difference though that they can be used even when wet or with gloves on. Besides this, touchscreens tend to wear out after a long (very long) use.
It was so with our Garmin Oregon 400T, that we bought second-hand and used daily for at least 3 years. We paid 80€ but, in the long run, it was worth much more. No phone would never have lasted that long.
Pro tip: use apps on smartphone or PC to create routes and itinerary, then import it to your GPS device and follow the track, or do your choices on the run.
How to evaluate waterproofness and resistance of GPS devices
Looking around to choose your next GPS you will often find yourself reading the data on the impermeability and resistance of the device in question.
To get an idea of what those letters and numbers mean, let’s start by saying that there are two parameters to measure the resistance of the device; one concerns the resistance to the impact with solid bodies, the other the protection from liquids. In both cases, you will find the acronym “IPX” followed by a number.
IP is the name of the standard developed by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) to determine the resistance of an electrical device to freshwater and common materials such as dirt, dust, and sand.
The first digit after IPX is the classification that the IEC has assigned to a unit for its resistance to solids. In this case, the maximum level is 6, which means that no “harmful” dust or dirt has penetrated the GPS after being in direct contact with the material for eight hours. In particular:
- IPX1: protection from contact with a large surface, such as the back of a hand, but no protection against intentional contact with a part of the body;
- IPX2: protection against small objects, including fingers;
- IPX3: protection against tools, such as screwdrivers, thick wires or similar objects;
- IPX4: protection from most wires, screws, and nails;
- IPX5: partial protection from contact with harmful dust, ie the powder is able to penetrate into the device but will not be able to compromise its operation;
- IPX6: total protection from contact with harmful dust – in this case, dust cannot enter the device.
As for the resistance to water, whether it is using the GPS in the rain or unluckily drop it into the lake, the meaning of the classification codes is this:
- IPX1: Protection against water dripping vertically on the device;
- IPX2: Protection against vertically dripping water when the device is inclined at an angle up to 15 °;
- IPX3: Protection against direct splashes of water when the device is inclined at an angle up to 60 °;
- IPX4: Protection against rain and splashes of water regardless of direction and inclination;
- IPX5: Protection against low-pressure water sprayed by a nozzle with a diameter of 6.3 mm;
- IPX6: Protection from water fired in powerful jets by a nozzle with an opening of 12.5 mm in diameter;
- IPX7: Protection against immersion in water at a maximum depth of 1 meter for a maximum of 30 minutes;
- IPX8: Protected from immersion in water at a depth of more than 1 meter (the manufacturer must specify the exact depth at which the device is not damaged).
Here the list of the best GPS for bikes, with all their technical characteristics, you can use the filters to find the model that best meets your needs and check the price. If you have other models to suggest, contribute to the comments section at the end of this article!
Handheld Hiking GPS that are good for cycling
For the most adventurous bike tourers, it might be really worth considering to buy a hiking/hybrid GPS device. While those are not specifically designed for cyclists, they usually have all the basic functions needed in the wild, plus an added versatility, sturdiness, and, last but not least, longer battery life.
Of course, these units don’t have any training and workout stuff, are not aerodynamic at all, and are usually heavier than cycling dedicated GPS computers… but should the bike tourer really mind about this?
Garmin eTrex 20x
A great classic of the Garmin series, the etrex 20x model is the most basic Garmin outdoor GPS. It detects both GPS and GLONASS satellites with excellent precision and speed. You will find already loaded Garmin maps of your area (ie. Western Europe); with BaseCamp it will then be possible to plan routes, view and share maps, and then transport them to PC in 2D or 3D. The screen is in color, very clear and bright.
The 2 AA batteries needed are not included, with good Panasonic Eneloop the charge reaches 25 hours, which is why it is an excellent product for those traveling by bike while camping in nature, without the possibility to recharge for at least a few days.
Compatible with Open Street maps, here are several guides to help you download and install. This device has no altimeter or compass sensor, there’s a basic compass function operating on GPS signal.
PROS: Cheap, sturdy, no touch screen, waterproofness IPX7
CONS: No altimeter, only hardware connectivity (USB 2)
Who is this for?
The eTrex 20x is the ideal GPS device for those with a limited budget. Also, if your rides are mostly flat, or you simply are not interested in the altitude data, you won’t miss the altimeter.
The price is around 180$. Check the latest price using the button below.
|Garmin eTrex 20x||2 AA NiMH batteries – up to 25h||Internal memory 4GB, microSD card slot, No altimeter||Display 2,2″ Hi.Res, 65K colors|
Garmin eTrex 30x
The Garmin eTrex 30x GPS is a durable and waterproof device with a 2.2-inch 65K anti-glare color screen.
The new electronic compass works perfectly even when stationary or inclined, add the very precise altimeter and you’ll have covered most of the differences between this device and its little brother eTrex20x.
The eTrex series, like most of the latest Garmin models, can detect both GPS and GLONASS satellites simultaneously. The eTrex 30x already contains the new Garmin TopoActive map of Western Europe.
You can share routes and geocaches wirelessly with other users, only on Garmin devices.
PROS: relatively cheap, sturdy, no touch screen, waterproofness IPX7, compass, barometric altimeter
CONS: only hardware connectivity (USB 2)
Who is this for?
The eTrex 30x is a complete GPS device, doesn’t cost an eye, and has all the basic functions a bike tourer might need, no fuss. For those who want a solid and reliable device.
The price is around 250$. Check the latest price using the button below.
|Garmin eTrex 30x||2 AA NiMH batteries – up to 25h||Internal memory 4GB, microSD card slot. Altimeter, Compass||Display 2,2″ Hi.Res, 65K colors|
Garmin Oregon 600 and 600t (or 650 and 650t)
This Garmin, taking advantage of the reception of multiple satellites, ensures accuracy and speed of location even in harsh environments. The Garmin Oregon 600 includes the new shaded Garmin base map that allows a very intuitive interaction.
Additional features that justify the price (about 400$) are:
Excellent touchscreen, one of the best around, which guarantees the normal use of the device even if you are wearing gloves. Being designed for outdoor life, both for those traveling by bike and for hikers, it does not create any problem when used under the bright sunlight and in the case of rain and dusty roads. The 3″ screen support multitouch and dual orientation.
The device supports the Garmin proprietary dual-battery system, which means it can work both with 2AA lithium or NiMH batteries or with the Garmin NiMH battery pack (to be purchased separately). The Garmin battery pack can be charged via USB even while operating.
In short, Oregon 600 was created to be a resistant and powerful machine. Like almost all Garmin models, it is compatible with OSM (Open Street Map) maps.
PROS: Sturdy, big bright screen, waterproofness IPX7, compass, barometric altimeter, advanced geocaching, more plotting options
CONS: shorter battery life (16h), slightly heavier, less storage (1.7GB)
Who is this for?
With the Oregon 600, we are entering the high-end circle of the handheld GPS world. For those interested in analyzing their trip data or those who want a more flexible device.
|Garmin Oregon 600||2 AA NiMH batteries or Garmin Battery pack – up to 16h||Memory 1,5 GB. SD card slot. Altimeter, compass||Display: 240 x 400 pixels transflective color TFT 3″ multi-touch screen|
Garmin Oregon 700/700t (and 750/750t)
Magellan eXplorist 710
An alternative to Garmin handheld GPSs is the Magellan eXplorist 710 GPS, suitable for all uses, with a rather spacious 3″ touch screen, 3 and a One-Touch quick menu.
It is a rather large and this could be one of the disadvantages for those with limited space on their handlebars. Some argue that the raised edges are not very comfortable but our old Garmin 400T had raised edges and they never seemed an obstacle to us but rather protection in the event of a fall.
The Magellan eXplorist 710 is equipped with an electronic compass, a barometric altimeter, a 3.2 MP camera and several additional features, video capabilities (low-res), audio recording, built-in speaker and higher display resolution than any other similar instrument.
We must say that the most interesting part of the Explorist 710 are the two fixed buttons on the left side of the unit that can be customized, with the default configuration, pressing the top button will mark a waypoint and with the bottom one you will take a picture.
The World Edition includes a complete road network in the United States, Canada, Western Europe, and Australia and major roads throughout the rest of the world that provides cartographic orientation in almost any location. This unique preloaded map also includes water features, urban and rural land use, and a realistic shaded relief background.
About OSM (OpenStreetMap) compatibility, currently, the fully supports simple raster maps, while for Vector maps the support is limited (no routing). You can also install third-party navigation software (iGO, CityGuide, Navitel, 7ways, etc.) using a microSD memory card and “tritonmod” or “eXmod” launcher.
|Magellan Explorist 710
||2 AA batteries included – 16h||Electronic Compass, Bar. altimeter, Followtrack, camera, speakers, SD card slot||3″ 240 X 400 touchscreen|
GPS Cyclocomputer – The Garmin Edge Series
Edge is the Garmin series for its GPS cycling computers. They all use internal GLONASS capable GPS chipset to track your rides, and connect to ANT+ sensors like power, heart rate, speed, cadence, eTAP/Di2/etc. All of this can be uploaded to Garmin Connect wirelessly via Bluetooth Smart or WiFi (or, via USB cable).
Garmin has a wide line of product in the Edge series, from the most basic Garmin Edge 130 (which we didn’t add to this comparison) to the professional Edge 1030. Let’s dive into that and try to understand the differences by comparing the Garmin Edge GPS units:
Garmin Edge Touring Plus (and Garmin Edge Touring)
Edge Touring Plus is a multifunctional GPS navigator specifically designed for touring cyclists but with an interface similar to that of a car GPS navigator. So you can use both in the car and on your bike rides.
Like the other models listed above, it is equipped with a RoundTrip function that allows you to plan a route choosing from three different options.
The Plus version has an altimeter, while both versions only have a GPS compass (not ideal, won’t work when still). Both devices record data that can then be transferred (only via USB cable) to a PC or shared with other users. At the same time, you can download routes and itineraries uploaded by other travelers on Garmin Connect or Garmin Adventures. Both these applications are completely free.
The Edge operating system is different from the handheld ones (such as eTrex and Oregon), designed with the rider in mind. We recently purchased a Garmin Edge Touring Plus, we’ll review it more extensively as soon as possible.
PROS: bright screen, waterproofness IPX7, altimeter, designed for bikers, lightweight
CONS: shorter battery life (17h), no built-in storage
Who is this for?
The Edge Touring Plus is an ideal bike touring GPS, perfect for the short rides but also for the long adventures in remote areas. The absence of a magnetic compass is not really a deal-breaker to us, and the USB charged battery allows to charge the device with a basic solar panel or battery pack.
Update: the Edge Touring was discontinued by Garmin, although it is still easy to find.
|Garmin Edge Touring Plus||USB rechargeable lithium-ion battery – up to 17h||SD card slot, Garmin Cycle Map, altimeter||2.6″ 160 x 240 pixels color touchscreen|
Garmin Edge 1030
The smartphone-sized Garmin Edge 1030 is probably the best GPS cycle computer for cycling enthusiasts, or at least the most powerful. It was designed specifically for pro cyclists.
The amount of data provided by this device is astounding, and honestly even excessive for an amateur. The TrainingPeak preloaded app offers plenty of features for professional workout and training.
Like the other new-generation cycling GPS devices from Garmin, the Edge 1030 can be paired via Bluetooth to your phone, thus providing you with texts and call notification, you can even reply with prewritten texts with just one touch.
The Popularity Routing function gathers all Garmin Connect data to give you a live heat map of the most popular routes, while the Strava Segment app lets you compare your performance in real-time with other users.
Modern Edge cycling computers (Edge 1030 and Edge Explore) can be linked to a supported SHIMANO STEPS eBike, and receive a dedicated eBike status screen. In addition to metrics such as time, distance, and speed, you can also view your assist level, gear position, battery life, and remaining range during a ride.
In addition, the Garmin Edge 1030 is compatible with the Varia safety system (a rear-view radar that detects approaching cars), the smart bike lights, and all the ANT+ fitness devices and the super-expensive Garmin Vector 3 pedals.
Additional apps, such as Accuweather and similar, can be installed on this smart device.
PROS: everything you might ever want from a cycling computer and riding GPS device
CONS: very expansive (around 600 bucks)
Who is this for?
The Edge 1030 is more oriented to the pro and semi-pro cyclists market than the average touring rider. If you are into performance monitoring and intensive training, then this is the ideal GPS computer. The USB charged battery allows to charge the device with a basic solar panel or battery pack.
|Garmin Edge 1030||USB rechargeable lithium-ion battery – up to 17h||Altimeter, Compass, Strava segment, WiFi, Bluetooth, SD card slot||(3.6″) 240 x 400 px multitouch screen|
Garmin Edge 520/520 plus
The 520 is the little brother of the Edge family. The differences between the Edge 520 and the 520 plus are marked: while the 520 is more “training-oriented” it has very limited navigation features. For most of our readers, the 520 plus will be the best choice among the two.
In these relatively cheap devices (250-280 USD), the screen is not touch operated but has some buttons on both sides.
Both devices are compatible with Varia bike radar and lights and Strava Segments, feature advanced performance and power analysis, including new Time in Zone, FTP tracking, cycling-specific VO2 and recovery, and cycling dynamics.
They can operate at temperatures between -20°C to +55°C, are able to be paired with a smartphone via Bluetooth.
Only the 520 plus though, is preloaded with Garmin Cycle Maps, can display heat maps from Garmin Connect, and calculate routes (including round trips).
The real issue with the 520 series is the lack of SD card slot and the ridiculous internal memory (51MB?! Are we in the 90s?) which makes it impossible to upload larger maps.
Since it seems obvious for the cycle tourers to go for the “plus” version, we’ll present the pros and cons for the 520 plus.
PROS: altimeter, improved connectivity, round-trip navigation
CONS: no SD card slot, 51 MB built-int in memory, short battery life, no touch screen (not sure that’s a pro or a con)
Who is this for?
The Edge 520 plus is a good-value cycling computer for cyclists who don’t go too far. The USB charged battery allows to charge the device with a basic solar panel or battery pack.
|Garmin Edge 520||USB rechargeable lithium-ion battery – up to 15h||Altimeter, Garmin Connect, No SD card slot||2.3″ 200 x 265 px multitouch screen|
Garmin Edge 820/Explore 820
If the Edge 520 is the little brother, then the 820 is the one in-between. The two units are the exact same size of the 520 series but a few more features, the most important are: touchscreen (instead of buttons), 16GB built-in memory.
The Garmin Edge Explore 820 is the basic version, while the Edge 820 presents all those training and workout features most race-bike-riders are fond of.
An interesting feature, available also on the 520, is the accident detection… a combination of sensors that should understand if you just had a crash, thus automatically notifying a contact of your choice via SMS.
PROS: altimeter, improved connectivity, round-trip navigation
CONS: no SD card slot, short battery life
Who is this for?
The Edge 820 and Explore 820 are the upgraded version of the 520. Thanks to the large-enough built-in memory, these units can finally be considered by the most adventurous bicycle tourers. Worth the 80/100$ more (compared to the 520).
|Garmin Edge 820||USB rechargeable lithium-ion battery – up to 15h||Altimeter, Garmin Connect, No SD card slot||2.3″ 200 x 265 px multitouch screen|
Garmin Edge Explore 1000
Ok, this is getting insane, so many different Garmin models with very similar features, it is honestly though to understand the differences. Compared to its more expensive sibling, the Edge 1030, there’s less emphasis on training, no Strava Live Segments, no Virtual Partner, no Advanced Workouts.
It does feature an accelerometer for Incident Detection, it supports e-bike monitoring and has a top-notch routing, shaded base map, and navigation engine (the same found on the Edge 1030).
It seems a pretty interesting GPS bike computer but there are downsides, mainly the VERY SHORT battery life. Although it states a not-impressive 15h, this is only true if no other function besides the very basics is on, which includes GLONASS reception, Bluetooth, and WiFi. If these battery-draining features could shorten your juice down to a miserable 5h, not even a whole day ride.
PROS: altimeter, WiFi, great routing
CONS: no SD card slot, very short battery life, expensive
Who is this for?
The Edge Explore 1000 could’ve been the perfect bike touring computer if just it had decent battery life. It can still be a good choice if you own a Solar Charger or a couple of Power Banks.
|Garmin Edge Explore 1000||USB rechargeable lithium-ion battery – up to 15h||Altimeter, Garmin Connect, No SD card slot||3″ 240 x 400 pixels, color touchscreen|
Garmin Edge Explore
OMG! Another one? Yes, the last Garmin, I swear. The Garmin Edge Explore is the “cheap” version of the Edge Explore 1000, it has a bright and 3” glove and rain-friendly touchscreen, just a bit smaller than the Edge 1030.
This device has most of the basics and something more: turn.by-turn navigation, re-routing on the go, 16GB of internal storage with pre-loaded detailed maps for your region, ability to search nearby points of interests (accommodation, restaurants…), round-trip routes based on only a total distance requirement, smartphone notifications, incident detection, Group Track, fully customizable data fields and data pages (up to 2 custom pages), ANT+/Bluetooth Smart sensor, IQ support for ‘Apps’ and ‘Data Fields’, ‘Guest mode’ for tour companies to give units to people and not have them screw the settings up.
The course creation function lets you create an itinerary between several waypoints, the routing is as fast as the 1030, which means way faster than the more expensive Garmin Edge 520 and 820.
What it lacks is a proper altimeter (altitude is extrapolated from GPS data), Strava Segments, WiFi, some advanced workout functions.
Battery life is nominally shorter than the Edge Explore 1000 but the Battery Saving function can extend the juice a bit.
PROS: great routing, responsive touchscreen, cheap
CONS: no SD card slot, no barometric altimeter (GPS), no WiFi, short battery life
Who is this for?
The Edge Explore is a very good-value cycling GPS. battery life is not great but it can still be a good choice if you own a Solar Charger or a couple of Power Banks.
|Garmin Edge Explore||USB rechargeable lithium-ion battery – up to 12h||GPS Altimeter, Garmin Connect, No SD card slot||3″ 240 x 400 pixels, color touchscreen|
Not only Garmin: GPS cycling computers from alternative brands
Although so far we only talked about Garmin devices, there are obviously other GPS bike computer manufacturers, equally valid and somehow cheaper. Let’s have a look.
Bryton Rider 410/450
A fairly inexpensive alternative is the Bryton GPS Rider 450, with a black and white but rather large and bright screen. The first cartographic unit by Bryton comes with already preloaded OSM maps (Open Street Map) it can contain up to 10 data per page to allow a better understanding of performance in real-time.
Rider 450 now supports the electronic gearbox system, including Shimano Di2, Campagnolo’s EPS, and SRAM eTap. Instead of checking your crank and cassette, you can get all the gear information directly, such as the gear ratio, gear combination, and even the battery life of the ESS.
It is able to receive European, Russian, Chinese, and Japanese satellites. It is equipped with an altimeter and good rechargeable batteries will keep it up to an astounding 32 hours.
PROS: stunning battery life, cheaper than others, good phone app, barometric altimeter.
CONS: basic routing, no touchscreen, B/W display.
Who is this for?
The Bryton Rider 410 and 450 are absolutely no-bullshit cycling computers. Reliable and quick satellite reception and the longest battery life on the market of cartographic GPS for bikes, make this a great and cheap choice for those who like to get lost for days… or weeks… or years.
|Bryton Rider 450E||USB rechargeable lithium-ion battery – up to 32h||Preinstalled OSM world maps
Altimeter, Bluetooth, WiFi
|2.3” (5,84 cm) BW display, button operated|
Another good-value GPS bike computer, the recently launched ELMNT (or Element) by Wahoo is more a training device than a navigator. Even so, it comes preloaded with a detailed world base map and can guide you through your rides or follow a loaded track (no turn-by-turn, although it seems they are integrating it with the use of the App).
An interesting function is the planned route elevation on the climbing page, which lets you know how long you’ll still have to suffer. The unit also allows automatic downloads and uploads from/to the major cycling socials, like Strava or RideWithGPS.
The unit must be paired with the Element smartphone app to fully customize your device, the connection is done in a very smooth way by means of a QR code.
PROS: cheaper than others, good phone app, barometric altimeter, magnetic compass, comes with 3 different mounts
CONS: basic routing, no touchscreen, B/W display
Who is this for?
The Wahoo Element is a newcomer with a lot of potentials. Although not as sophisticated as a Garmin it is a very interesting device. For those who are sick of Garmin.
|Wahoo Element||USB rechargeable lithium-ion battery – up to 17h||Bar. Altimeter, magnetic compass, preloaded world base map||2.7″ 240 x 400 pixels, BW, no touchscreen|
Magellan Mio Cyclo 505
For about half the price of a Garmin Edge 820, the Mio/Magellan Cyclo 505 has almost all the same functionality plus some more. It can display a lot of data, including barometric altitude and road gradient, right-left power balance, and pedaling efficiency.
It can be synced to a smartphone for calls and messages notifications, can auto-upload data via Bluetooth or WiFi to Strava and it can control your phone music from the dashboard. Battery life is between 8 and 12 hours even when paired to various devices, the heart rate strap comes included with the unit.
The Mio Cyclo 505 is more oriented towards the touring side than the training. Routing and mapping are pretty evolved, providing turn-by-turn directions to streets, postcodes or points of interest. You can also download and follow pre-planned routes in GPX form, manually choose to avoid a specific road, and ride Strava Live Segments.
It comes preloaded with a detailed map of Western Europe OR Australia OR North America… and here comes the main flaw: NO MAPS CAN BE ADDED TO THE PREEXISTING ONES, no OSM (OpenStreetMap) support, neither the chance to buy the maps for the rest of the world.
PROS: Very cheap, very clear and readable screen and base map, advanced routing, and connectivity
CONS: no possibility to add maps
Who is this for?
The Magellan Mio Cyclo 505 is a perfect cycling GPS navigator for those planning to travel only their own continent.
|Mio Cyclo 505||USB rechargeable lithium-ion battery – up to 12h||Barometric altimeter, WiFi, Bluetooth||3″ 240 x 400 pixels, colour touchscreen|
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