Turn Your Old Bike Into a Smart Bike With a Bluetooth Bike Computer
9 min read
By 
cycle buddy_admin
Published 
October 25, 2021

Turn Your Old Bike Into a Smart Bike With a Bluetooth Bike Computer

9 min read
By 
cycle buddy_admin
Published 
October 25, 2021

Since the pandemic started, people began to bring their old and rusty bicycles out of their garages and take them for a ride for the first time in years. More and more people have begun cycling for many reasons.

Most people avoid public transportation on their commute to work by cycling there instead. Some see cycling as an opportunity to get on their feet, burn some calories, and prevent illnesses that may arise from a sedentary lifestyle. Others have even found a new hobby in the sport.

Whether you ride a bike on your way to work every day or use it as a means to exercise during the weekends, you can surely improve the cycling experience by having real-time statistics at a glance. Information like speed, velocity, elevation, heartbeat, navigation, and so much more would be handy as you go about your daily ride.

By getting yourself a bike computer, you can have all the information you might ever need with a single press of a button.

For example, tracking your route to see how far you’ve gone in today’s morning ride or even simply finding directions to your destination are now possible thanks to the GPS capabilities present in most bike computers.

With a bike computer, the possibilities are limitless.

In this article, you will learn every single thing you need to know about Bluetooth bike computers. So scroll down and read on!

What’s a Bike Computer?

From house lights to wristwatches, almost everything has gone “smart” these days. Even your bedside lamp can be connected to the internet to provide you with additional features such as the weather forecast, music playback, and virtual assistance.

A bike computer, also known as a cycling computer, can drastically improve your biking experience by serving as an all-in-one solution for monitoring your speed, distance, time, altitude, incline, heart rate, temperature, and other statistics.

Before bike computers, these kinds of information were usually generated by single-purpose devices such as an analog odometer, speedometer, and even a heart monitor.

Cycling computers take advantage of the latest innovations in consumer electronics and integrate big data in synthesizing the ride data collected to generate useful analyses such as insights on your fitness and health and figuring out the best route for your commute.

How Do Bike Computers Work?

In the late 1800s, engineer Curtis H. Veeder invented and patented the cyclometer, letting the rider know how far he has gone on his bike. It was the first among his many inventions sold using the slogan, “It’s Nice to Know How Far You Go.”

While a bike speedometer is now a standard feature of bicycle handlebars today, Veeder’s invention was revolutionary at the time.

Since the invention of the Veeder Counter, countless improvements and breakthrough innovations have been made on the cyclometer. Other than the total distance traveled by your bike, the bike computer can now provide you with information about your speed, velocity, altitude, and even your heart rate.

A bike computer is connected to sensors on your bicycle, such as a speed sensor and a cadence sensor, to measure various things, including your speed and velocity. Complicated mathematical calculations are used to make sense of these numbers, processed, and then displayed on your bike computer’s screen as digestible information.

More sophisticated bike computers can be wirelessly connected to sensors on your body, like those in your smartwatch, to measure your heart rate. In addition, the latest connectivity technologies such as ANT+ and Bluetooth Low Energy (formerly known as "Bluetooth Smart") make it possible for different sensors from different manufacturers to talk with each other for a seamless experience.

Can’t I Use My Smartphone Instead?

Bike computers used to be the go-to solution for bikers looking for real-time cycling statistics and helpful navigational information. Cycling computers were the only equipment that bikers could use to take advantage of GPS satellites and digital maps to track biking performance and find their way to their destination.

However, with the advent of smartphones with similar and even more powerful capabilities, a dedicated bike computer becomes less attractive for most riders. Everyone these days has their own smartphone, so why would anyone buy a bike computer?

This section will weigh the pros and cons and compare using a smartphone and a bike computer for your rides.

Cost

For the cash-strapped rider, using a smartphone as a bike computer is the no-brainer solution. A smartphone, on its own, is already expensive enough for the average person.

Buying another expensive piece of hardware in addition to a smartphone can be too much and even unnecessary for most people. Simply put, it is a luxury that the average rider can’t afford.

However, a case could be made for investing in a dedicated cycling computer.

Strapping your smartphone on your bike’s handlebar exposes it to harsh weather conditions and potential thieves. As such, a bike computer can save you from damaging or, in the worst-case scenario, losing your smartphone. Thus, you can think of a bike computer as insurance for your smartphone.

Battery

Smartphone manufacturers boast unbelievable specifications for their products. For example, some say that their phones can last for 24 hours of heavy use. Others even make outlandish claims, such as having a battery that has enough juice for one whole week.

If you read the fine print, their claims could be believable and even true-as long as you only use your smartphone for checking the time and nothing else.

You also have to consider that smartphones are made to be general-purpose devices. They can send and receive calls while also being able to play music, videos, and even games. Unfortunately, each function uses energy—easily eating up your battery, especially if you run apps simultaneously.

On the other hand, bike computers are single-purpose devices that use low-consumption displays and connectivity technologies. They are specifically designed to display the information collected from sensors across your bike, like the cadence sensor, without consuming too much battery power.

Aerodynamics

Most people won’t care about this, but riders in the competitive scene should. If you’re a competitive cyclist, wind resistance is something that you should be extremely concerned about. Other than making each step on the pedal harder, wind resistance also slows down the rider.

That’s why everything from the rider’s posture to the shape of their bike matters when it comes to competitive cycling. So throughout the years, researchers have ceaselessly worked to figure out the most aerodynamic shapes to integrate in bikes, helmets, and, yes, even bike computers.

Bike computers are specifically designed to exhibit an aerodynamic shape that can slice through the air like butter. Competitive riders will benefit from such streamlined designs. However, if you’re a casual rider, the gains will be insignificant.

Accuracy

Your biking companion’s accuracy is crucial, whether you’re trying to pinpoint your exact location on the map or hoping to determine how fast you are going. Smartphones and bike computers determine your speed and location using a combination of GPS data, sensor data, and even big data grabbed from the cloud.

GPS has become a common feature baked in smartphones, even those in lower price brackets. However, not all GPS devices are made the same way. Some are more accurate than others. Others use GPS data in conjunction with their online database for location-specific data such as elevation.

However, a GPS bike computer has another trick up its sleeve—a barometric altimeter.

GPS data can be inaccurate in estimating your elevation due to different factors, but this can be overcome with a barometric altimeter. This instrument comes built-in with cycling computers to measure the changes in air pressure, which more accurately determines your elevation at any given moment.

When it comes to the accuracy of altitude and elevation measurement, bike computers win hands-down.

Ride Data

Both smartphones and cycling computers can generate a whole range of helpful information from various sources such as the internet and bike sensors. Using data from different sources, more accurate insights can be obtained. However, they can still vary in terms of the complexity and variety of information they can offer.

Bike computers can communicate with other sensors that use connectivity standards like ANT+ and Bluetooth Low Energy, allowing you to obtain a complete picture of your biking experience. On the other hand, most smartphones are still dependent on Bluetooth, which can be more energy-intensive and incompatible with bike sensors.

What to Look For in a Bike Computer?

It’s rare to see riders these days without a bike computer (or even a smartphone) installed on their bike’s handlebar. Bike computers are not just for looks nor are they a marketing gimmick to get you to spend your hard-earned cash. Instead, they can enrich your biking experience by providing you with helpful information about your cycling performance.

Bike computers are not created equal. Some have more features than others. Knowing exactly what to look for in a bike computer can help you avoid wasting money on features that you might not need in the first place. Each rider has their own needs, so picking the right bike computer with the right specifications and set of features will help you get more out of your money.

One of the most important features of a bike computer is its navigation system. Most people who start cycling primarily ride their bikes to work and other destinations in the city. As a result, turn-by-turn directions are likely to be the most sought-after feature in a bike computer.

Different bike manufacturers offer this feature in different ways. Some have more detailed maps than others. Other cycling computers have a touchscreen that you can simply pinch to zoom in on your map and get a closer look at your present location.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a group of satellites that hover over the earth. Each of these satellites emits a radio signal received by GPS devices such as a bike computer. GPS can accurately pinpoint your location and elevation by calculating the distance of the receiving device from the satellites through trilateration; GPS can accurately pinpoint your location and elevation.

Harnessing the combined power of GPS and big data, a bike's GPS computer has now become more accurate than ever. With a tap or two, you can easily set your destination and receive the shortest route to it. A GPS cycling computer can even receive over-the-air updates for offline maps and other important navigational information, so you don’t have to worry about getting lost.

Connectivity

Today, numerous wireless standards have been developed and adopted by all kinds of devices. For instance, even your house lights can be controlled wirelessly through the Internet of Things (IoT) powered by Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. Thanks to these technologies, bike computers today have finally ditched the bulky and messy wires that connect them to the different sensors on the bike.

Two rival wireless technologies battle for greater market share in the bike computer market, namely ANT+ and Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE).As such, most bike computers support either of the two wireless standards, while others support both. In addition, both ANT+ and BLE are capable of wireless transmission without consuming too much power.

Fitness devices such as smartwatches have a heart rate monitor and ANT+ sensors that connect to your bike computer wirelessly. A companion app (such as the Garmin Connect and Strava Live Segment) on your phone introduces more possibilities for insights into your biking experience and overall physical fitness.

Display

Each display technology present in different bike computers has its pros and cons. For example, some displays have a black and white screen while others have a high-resolution colour screen. You have to consider what kind of display the bike computer has because this determines how useful and reliable it will be during your riding sessions.

Display size is another thing to consider. Bigger screens can show your average speed, a power meter, a speedometer, and your trip distance all in a single glance.

If you like riding your bike during the morning, the sun might reflect off your bike computer’s screen and produce glare. Too much glare renders your bike computer useless as you can’t see anything off its screen. Some bike computers feature anti-glare screens that prevent this specific problem from ever occurring.

Cyclists who go on night rides would certainly appreciate backlit displays. These displays feature LED lights around the screen, allowing the rider to see the display in low-light conditions.

Battery

Another advantage that bike computers have over smartphones is battery life. Because they’re single-purpose devices, cycling computers use less energy and save more battery power. Not all bike computers share the same battery capacity, though.

The more expensive bike computers have longer-lasting batteries, which can go on for weeks on a single charge. On the other hand, those in the lower price range may require more frequent recharges than their more expensive counterparts.

Removable batteries allow riders to replace them in the case that they no longer hold a charge. It can even lengthen the lifespan of your cycle computer with every battery replacement.

Final Thoughts

Recent innovations in consumer electronics have made their way into bike computers. Cycling computers today have better navigational capabilities and more connectivity options than those in the previous decades. Thanks to the internet and GPS, Bluetooth bike computers have become more accurate than ever before.

However, smartphones are quickly becoming a one-stop shop for almost everything that you would ever need. Most smartphones’ built-in GPS receivers and internet connectivity make them a viable and cheaper alternative to a dedicated cycle computer. Despite smartphones being a more practical option, many riders still choose to invest in a cycle computer.

Whichever option you choose, a bike computer will help you get further on your cycling journey.

If you’re interested in other bike accessories, read our gear and accessories articles. Thinking of getting yourself a mountain bike? Click here for our recommendation.

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