Bike Computer vs. Smartphone Cycling App: How To Decide

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Cycling data is easy to come by nowadays. In the past, you had to rely on a standalone cycling computer to do the job. Early on, they weren’t the greatest. But, as technology has improved so have cycling computers. They’ve not only become smaller, but packed with features and less expensive.

Smartphone apps for cycling

With the advent of the smartphone, quite a few things got better. Actually, just about everything did! For cyclists, new Apps geared toward route planning or logging trips replaced tired spreadsheets or logbooks. More and more features were added to Apps as they competed for installs. And, then, everything changed once again. With onboard GPS and motion sensors, phone Apps took on cycling computer functions, too.

App or cycling computer?

During a recent mountain biking trip, we reviewed another mountain bike computer. One thing quickly became apparent. When Apps took center stage, cycling computers didn’t stand still. They got just a bit smaller, added even more features and reduced their prices.

The decision on which way to go isn’t completely straightforward. There’s pros and cons to each option.

Deciding between a cycling computer and App


The price of a cycling computer may range from $24 or below, but for a smartphone, you will not need to go an extra mile of buying one if you already have it, unless you recently crushed it then you will have to spend some more to repair it than you can spend on a cycling computer. If one decides to use a smartphone, he or she will need to get a case for various weather conditions.


Nowadays, the smartphones have a larger screen compared to a cycling computer. It will need you to factor in a room for your smartphone in your handlebars, and also, it is evident that the smartphone together with the case can outweigh the cycling computer.

Battery Life

It is not a good idea to have your smartphone on in a period of six or more hours; this can only happen if you carry a power bank or an extra battery, with this period of six or more hours, you will be required to use a cycling computer. But if you are riding for a distance of maybe 30 to 40mins, you can use your smartphone. Although when traveling for long hours, it is advisable that one carries a fully charged phone in case your cycling computer gets damaged or something else happens.

How Often You Ride

If you will be cycling for one to two days a week then it is not advisable to carry more equipment round, but if you will be training and will be using the bike for five to six days in one week then it is advisable to carry a computer because it is the best option to give you very useful data that suits your desires.


Cycling computers are generally weatherproof while Smartphone is not, though you can get a case that is weatherproof which you can use as an option to protect your Smartphone; this will increase your phone’s size and make it difficult for you to operate the touchscreen.


For you to be able to receive accurate data, you will are required to have enough speed, a cadence and the power sensors on the bike. Making use of a Smartphone that only relies on GPS is not a good idea; your numbers will not turn out to be more accurate like when you are using a cycling computer.


Smartphones are made to perform multiple functions, while a computer is only made only for a single purpose, this, therefore, makes it more effective compared to the smartphone.

There’s more than a few reasons why a cycling computer is better than a phone:

  • Physical buttons (especially helpful for cyclists who wear gloves)
  • Battery isn’t being drained by Apps or cellular connectivity
  • Crash-proof
  • Far more aerodynamic
  • They provide excellent GPS accuracy
  • Cycling computers have specialized sensors
  • They are weatherproof, working well in extreme temperatures, rain or snow
  • In challenging lighting circumstances, they can provide better screen visibility

A phone that uses GPS is in a position to almost everything that cycling computer can do, but the problem is that this is not what it was made for.

When does using a smartphone win out? For the recreational cyclists who doesn’t cycle too often. In just about every other case, we say go for the real thing.

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