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Bike Computers for Touring

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Dreaming of the perfect touring bike computer

Over the years I have used a good selection of different bicycle computers from devices that simply showed speed and distance onward. Back when I first started touring I used to use an Astral bike computer. Today I currently use a Cyclosport HAC 4+.

During my last few major tours I’ve had plenty of time to really think about bicycle computers. During my tour around Lake Ontario the bike computer stopped working completely leaving me to experience nine days of touring without using a bicycle computer at all.

The HAC 4+ is a good computer to use when discussing some of the interesting features that can be located in a bicycle computer. For instance it has the ability to measure your heart rate and cadence. In addition to distance travelled and speed it is also capable of measuring your actual altitude using a pressure sensor. Finally it allows you to keep a lasting record by letting you record up to 64 hours of data before requiring you to either overwrite the oldest stuff or download it to a personal computer via a serial or ups connection.

I have now used this computer for well over three years. It’s travelled with me around Lakes Huron, Michigan and Ontario. I actually have three separate heads so that I can record 192 hours of information. My primary use for this information is to end up with a chart for each day of the tour showing the profile of the day’s travel.

With all of these features what do I really care about in order of importance to me?

  • Distance travelled during the current day
  • Current altitude reading. I find this a fascinating thing to watch since it sometimes points out gradual climbs that are sometimes hidden by the way the road interacts with the surrounding scenery
  • The ability to record altitude data so that at the end of the tour I can include a nice graph as part of my tour report. I don’t need the 20 second increments that the HAC 4+ uses. A 60 second interval is likely fine for my needs especially if that is the compromise expected to allow me to record a month long tour on one computer
  • The cadence feature is nice on those days before a tour when I try to bring my average cadence up to ninety or during those windy days of a tour when I need a helpful reminder not to mash on the pedals and instead to spin faster allowing the bike to do more of the work for me
bicycle computer

While other features are nice to have when training or riding an actual race in touring terms they don’t seem to really matter much to me. I tell the time of day by seeing that the sun is still in the sky. If I’m able to ride then chances are that my heart is still beating and when measuring travel by the number of consecutive 120 km days lap times are somewhat irrelevant.

Riding without a computer during my Lake Ontario adventure was a very interesting experience and in some ways quite liberating. While I don’t have the ability to “share/brag” about the hills I encountered with charts to back it up I found that while touring the computer wasn’t really that essential. You can generally tell how far you’ve travelled by roughly estimating the straight line distance on a map and speed often comes down to going as fast as you want to go anyway. After a few days on the road I found that I had once again fallen into a natural pattern of getting up in the morning, riding until either darkness or stopping point and generally going at a pace that felt right for me.

For me a perfect bicycle touring computer would be one that allows me to record 30 days of touring data with an average day being 12 hours of riding. The computer would also provide real time altitude, speed and distance information. The ability to actually save data to a SD or smaller memory card without the use of a computer would also greatly simply things.

Finally cadence is a nice to have that I would prefer not to have to do without. At this point I can’t really see a need for most of the other features that a high end bicycle computer has once these touring basics are out of the way!

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