Should you be using your phone as a bike computer?
How can you use the tech you already have instead of paying out for a specific computer?
Junior Tech Writer
Cycling as a sport comes with a long list of accessories that can make your riding more enjoyable, faster, and easier. As wonderful as it is to have so much gadgetry to obsess over, a lot of it doesn’t come cheap. Is it always the case that using a cycling-specific product is better than using something you already have?
Ollie's explored the advantages and disadvantages of using your phone to record a ride versus using a specific bike computer. Most of us already have a smartphone in our pockets that is more than capable of doubling up as a bike computer, and these days, most phones are waterproof as standard. With that in mind, could they replace the need for a specific bike computer?
Why would you use your phone?
If you are getting started in cycling and want a head unit for navigating new routes or to allow you to track your speed and distance, you are going to need some sort of bike computer. These are available at a whole range of prices, however, more functionality comes with a greater cost.
Using a phone as a commuter makes sense as it is one less thing to worry about charging and the big screen is great for navigation
If you are already in possession of a smartphone, using this pocket supercomputer to track your riding makes perfect sense. It has a big and clear screen and the ability to download more fitness apps than you could know what to do with.
Why wouldn’t you use your phone?
There are a few obvious restrictions that might hold you back from using your phone as your bike computer. Firstly, depending on how long your rides tend to be, your phone's battery life might not be sufficient, especially after a day of normal phone use.
Phones can also really struggle in direct sunlight. Often while riding, your front-mounted phone will be directly exposed to the sun, which can cause the device to overheat.
Even if your phone is waterproof, having it sat out in all of the elements isn't the nicest place for it to be
The most obvious drawback of using your phone is the risk factor. Phones are very expensive, and if yours is mounted to the bars on your bike, there's a good chance that if you crash, it'll hit the deck and break.
How can I mount my phone to my bike?
There are plenty of products out there that will allow you to mount your phone to your bike. We suggest researching a quality product that will keep your phone nice and secure.
One brand that offers mounting solutions for a wealth of phones is Mous, which not only makes phone mounts for bikes, but also standalone protective cases. Mous has incorporated its knowledge of protective material technology into the cases that make up part of the mounting interface. This should offer your phone the best line of protection in the event of a crash.
Depending on what you are looking for, you can mount your phone using a range of different brackets
Regardless of the brand, most good quality bike mounts will use a specific case for the model of phone you have. This mechanically locks to a mounting bracket that sits either on your bars or stem. The mechanical locking mechanism holds the case and phone firmly and can only be released by either pressing a button to retract the retention device or by turning the handset a 90º turn.
Depending on what you are in the market for, most brands offer a range of mounting brackets. This includes out-in-front mounts that sit like a traditional Garmin/Wahoo mount, equally, you can get top cap mounts along with easily removable thumb screw mounts that are easily movable from bike to bike.
Advantages of specific bike computers
If you are looking to step up your riding and want to collect more training data such as heart rate and power, a bike computer will be designed to process and display that data with ease.
Matching up a bike computer to other sensors is usually very easy, as the producers of power meters, heart rate monitors and speed sensors design their products with bike computers in mind.
Aesthetically, a bike computer is far neater than a big phone, and we'd argue they're probably more aerodynamic too.
A bike-specific head unit is going to not only be more sleek on the bike but also will perform better in the heat and direct sunlight
Finally, bike computers have specific screens that are designed to be clearly visible in direct sunlight. Many use a non-backlit calculator-style screen, which means that no matter what the conditions, your data is clearly visible.
Do you use a bike computer or are you a fan of using your phone, let us know which one and why in the comments below.
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Junior Tech Writer
Alex writes for the GCN editorial tech with a passion for all things bike tech.