The best MTB GPS computers have come a long way since the original ‘Cyclometer’, an analog device that counted the number of times a wheel rotated, and used a formula to convert that information into a distance calculation.
Nowadays GPS computers are compact handlebar-mounted devices that feature GPS chips, Bluetooth, ANT+, WiFi and a host of other metrics ranging from speed, distance and power, to training stress score, 'beers earned' and Strava Live Segments.
When you're shopping for a new MTB GPS computer it can be challenging to navigate the vast spec sheets that come along with even the most basic units, so in the list below we’ll help you to wade through the tech jargon to help you find and buy the best GPS computer for mountain biking.
The best MTB GPS computers you can buy
The follow-up to the uber-successful Edge 520, the Garmin Edge 530 expands on the rich training suite and adds a faster processor to massively improve mapping, a feature that was introduced with the Edge 520 Plus.
With both Garmin Cycle Maps and Trail Forks are pre-installed on the Edge 530, whether on the road or trail, it can help you find your way. With a battery life of 20 hours - 40 in battery-saver mode - it’s also one of the longest-lasting computers on the market. That's before you add the Garmin Charge optional battery pack.
You’d be forgiven for confusing the new Edge 530 and 830 as they look almost exactly the same, the only real difference being the 830 gets a touchscreen and on-device route planning for about an extra 100-bucks.
New for the 530 is the 'Flow' and 'Grit' metrics. Flow uses the computer built-in accelerometers to detect how smoothly you flow through a trail, and Flow and Grit gives trails a difficult score based on the data from the accelerometer and GPS and elevation data. There’s also a hangtime counter, and when you stop on a trail, and the Edge 530 features Forksight which automatically swaps to a trail map screen when you stop.
The Edge 530 also gets access to the Garmin Connect store, meaning you can add apps like Accuweather, Yelp, and Komoot among others, download data fields, and the computer can also talk to Garmin’s Varia Radar lights.
Want more detail? Check out our Garmin Edge 530 review.
Hammerhead's Karoo was already one of the best cycling computers, and the brand has now improved on the product with its Karoo 2 model. Externally, the computer is now slimmer and sleeker than the original model, plus it's now on-par with the weight of rival units.
The Karoo 2 features all of the functions you'd expect out of a modern GPS unit with the Karoo levering a fully customized Android operating system. To handle the operating system and assure snappy performance speeds Hammerhead have specced a powerful quad-core, smartphone-grade Qualcomm processor, so you can map your rides or find a route easily. The touchscreen is very responsive although Hammerhead has included four side-mounted buttons to aid navigation when touchscreen operation isn't ideal.
A major selling point is the price, which is significantly cheaper than rival computers with similar functions and performance attributes. Hammerhead also offers a trade-in program for Karoo owners to upgrade to the newest model at a discount.
We've got a full Hammerhead Karoo 2 review if you want to read more.
The big computer on Garmin’s campus, the Edge 1030 has been the gold standard when it comes to cycling computers and navigation. Using the brand's cycle maps and the Trail Forks app from the IQ store, the 1030 guides you via Garmin's Trendline Popularity Routing, drawing from billions of miles of Garmin Connect ride data to guide you towards more bike-friendly routes.
With a huge 3.5in/89mm color touchscreen, you can create routes directly on the device. The touchscreen isn’t quite as responsive as your smartphone, but it's pretty good as far as bike computers go.
Being that this computer sits at the top of Garmin’s range, it’s no surprise it’s got all the training bells and whistles the brand has to throw into a single unit, and supports both ANT+ and Bluetooth sensors including power meters.
Get the full details in our Garmin Edge 1030 Plus review.
As Wahoo’s latest (and most expensive) computer to date, it was also the first to have a color screen. The colors, however, have been used sparingly, only appearing in specific training and navigational features, to bring attention to information, not just for the sake of having a color screen.
Roughly the same size as the brand’s original Elemnt Bolt computer, the Roam carries over the Bolt's aero shaping and plays nice with both Bluetooth and ANT+ sensors including power meters.
In addition to more training metrics than most know what to do with, Wahoo has also upgraded the Roam’s navigation capabilities. The computer can guide you to a location stored on the device, provide directions from your current location to the beginning of a route, pan and zoom on the map to find a specific place or take you back where you started.
With a claimed 17 hours of battery life, the Roam carries over Wahoo’s nifty phone integration for easy setup and customization, free worldwide map downloads and the brand’s signature quick-zoom function which lets you increase or decrease the data fields showing with the push of a button.
Wahoo has also added MTB project and Singletracks integration, and the computer shows you any mapped trail from either database.
You can read our full Wahoo ELEMNT Roam review over on Cyclingnews.
When it was released, the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt was basically a more compact ‘aero’ version of the brand's first computer. It had all the same features, minus one set of LEDs along the side of the screen and longer battery life — claimed at 15 hours.
Like the Roam, the Bolt relies heavily on the companion app for setup, but it’s a streamlined and intuitive process, and the ease of use is second to none. It is excellent for data fields, but when it comes to navigation, it’s sometimes challenging to figure out where you’re supposed to go.
Speaking of navigation, the device comes with preloaded global maps optimized for bike-friendly routes and turn-by-turn navigation.
Like its more expensive cousin, the Bolt features tons of training metrics, support for both ANT+ and Bluetooth, as well as WiFi for speedy uploads to Strava, Training Peaks or wherever else you’d like your rides to be stored.
Clearly taking a few cues from Wahoo, as the name states, the Aero 60 with its dimpled backplate and streamlined silhouette is claimed to cheat the wind.
In our experience, Bryton computers come with a bit of a learning curve and aren’t the most user-friendly units on the market, but what they do offer, however, is serious bang for your buck.
With preloaded Open Street Maps, support for ANT+ and Bluetooth sensors including power meters, 78 data fields and a claimed 32-hours of battery life the Aero 60 only costs $220 / £170 / AU$300.
The Aero 60 also allows for workouts to be exported from TrainingPeaks directly through the device, auto-sync to third-party training software, and allows for the screens and data fields to be set up through the companion smartphone app.
Best known for flashy pumps and drool-worthy tools, Lezyne delved into the GPS cycling computer market in 2016, and its line of Super GPS computers has found a good balance between functionality and price point.
Using a non-touch color screen, the Mega C boasts a claimed battery life of 32-hours, edging in just above the Bryton Aero 60. The computer also supports ANT+ sensors including power meters and can store up to 800 hours of ride data. The companion app facilitates quick uploads and automatically pushes ride data to Strava, Training Peaks or Today’s Plan.
The little head unit can also help you chase Strava KOMs / QOMs with Live Segments, let you know if it's your kids or work calling you during your ride with on-screen notifications, and offers electronic drivetrain integration through ANT+.
The Mega C does offer turn-by-turn navigation, though you’ll need to kick off the route using your mobile phone. In lieu of a pre-installed base map, you’ll also need to sync offline maps from something like Ride With GPS or Komoot.
On the complete opposite side of the spectrum from the Edge 1030 Plus, we have the Edge 130 Plus. With a 1.8in/45mm screen, it’s one of the most compact head units on the market; and the black-and-white pixel display can clearly display up to 10 data fields at once.
The Edge 130 Plus doesn't have nearly as many training metrics as the full fat Garmins but has the important areas covered, and it can communicate with both ANT+ and Bluetooth sensors, including power meters and Garmin’s Varia Radar lights, too. It’ll talk to your phone to let you know who is calling, wirelessly upload your rides to Garmin Connect and perform firmware updates over the air too.
With a 12-hour claimed battery life, the tiny Edge 130 Plus is one of the only Garmin units that doesn’t come with a base map nowadays, but it does offer decent breadcrumb navigation and will even give you alerts about upcoming turns.
While the 130 Plus shares the same form factor as the outgoing 130 there are some very significant upgrades under the hood. Most notably the 130 Plus is capable of measuring the Grit (course difficulty), Flow (riding smoothness) and airtime as shred down your favorite trail. If you are following a route, Climb Pro will pop up giving you detailed information of the climb ahead so you can pace yourself to the top.
Read our Garmin Edge 130 Plus review for more details.
Not everybody wants a computer, and the latest crop of GPS smartwatches just about match head units when it comes to functionality and connectivity. If you're only using your head unit to keep track of ride totals or don't want to worry about finding a computer in the woods when you crash, a watch might be your best option.
The Fenix 6 features Garmin's Elevate Optical HR sensor, which shows decent overall results but lacks point-to-point accuracy — as with every other wrist-based optical HR on the market. The battery will last up to 25-hours in GPS mode or up to 9 days in smartwatch mode. It plays nice with both Bluetooth and ANT+ sensors including power meters, and it will also show you onscreen notifications and track sleep patterns, too.
This watch comes with multiple cycling-specific profiles pre-loaded, including indoor cycling and mountain biking. It can also display mountain bike 'Grit' and 'Flow' metrics. If you like crosstraining, there are heaps of profiles for other sports, too.
There aren't a whole lot of new features on the latest Fenix, so you might be able to find some great deals on the Fenix 5 if you don't mind not having the previous generation model.
Best MTB GPS computers: everything you need to know
How much should I spend on a MTB GPS computer?
As the saying goes, you get what you pay for, so spending more will get you more, whereas if you only need basic functions, you can get away with spending less.
Depending on how much money you have to spend, your computer may have base maps, interval timers, in-depth power metrics, a color touchscreen and more connectivity than you can shake a stick at, or it might be a simple, compact unit with a black-and-white display and basic training metrics.
Every computer on the market will give you data fields such as speed, distance, and time. Generally, the more money you spend, the more features and functions you will get.
Which GPS computers are best for connectivity?
Don't worry, even at the bottom end of the spectrum, most GPS computers will support an ANT+ or Bluetooth connection to a heart-rate monitor, plus speed and cadence sensors. However, some less-expensive units may not support power meters.
More computers are beginning to work with both ANT+ and Bluetooth sensors now. There are still a few hold-outs sticking to one or the other, but the majority will facilitate a Bluetooth connection to your phone for on-screen notifications, firmware updates and the like. Further still, some computers also connect to your home WiFi network to allow for your ride to be on Strava before you’ve taken your helmet and sunglasses off.
Which computer is best for GPS and mapping?
Most cycle computers feature a GPS chip, as well as access to other satellite networks like GLONASS, BeiDou, and Galileo, and offer some definition of navigation.
Many also have a base map pre-installed which allows for turn-by-turn directions, on-the-fly redirection and some allow you to create routes and courses directly on the device.
More budget-friendly head units won’t have a base map, but may still offer what’s called ‘breadcrumb’ navigation, where the computer will display your route as a line that you’re meant to follow.
What size screen do I need?
As you go up in price, you get features such as touch- and color screens, but these aren't always something you’ll necessarily need.
While touchscreens are great for swiping through pages of metrics or maneuvering maps, if you're wearing full-finger gloves or if it's raining, the screen may not function as advertised.
The same goes for color displays, which only really become a necessity if you’re using maps. Think about how you'll be using your computer, and then decide which type of screen will best serve your purposes.
Can I connect my GPS to third-party apps?
Of course. Extras such as Strava Live Segments, on-screen workouts populated by Today’s Plan, Training Peaks and TrainerRoad, uploadable training metrics and data fields, drivetrain and light integration, the companion app, and more, all make up the wonderful world of cycling computers.
Where these features are available will depend on the computer you choose, but they are not reserved for the premium units, and you’ll see features like Strava Live Segments and drivetrain integration trickling into mid- and lower-range units.