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Looking down from a cyclist’s point of view at a GPS cycling computer mounted on the handlebars of a road bike

More Tips for Making the Most of Your Cycling Computer

Cycling computers are one of the best modern conveniences for today’s cyclists. For most riders, these handy devices have become an essential cycling component. If you want to track every detail of your ride — and store that data for future use — you’ve got to have one.

But, as we covered in last week’s post, some ways of using your cycling computer are better than others. It starts with your screen layout, but it doesn’t end there. There are a few other ways to ensure you’re using your cycling GPS safely, not to mention making the most of what it can do for you. 

Coach Darryl MacKenzie has relied on his Garmin to track and store his ride data for nearly 15 years. Here are a few best practices for cycling computers he’s picked up along the way.

Establish Safe Habits With Your Cycling Computer

As with anything else you use on the bike, safety should always be your primary concern when using your cycling computer. When you’re rolling along at 1.5 feet per second for every mile an hour, a brief distraction can easily turn into a bad accident.

“A lot of people don’t think of the logistics,” says Coach Darryl. "They just end up doing what comes naturally for them — and they end up crashing.”

He’s seen it happen to two cycling friends while they were looking at their GPS screens. One hit a pole, and the other hit another rider.

To avoid the same fate, here are a few things you can do to ensure you ride safely with your cycling computer:

  • Set up your screens properly. We covered this at length last week, so be sure to check that out. The main point? Be sure to put your most important metrics on the main screen so you don’t feel the need to scroll through screens very often.
  • Take in one data point at a time. There’s too much information on the screen, and your brain can’t process it all in while staying focused on the road. Before you look down, decide which data point you want to know. Quickly take it in, then set your eyes back on the road ahead.
  • Train your brain. The main goal here is to avoid looking at your screen frequently, and there’s no better way to do that than to help your brain learn to accurately guess the numbers for itself. Before you look down, estimate the number. Over time, your brain will get very good at guessing right, and as Darryl says, “you’ll truly be carrying your bike computer with you wherever you go.”
  • Don’t use polarized lenses. Polarized sunglasses can make it very difficult to read your GPS screen from certain angles, and this can create a major distraction. Avoid them at all costs.
  • Scroll with your shifters. Some modern electronic shifters, such as the SRAM and Shimano Di2 shifters, include programmable buttons that you can connect to your GPS. These allow you to scroll between screens using your shifters, a much safer practice than lifting your hand from the handlebars to touch your cycling computer.

Lock Your Screen Before You Put Your GPS in Your Pocket

Practicing these safe habits for using cycling computers can make a big difference, but you still may find your GPS too distracting. If all else fails and you still want to capture data without risking your safety, try riding with your GPS in your pocket.

If you do that, though, you may find it’s easy to inadvertently change the fields on your display or turn off your ride tracking. To ensure this doesn’t happen, be sure to lock your screen before you put your computer in your pocket.

Don’t Miss Out on Ride Data When You Stop 

The biggest benefit of cycling computers is the ride data they provide. So, there’s not much more frustrating than taking your cycling computer with you only to miss out on collecting that data. Unfortunately, that’s all too common, because many riders pause their GPS when they take pit stops and then forget to resume tracking when they restart their ride.

There are a few ways to avoid this problem. First, you can simply set up your GPS to pause automatically when you stop and resume when you start pedaling again. This is the method of choice for cyclists who want to track their pace precisely, and it’s an easy way to make sure you don’t miss out on collecting any data.

However, some cyclists — including Darryl — would rather track their total ride time, including stops. If that’s you, then you’ll want an easy way to remember to resume tracking on your GPS anytime you start riding again. 

For quick stops, you can simply rotate your Garmin or other cycling computer slightly on its mounting bracket when you get off the bike. On a longer stop, you can also put one glove on top of the computer and another on the brake hood. In both cases, you’ll notice these impediments to your ride before you resume, spurring you to restart your GPS tracking. Note that you should never simply leave your bike and computer unattended — always stay close by or have someone in your group assigned to watch the bikes during your pit stop.

Forget Your GPS? Borrow Data From a Friend 

Sometimes, you may forget more than just restarting your device after a stop — you might leave your GPS behind entirely. But even in this case, you may be able to salvage the data.

If you rode with another friend who has the same type of cycling computer, you may be able to “borrow” their data and make it your own. After all, you would have ridden similar miles, taken similar stops and pedaled at a similar pace. It won’t exactly be your own data, but it’ll be close enough.

In most cases, sharing data between similar devices is easy. On a Garmin, for instance, you can find each ride’s data stored in an Activities folder with time-stamped file names. Ask your friend to share the file from that ride, then drop it into your own Activities folder and sync your Garmin and — Voila! — you’ve got your ride data back. You can likely follow a similar procedure for other GPS devices.

Remember the Real Point of Riding

Any piece of technology can become distracting, and cycling computers are no different. If you find yourself obsessing over your ride data or scrolling screens when you should be watching the road, remember the real reason you got this device in the first place: to make your rides better and improve your cycling skills.

Following the above tips should help you keep things in perspective.


For more cycling tips and best practices, be sure to subscribe to our newsletter. You’ll get new insights from our blog every week, delivered straight to your inbox. And you can always find more of Coach Darryl’s tips over at his website.

Photo by Will Truettner on Unsplash