Using your cycling computer simply for speed, time, and distance is like only using your smartphone to make phone calls and send texts. Indeed, today’s cycling-centric GPS units are packed with powerful functionality - you just need to do a little digging through their menus. 
 
Here then are nine cool things you may not have known your bike computer can do. 

Keep track of your cycling buddies

Keep track of your cycling buddies
Image courtesy of Garmin

 

The new GroupTrack function on the Garmin Edge Explore 820 (and the Garmin Edge 820 upgrade version) lets you see friend’s or team-mate’s location in real time. This can give you a little extra motivation to catch up with the bunch if you’ve fallen behind. 

More importantly, it functions as a safety feature: If you see that a friend has been stopped for an excessive amount of time, you can find them quickly to offer a helping hand. GroupTrack also automatically detects when you start riding, so you can ride with the knowledge that cycling buddies and those following at home know your location without you having to tell them.

 

Alert you to approaching cars

Alert you to approaching cars
Image courtesy of Garmin

 

Though not built directly into a GPS unit, Garmin’s Varia Rearview Radar could literally save your life. Install the unit on your bike, and it can warn you of vehicles approaching from behind (up to 140m), even calculating the speed of the approaching vehicle and determining an associated threat level.

The Varia tail-light flashes to let those approaching vehicles know there is a cyclist ahead. Varia can be paired with various Garmin Edge devices, providing valuable situational awareness while on your bike. 

 

Keep you connected with smartphone notifications

Wahoo

Many if not most of today’s cycling computers can be paired with smartphones. This enables you to see incoming texts and caller IDs on your computer screen, then decide if that information is important enough to stop and respond to via phone. And when you return home, this same connectivity allows you to wirelessly upload ride files to a variety of data-sharing apps like Strava. 

 

Track Strava Live segments

Wahoo

 

Another increasingly common function of higher-end cycling computers is their ability to offer real-time alerts for Strava segments - sections of routes cyclists target for PRs - so you know when they’re coming up on your ride. Once the segment has started, you can live-track your progress against the pace of past PRs, future goals, or the existing KOM. That way, you’ll know exactly how hard you need to push to take the title. 
 
“We also have a final push notification where you get flashing red lights that can really motivate you,” says Stacy Perlis, bike computer manager at Wahoo, whose ELEMNT and ELEMNT BOLT computer models both have this feature.

 

Call for help

Call for help
Image courtesy of Garmin

When paired with a compatible smartphone, newer Garmin Edge devices have a built-in incident detection function that can tell when a crash has occurred, and automatically transmit your location to a pre-programmed emergency contact. 
 
“If an incident is detected, a message will appear on the cycling computer and paired smartphone indicating that contacts will be informed in 30 seconds,” Garmin’s Stephanie Schultz says. “If assistance is not needed, the rider can cancel that automated emergency message before it’s sent.” 

Find a route to anywhere

Find a route to anywhere
Image courtesy of Wahoo

 

Born of the basic turn-by-turn concept, computers like Wahoo’s ELEMNT and BOLT GPS allow you to get directions to anywhere even if you haven’t planned ahead of time. Simply use your smartphone’s map app to find a location or address. That information is then pushed via Bluetooth to your head unit, which then creates a cycling-friendly route. Now off you go to the nearest Starbucks, ATM, or better yet, brew pub. “It’s a really fast way to get stats and navigation seamlessly,” explains Wahoo’s Perlis.
 
Garmin’s Edge 820 does one better for the navigation-focused set: If you get lost mid-ride, you can enter an address into the computer and it will generate a new route for you based on preloaded maps. 

 

Take the mental work out of following a training plan

Stages

 

Wahoo GPS units feature QuickLook LEDs, which let you know if you are over or under a specified training target (think watts or heart rate) without asking you to hunt around the screen to find a number. This is especially helpful when you’re in the proverbial pain cave at the end of an intense interval effort. 
 
“It’s great to know where you are without having to do math,” says Wahoo’s Perlis. “Instead it’s an easy-to-digest and disseminate visual cue.” 
 
These same lights also let you know when you are approaching a turn when navigating a pre-loaded route, and they will start flashing if you make a wrong turn.

 

Track and analyze specific interval efforts

Rodale Inc.

 

The lap button, though not overly hi-tech (and available on virtually all cycling computers), is an often under-utilised feature, especially for interval efforts. 
 
“The lap button allows information relevant to the lap to be summarized and displayed on the screen,” says former USA Cycling national team coach Benjamin Sharp, who’s currently the power education specialist for Stages Cycling. (Stages just started selling its first cycling computer, the Stages Dash.) 

For example, in the Stages Dash head unit, Sharp configures a screen to only display lap metrics. So every time he hits the lap button, the fields reset; information related to just that lap (or interval) are shown in real time. That makes it easier to follow a prescribed workout plan, while in the background, the head unit continues to record one continuous ride file for upload after the ride.

 

Make it easier to quantify your effort

Make it easier to quantify your effort
Image courtesy of Stages

Sharp is also a fan of what many head units consider secondary metrics: those that rely on primary metrics for calculation. For instance, if you know and can input your functional threshold power (FTP), some bike computers like the Dash will calculate and display an intensity factor or training stress score (TSS). 
 
“If you are following a training plan, there is a good chance that your workouts are set up according to predicted/expected TSS values,” says Sharp. “To assure that you are doing the anticipated workload, you can monitor your TSS during a ride so that you keep yourself on track relative to what is prescribed.”