Types and differences of sensors for cyclocomputers, advantages and disadvantages

Posted at: Feb 13, 2022

External sensors are used to send data such as speed, cadence, and heart rate to a cyclocomputer. This section summarizes the types and differences of sensors for the cyclocomputer and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

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Types of sensors for cyclocomputers

There are five main types of sensors for cyclocomputers.

  1. wired sensors
  2. dedicated wireless sensor
  3. ANT+ sensor
  4. Bluetooth sensor
  5. built-in GPS

Wired Sensors

In the past, most cycle computers were wired. However, the disadvantage is that the wired wire from the bike computer to the sensor looks bad and cannot be installed anywhere you want due to handling problems.

Of course, the sensor cannot be used with other cyclers.

Dedicated wireless sensor

The dedicated wireless sensor eliminates the hassle of wired sensors. The sensor and the cyclocomputer communicate with each other wirelessly, so the sensor and the cyclocomputer can be placed anywhere within the range of the wireless sensor or the cyclocomputer.

The wireless sensor is paired with its cyclocomputer, so it cannot be used with other cyclocomputers.

ANT+ Sensor

The wireless standard ANT+ was developed as a common standard for fitness equipment.

ANT+ has the following types of profiles

  1. heart rate, step count, etc. (HRM, SPD, STP)
  2. bicycle profiles (CAD, SPD, PWR) Profile for fitness equipment (FIT)

As a general rule, as long as the cyclocomputer supports ANT+, any cyclocomputer can be connected, so the sensor can be used even if the cyclocomputer changes.

In principle, any cyclocomputer can be connected as long as the cyclocomputer supports ANT+.

Bluetooth Sensor

Bluetooth was born as a power-saving communication standard for computers and smartphones, and is now used in everyday wireless communication, such as connecting a computer to a mouse or a smartphone to headphones.

In the bicycle industry, the number of Bluetooth-enabled products has been increasing rapidly over the past few years, allowing data communication with smartphones, and if the sensor is Bluetooth-enabled, it can send exercise data to a Bluetooth-equipped cycling controller in real time.

Most of the sensors used for cycling are the ultra energy-saving version of the “Bluetooth Smart” standard.

For more information about ANT+ and Bluetooth, please read the following articles.

Built-in GPS

In the past few years, built-in GPS has become more and more popular, and just like smartphones, it uses GPS to acquire location information and measure speed and distance.

The main difference between this and other sensors is that it is a built-in module, so it does not require any external sensors. Cadence, heart rate, etc. cannot be acquired by GPS, but if you only want to measure speed and distance, you can operate the bike as a stand-alone unit with only the cyclocomputer, which makes the bike look neat and tidy.

However, not just any “GPS equipped” device will do. Depending on the sensitivity of the GPS and the type of hygiene supported, the measurement data may be uneven. Check if the device supports satellites that fly over your area.

There are also external sensors for GPS, but basically they use the built-in GPS, so if you change your cyclocomputer, the GPS will also change.

Comparing the advantages and disadvantages of each sensor

When choosing a sensor for your cycling bike, it can be a big problem to know which one to choose. Here, let’s take a look at the advantages and disadvantages of each.

Comparing by function

First, let’s compare by function.

Item Wired Dedicated Wireless ANT+ Bluetooth Built-in GPS
Cadence - - -
Heart rate - - -
Power - - -
Nvigation - - - -

Speed and distance can be measured with any sensor, but “items that cannot be measured in length” such as cadence, heart rate, and power basically require ANT+ or Bluetooth sensors. If you want to measure these items, you need to make sure that your cyclocomputer can connect to an external sensor via ANT+ or Bluetooth.

As for the navigation function, you basically need a cycling controller with built-in GPS to use it. Also, even if the cyclocomputer supports GPS, if the cyclocomputer does not have a navigation function, navigation cannot be used.

Of the cyclocomputers currently on the market, most of the higher-end models are basically compatible with “built-in GPS, ANT+, and Bluetooth,” allowing you to acquire most of the data related to your ride by adding sensors.

Comparing by merits and demerits

Next, let’s look at the advantages and disadvantages of each sensor.

Item Advantages Disadvantages
Wired Securely wired Wiring arrangements
Less flexibility in layout
Dedicated wireless wireless and free layout not re-usable
ANT+ Wireless, so layout is free
Can be used even if the cyclocomputer changes
Need a sensor for each measurement data
High price
Requires compatible devices
Bluetooth Wireless, so layout is free
Can be used even if the cyclocomputer changes
Need a sensor for each measurement data
High price
Requires compatible devices
Built-in GPS Sensor-less and cleaner Accuracy depends on supported satellites
A highly accurate cyclocomputer is expensive.

The current mainstream ANT+ and Bluetooth, while convenient, are not a panacea. If you only need to know the speed and distance, the old wired type is the best for reliability.

However, ANT+ and Bluetooth sensors have the great advantage of being able to be used even if the cycling computer changes, so this advantage alone is worth choosing ANT+ and Bluetooth sensors.

As for GPS, speed and distance can be substituted by ANT+ and Bluetooth sensors, but route data acquisition and navigation functions can only be acquired by GPS.

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