Is Garmin The Only GPS For Cyclists?

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“Did you bring your Garmin?”

It’s gotten to where I hear it on every ride. You’ve gotta have your Garmin and your Strava.

Garmin has mastered the GPS game for so long that their name is synonymous with “GPS.”

But they are also expensive. And they aren’t the only show in town.

For the cyclist who likes to take the path less traveled, here are some brands you might have overlooked.

Finding A Non-Garmin GPS

This was a fun project. It was almost like Google ignored my use of the word “non” in my query I got results with hundreds of Garmins. So I added the “-” search operator and finally found some cool stuff.

After digging around in the search engines and on forums (plus, it helps to have some knowledge of the industry as a cyclist), I came up with the following list.

Who did I miss? Let me know in the comments, below.

Suunto

In my opinion, these guys are the closest to being Garmin’s challenger in quality, style, and performance.

Ok, they’ve got them beat on style. These are some bad ass watches.

This is more of a high-end smartwatch (minus the calendar and notification features of an actual smartwatch) with GPS, Altimeter, and Heart Rate tracking features (wrist-based pulse tracking). So it can not only track your workout but also your daily movement.

However, you can upload and download routes from movescount.com (check them out, they are very active with a lot of routes). There are some lightweight navigation features that give you point-to-point navigation but may not have turn by turn directions.

You also get about 8-12 hours of battery life when using the GPS.

Probably the coolest thing is that the heart rate version can also track your weight lifting workouts, giving you an idea of how hard of a workout you have.

It does not track heart during swimming, however. You have to add the smart heart rate sensor.

There is a cadence sensor you can add for tracking your cadence while cycling.

I can see how a cyclist might prefer the dedicated tracking and navigation of a bike-mounted GPS. But for the multi-sport athlete, this watch is a necessity.

It can measure power output if your bike has an ANT+ compatible power meter.

Finally, it does sync with Strava. So you can show off your workout to all of your buddies.

I love the style. It makes me want to workout so that I can justify wearing one all the time.

Polar

These guys have always set the standard when it comes to heart rate measurement.

I think most of us have had one of their heart rate monitors at one time or another.

This is available in both a watch version, or you can go with the M460, or V650 bike mounted models.

Polar takes Garmin on directly. There is none of this trying to reinvent the wheel that Suunto has going on.

The big drawback with Polar is that it’s syncing to Strava is buggy. You have to do it through the Polar Flow site, and when I tried connecting, I got a “Connection not secure” warning.

Also when searching for more information, I ran across many users who were having difficulties accessing the Strava Sync feature.

Supposedly, there are 2 million users on their maps program. I accessed the Open Street Maps from my laptop and had a hard time navigating it and was unable to find any routes near me.

So maybe I need a Polar to be able to access the routes from other riders? Regardless is looks more cumbersome than the Suunto map.

The good thing is, it offers detailed, turn-by-turn navigation, which the Suunto does not have.

Smart Halo

Ok, this is a fun idea.

This device rides on your handlebars and locks your bike’s handlebars in the forward position to prevent theft.

You come out to your bike, and it recognizes your phone, unlocking the handlebars.

It has a headlight for when it is dark and when you are navigating to a location, it lights up in the direction you need to turn to reach your destination.

For the urban rider, it adds a great deal of sophistication, but it is not the Garmin replacement our sports enthusiast is looking for.

Ridersmate

This is a cool safety feature designed to alert your loved ones if you have been in an accident.

Using the same concept of a safety tether, it sends a text message any time that tether has been broken.

Your loved ones can then contact you and dispatch rescue crews to your destination as needed.

Not a Garmin replacement, but a cool safety feature that gets around a lot of the false signals sent by other rider safety units.

There is a reason that Garmin is at the top of their field: they offer the most integration with the most reliability.

For the multi-sport athlete, the Suunto is an attractive offering that will seamlessly transfer between sports.

Polar steps up to the plate with an attractive device, but I think it will leave many riders yearning to go full Garmin.

For the dedicated cyclist, however, Garmin is likely to be the device of choice for a long time to come.

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