Cinelli never had as firm a hold on the buying fate of cyclists as Garmin does. Generally speaking, when I’m on the road, riders either use computers, or they don’t. And if they are using a computer, then the only real question is which model of Garmin they are using. On rare occasions, very rare occasions, I’ll see an SRM. In case I haven’t mentioned it lately, I live in a place that is a bit of a bubble.

Not everyone I know can afford a Garmin unit and I also know people who don’t even want one. But there’s a middle space between having a computer that costs upward of $500 and having no data at all. Honestly, I think having no data is a bad idea unless you always ride the same route at the same speed. Anyone willing to engage that—and I’ve seen those riders—is beyond my comprehension. I want to see places, try new roads and it is in my interest to know how long I’ve been away.

GPS has bestowed a great many handy features on us, no matter what you may think of Strava. I do like being able to view a map of my ride, post-spin. I’ve been known to take in roads I’ve found only by accident and recreating those accidents is easier when you have help. Like a map.

So what to do if you don’t want to purchase a Garmin unit, but want some sort of computer and might even like a few of those functions provided by GPS. Hell, you might even want to go nuts on Strava. As it turns out, a Garmin unit is not a requirement.


I’ve been using two different computer substitutes from Wahoo, the RFLKT+ and the PROTKT. The latter is a case for your iPhone that mounts to your handlebar. The former is a computer display that links to your smartphone via Bluetooth.

The predecessor to the PROTKT was big enough that it looked like I’d mounted an iPad to my bike. Putting the phone in was a slow process, slow enough to be as dissatisfying as lukewarm soup. The PROTKT is much smaller, about the size of an Otter Box and the top opens easily to slip the phone inside. It seems reasonably waterproof, though I’ve been unwilling to submit my own phone to any serious tests. The case detaches from the handlebar mount with slight downward pressure and a 45-degree turn.

The case allows you to see your iPhone while running the Wahoo Fitness app, or others such as Strava or MapMyRide. More interestingly, if you’re headed some place for which directions might be handy, running Google Maps on your iPhone and getting directions that way is infinitely easier than trying to upload a route to your Garmin, and even if you succeed in doing that, Google Maps is still easier to follow.

The PROTKT goes for $49.99; apps, of course, are extra free.

I’ll admit that mounting my phone to my handlebar remains not my favorite way to see data on my ride. I do think the PROTKT protects my phone from most anything that might happen short of getting run over.

I’ve been having a running conversation with MapMyRide CEO Robin Thurston about GPS, bike computers and mobile app development. He’s strongly of the opinion that all you really need is your phone. I remain in favor of a separate unit for reading data as I ride. I’m not going to claim a phone is more safe in my back pocket, but I can boast that you can get plenty of information in a much smaller package.


Which is where the RFLKT+ comes into the story. It’s smaller than a Garmin 500 and can displays a suite of information; there’s current speed, trip distance, elapsed time, heart rate, lap number and more. The one number I’d really like that it doesn’t give is time of day. Anyone riding on a hall pass finds that one to be useful, right? How long until I need to be home?

As I mentioned before, the RFLKT+ gets its info via a Bluetooth signal from your smartphone. It’s really just a screen. It can draw info from the Wahoo Fitness app or it can draw it from another app like Strava. Initially, I wasn’t as impressed as I’d hoped to be. There was a lag between acceleration and readout. You could be flying and see a gradual ascent in speed that didn’t reflect your actual velocity. I almost didn’t review this product because I thought its data collection was sub-par. So I tried the Strava app and quickly realized that the problem wasn’t with the Wahoo RFLKT+ or the Wahoo Fitness app. It’s just the limitation of the phone.

The RFLKT+ offers most of the data that you’d get with any bike computer, but in its favor, the readouts are larger than you’d get with most bike computers, a feature my aging eyes appreciate. Here’s a quick rundown of the data fields—Screen 1: speed, mileage, cadence, heart rate; screen 2: speed—current, average and max; screen 3: heart rate—current, average and max; screen 4: lap #, lap time, lap distance; screen 5: time of day, phone battery charge (%).

The RFLKT+ goes for $129.99. The TICKR Bluetooth heart rate chest strap is 59.99 and is arguably the most comfortable chest strap I’ve worn. The BLUE SC speed sensor and cadence kit is another $59.99, and offers a few impressive features. First, you don’t need your phone with you to be able to do a ride. It’ll store a ride and sync it later. Also, it improves the accuracy of the computer as it reads speed so acceleration is more real-time. Also, the RFLKT+ can attach to your bike by three different mounts depending on your taste. All of them are simple t use.


This brings me back to the Wahoo Fitness app. It’s free and for data collection via phone, I prefer it to Strava or Map My Ride. The app features five screens. The first is a basic computer presentation: cadence, heart rate, speed, workout time and distance. Swipe to the right once and you enter a screen that allows you to access your iTunes library. Sweep to the right once more and you enter a map that shows your location. Swipe to the left once from the main screen and you get secondary functions for lap time, heart rate, speed and lap distance. Swipe once more to the right and you get altitude, gradient, total ascent and temperature. It’s easy to operate and will export to many other apps and even email.

To tell you the PROTKT or the RFLKT+ are equivalent to a Garmin unit would be a lie, but for a smartphone owner who wishes to avoid investing in another $500+ accessory, these gizmos will allow you to use the Wahoo Fitness app and press your phone into service. With the addition of a couple of accessories, it begin to approach the functionality of a Garmin for half the cost.

, , , , , ,


  1. David

    There’s one downside to the phone that you didn’t mention- battery life. Especially if you are riding in an area with fringe reception, this might suck a lot of battery life out of your phone. This was my experience with the live Strava app (riding on a borrowed bike when I didn’t have my Garmin), where the phone went dead in the middle of a long ride. Obviously this is also not an option if you want to capture power.

    1. Mark

      Yes, battery life is probably the biggest reason NOT to use a phone for activities.

      But, in the scenario you describe, can save battery life by putting your phone in flight mode. Which will then stop the need to constantly be searching for a signal and thus chewing battery.

      It would also help to make sure wifi is off, and potentially data too.

    2. JB

      David – agree on battery life. However, some of the newer gen power meters (e.g. Stages) actually have Bluetooth as a native protocol, so you CAN get power through your phone, if you’re of a mind.
      (FWIW I use a Garmin 800 – If I’m doing a long route (and especially if I’ve roped other people into it)I like to plan ahead of time using biketoaster, or similar, and upload to the Garmin. The turn-by-turn on the 800 is really useful, I’ve found.)

  2. Pat O'Brien

    I want one of those fork mounted odometers with the little star wheel on it turned by a peg on a spoke. That is all I need. Until then, I use a basic Cateye computer on the road bikes and nothing, except paper maps occasionally, on the mountain bike. But, I understand those who want all the data. My personality just it suited for it. I would become obsessed by it.

    1. jorgensen

      The Lucas Cyclometer that used the star wheel and spoke mounted striker was a gift I got when I was 10 years old. I used it for a few days then gave up. Problem was that it was only good for up to 19 mph as stated in the fine print of the instructions. Even on a Sting-Ray one decent race or downhill and it went south.

      It reads like things are getting close to using an iPhone as a bike computer, I wonder what will happen when the Apple iWatch arrives?

  3. Richard Duncan

    Another option is to use your Garmin (I have the cheapest version) for basic ride data and not upload it. Garmin recently decided Safari was inferior, or some such thing, and forced a move to Google or Yahoo search engines. Not worth the effort since I’m not training for anything and don’t miss racing. I still ride everyday and don’t mind being told “on your left.” Still shave my legs…

    1. Mark

      That seems kind of pointless to me? Why spend a couple of hundred bucks on something not to upload the information?

      You’d be better off just keeping a basic bike computer (like cat-eye)

  4. Rod

    It is unfortunate that power is no longer an option. I used to mount a ANT+ dongle (also from Wahoo) to read any and all ANT+ sensors paired. It did a great job – it was my black box for when my Garmin 705 turned itself off once every 5-6 rides. Even worked during a 7 hour, 180 km ride (with the screen off, in the jersey pocket). It also performed really well once I forgot the actual Garmin head unit before a TT. I just electric-taped the phone (with a case) to the aerobars.

    Unfortunately, the new Lightning format doesn’t have an ANT+ receiver. That interface worked so well it was my main reason to avoid upgrading to an iPhone 5 for years. Unfortunately I lost my phone so that tipped my hand.

  5. peter lin

    I’m one of those that have no desire to buy Garmin. As far as I can tell from Garmin’s product documentation, the 800 line only uses GPS for distance calculation, which is a step backwards. Due to GPS drift, the distance calculation is off by 1mile for every 25 and 4-5 for every century. Currently I’m using iPhone5 with Wahoo Blue CS, Wahoo Tickr, Stages and Cyclemeter. I find it is superior to garmin in many areas. I carry a phone on all rides for safety. Should I ever get lost and need to call or look for directions, Garmin won’t help. Garmin should use the speed/cadence sensor to calculate distance, which is what other products like cyclemeter does. If you don’t have speed sensor, cyclemeter uses GPS. When there’s a speed sensor, it uses that for speed and distance calculation. If I’m not mistaken, Garmin used to use speed sensor for speed and distance, but changed the last few years.
    I find the features of cyclemeter are equal or better than Garmin. I can configure the screens how I want, and there’s updates 2-3 times a year. When there’s new firmware for my bluetooth devices I get notified and download it easily. Another neat thing with cyclemeter I like is announcements. I set it to give me a summary every 5 miles with avg speed, heart rate, time and other details. If I’m doing a 2 hour ride, the phone will let me know I’m an hour in and I need to turn around and head home. I don’t need to stare at a bike computer. I find that feature alone has increased my enjoyment on rides. Instead of staring at the computer, I’m enjoying the scenery and chatting with friends.

  6. Dustin

    If you want time/speed/distance/avg speed/max speed/ride time that you can look at during a ride a simple CatEye simply can’t be beat. Tiny screen that doesn’t look terribly out of place on the bike, and if you calibrate it correctly (aka actually measure the roll out of your wheel/tire) it’ll be more accurate than a GPS – espcially if you’re riding tight and twisty MTB trails. They’re cheap, dead reliable, and no worries with syncing to your phone. If you want to see a map while riding, a Garmin is the best way to go. I don’t want to use my phone as my main computer due to the battery life issue others have mentioned. I’ve got 9hrs while running Strava (screen off, phone in my pocket) before, but a few weeks ago I did a ride a little over 8hrs and the battery didn’t make it all the way (putting it in airplane mode would probably have cured that).

    I really want a Garmin, but the only time I *need* one is when riding unfamiliar places, it would be nice to load a route into it and follow it, without having to pull my phone out to check it every so often. I don’t do those rides often enough to justify buying a Garmin though.

    These days I run Strava on my phone, and that’s it. No computer on the bike.

  7. tj

    Like Padraig, I like to go out and explore new roads and almost always have a deadline, so I too need to know how long I’ve been gone. So…wait for it…. (drumroll please)… I look at my watch! It’s an awesome device to make sure I get home before my hall pass expires. Until Garmin has a feature that will fix my late ride puncture, refill my bonk drained glycogen stores, or provide on-demand tailwind, I ‘ll just ride by time. I also have finishing circuit or two near my house so I can maximize my hall pass if the built in allowance for bonk, puncture or a sluggish mood is not used by the time I get close to home. Even on my worst days I can get a two hour ride done in two hours, and I get to look around a bit, not just at my wattage,speed etc.
    That said. if I was still racing, I’d be all over the training advantages of storing data for later analysis etc.

  8. Tyler Rogers

    I’ve been using the Rflkt+ for about six months, and it is a reasonable alternative to the Garmin line.
    (I have a 510 as well, so I can do a valid comparison.)

    I used it along with the wahoo Blue HR and the Blue speed and cadence sensor. It all works well together, and since you are not lighting up the screen on your phone the battery life was reasonable. (I was getting 10% per hour – so a 3 hour ride would take about 30%)
    The screens are easily customizable to whatever fields you want to see through the Wahoo app.
    The Strava app doesn’t allow for that, but you can bend it to your liking if you use the Wahoo app and put a clock on every screen if you like.

    My only issue was on long rides with several stops along the way, if you wander away from the bike and break the HR connection it will sometimes lock up the Bluetooth process. It’s an iPhone/Bluetooth issue, not a wahoo app issue, but you would still have to save your ride and restart. You either end up with several short rides, or you manually piece the data files together to get a single ride. If you just use it for speed and distance, it is more reliable without the HR monitor in the mix.

    It’s not perfect, but it’s a good solution that keeps getting better as the app matures.
    If you like to track your data and always carry your phone but are not ready to invest in a Garmin, it’s definitely a good option.

  9. Richard Duncan

    I have used bike computers since the time of Avocets. Small and provided what I needed, except when it ceased to function at the hint of moisture. Recorded info in a training log/diary. I also had a paramount, specialized and various cat eyes. Bought the Garmin and did upload the info to Garmin Connect until they messed with it. No interest in Strava or Map My Ride. Is it pointless to continue to use the Garmin and not upload the data? Sure? But, I continue to use a training log, albeit in my computer, to keep only the very limited data important to me. A lot of info in my log relates to bikes, last time/mileage chain replaced or tires rotated etc. I can’t remember this stuff and it helps with replacement choices.

    1. Alan

      Funny comment about the Avocet–I was cleaning out the bike parts bins in the garage and threw away about 5 of those. They were so cheap and useful, until they stopped working.

  10. Jeffrey Jenkins

    It’s funny how the article talks about saving money, yet you need a $700 Iphone for these solutions to work.

    1. Darwinos

      Which you have anyway and which actually costs most people 0 to $200 through their carrier. Also the 16 GB iPhone is $599 not $700 but hardly anyone pays full price anyway.

  11. Steve

    Garmin head units are just another one of those established, high priced market leaders that will be disrupted by a perfectly-good-for-most-of-us-that-costs-a-lot-less innovations, in this case from Wahoo. Stages is doing the same in the power meter segment.

    I’ve been using the RFLKT+, for almost a year since it was first released. The RFLKT+ can be set up to show you four or five screens worth of the same data you can see on the Garmin. (The time is right across the top of the default first display screen.) Turn off the display on your iPhone before you put it in your pocket and even with the GPS on, you’ll have 50% of your battery left after a 2 hour/40 mile ride. Add a Mophie to your iPhone if you want to do ride 100 miles on one charge. The RFLKT+ battery lasts for months while the Garmins last for a few rides. The RFLKT+ screen area is larger than the Edge 500 while the overall dimensions are smaller. The RFLKT+ costs $130 while the Garmins cost more, some several times more. It’s really a worthy alternative.

    1. Darwinos

      OK I have been on the fence and made a partial move from the Garmin 510 POS I had to Wahoo heart rate strap and iPhone but you pushed me over the edge (pun intended) to get all the Wahoo stuff.

  12. armybikerider

    ….and I thought I’d be alone in my lack of desire for a Garmin or similiar device. Between my Cateye Mity 8 and my wrist watch I have all the “data” I need. Good to see there are others like myself that are quite content to just ride. New roads…existing favorite routes…routes dictated by time…I can do it all with what I have. Didn’t we all do it just fine before Garmins and their ilk became almost ubiquitous?

    Gee Padraig, now you know even more people “who don’t even want one.”

  13. Anonymous

    Nice write up as always. I’m not sure I see the point of either of these devices though, especially not the RFLKT at $130.

    I ride with an iPhone in my back pocket, protected with a Lifeproof waterproof case that cost me £50. For the times I need navigation, I have a bar mount (about £20 IIRC) that holds the waterproof ‘phone to the bars.

    For the speed/distance/average speed etc I use a Cateye Stealth 50, which can accept cadence and HR inputs. It also displays the time of day, so I don’t need to wear a watch when riding. It works via GPS and stores data that can be uploaded to Strava post-ride, so no need to use the ‘phone and risk running out of battery. It cost about £80, and offers all the functionality of the RFLKT+ without actually needing the iPhone. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t understand the point of a $130 unit that’s simply a display that relies on the iPhone to do all the processing.

    1. Darwinos

      Yet you say you ride with an iPhone anyway and the Cateye is not free ($99 on Amazon)..so you can use Wahoo everything which will also sync with Strava and have a cleaner setup.

  14. Author

    Everyone: thanks for the spirited comments. Let me offer that I’m not promoting the use of GPS. Some want it, some don’t. I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind. Me, I can’t stand wearing a watch when I ride, so obviously what works for some won’t work for everyone, right? I like having a GPS record my routes and I like having a record of how much I’ve ridden because when fatigue sets in it’s helpful for me to be able to look back and review my last few weeks of riding. That way I know if I just had a rotten day or if maybe I need a rest week. Some folks never have such problems. I envy them.

    David: In my experience with the RFLKT+ and the PROTKT (with the display off), battery life has been surprisingly good. I’ve gotten through a five-hour ride with the RFLKT+ without my phone dying.

    Jeffrey Jenkins: Not all phones cost $700. Certainly, mine didn’t. Also, we’re not advocating that you go buy a smart phone in order to be able to use these products, but for those who already have one, these devices are a way to extend its use. I could be wrong, but for most people I know, a smart phone is a given, where a GPS is not.

  15. Darwinos

    I’m not sure you realize that the Wahoo app can sync with Strava?
    Also the RFLKT work with other apps like Cylemeter and you can customize the screen.
    I had a Garmin 200 which worked fine but was limited in functionality especially for uploads. Thern I used a Garmin 510 for awhile that like all Garmin devices was very unreliable. I wanted to throw it against a wall multiple times before finally giving up in disgust.
    Right now I’m using the Wahoo app and bluetooth heart rate monitor to sync to the Wahoo app which also syncs to Strava. I keep it in my back jersey pocket and I’m pretty ok with not seeing anything during the ride. I may add the Rflkt and speed/cadence sensor.
    I also don’t like the proprietary Ant + protocol and Bluetooth 4/LE works as well and is not proprietary.
    It’s a pretty big admission by the way that Garmin is now allowing sync with Strava. Garmin tried to create their own Strava that nobody liked.
    I’m so pissed at Garmin that I won’t buy anything form their ever again.
    I also have high hopes for the new Polar V650 which I think is due out this month.

  16. Author

    Darwinos: I do mention in the review that the Wahoo Fitness app will export to other services. I tried it with Strava just to experiment with a different screen layout. I liked the Wahoo Fitness app’s layout better and liked their interface for customizing the layout.

    1. Darwinos

      More than that it will sync in real time on the Wahoo app itself. So you stop the Wahoo app it automatically uploads to Strava.

  17. Alan

    As stated above, I’m not a fan of relying on the phone for GPS and to feed data to these displays. My Android phone does not seem to have WAAS corrections and it definitely doesn’t have a barometric correction for altitude, so most of the climbing data is crap. Of course, you can correct for elevation when you upload but on the services I use (Training Peaks and Strava) elevation correction is a premium feature.

    My bigger concern than data accuracy and response is emergency needs. I’ve had several friends using their phone for GPS recording and have it die before they had an accident and needed to call for help.

  18. peter lin

    @alan – I use iPhone and consistently get 7-8 hours on centuries and double metric without any issues. Some of my friends use android phones and some of them barely get 3 hours. One of them regularly ran out of battery. The feasibility of using a smart phone as the primary bike computer depends on the phone and bluetooth sensors. The more power hungry phones aren’t really practical as a bike computer.

  19. Mike K

    The cheapest solution is just to ride with people who already invested in a Garmin, and look at their ride profiles the next day! You can always use your own phone if you get lost.

  20. Anonymous

    @Darwinos – I didn’t say the Cateye was free. My point was that it costs about the same as the RFLKT+, but has the advantage of doing its own GPS processing, so you can have something compact on the bars without depleting your iPhone battery. And you can get the Stealth 10 (I think) even cheaper, if you don’t want the cadence & HR capability. I want a small computer on the bars that does the basics, and an iPhone that can be used for occasional navigation while retaining enough battery power to summon la voiture balai if required. When/if the iPhone battery becomes a non-issue, then I might change my view, but the Cateye is already so cheap and nice that I can’t really see it.

    1. Darwin

      I can see why you like the Cateye and I didn’t say it was free but the iPhone battery issue has already been debunked multiple other posters. It’s Bluetooth LE meaning low energy.

  21. Mark

    I mounted an iPhone last summer in a TopPeak case attached to the stem and on hot sunny days the phone would overheat and shut itself off. So now I stick that in my jersey pocket and use a Garmin 800. Anyone else have that issue?

    As for battery life, before I got the Garmin I would carry a small USB battery to charge my phone if it got low on all day rides. You can pick them up for $20-30. But since I switched to the Garmin, battery life is usually not an issue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *