Best smartwatches for cycling: how to choose the right wearable for your riding

smartwatch cycling

Cycling smartwatches are becoming ever more sophisticated. Even the mid-range ones are starting to outperform most cycling computers: not only do they have the same level of functionality and post-ride data analysis but because they’re on your wrist they can be smarter: they track what’s going on with your body when you’re off the bike as well as on it. And also because they’re on your wrist they’ll track pretty much any sport you do, whether that’s running, swimming, hiking, rowing, skiing or even golfing!

Just like bike computers, GPS smartwatches will pair with peripheral sensors such as power meters and heart rate monitors, and they often have built-in wrist-based optical heart rate monitors too. Depending on the model there's navigation too. They'll supply all the metrics that a cycling computer does.

But where smartwatches really excel is in the sheer amount of data they can collect. For example the Garmin Enduro watch has an oximeter, telling you how well your body is absorbing oxygen; it can give you a detailed breakdown of your sleep quality, it can track hydration by estimating sweat loss and it even tracks your breathing. You get an overall status that Garmin calls Body Battery, which tells you when you need to recover and when you’re ready to train again.

Naturally GPS watches do the other stuff that wearables do: step counting, calorie burn, you can use Spotify with some – though hopefully not while cycling outdoors – and contactless pay with Garmin Pay.

Our pick of the best cycling smartwatches

Below is our pick of the best cycling smartwatches. With each product is a ‘See more’ or ‘Best Deal’ link. If you click on this then we may receive a small amount of money from the retailer when you purchase the item. This doesn’t affect the amount you pay.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival

(Image credit: Wahoo)

Wahoo Elemnt Rival

Best cycling smartwatch for race day

Reasons to buy
+Simple to use+Reliable pairing and syncing+Accurate wrist-based HRM+Lightweight
Reasons to avoid
-Doesn't have fitness tracking functionality (yet)-No touchscreen

The Wahoo Elemnt Rival shares the exact same user-friendly, intuitive functionality as Wahoo’s excellent cycling computers and uses the same app.

Not only that, but compared to other smartwatches it is lightweight and comfortable, the GPS is very accurate, battery life is incredible and the optical heart rate monitor could be the most reliable out there.

Wahoo calls it "radically simplified" – it doesn’t do navigation, sleep tracking or adaptive training guidance so you could say its functionality is limited compared to the more ‘wearable’ orientated watches, but Wahoo intends the Elemnt Rival to be a sports watch for more serious athletes who already know what they’re doing and where they’re going.

If you want a sports-focused watch with the trademark Wahoo clean design, reliable pairing and syncing, an intuitive app and exceptional battery life, the Elemnt Rival is it.

Garmin Enduro

(Image credit: Garmin)

Garmin Enduro

Best cycling smartwatch for battery life

Reasons to buy
+The huge battery life!+Solar charging (you need to be outside for best results)
Reasons to avoid
-No touchscreen-High price

Garmin's new flagship multisport watch supplies up to 80 hours of battery in GPS mode and a claimed 65 days in smartwatch mode with its Power Glass solar charging.

If you're bikepacking or out in the wild away from mains charging for a few days the Enduro is perfect.

Functionality is of course wide ranging, as you'd expect at this price, but the Fenix 6 (see below) has a little bit more, particularly in its mapping capability. There's no offline music storage either. The Enduro has more trail running features borrowed from the Garmin Forerunner, although the button layout is exactly the same as that of the Fenix 6.

Build quality is great and it looks as rugged as the name suggests.

Garmin Fenix 6 Solar

(Image credit: Garmin)

Garmin Fenix 6 Solar

Best cycling smartwatch for functionality

Reasons to buy
+Lots of functionality for sports and fitness tracking+Basemaps included+Good computer and mobile app ecosystem
Reasons to avoid
-No touchscreen-Solar power doesn’t add much charge unless you’re outdoors a lot

The Garmin Fenix 6 Solar packs a lot of functionality into a watch-sized package. That includes not just GPS tracking, but Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, optical heart rate measurement and pulse oximetry (measuring the oxygen level in your blood). That’s a lot of power hungry functions to keep running – a drain on your battery.

So Garmin has added a solar coating to the glass face of the Fenix 6 which turns the sun’s rays into a boost to the battery.

It does everything you might want and more, but once you’ve zeroed in on what you want to track it’s easy to use. The Garmin Connect app’s interface is nice and it too can be customised according to your sporting interests.

Apple Watch 6

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple Watch Series 6

Best cycling smartwatch for all-round health

Reasons to buy
+Blood oxygen and ECG monitoring+Strava compatible+Phone and text from your wrist+Touchscreen+Apple Music and Apple Pay
Reasons to avoid
-Needs an iPhone-Doesn't connect directly with peripheral sensors-Battery life doesn't match Garmin multisport watches

The Apple Watch Series 6 tracks data from multiple sports and has a built-in altimeter. Although cycling is included in its list of sports modes, it won't connect directly with peripheral sensors but it does have an inbuilt wrist-based heart rate monitor.

The Series 6's big USP is its blood oxygen monitoring, which is a measure of overall health and fitness. It has a new sensor and app that allows you to take on-demand readings as well as background readings.

There's also an ECG app, which lets you keep an eye on your heart rhythm, indicating early signs of atrial fibrillation (without meaning to scare you).

There's also the fun stuff – access to the 70 million songs on Apple Music, for example.

And the Always-On Retina display, which is 2.5 time brighter when outside, is seriously impressive.

Garmin Forerunner 945

(Image credit: Garmin)

Garmin Forerunner 945

Best all-round cycling smartwatch

Reasons to buy
+Huge functionality for multiple sports+Full colour mapping+Adaptive training plans+Body Battery energy monitor+Music+Garmin Pay
Reasons to avoid
-Not as rugged as Fenix 6-No touchscreen

The 945 is the top of the Garmin Forerunner range. It has a huge array of features so that you can track pretty much any sport. As for its cycling-specific functions, is will pair with peripheral sensors via Bluetooth or ANT+, it has sophisticated navigation with turn by turn directions and full colour mapping and you can sync your music from select streaming services. So that you can pay for your post-ride coffee without digging out your wallet or smartphone, it has contactless Garmin Pay.

Sync to Garmin Connect for in-depth tracking of your training, sleep, and general life, and if you want feedback and guidance for future workouts it includes adaptive training plans.

It’s cheaper than the Fenix 6 and the Enduro and is less rugged, but functionality isn’t far behind for a much lower price.

Amazfit-Bip-U

(Image credit: Amazfit)

The Amazfit Bip U series is super popular and it's obvious why. Lightweight at 31g and with a 1.4inch colour touchscreen and 60-plus sports modes it's an impressive piece of kit, especially given the price.

Like more expensive smartwatches the face is customisable, it's water resistant to 50 metres and the Bip U Pro has built-in GPS for ride tracking (but no mapping) while the Bip U uses a mobile phone connection for GPS.

There's plenty of wearable functionality such as blood oxygen monitoring and sleep tracking and data can be compiled into a single score to give you an overall picture of your health and fitness.

We have one in for review – watch this space.

Fitbit Versa 3

(Image credit: Fitbit)

Fitbit Versa 3

Best smart features in this price bracket

Reasons to buy
+Built in GPS (first time for a Fitbit)+Touchscreen+Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa
Reasons to avoid
-Doesn't connect with peripheral sensors

Fitbit and its fitness trackers took the world of daily activity tracking by storm and the brand has continued to make its watches ever more intelligent, as well as making them more appealing to cyclists who want sport-specific functionality.

The Versa 3 has over 20 sport modes, built-in GPS so no need to piggyback onto smartphone GPS as with earlier Fitbits and cardio fitness tracking thanks to its wrist-based heart rate monitor. There's also sleep monitoring and of course step counting and calories burnt.

Fitbit Pay is also included, and music streaming too.

Now that Google owns Fitbit the Versa 3 is Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa enabled, so you can control your smart devices by voice command.

And finally, battery life is impressive and charge time very short.

Polar Vantage V2

(Image credit: Polar)

Polar Vantage V2

Best for measuring nutrition levels while riding

Reasons to buy
+Lots of cycling-specific functionality+Smart touchscreen that can’t be activated while training+Fuelwise function
Reasons to avoid
-Doesn’t have as much smart functionality as competitors

The Polar V2 is the very best that Polar offers. For the cyclist it offers the Cycling Performance Test. Anyone who is familiar with modern power-based training on a bike will be familiar with the FTP test. Polar puts it on your wrist and helps you to pace yourself over the 20-minute test. Once completed you will have your functional threshold power, VO2 max, and max heart rate.

Another big feature for the Polar offering is Fuelwise. It’s a smart fuelling assistant that reads your output during an activity and reminds you to eat. No one wants to bonk on a hard ride, or race, and Polar can help you stay fuelled.

Suunto 9 Baro Perspective view with cycling basics

Suunto 9 Baro

Best cycling smartwatch for smart battery management

Reasons to buy
+Robust+Good touchscreen+Value against Garmin+Decent battery life
Reasons to avoid
-Mapping and navigation not as user friendly as competitors-No basemap when navigating-Less functionality than other smartwatches

The Suunto 9 Baro is the Finnish brand’s top spec smartwatch with a touchscreen and barometric pressure measurement.

It has a ton of functionality in a package that’s easy to live. It will give you as much data as you want to track your exercise and fitness as well as keeping track of your non-exercise activity during the day. The Suunto 9 Baro works as well for running, swimming, hiking or mountaineering: in fact, there are over 80 sport profiles available.

Suunto has impressive battery management tech. When using the Suunto 9 Baro for a mix of activity tracking, all day wear, and sleep tracking we were always impressed with the battery life. You can expect the better part of a week to pass before thinking about charging. 

What to look for in a smartwatch

Wahoo Smartwatch

(Image credit: Wahoo)

The basics and fitness tracking

Nearly all smartwatches track the same metrics as basic fitness trackers do. Whether that's step count, calorie intake or sleeping habits, it's easy to see how having this information stored away is handy for cyclists.

Those that record heart rate – most of the latest ones – can track your daily resting heart rate, too. This can provide an early indication if you're becoming fatigued, overtrained, ill – and if you're about to hit peak fitness.

Beyond sports, it should also handle basic smartwatch functionality. Notifications, contactless payments, and even basics like timers and weather are important.

Peripheral sensor compatibility

Before you buy, check the compatibility of your power meter or cadence sensors with a cycling smartwatch. Some watches don't pair with external sensors, particularly if they're aimed at general fitness as well as cycling.

Wrist-based heart rate monitoring

Many smartwatches now have optical (wrist-based) heart rate sensors built in. The general consensus is that wrist-based readings aren't as accurate as those from a chest strap but they are getting better all the time.

Optical heart rate sensors work by lighting up your capillaries with an LED. As your blood pumps through, the density changes and the light reflects back differently. The watch then translates this into a beat per minute reading.

GPS tracking will also be vital. More basic smartwatches used to piggyback from a smartphone for the duration of your rides but now even Fitbit has built-in GPS.

Many multisport watches also come with barometers and altimeters. This is useful for accurate elevation profiles in recorded data.

Keep in mind though, more sensors mean a greater drain on battery life. They will need a bigger battery, leading to larger watches.

Even if you only use it for cycling, clearly a smartwatch needs be water resistant. As a starting-out point we'd recommend an IP67 rating. IP is a rating of the watch's ingress protection – the higher the number, the better the protection).

The decision between touchscreen and buttons is more personal preference than anything else. Buttons can have a more tactile feel and guarantee impressions, whereas the quality of touchscreens, and their performance in wet weather, can vary from brand to brand.

On the other hand, touchscreen displays are often more aesthetically pleasing with less bezel and sometimes with smaller screens.