When it comes to training, a lot of cyclists don’t look beyond a cycling computer mounted on their bars. However, smartwatch technology has improved leaps and bounds in recent years. Improvements have made these wrist-based power houses much more than mirrors for your mobile phone.
The amount of smartwatch options available is enormous, and overwhelming. Many of them are able to help you track your overall fitness via metrics like resting heart rate, as well as what you do on the bike. Not all smartwatches are the right choice for a cyclist though. Make sure you get one that fits your needs.
For many people, cycling is one of an array of sporting hobbies they have. Dropping a lot of money on a computer that does only one sport doesn’t make a great deal of sense. Especially if you can do the same on a watch that covers all bases. So, with that in mind, here’s our guide to the best smartwatches for cycling.
Watches are particularly useful for triathlons Image: Ian Robertson, Flickr Commons
Best smartwatches for cycling
The best options are those watches that are multi-sport. Meaning, they can track running, swimming, cycling and a boatload of other sports, too. This obviously becomes particularly important if you race triathlons.
While you can record a cycling activity with a standard running smartwatch it’s not ideal. When you save the activity, it’ll save it as a run. Even worse, it might use running metrics like pace per mile/kilometer. This means you’ll have to go back and edit all your data post-activity.
Here’s our pick of the best cycling smartwatches.
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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.
The Garmin Forerunner 945 is the top of the Garmin range. Whatever sport is important to you the Garmin 945 has features to track it. Specific to cycling you can pair the sensor on your bike either via Bluetooth or ANT+. There’s turn by turn directions and you sync your music from select music streaming services. In service to never forgetting a way to pay for food on long rides there’s also a contactless payment system called Garmin Pay.
The real power of any Gamin product doesn’t stop at the device. Sync to Garmin connect for in-depth tracking of your training, sleep, and general life.
The Suunto 7 has plenty to offer. It’s got a sharp display, plenty of smart functionality, a good heart rate sensor and built-in GPS. There is also offline mapping, heatmaps showing the most popular routes, and Google’s wear OS.
Compared to the others on the list the big draw for the Suunto 7 is going to be Google’s Wear OS. Not every feature of a smart watch for cycling has to focus on sports. If you want a well-rounded watch that integratess into an Androd ecosystem then the Suunto 7 is a great choice. Yelling “Okay Google” at your watch for directions is super convenient when on your bike. Google Pay, like Garmin Pay, makes sure you are never caught without money on a ride.
The Garmin 945 might be the top of the line Garmin multisport watch but there is an even more advanced offering available. How can there be something more advanced than the top of the line? They are each aimed at slightly different consumers.
With the Fenix 6 Pro Solar edition you get a longer battery life. The 945 doesn’t have a short battery life but it’s more suited to your regular run of the mill epic events. If you want to do a full triathlon the 945 will be fine. If you want to do the kind of events that take you across a continent look at the Fenix 6 Pro Solar.
The Fenix 6 Pro Solar edition is also a better choice if you need to dress up enough that you want your watch to fit in.
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 fueling 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 fueled.
Fitbit and its fitness trackers took the world of daily activity tracking by storm. It followed this with the release of the Fitbit Blaze, a watch that has both multi-sport capability and style in spades.
Unlike the other watches included here, the Blaze needs to piggy-back your phone’s GPS to display any real time stats.
With this industrial looking watch, Lezyne has really put one of its cycling computers on your wrist. It’s capable of giving you all of the same performance data as Lezyne’s high end cycling computers can.
It doesn’t have as many pre-loaded sports as other watches, featuring just cycling, running and hiking. However it does also have basic lifestyle data tracking as well as the ability to partner with power meters and other sensors.
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.
If you’re more active, or hoping that your watch will make you more active, then setting targets or goals will be a must. Once you start tracking everything and hitting your goals the last thing you want is to forget to record. Some watches can automatically tell what sport you’re doing and start tracking immediately.
Those that are able to record heart rate can track your daily resting heart rate, too. This can provide an early indication if you’re becoming fatigued, over trained, ill – and if you’re about to hit your peak fitness.
Beyond sports if you’ve got an expensive watch on your arm it should also handle basic smartwatch functionality. Notifications, contactless payments, and even basics like timers and weather are all important.
If you’re in training then you’re going to want to make sure that your watch can connect to the tools you use. Fortunately, smartwatches use the same ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart protocols as cycling computers do.
Before you buy it’ll definitely be worth checking the compatibility of your power meter or cadence sensors with your watch. Some watches don’t pair with external sensors and some use only Bluetooth or ANT+. Today, most power meters communicate on both ANT+ and Bluetooth but it’s still worth checking with the brand of your watch.
Depending on the watch you buy, you might not need an additionalheart rate monitor as many 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. They are more convenient and if they work for you it could save you a bit of money.
The way hat optical heart rate sensors work is by lighting up your capillaries with an LED. As your blood pumps through the density changes and the light reflects back differently. Your watch then translates this into a beat per minute reading.
GPS tracking will also be vital. Your watch could piggy-back from your phone for the duration of your rides but that hurts battery life and you may want to reserve your phone. A lot of watches will have varying levels of GPS accuracy on tap. You can configure exactly how much battery you want the watch to be using up and how accurately you’re tracked.
Many multi-sport watches also come with barometers and altimeters. This is useful for accurate elevation profiles in recorded data. Or if your other hobbies are climbing mountains or activities at sea.
Keep in mind though, more sensors mean a greater drain on battery life. They will need a bigger battery, leading to larger watches.
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Hardware: touchscreen, buttons and waterproofing
Even if you only use it for cycling, it goes without saying that your smartwatch needs be water resistant, as a base we’d recommend an IP67 rating (note: there’s a significant difference between being waterproof and water resistant, with the latter a rating of its ingress protection, usually seen as an IP rating – 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.