Best smartwatches for cycling 2022: how to choose the right wearable for your riding

Here's our pick of the best smartwatches for cycling if you're thinking of tracking all your ride data from your wrist

Garmin Forerunner 945 Best smartwatches for cycling
(Image credit: Garmin)

The best smartwatches for cycling 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, tracking what’s going on with your body when you’re off the bike as well as on it. 

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! You don't need a bike mount (although that's an option with some) and don't need to worry about removing it from your bike when you stop. It's not going to get as mud-splattered as a computer if you go off-road either.

Just like bike computers, GPS smartwatches will pair with peripheral sensors such as power meters and heart rate monitors, and they now almost all have built-in wrist-based optical heart rate monitors. Depending on the model there's navigation too and top spec sports oriented smartwatches will 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 in-built optical heart rate monitor, so it can track your heart rate 24/7 without needing a strap; 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 many 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 built-in payment functionality.

Our pick of the best smartwatches for cycling

Wahoo Elemnt Rival

(Image credit: Wahoo)
Best cycling smartwatch for race day

Specifications

Screen size: 30.4mm
Screen type: Colour
Control: Buttons
Weight: 53g
On board GPS: Yes
On board HRM: Yes
Connectivity: ANT+ / BLE
App: Yes

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.

Read our full review of the Wahoo Elemnt Rival for more detail.

Garmin Enduro

(Image credit: Garmin)

Garmin Enduro

Best cycling smartwatch for battery life

Specifications

Screen size: 35.6mm
Screen type: Colour
Control: Buttons
Weight: 71g steel, 61g titanium
On board GPS: Yes
On board HRM: Yes
Connectivity: ANT+ / BLE
App: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
The huge battery life!
+
Solar charging (you need to be outside for best results)

Reasons to avoid

-
No touchscreen
-
Premium 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.

Read more about the Garmin Enduro in our launch coverage.

Garmin Fenix 6 Solar

(Image credit: Garmin)
Best cycling smartwatch for functionality

Specifications

Screen size: 30.4mm / 33.0mm / 35.6mm
Screen type: Colour
Control: Buttons
Weight: 60g - 85g
On board GPS: Yes
On board HRM: Yes
Connectivity: ANT+ / BLE
App: Yes

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, ANT+ 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. The Fenix 6 is available without solar charging too and in three different sizes, as well as with a variety of case and strap materials.

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. Functionality includes basemaps, navigation and on-board music. 

The Garmin Connect app’s interface is nice and it too can be customised according to your sporting interests.

Read our full review of the Garmin Fenix 6 Solar here.

Apple watch 7

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple Watch Series 7

Best cycling smartwatch for all-round health

Specifications

Screen size: 41mm / 45mm
Screen type: Colour touchscreen
Control: Buttons / touchscreen
Weight: 32.og / 38.8g
On board GPS: Yes
On board HRM: Yes
Connectivity: BLE
App: Yes

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 7 tracks data from multiple sports and has a built-in altimeter. There's in-built wrist-based heart rate monitoring, but the Series 7'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 times brighter when outside, is seriously impressive.

Garmin Forerunner 945

(Image credit: Garmin)

Garmin Forerunner 945

Best all-round cycling smartwatch

Specifications

Screen size: 30.4mm
Screen type: Colour
Control: Buttons
Weight: 50g
On board GPS: Yes
On board HRM: Yes
Connectivity: ANT+ / BLE
App: Yes

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)

Amazfit Bip U Pro

Specifications

Screen size: 36.3mm
Screen type: Colour
Control: Buttons
Weight: 31g
On board GPS: Yes
On board HRM: Yes
Connectivity: Not specified
App: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Really low price
+
Comprehensive range of fitness measurements

Reasons to avoid

-
No mapping or navigation

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

Specifications

Screen size: Not specified
Screen type: Colour
Control: Touchscreen
Weight: Not specified
On board GPS: Yes
On board HRM: Yes
Connectivity: BLE
App: Yes

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

Specifications

Screen size: 30.5mm
Screen type: Colour
Control: Buttons
Weight: 52g
On board GPS: Yes
On board HRM: Yes
Connectivity: BLE
App: Yes

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

Best cycling smartwatch for smart battery management

Specifications

Screen size: 24.0mm (active)
Screen type: Colour
Control: Buttons/ / touchscreen
Weight: 81g
On board GPS: Yes
On board HRM: Yes
Connectivity: BLE
App: Yes

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 from the Finnish brand comes 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. Read our full review of the Suunto 9 Baro for more.

What to look for in a smartwatch for cycling

Wahoo Smartwatch

(Image credit: Wahoo)

Materials and build

Most sports activity trackers are designed rugged, so that they will withstand knocks and shocks. They're usually waterproof enough for diving too. 

Some smartwatches have a touchscreen interface, although most work with an array of buttons. Touchscreens can be very intuitive and easy to use off the bike, but when you're riding they can be awkward to operate, so having buttons as well is useful as a fallback. 

Screen size is obviously limited in a smartwatch compared to a cycling computer. Some models with larger screens can get a bit chunky, so look out for a size that will feel comfortable to wear, particularly if you're planning to wear your smartwatch day and night for sleep tracking.

Just like with a computer you can usually change what data is displayed on your screen, although you may have to limit how many fields are shown to fewer than with a cycling GPS. The small screen is more limiting with graphic content like routes and maps, where it may be difficult to zoom out or track around enough to see the bigger picture. 

More basic models will have a plastic case and strap, but spend more and you'll get a metal bezel or casing, might get a tougher glass face and may be able to purchase a metal strap too. If your primary goal is sports tracking beware of flashy features though. We've tested high end smartwatches that are heavy and uncomfortable to wear, with sharp metal edges that dig into your wrist when holding the bars.

The basics and fitness tracking

Nearly all smartwatches track the same metrics as basic fitness trackers do. That usually includes step count, calorie burn and sleeping habits. That's usually integrated into an overview of your fitness and often tips and advice on how to improve.

The best of the latest smartwatches for cycling will record heart rate continually while you wear them, giving you a day-to-day record of your resting heart rate. You can use this to see the trend in your fitness level, if you're becoming fatigued, overtrained, ill – and if you're about to hit peak fitness. You may get a prompt from the smartwatch to rest up or do specific drills to help you hit your goals.

Most smartwatches will include Bluetooth and/or WiFi connectivity and use this to link to a smartphone app and/or a computer app to upload activities wirelessly. The app will provide more analysis and history and you'll get connectivity to Strava and training apps like TrainingPeaks.

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.

The best smartwatches for cycling include BLE connectivity to let you link up to these devices. Often you'll get ANT+ connectivity too on devices specifically designed for cycling and multisport tracking.

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.

Although many smartwatches have wrist-based heart rate monitoring built in, you may get a more accurate measurement if you wear a separate heart rate strap, as movement and sweat at the wrist can affect how well the optical sensor works. If you already have an HRM, check that the smartwatch will work with it.

In-built GPS

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.

Battery life

The best smartwatches include sophisticated battery management functionality, that lets you eke out plenty of battery life between charges.

You can expect around a week of battery life from the best smartwatches, if you're just using them in smartwatch mode. That will drop significantly once you start to use the GPS chip to track your activities, but even so they should rival the best cycling computers.

If you're going long, a good cycling smartwatch should include the option to dial down battery-intensive functionality to add days to their runtime. That might include lowering the sensitivity or sample rate for GPS tracking or turning off some connectivity functions, or just powering up less of the screen. 

Garmin has added to battery life by including the option for solar charging in some of its smartwatches. We didn't find it added much to battery life in the Fenix 6, but the Garmin Enduro is claimed to run for up to a year between charges in its lowest power mode and 95 days with low power GPS tracking.

When it does come time to recharge your smartwatch, most use a USB cable, although it might be one with a connector that's specific to your smartwatch.

Maps and navigation

You can expect route planning and navigation in a smartwatch designed for sports. As a minimum look for a breadcrumb trail of a pre-planned route, but the more sophisticated will include a basemap too. 

If you follow a pre-planned route, the best smartwatches will give you turn-by-turn instructions, just like a cycling computer. You may get in-ride rerouting, although you may need to carry your smartphone with you for this.

Transitions

If your exercise targets include triathlons, many smartwatches will include the ability to transition between activities. The Wahoo Elemnt Rival majors on this, with seamless transitions, but other brands like Garmin include this functionality as well. Both these brands include functionality for mirroring, so that your cycling computer can display data collected during your swim.

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