Ever since the invention of the bike computer, pedalers everywhere haven’t been able to pry them away from their handlebars. And it’s not without good reason. After all, cycling is predicated on data, with everything from speed and distance traveled to cadence and power output acting as a barometer for performance on any given day. Some may argue that it’s taken the excitement out of the sport, but when you’re playing a game of marginal gains, every little bit counts — you can’t afford to compromise for the sake of spirit.
That being said, as smartwatches have become increasingly robust in their functionality over the years, they’ve quickly closed the gap on their bar-mounted brethren — to the point that many wearables are just as capable come time for two-wheeled application. But, as with any tech-packed purchase, it’s not as simple as glossing over the specs and finding one with a finish you like. Not hardly. Cycling smartwatches are complex little devices that require careful evaluation of things like battery life, mapping, and connectivity. Lucky for you, we’ve done the legwork so that you don’t have to, breaking down these such considerations before diving into our picks for the 10 best cycling smartwatches. Read on to see what we’ve chosen.
What To Look For In A Cycling Watch
Power Up Your Pedaling
If you want to buy the best cycling watch for your needs, it’s important to consider what exactly it is that you want out of your wearable. In general, we recommend that you look for the following:
Connectivity: While it’s entirely possible to ride unconnected, if you want to maximize the effectiveness of your watch, it’s a good idea to go with one that’ll work with the sensors you already own (assuming you’re starting from the ground up, just look for consistency across the board). These days, there are two main technologies in play: ANT+ and Bluetooth. In practice, they both act as couplers for data transfer; however, the two aren’t cross-compatible and will be of little use if your sensor support doesn’t match that of your device. It’s also worth noting that while most software systems will work with one another (i.e., IOS and Garmin Connect), you’ll find that some offer more functionality than others.
Mapping: Part of the appeal of pedal-powered travel lies in its ability to let you see new places. That being said, getting out into the unknown is only enjoyable if you can make it back in one piece, and being able to locate yourself is a critical part of the equation. A physical map may provide a solid contingency plan in a car, but you’re unlikely to have the room in your pockets when on a bike. As such, it’s in your best interest to find a watch with some sort of offline mapping capabilities. While it doesn’t have to give you a grid-by-grid representation of the entire continent, you should at least be able to follow a route back to your starting position.
Battery Life: Having a watch strapped to your wrist will do you little good if it’s not able to last the length of your trip. As such, be sure to consider battery life with respect to your riding time. If you frequently find yourself completing hundreds of miles over multi-hour efforts, do yourself a favor and get a watch that’s equipped to suit. In many cases, you’ll find that an included power-saving mode may be able to extend the life of your watch, but it’ll come at the expense of more precise GPS-tracking and other added features.
Accessories: At the end of the day, a cycling smartwatch is only as good as its available accessories. Because let’s face it, without supported sensors, interchangeable straps, or even a mount for attaching it to your handlebar, it’ll be good for little more than telling the time of day. For those who want to best equip themselves for a superior training experience, it’s worth checking out what the rest of the ecosystem looks like. For instance, while all of the watches we’ve featured on this list come with wrist-based heart rate monitoring, some will also include a chest strap to really dial-in data accuracy.
Timex Ironman R300 GPS Watch
Although this watch from Timex doesn’t come quite as feature-full as some of our more expensive picks, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better option at this price point. Under the hood, it packs a long-lasting battery that enables up to 25 days of use as a smartwatch or as many as 20 hours of continuous GPS tracking. And because it offers both continuous optical heart rate monitoring as well as guided workouts from elite athletes and coaches, rest assured that you’ll have everything you need to get your sweat on.
Coros Pace 2
If you’re not familiar with Coros, do yourself a favor and give their smartwatches a look — they’re among some of the best value propositions going when it comes to the wearables game. Just take the Pace 2, for example. With 30 hours of GPS battery life, muscle heatmapping, hundreds of preloaded strength exercises, and even a power-saving ‘Night Mode’ setting, it may only cost $200, but it’s an offering that punches well above its weight. Oh, and at just 29g with its included nylon band, it marked the lightest GPS watch in the world upon its launch.
Samsung Galaxy Watch3
Granted, the Galaxy Watch3 skews more towards casual smartwatch than it does cycling-specific wearable, but that’s not to say that it can’t hold its own against these other options. Rather, because it comes with tracking support for 40 different activities, a Corning Gorilla Glass DX display, as well as enhanced sleep tracking, blood oxygen monitoring, and VO2 max estimation, it’s more than capable of balancing its elegant looks with an active lifestyle.
Fitbit has long served as the authority for fitness trackers and health-wise wearables, and it’s easy to see why when you consider what the Sense brings to the table. As the brand’s newest flagship smartwatch, it comes equipped with everything you need to take control of your training, including stress management, skin temperature sensing, and even oxygen saturation measurement. Add to that threshold heart rate notifications, in-depth active zone analysis, and mappable workout intensity and you have a watch whose capability speaks for itself.
Wahoo ELEMNT Rival
Although Wahoo has cornered most of the indoor trainer market, last year it launched the Rival in an effort to challenge Garmin on its home turf: GPS watches. More than just an impressive first effort, the ELEMNT Rival is an incredibly competitive offering in its own right. That’s because it offers such innovative features as a Multisport Handover mode for seamless integration with Wahoo cycling computers, a Touchless Transition for multisport events, and Kickr smart trainer control.
Apple Watch Series 6
With each iteration of its wrist-based wearable, Apple has made it increasingly robust in its active capabilities. So, while the original Apple Watch offered little more than bare-bones fitness tracking, Series 6 proves to be much better suited in its performance applications. In practice, this means that you get everything from in-depth GPS mapping to blood oxygen measurement to wide-ranging sensor support courtesy of its exhaustive lineup of third-party apps.
Polar Grit X
Polar started producing GPS cycling computers well before smartwatches had even come into existence, so it goes without saying that their expertise would translate into wearable tech. With the Grit X, you’ll find that its MIL-STD-810G-certified construction, 40-hour battery life, and 100-meter water-resistance make it especially suited for muddy off-road application. And that’s not even addressing its Hill Splitter for elevation performance analysis or its Komoot route planning for turn-by-turn directions.
Garmin Forerunner 745
While Garmin’s Forerunner 745 often plays second fiddle to the Forerunner 945 and Fenix 6, in many ways it’s just as capable as its higher-priced siblings. Between its comprehensive recovery analysis (including training load, training status, and performance condition), cycling power meter support, and personalized Garmin Coach workout plans, it comes with everything you could want to fine-tune your training. As an added bonus, it even offers assistance and incident detection settings that send your location to emergency contacts.
Suunto 9 Baro
When you’re after a watch that can handle heavy milage, look no further than the Suunto 9 Baro. Because it allows up to 120 hours of continuous activity tracking, it comes with plenty of juice for even the most dedicated of endurance enthusiasts. But don’t assume that it’s just some one-trick power pony. On the contrary — it also packs some pretty serious tech, such as a bezel-integrated GPS antenna, FusedTrack distance recording, and a built-in barometer for unrivaled elevation accuracy.
Up until recently, Garmin didn’t have a model that could hold a candle to the Suunto 9. However, with the launch of the Enduro, the battery battle became decidedly more difficult to call. Offering 80 hours of charge in GPS mode, 300 in max battery mode, and as many as 65 days in smartwatch mode, this is one watch that’s built for the long haul. It even comes with loads of mountain bike-specific metrics, such as ‘grit’ and ‘flow’ for rating trail difficulty and determining how smoothly you descend.
Caught On A Technicality
Okay, so Whoop’s band isn’t technically a smartwatch, but it’s still very much worthy of your consideration. For just $18 a month, you get access to an ongoing (and incredibly comprehensive) fitness assessment based around your sleep, recovery, and strain. By giving you a better look at how your body reacts to training on a day-to-day basis, it allows you to optimize your lifestyle in order to better achieve your active goals. It’s not for nothing that you see this one on the arms of elite-level athletes like Lebron James.
The 15 Best Cycling Instagram Accounts
Now that you’re equipped with the right tool to measure important training data, it’s time to get to work. If you’re after some pre-season pedaling motivation, be sure to check out our guide to the best cycling Instagram accounts.
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