Smartwatches and trackers have gone a long way nowadays and are now catering to a wider group of people training various sports. Until recently, the only viable ways to track your cycling progress was a handlebar-mounted tracker which didn’t really take into account your body’s metrics. With the improvement of technologies, though, you can now have some of the best fitness trackers for cycling on your wrist and select various programs that will accurately measure your route, heart rate, speed, and other metrics that will give you a detailed summary of your workout.
In this guide, we will go over some of the top models for this year, compare them to one another, and show you which are the cycling-specific features that you need to look for when making your first purchase.
Best All-rounder – Garmin Forerunner 935
The Garmin Forerunner 935 is a smartwatch that tries to cover all bases and it successfully does so, with a few minor hiccups. When it comes to measuring your running or cycling data accurately, this watch is second to none thanks to its long battery life and GPS/GLONASS systems which work even in remote areas. It is also a good smartwatch for people training for a triathlon as it has sports modes for swimming (both indoors and outdoors), cycling (indoors/outdoors) and running (outdoors and treadmill). It easily pairs with any mobile device but doesn’t use the familiar Wear OS by Android interface but Garmin’s proprietary OS. It isn’t as good when it comes to app compatibility but still has the basics covered such as your messages, calls, calendars, emails, music player, and even weather apps and Uber. As a whole, apart from being very expensive and a bit too bulky, it is the perfect companion for your cycling efforts.
- Very durable
- Comfortable wristband
- Accurate HR sensors
- Has multiple sports modes
- Supports smartphone notifications
- Good third-party app integration
- Great battery life
- The display often feels rather small
- Very expensive
- This version doesn’t come with Garmin’s chest straps
Best Battery Life – Suunto Ambit3 Peak
The Suunto Ambit3 Peak is another great all-rounder but with a slightly different approach to training. It is cheaper than most Garmin watches thanks to a few corner cuttings in the construction department. Still, when it comes to sensory information and live data, this watch can easily go head to head with the big players. It has a battery life of 30 days which can last up to 200 hours when you set it on 60-second readings, and the matrix display is easily visible in all lighting conditions. The array of Suunto bike sensors that they offer easily pair with each other via Bluetooth and create the perfect tracking environment for everything you need during your bike rides such as hill incline, cadence, live average speed, and even things like air drag. As a whole, the cheaper price tag and full array of trackign sensors make this a must-have for any athlete looking to improve his workout statistics.
- Class-leading battery life
- Matrix display is easy to use and read
- Accurate GPS signal
- A complete array of sensors
- Combined with the chest strap it gives detailed heart metrics
- Can feel a bit too bulky for some
- You need additional bike sensors to get the most out of it
Most Comfortable – Garmin Forerunner 735XT
There is a good reason this watch wins the “Most Comfortable” category. It is the lightest model out of the bunch and also has the smallest body, which makes it extremely easy to wear and train with. It also has a silicone wrist strap that is both good looking and really comfortable on your hand. That footprint does bring a few issues, though. For one, the battery cannot be as big as it is on the other models which is clearly visible in the shorter battery life here. I am not saying it is bad, on the contrary, it is quite decent but it can only give you around 10 days at regular activity and when the GPS is on and you are using all the sensors, it will hardly last more than 10 hours. Still, the sensors here do a perfect job at integrating your metrics into the large and crisp display which is easily seen under direct sunlight. For more of my thoughts about the 735XT, click the button below to visit my full review where I’ve gone more in-depth into all of its features.
- Really comfortable on the hand
- Comes with two Garmin chest straps
- Detailed and accurate heart rate readings
- Good construction quality
- Vibrant display
- Battery life could be better
- Garmin’s customer support isn’t great
- The wrist heart rate monitor is known for glitching
Most Durable – Suunto 9 GPS Sports Watch
Durability is often slightly overlooked by manufacturers, the same way they don’t pay enough attention to battery performance. It is worth praising Suunto for emphasizing on both of these features while maintaining a relatively low cost compared to their competitors from Polar, Fitbit, and Garmin. The Suunto 9 is perhaps the flagship the company has always needed to show everyone that they can really make something to fit everyone’s requirements. The only drawbacks I found in this watch is that its construction is a bit heavy and that the base version doesn’t include all the bells and whistles the more expensive Baro version has. Still, I don’t want to take anything from it as it is truly a good combination of performance with its interesting symbiosis between GPS and motion sensors to give you accurate data without having the GPS on all the time, ultimately giving you a better single-charge battery performance. The display is also a touchscreen, quite big and with a great resolution which is something most other models here can’t boast about. For more of my thoughts on this watch, head over to my full review!
- Extremely reliable
- Durable weatherproof construction
- Well-functioning sensors
- Decent battery life
- Easily pairs with mobile devices
- Display is sharp and clean
- It is heavy compared to its competition
- To use the more advanced sensors and to get a chest strap, you need to pay quite a lot extra
Best For Triathlon Training – Polar Vantage V
In order to train for a triathlon you will need a watch that can easily toggle between diffeernt sports modes and accurately detect what your body is going through. Few watches manage to fuse sports well as the Polar Vantage V. It definetely isn’t the cheapest watch on this list but it also has one of the most unique designs full of features and ineresting quirks. There are also the Titan version and a Standard edition which can respectively cost more and less than the Pro which includes the H10 HRM chest strap. Still, with a 40-hour long GPS-tracking mode, you can easily cover a full triathlon training session even at a slower pace. This watch also has the unique feature to measure your running power which is quite rare even in 2020. This is also complemented by the rest of the Pro features such as muscle load and cardio load metrics, as well as all the Recovery Pro features that take into account everything you do outside of your workout.
- Excellent build quality
- 5 very tactile buttons
- Sharp display
- Long-lasting battery
- Full of unique features
- The wrist HR sensor has class-leading accuracy
- There can be some sync issues depending on your device
- OS is a little hard to get used to
Cycling Trackers Buyer’s Guide
When you start getting into cycling, measuring all your workout and body metrics won’t be a huge priority of yours as you will be strugglign with adjustbing your body to this new type of physical activity. However, as time goes on, you will find yourself wanting to see your progress, speed, pace, heart rate, and other data more and more. This is when you know it is time to get yourself a good tracker that will help you along your journey. But what is a good fitness tracker, and what are the benefits of having one? Well, let’s try to answer these questions now…
Benefits of Using Activity Trackers When Cycling
Whether you are a professional cyclist or just a beginner, there are quite a lot of advantages that you can get out of having a tracker on your wrist. Here are some of the most important pros of these devices:
- Not only will the tracker monitor your body’s metrics but it can also guide you through your workout and set different intensity levels for your intervals. That way, it almost feels like having a personalized coach that adapts to your needs and accelerates your progress.
- Cycling trackers also encourage consistency within and between your workouts
- You get a detailed take on your route after you’re done and see how you handled every part of it, helping you understand where you need to push more and where you are already doing great
- It tracks elevation changes showing you how hard you push through hills
- The HR sensor will give you accurate information about your heart rate zones when you’re cycling. That will enable you to control your pace better and work in a specific heart rate zone for improved results.
- The tracker also gives you real-time data about your speed and pace which eliminates the need of a handle-bar mounted tracker entirely.
Some more expensive trackers even allow you to receive texts, answer calls, and even listen to music all without having to reach out for your pocket or distract yourself from the cycling. Still, I wouldn’t advise you to listen to music when cycling on main roads, unless you have ambient-sound headphones that allow you to hear everything around you while listening to music.
Now, let’s move on to the features that you need to keep an eye out for when shopping for your first tracker.
There are a number of features that define good cycling trackers and smartwatches. These are:
- Reliable GPS signal
- Good display
- Tracking capabilities
- Durability & Build Quality
- Good HR sensor
- Battery life
- Extra features
Some of these are universally good to have on any type of fitness tracker while others are especially vital for people that cycle for longer periods of time and want to have accurate data presented to them at all times. Either way, let’s check all of these features one by one now…
Reliable GPS signal
One of the crucial elements of any tracker is its GPS capabilities. With cycling, this is even more important as it will allow you to navigate through various roads easily and will also give you an accurate update on your current location.
Higher-end models allow you to see your starting point and the route you went through while the cheaper trackers usually sync with your phone and draw on the map there. Either way, the ability to check where you are at any moment is vital if you are cycling in an unknown region.
How good and accurate the GPS signal is, is also of importance since some receivers can struggle to find a signal in lower regions surrounded by cliffs or other high landscape.
A display that is easy to read is almost a universally required feature at this point and it is even more vital for cyclists that are out on a rainy or cloudy day. Most modern trackers have displays that are clearly visible even under direct sunlight thanks to advancements in LCD technologies.
A colorful display isn’t a must but it is nice to have if you want to use your tracker for other apps besides basic tacking ones.
There are two very important factors of your workout that, when recorded, can paint a really good picture of what exactly you are doing. Those are your pace and cadence. Having your pace displayed on the tracker will let you adjust your intensity according to your ongoing efforts. The pace is also indirectly responsible for the calories your body will burn.
The cadence is crucial for one major thing – which muscle fibers you want to train. Knowing your revolutions per minute will allow you to either focus on your slow-twitch muscles or the fast-twitch ones, depending on your goals.
Durability & Build Quality
The build quality and durability of your cycling tracker aren’t essential but are important if you often ride in wet conditions. The build quality directly correlates to elemental resistance with water and dust proofing being the most important part of that.
Also, trackers with Corning Gorilla Glass 4 or 5 are far more durable and less prone to scratches and/or breaking.
Most modern cycling trackers have Bluetooth on them but some have ATN+ connectivity options which allow your sensors to work well together and it is also very light on battery life.
Good HR sensor
Having a reliable HR sensor that reads your heart rate accurately is a must, especially if you are into zone-training. Most high-end watches and trackers have nailed this technology already but, in my opinion, the best way to read your HR is through a chest-strapped sensor that connects to your device. Those might not be the most comfortable but are dead-on reliable in their readings.
Battery life on modern trackers easily lasts a few days but still, if you are getting a smartwatch for this purpose see if the battery is big enough to last more than a single day, as smartwatches drain far more battery, especially when using GPS. In fact, all trackers die out faster when using the GPS, so if your cycling sessions are longer than a few hours, look for a model that can have GPS turned on for more than your average workout.
Comfort is crucial since there is a good chance your wrist will be slightly bent when riding your bike. Look for trackers with a smaller body that won’t create too much discomfort when you put it on. The best shape for cycling trackers is usually the elliptical one as opposed to round models.
There are a number of extra features which can be really useful for your training. If you have a power meter to prepare you for racing, you might want to make sure that the tracker is compatible with it and can be paired with it.
Some navigation features are also a must-have for bikers that go on long trips. Having a touchscreen rather than buttons is also a convenience you will enjoy when riding.
One more important thing you need to check beforehand is App compatibility. If you have a favorite fitness tracker app or a health app, you have to check whether the wearable tracker will pair with it. While most brands like Garmin, Apple, Suunto, and Fitbit come with their own apps, there are still a few models out there that require you running a third-party app of your choice to sync with the device.
Trackers that can give you an accurate ACG reading on the go are one of my favorites, as they can give you accurate day-to-day information about the health of your cardiovascular system. There are even devices that can read Atrial Fibrillations (known as AFib) which plays a big role in the heart’s rhythmic disorders.
Lastly, if you love listening to music when exercising, I suggest looking for a device that can run apps like Spotify, Geezer, Apple music, or others.
If you want to learn how to use your heart rate monitor for heart burning, head over to my full article on the topic!
Finding the best fitness tracker for cycling won’t be easy mainly because of the abundance of models out there. Still, if you know what you need for your cycling sessions in terms of tracking and metrics, you can easily narrow down your choice to a few good models. If you want a good all-rounder, I suggest sticking to one of my suggestions, as they are all leaders in the world of fitness tracking and cycling.