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If you like to cycle as your main form of exercise, you should probably move away from using basic smartphone activity tracking apps to towards dedicated fitness and activity trackers, as the former are not as accurate as you might think. A touchscreen phone is also not convenient for constant checking of stats or for using during a sweaty workout. For the absolutely best form of tracking, the best GPS watch for cycling will also trump traditional wrist-based fitness trackers because GPS is important for distance and speed accuracy.
A GPS watch works for other activities too, like running, hiking, swimming and even cross-country skiing. However, there’s one metric that is important to track specifically for biking and that’s cadence. Cadence for cycling means the number of rotations of the crank you make per minute. Cadence depends on the force of effort that you expend (this affects heart rate), gear speeds and change in terrain, and all of those influence your speed of cycling. Therefore a simple speedometer or pedometer is not nearly enough to accurately monitor your workout.
A fitness watch for cycling may have heart rate, power, cycling speed and cadence sensors built-in, while some models carry ANT+ sensors that pair with optional external sensors to track the metrics. The more advanced GPS watches come with even more data tracking, like VO2 max. Some models allow you to switch between dedicated modes for each different type of activity. So if you’re training for a triathlon, you can exclusively use only the cycling mode or running mode or swimming mode for focused training.
If you want to leave your phone at home or out of the gym but still want to be notified of phone calls, messages and alarms, these watches can pair with your phone and offer alerts or even full read outs on the watch face.
If you’re unsure about what features to look for when shopping for the best activity tracker for cycling, we’ll cover them further down. But for now let’s take a close look at our picks for the best bike fitness tracker watches available today. If this list is not enough for you, then see what Amazon has stocked. Keep in mind that some runner’s GPS watches include an app or ability to track cycling as well.
- 1 Activity Trackers with a Heart Rate Monitor
- 2 Activity Tracker without a Heart Rate Monitor
- 3 What to Look for When Choosing the Best Fitness Tracker for Cycling
|Product||Rating (out of 5)||Also for swimming?||Touchscreen?||Smartphone alerts?||Price|
|Garmin Vívoactive HR||3.8||yes||yes||yes||$$$$|
|TomTom Spark 3||3.8||yes||no||no||$$$|
Activity Trackers with a Heart Rate Monitor
Garmin Vívoactive HR GPS Smart Watch
For cyclists, the Garmin Vivoactive HR Smart Watch can track your time, cycling speed, distance and calories burned all at once. There’s no need for a chest strap, as this watch can record your heart rate with precision. It can be measured constantly, even when you are asleep, and the activity tracker will count every single step you take through the day and calculate how many calories you’ve burned.
There is a dedicated biking app that you can use, and in addition to the other activity apps already on the watch, you can download more from the Connect IQ store. There are over 1,300 apps in the store that this watch can install, including apps that can be used to customize the screen. This watch can also connect to wi-fi. You can receive all smart notifications from your phone through the watch. This is also useful if you want to keep track of daily weather. The watch can be used while swimming but you can only access your heart rate after you’re out of the water.
The watch comes with a built-in GPS so you can accurately track any outdoor activity. It has a touchscreen that is in color and unlike many other watches, this one is a very brightly-lit screen, making it excellent for night use. In addition, it’s compatible with Varia lights and radar for safe late night riding.
Only one lithium ion battery is needed to power it for eight days in watch mode, and it comes included with the purchase. If you are constantly using GPS, then the watch can still last for 13 straight hours.
You will have to purchase a separate power and cadence sensor (Garmin Bike Speed Sensor and Cadence Sensor) to accurately track your cycling, but this watch supports ANT+ for the connection of those sensors. In addition to current speed while biking, it gives you average speed and lap time and tracks your route if you’re outside. You can also use it indoors on a stationary bike with the “Bike Indoor” feature, but it is very basic unless you manually enter a few stats from your bike’s monitor readings. A cadence sensor would also help enhance exercise bike workouts.
There are many apps and features available, but it may take some time to learn how to use them all. As much getting used to as is required, this watch is still worth every penny, especially if you’re an active lifestyle kind of person. The one place that it falls short is its optical heart rate monitor. It can vary wildly when it first starts tracking. You can use the watch to pair with your own chest-strapped monitor for more accuracy.
The Fitbit Surge is quite similar to the Garmin watch above in terms of features and price, but is more stylish to wear as you can choose between three colors and 5 sizes. The face sits flush to the wrist and is only as wide as the band, so it does not look bulky even though the face is large.
In terms of its activity tracking features, it can record and track all of your activities throughout the day and comes with multi-sport modes that you switch between. The Biking mode was added in March of 2015. The stats are recorded in its SmartTrack app and you can analyze everything later on your laptop after syncing it with Strava. With the help of its in-built GPS, the Surge tracks distance, elevation, pace and split times based on your route and you can analyze the route later on to find better paths. As a cycling fitness tracker, it will automatically and continuously monitor your heart rate and heart rate zones through your wrist and will display the calories burned throughout the day. You can also integrate the Surge with the MyFitnessPal app if you want to track your diet too.
The backlight is good so you can easily read the watch in darkness. The Surge can wirelessly sync to your phone to display calls and texts, and you can even control your music playlist through it without ever needing to take the phone out of your pocket. The Surge can also monitor your sleep and silently wakes you by vibrating if you set an alarm.
Depending on your settings and usage, the Fitbit Surge’s battery is rated to last for up to 7 days and up to 10 hours with GPS turned on.
It is not recommended to use this watch in the shower or while swimming, and if you only exercise indoors on a stationary bike, treadmill, etc, get another watch because it does not include an accelerometer.
Polar RC3 GPS Sports Watch
The Polar Sports Watch is a bit more affordable, though that’s because its design is a bit more technologically primitive compared to the smart watch hybrids above. It will not sync with your phone, so if you want access to your messages, calls, etc., you’ll have to constantly take your phone out of your pocket.
It still has pretty good tracking for activities with 8 training screens. For cycling, in particular, it can record cadence. However, you must obtain a separate cadence and power sensor. It does record your distance, speed, and the route you took. This is because of the built-in GPS. Another metric the watch can track is your altitude using the altimeter, making it possibly the best fitness tracker for biking. You will be able to see it both while you’re exercising and after you’re done. This is excellent if you want to cycle at all altitudes. During the continuous use of the GPS, the battery can last for 12 hours. One thing to note about the GPS, in order to get a signal quickly, you have to stay still until the watch locks a signal in. Only start running or biking once the green check mark shows.
Not only can the Polar Sports Watch track your activity metrics, it can also track your heart rate pretty accurately. Similar to the GPS feature, only start your activity once the monitor picks up your pulse and the check mark shows. If this doesn’t work for you, you can purchase a chest strap and attach the watch to it for a more accurate reading.
Together with the GPS you can use its Smart Coaching Features. This enables you to set goals and milestones. You may be determined to run a certain distance or at a specific speed, so you can set your watch to help you reach those ambitions. You can download endurance training programs online to further improve your cycling capabilities.
In addition to the Smart Coaching feature is the online calendar app that syncs with your watch. This is for setting your goals, like running a certain distance within a number of days. The mini USB, which allows for synchronization for the online calendar app between the laptop and watch, can be difficult to use. Specifically, attaching the mini USB to the watch can take some getting used to.
TomTom Spark 3 Cardio, GPS Fitness Watch + Heart Rate Monitor
From the makers of satnav and maps, comes the TomTom Spark 3, with its 24/7 tracking of distance, speed, pace and heart rate of most activities, including swimming. In fact, this could also qualify as a good affordable GPS watch for a beginner’s triathlon training. You can track calories burned throughout your day as well.
The GPS tracking connect fast and gives you live stats and the in-built breadcrumb compass sensor helps you find your way back as well as discover new trails while running or cycling. It seamlessly syncs with the Strava cycling app and MapMyFitness app too.
You don’t need a chest heart rate monitor, as there is one built in. However, it is not as accurate as some other models. If you like to listen to music while you train, you don’t need your smartphone for that either because the watch can stream or store your playlist and it can connect wirelessly to bluetooth headphones, which are included.
You can get up to 3 weeks of battery life in non-GPS mode and up to 9 hours with the heart rate monitoring and GPS turned on. Control is not through a touch screen but via a button below the watch face, which is a good thing for those prone to sweaty hands. The overall style is quite sporty but sleek compared to the Garmin and Polar options.
All in all, the TomTom Spark 3 doesn’t get into minute details for serious biking or other activities, but if you’re most concerned about using it for exercising, then its low price makes it quite appealing.
Activity Tracker without a Heart Rate Monitor
MOOV NOW – 3D Fitness Tracker & Real Time Audio Coach
This tracker might be the most innovative or distinctive of all of the watches on this list. There isn’t a screen but, rather, an audio coach that speaks to you in real time as you exercise. This coach gives you advice on how you can improve your cycling skills. You can also receive words of motivation and encouragement after your workout. The battery can last up to six months.
It does not have a heart rate monitor. There is also no in-built GPS, but the band can connect to your phone via Bluetooth for it. In order for the audio coach to talk to you, you must have your smartphone connected to it with the app installed. Luckily, this can be utilized both outdoors and indoors, as it can measure your distance and speed with the accompanying app. The audio coach will tell you how to improve based on your movements, progress, and other statistics that the band has measured. One incredible feature of the band is the Omni Motion sensor. This tracks your motion for several activities, including cycling, in 3D, which is how the audio coach determines what type of advice to give you.
The tracker can allow you to compete against friends. You don’t even have to wear the tracker on your wrist; you can also wear it on your ankle. The audio coach can be listened to through a Bluetooth headset while you exercise, and the statistics shown in the app are very detailed on your progress. It really encourages you to find your current limit and then push further than that. Of all of the trackers on this list, this one is the most affordable.
What to Look for When Choosing the Best Fitness Tracker for Cycling
There are various things to look at when choosing the best fitness band for cycling. The more features and sensors you want packed in, the more expensive it will be, but what those features are depends on what you really need the watch for. Unless you’re training for a race, there’s no need to get a top of the line watch, but if you’re serious about fitness, and cycling is going to be your only form of exercise, then ensure that those basic cycling metrics are included or at least can pair with optional external sensors. These metrics include power, speed, distance, time, heart rate and cadence. Heart rate monitoring is important on a cycling activity tracker if you want to do interval training on your stationary or outdoor bike.
If you only run for exercise, you don’t need as many features and can instead get a much lower priced fitness smart watch, like the Garmin Forerunner 35.
It used to be that fitness trackers were all bulky and only meant for use in the gym or during the activity. If you want to go from the gym to the supermarket or just use the watch throughout the day to track the steps you take, then the design is important and some watches are sleeker than others.
Ease of use is important too. You don’t want to be fiddling with lots of buttons to access stats or the latest notification coming from your phone. A touch screen may be nice and modern, but if you usually get very sweaty during your workout, it will be a pain to use. The display should be easy to read in bright sunlight and a dark room at home. Some screens will come in color but if you can settle for black and white you can save a bit on the cost.
Most activity trackers are water resistant these days, but check and see the manufacturer’s details. Even if only using the watch for cycling, it should at least stay immune to sweat. If you’re going to use it for swimming or while in the shower, then it has to be specifically rated for that.
Lastly, ensure that the battery is rated for the number of hours you want it to work before needing a recharge. Also check to see how long the battery will last when GPS is turned on, because that is always a major factor.