8 Great Smart Watches For Cyclists

Track your heart rate, sleep, cycling routes, and more with these smart watches.


Cait Giddings |

Every year GPS watches become more like dedicated bike computers by adding cycling-specific features to their ever-growing list of fitness-tracking capabilities. Where once we were excited to just see a little bike symbol among a list of sports mode choices, now watches actually include features cyclists want beyond just distance and pace information, like turn-by-turn directions and power meter data. Here are some of the pros of owning a GPS watch for cycling – and what to look for when you buy one.

Watch or Computer?

A handlebar-mounted bike computer can be the best tool for measuring your rides for a few reasons: It’s got a clearer screen for displaying maps, more display space for ride data, and – okay, most of the reasons are just related to having a bigger screen. But there are certainly situations in which a GPS watch has the edge. For multi-sport athletes, a smart watch with running, swimming, and cycling modes makes it easier to track all your data in one place, and cuts down on the electronics clutter of two devices.

Having your computer on your wrist also makes it easier to move back and forth between different bikes – and even track those short little commutes automatically (hey, they add up!). If you just want to track your pace and ride distance, a watch or computer are equally useful. However, if you’d like to incorporate all your daily metrics into your training, including sleep recovery and activity throughout the day, a smart watch has the edge.

Key Features

This roundup is by no means an exhaustive list of cycling-specific smart watches, but all the watches below share a few key features you should consider when shopping for your watch. First, a dedicated cycling mode is clutch if you have any interest in syncing your rides to Strava or another training program. Next off, battery life is critical – not just overall watch battery life, but specifically battery life in GPS mode.

Let’s just say you don’t want to start that gravel century not knowing if you’ll still have tracking power by the time you roll your tired carcass across the finish line. And while wrist-based heart rate might not be as accurate as a chest strap, it’s still an important data point for calculating relative effort and caloric burn. Then there are the bonus features, like turn-by-turn directions and power meter compatibility. Not all the watches here can handle those higher-level functions, but we’ve included several high-end models that can. Here are our favourites.

Garmin Forerunner 935

smart watches
Garmin

Best for: Replacing your bike computer with a watch
Price: R7289
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Garmin has a stacked roster of Forerunners that make perfectly solid cycling trackers – the 230, 235, 305, 310XT, and 630, to name a few – but the 935 stands out thanks to its exhaustive capabilities and long battery life (up to 24 hours in GPS mode). The watch has all the base data you’d expect from a watch of this price and caliber, including heart rate, step counting, and caloric burn; in addition to cycling-specific features, like power meter compatibility, cadence sensor capability, and even Strava Live segments right on the watch. It’s the closest thing Garmin makes to a dedicated bike computer in watch form, which is convenient when you want to switch between bikes without shuffling your computer around or just use one piece of equipment for all your sports data.

Garmin Fenix 5

smart watches
Garmin

Best for: Data fiends who like to explore
Price: R7789
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The Fenix 5 has nearly all the same cycling-specific features as the Forerunner 935, including power meter compatibility, cadence sensor capability, stellar battery life (up to 24 hours), and Strava Live segments – as well as the standard high-end smartwatch features like heart rate, step counting, waterproof swimming mode, and caloric burn. The big difference between the two is in the Fenix 5’s mapping features. You can use the watch like you would a car GPS to create a route to a destination with turn by turn directions, so you can always find your way home, even if you’re out riding or running without a phone.

Suunto Spartan Sport

smart watches
Suunto

Best for: Going long without a recharge
Price: R7489
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With a really long battery life of up to 40 hours in GPS mode, the Suunto Spartan Sport is capable of tracking all of your rides, even those 1200K randonneuring epics and week-long bike tours. The touchscreen-controlled watch claims to come pre-installed with support for more than 80 sports, with racing and interval use. I probably couldn’t list 80 sports if I tried, but I know it supports all the ones I’m most likely to want to track – including running, swimming (down to 100m), and of course, cycling, with power meter and cadence sensor compatibility. The watch also comes with all the standard GPS smart tracking features, including pace, speed, distance, altitude, heart rate, and calories.

Polar Vantage V

smart watches
Polar

Best for: Multi-sport athletes used to training with power
Price: R8999.99
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The Polar Vantage V is a solid choice for cyclists, with the usual cycling-specific and fitness GPS features (minus Strava Live segments, which are said to be coming in a future update), and up to 40 hours of battery life in GPS mode. But it’s an even better choice for multi-sport athletes who want to bring cycling data metrics to all their athletic pursuits. That’s because Polar is attempting to map out new territory for runners with its measure of “Power” – a metric previously only obsessed over by those of us on bikes. Polar claims the Vantage V is the first wrist-based GPS watch to even calculate the number, which is based on GPS and barometer data. As in cycling, this can allegedly help you run at a steady effort level, regardless of the hills or wind, and avoid overtraining and injuries from pushing too far past your limits.

Apple Watch Series 4

smart watches
Courtesy of Apple

Best for: Apple fans who have been waiting for more cycling features
Price: R7799 (GPS ONLY)
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While not the best overall GPS watch for cycling, this iteration of the Apple Watch is the best of its kind for cycling to date, thanks to a few added bike features. The watch’s battery life is still a comparatively scant six hours in GPS mode, but now it has a cadence sensor for indoor and outdoor rides, pace alerts for outdoor rides, and rolling kilometre pace, which indicates your preceding kilometre pace. There’s even a new safety feature that can detect a crash and notify emergency services, if it doesn’t receive a timely response from the wearer. That comes in addition to all the features that make the Apple Watch a great smart watch in general, including general fitness and social features and the ability to receive and respond to texts and emails.

Fitbit Ionic

SMART WATCHES
Courtesy of Fitbit

Best for: Fitness riders who want all their stats in one place
Price: R5489
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Currently the only Fitbit with on-board GPS (RIP Surge), the Ionic has a dedicated cycling setting that can sync to Strava through Fitbit’s clean, easy-to-use app; a wrist-based heart rate monitor; and a decent battery life in GPS mode of up to 10 hours. You can receive social notifications on the watch, as well as make wallet payments, and play music. As a dedicated cycling watch, it lacks many of the ride-specific features you can get from the Garmin 935 and Garmin Fenix 5; however, if you’re just looking for a solid, all around fitness watch that can track your rides, calories, sleep, steps, and every other metric the human body can conceivably produce, this is a good option. Warning: My model sometimes takes 10-15 extra seconds to get a GPS signal.

Tom Tom Spark 3

Courtesy of Tomtom

Best for: Budget smartwatch shoppers
Price: R2999
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The Spark 3 doesn’t have all the exhaustive capabilities of a more expensive smartwatch, but it covers most of the bases, with a built-in heart rate monitor, on-board GPS, activity tracking, waterproofing up to 40 metres, and a healthy battery life of up to 11 hours in GPS mode. It can track your ride in a dedicated GPS bike mode and sync through Bluetooth to Strava, but lacks the fancier features, like power-meter integration and Strava Live segments. Although the watch has been discontinued by TomTom, you can still buy it through other online sellers.

Garmin Forerunner 235

smart watches
Courtesy of Garmin

Best for: Garmin enthusiasts who can’t stomach spending R7000
Price: R4489
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The 235 has most of the features you want: wrist-based heart rate monitoring, audio prompts, fitness and sleep tracking, smart notifications, social-media sharing, accurate GPS data, and, of course, a cycling-specific setting. However, it’s primarily a running watch, and doesn’t support all the higher-end cycling capabilities you can find on a 935 or Fenix 5. If you don’t care about those bonus features (like Live segments or power meter data), the Forerunner 235 is likely all you need for most rides – at a far reduced price. In GPS mode, it has a solid battery life of up to 16 hours.

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