Best cycling watch: Track your rides and fitness from your wrist

Garmin smart watch being worn
(Image credit: Garmin)

If you're looking for the best cycling watch, there are plenty to choose from. Many offer as much cycling functionality as the best cycling computers, but can do more too.

Because they're with you off the bike and usually include an optical heart rate monitor and often a PulseOx blood oxygenation sensor, the best cycling watches can keep track of your other off-bike activity, altitude acclimatisation, step counts and more. 

Sleep wearing your cycling watch and you'll usually get a record of sleep duration and quality and often heart rate variability and other metrics of your training readiness and recovery state.

Battery life is usually impressive too, often making the best cycling watches a good companion if you're going on multi-day adventures. A cycling watch will free up bar space for bikepacking bags, although it's always going to be harder to read than the face-up large screen of a cycling computer. Often, brands will sell you a bar mount as an accessory though.

Here's our pick of the best cycling watches available and, lower down the page, our guide to how to choose the best cycling watch for your needs.

Best cycling watches

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The Garmin Fenix 7 is one of the best smartwatches for cycling

(Image credit: Garmin)

Garmin Fenix 7

The ultimate GPS smartwatch from the cycling computer experts

Specifications

Screen size: 260 x 260px
Claimed battery life standard GPS: 57 hours
Touch screen: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Familiar menu structure for cyclists
+
Up to 57 hours battery in GPS mode, 136 hours in max-battery GPS mode
+
Solar charging option gives even more battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
Costs an arm and a leg

Garmin's Fenix is now in its sixth iteration (it skipped the Fenix 4) and sits at the top of its outdoor range. There are three versions the 7S, 7, and 7X with case sizes of 42mm, 47mm and 51mm respectively. For each, you can have a standard glass, solar glass or sapphire solar glass face. All have a touchscreen as well as button control.

Much of the cycling functionality replicates the Edge cycling computers, with a multi GNSS chip so it can access GPS, GLONASS and Galileo satellite networks along with a barometric altimeter and three-axis electronic compass. On the bottom is Garmin's Elevate optical heart rate monitor with the Pulse Ox (Pulse Oximetry) functionally built-in — it can not only determine your pulse but your blood oxygenation too. 

It doesn't stop there; the smartwatch can handle Bluetooth, WiFi and ANT+ connections complete with support for the best power meters, it can guide you through workouts created on the device or synced from apps like TrainingPeaks, offers turn-by-turn navigation on preloaded maps, Strava live segments, crash detection and works with the Connect IQ store.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival smart watch

(Image credit: Wahoo Fitness)

Wahoo Elemnt Rival

A 'less is more' option that's excellent for triathletes

Specifications

Screen size: 240 x 240 px
Claimed battery life with GPS: 24 hours
Touchscreen: No

Reasons to buy

+
Accurate GPS
+
Detailed data analysis
+
Lightweight

Reasons to avoid

-
Doesn't have a touchscreen
-
No general fitness tracking

Wahoo Fitness's long-awaited first smartwatch - the Elemnt Rival - takes what the brand calls a 'radically simplified' approach, although this doesn't mean a lack of data. You can track multiple activities, from cycling to treadmill running via open water swimming and yoga, without distracting you from your performance.

For serious athletes looking to monitor every minutia of their progress, the Elemnt Rival's 24/7 data tracking provides a lot to delve into, while for triathletes specifically, the Rival's transition technology will be a game-changer. There's no need to change the sport type you're tracking, it will automatically detect your transition between stages.

If you're only interested in your serious metrics for cycling and other sports, you'll find everything you need here. However, if you do also want to track general fitness - like sleep for example - then you'll be disappointed to know that this is currently missing from the Rival.

Best Smartwatch for cycling: Suunto 9

(Image credit: Suunto)

Suunto 9

Smartwatch for those who put in big miles or regularly forget to charge devices

Specifications

Screen size: 240 x 240px
Claimed battery life standard GPS: 40 hours
Touch screen: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
300 hours battery on power saver mode
+
Charge breakdown before activity

Reasons to avoid

-
Can't sync workouts to device

Another smart cycling watch available in multiple models, the Suunto 9 comes as the Peak Pro, Peak and Baro. 

Suunto took the most complained about feature relating to smartwatches and threw everything it had at the problem until it wasn't a problem anymore — although unfortunately, at the expense of some other features. In fact, Suunto claims up to 300 hours of tracking in the power saving Ultra mode; before you hit start on one of the 80 available sport profiles, it will let you know how long the battery will last in each tracking mode.

With a large 240 x 240px touch screen, Suunto has integrated the GPS antenna into the bezel, so you don't get the huge bump on the strap-like other watches in the range. The smartwatch can also take advantage of the GPS GLONASS, Galileo, Beidou and QZZS satellite networks. You only get a Bluetooth connection here, but it allows the Suunto to talk to your phone and wireless sensors, including power meters.

Built-in is an optical heart rate sensor. In the power saver modes, the watch uses built-in accelerometers, gyroscopes and a compass to fill in the gaps between GPS pings — Suunto calls this FusedTrack. As we mentioned before, the Suunto 9's battery superiority comes at the cost of a few things; workouts can't be synced from third-party apps, there are no Strava live segments, and it misses out on other best smartwatch features like music control. 

Garmin Enduro 2

(Image credit: Garmin)

Garmin Enduro 2

Solar-powered and huge battery life, ideal for endurance cyclists

Specifications

Screen size: 280 x 280px
Claimed battery life standard GPS: 110 hours
Touch screen: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Huge battery life
+
Solar powered
+
VO2 Max metrics

Reasons to avoid

-
Only one (largish) size and spec option
-
Top dollar price

The Garmin Enduro 2 is all about ultra-endurance activity tracking, and essentially the only real reason you'd buy this over the Fenix 7 would be because you need those 110+ hours of GPS tracking, which Garmin claims can extend over 700 hours with a solar boost in the most frugal mode.

With its integrated solar panel to top up the power level on the go, the enormous battery life claims make the Enduro an excellent option for anyone completing multi-day events, from Everesting to cross-continental bikepacking races.

However, if you're not in need of ridiculously long bouts of GPS tracking, then you'd probably be better off with the Fenix 7, which although still pricey is significantly cheaper than the Enduro.

Garmin Forerunner 965

(Image credit: Garmin Forerunner 965)

Garmin Forerunner 965

Like the Fenix but with a brighter screen

Specifications

Screen size: 454 x 454px
Claimed battery life standard GPS: 31 hours
Touch screen: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Bright AMOLED screen
+
Full colour maps
+
ClimbPro
+
PulseOx

Reasons to avoid

-
Still pretty pricy

The Forerunner 965 is top of Garmin's Forerunner series, with a vivid 1.4in AMOLED touchscreen with the option of an always-on mode and a lightweight format with a weight of 52g. 

It has Bluetooth, ANT+ and WiFi connectivity, plays nice with sensors of all sorts including power meters, can access multiple satellite location networks, and even has Garmin's ClimbPro and altitude and heat acclimation features.

The battery life is claimed at 31 hours when using GPS in standard mode, and the watch features the Elevate optical HR sensor including Pulse Ox data. As with Garmin's other smartwatches, the Forerunner 965 links to Garmin Connect, allowing you to track sleep, recovery, HRV and other metrics.

Best Fitbit fitness trackers and smart watches

(Image credit: Fitbit)

Fitbit Versa 4

Fitbit's most intelligent smartwatch with GPS route tracking

Specifications

Screen size: 336 x 336 px
Claimed battery life standard GPS: 12 hours
Touch screen: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Looks
+
Fitbit app and smartwatch ecosystem
+
GPS route tracking
+
Great battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
Poor side button design
-
Advanced features require Fitbit Premium subscription

Some people may write off Fitbit, thinking it's a brand that just makes step counters, but several of its smartwatches have a huge amount to offer. At the top of the pile, we'd list the Versa 4. 

The design is stylish, and doesn't scream 'bike nerd' in everyday life, which will appeal to many. But behind the glossy facade, there are several features that will help you get the most out of your cycling. The built-in GPS and route tracking feature mean that you can store your route, share it, and return to it later.

Its claimed battery life of 12 hours in GPS mode is pretty accurate, while overall battery life can exceed six days between charges. There's an option for always-on display if you want it, and charging is quick. 

Bluetooth facilitates a connection to your phone and beams activities over to the Fitbit app instantly — which can then be set to hit Strava automatically.

Fitbit's sleep tracking also seems to be a head above the rest, plus it has all the smartwatch features you look for like notifications, access to music streaming, and it can even send you an email when it needs to be charged.

Apple Watch Series 8

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple Watch Series 8

Not half bad as a GPS watch once you break out of Apple's walls

Specifications

Screen size: 484 x 396px
Claimed battery life standard GPS: 10 hours
Touch screen: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Blood oxygen, ECG, body temperature sensors
+
Super sharp screen
+
iPhone integration
+
Breadth of apps

Reasons to avoid

-
Battery life isn't long enough
-
Must have an iPhone
-
Expensive

The Apple Watch has become uber-popular, and we'd venture a guess that quite a few people reading this right now have one on their wrist. There are 45mm and 41mm sizes, so you can choose the one that best suits you.

It does all the things the best smartwatches do, has built-in GPS, optical HR and will give you about ten hours of activity tracking. Apple has two ways you can track activities, either in its own Workout app or in third-party apps such as Strava. 

Apple's own Workout app offers basic info on your training and as of the latest watch OS update can automatically share activities to Strava. However, there are a gazillion third-party apps that offer considerably more functionality, from your basic Strava or RideWithGPS, to apps that allow you to pull data from your power meter, to those which will give you turn-by-turn directions on the bike.

The Apple Watch Ultra is larger, has a larger touchscreen and will last 15 hours in GPS mode, but it's significantly more expensive, costing more than Garmin's top units. 

Buyer beware, the Apple watch will try and piggyback your phone's GPS even though it has the option of its own built-in chip.

Polar Grit X Pro

(Image credit: Polar)

Polar Grit X Pro

Sturdy, with decent battery life and multisport functionality

Specifications

Screen size: 240 x 240px
Claimed battery life standard GPS: 40 hours
Touch screen: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Good battery life
+
Military grade construction

Reasons to avoid

-
Functionality offered lags behind the best

Polar's multisport watch works well as a cycling watch, offering mapping and turn-by-turn navigation using the Komoot app. There's automatic hill detection and route and elevation profiles. You also get exercise load and recovery tracking and, when it's time for bed, Polar gives you sleep tracking functionality.

Battery life is good at a claimed 40 hours and there are multiple battery-save modes to increase it further, up to a claimed 100 hours with GPS tracking. There's only Bluetooth built in, so you need to ensure that any external sensors can communicate with the Grit, but the Polar app provides plenty of analysis and download options.

The Grit X Pro is available in two face sizes and a premium titanium edition. All have a built-in optical HRM and music control.

Garmin Venu 2

(Image credit: Garmin)

Garmin Venu 2

Garmin's Apple Watch killer

Specifications

Screen size: 416 x 416 px
Claimed battery life standard GPS: 22 hours
Touchscreen: Yes

Reasons to buy

+
Brilliant AMOLED touchscreen
+
More sport specific features than similar smartwatches

Reasons to avoid

-
Not as much functionality as Garmin's top devices

The Venu 2 is Garmin's Apple Watch killer, it has an OLED screen, has more built-in fitness features and is available in three sizes as well as square and round formats. As you'd expect the watch has GPS integrated, heart rate and PulseOx, a barometric altimeter and magnetic compass but in the native apps, your activities are not restricted by Apple's self-imposed walls. 

The watch goes well beyond the basic data fields. There is limited power meter support, the Venu 2 also has a range built-in structured workouts or custom sessions can be synced from Garmin Connect, and it won't drain your phone battery trying to steal GPS.

Plus it's got all the smartphone features like contactless payments, Spotify and Amazon music support and basic health features like 24/7 hr heart rate, sleep tracking and blood O2. 

Best smartwatch for cycling: Sigma ID.Tri

(Image credit: Sigma)

Sigma iD.TRI

Budget friendly full-featured watch

Specifications

Screen size: 128 x 144 px
Claimed battery life standard GPS: 12 hours
Touch screen: No

Reasons to buy

+
Price
+
Surprisingly functional
+
Power meter support

Reasons to avoid

-
Small screen
-
UX takes some getting used to

Sigma probably isn't the first name you think of when it comes to smartwatches but as the name suggests, the iD.Tri is a watch that's designed for triathletes so it works pretty well for any or all of those three sports. As you'd expect, it has GPS, optical heart rate, a barometric altimeter, three-axis compass and can facilitate turn-by-turn directions including routes from Komoot. The watch also has built-in modes for structured workouts, and you can set up eat and drink reminders too. 

The watch sees ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity and plays nicely with sensors including power meters and your phone, and should it detect a crash, it can send an alert to predetermined emergency contacts. 

It's budget-friendly, and you could buy two of them for the price of some of the other watches on this list. 

How to choose the best cycling watch for you

Many smartwatches can effectively replace a cycling computer, although reading your data and maps on the smaller screen can be difficult. There are plenty of considerations to make when choosing, so here are a few things to think about when choosing the best cycling watch for you. 

How large do you want it to be?

Even on the best cycling watches, the screen will be smaller than that of the best cycling computers. Many cycling watches have built-in navigation, but if you like to look at a map when riding, it can be difficult to see too far around you at a decent resolution, making map reading more difficult than on the larger screen of a bike computer. Scrolling and zooming can be difficult if you need to use buttons. 

A larger screen means a larger watch, which can start to feel cumbersome if you have a smaller wrist and may feel particularly awkward if you plan to sleep wearing your device.

This is usually fairly quick for most people to get used to. But many cycling watches are available in multiple sizes, so you might decide to sacrifice screen size for a smaller, more comfortable format. On the other hand, you might prefer a larger cycling watch for its increased readability.

What cycling (and other) modes are available?

Smartwatches often have multiple sport modes ranging from cycling to golf. Some will even have numerous riding profiles like road, gravel, MTB and indoor cycling, which allow you to not only tailor data screens to what's relevant to that specific type of riding but also what sensors the watch needs to find.

Lots of smartwatches will also have multi-sport modes which allow you to start in one sport mode and continue the activity in another, good for triathlons and suchlike. Some Garmin devices can even allow you to create a sport, allowing you to tailor what screens are visible.

Will the cycling watch work with external sensors?

If you're in the market for a smartwatch to track your rides, make sure it has its own GPS chip and doesn't piggyback from your phone as some of the lower-priced units do — these usually fall under the banner of 'wearables'.

Many of the higher-end watches will also be able to pick up a signal from the GLONASS, BaiDou and Galileo satellite networks, not just the US GPS. Whether or not you should enable these features depends mostly where you are in the world. For the most part, we've found GPS is more than sufficient — enabling these additional satellite connections also puts a tax on the battery life.

Bluetooth has become the standard connection protocol for communicating with sensors such as power meters, turbo trainers, and of course, your phone — even Garmin which owns the ANT+ protocol supports Bluetooth. Most of the higher-end watches will also be able to use ANT+, and some will even connect to your home WiFi network for ride uploads and firmware updates. 

However, just because a smartwatch can connect to a sensor, does not mean it can decode the information it's sending. The main sticking point is power meters, and there are quite a few smartwatches that don't support power meters, while some will only display certain metrics like normalised power.

Does it support wrist-based heart rate?

Optical heart rate is a cool feature, and it's nifty and more comfortable not to need a chest strap. The trouble is it's not always that accurate unless you're standing still. 

All optical heart rate sensors come with directions as to how they need to be worn, and for an accurate reading, an optical sensor needs to maintain solid contact with the wearer's skin. This is a herculean task when the unit is constantly being shaken and compounded by sweaty or sunscreen-coated skin.  

For this reason, point to point accuracy is not ideal with wrist-based heart rate; however, they still do surprisingly well for averages. Optical heart rate is also useful for 24/7 tracking - you probably don't want to wear your heart rate monitor strap to bed.

What other included features should I look for?

Some smartwatches have barometric altimeters built-in as well as things like accelerometers and gyroscopes. If you're after realistic altitude data, a built-in barometric altimeter is a must, as GPS altitude data is about as useful as a multi-tool without a 5mm hex wrench. As barometers measure air pressure, some watches will even give you a warning when the air pressure suddenly drops, signalling a storm might be moving in. 

If you move between altitude zones, a barometer in tandem with PulseOx measurement can also in some cases provide you with acclimatisation data.

Mid- to higher-range GPS watches will also have accelerometers and gyroscopes built-in which can be used to supplement spotty satellite coverage or during power-saving modes that involve less frequent satellite reporting. They can also provide incident detection and report this via a linked smartphone.

What battery life should I expect?

Smartwatches will eat through a charge when tracking your location, so it's important to look at the GPS battery figure when weighing up your options. Also, consider if the watch has battery saver functions that reduce the frequency of GPS reporting but may rely on other built-in sensors to fill in the missing information.

Garmin's solar charging options may help you to eke out more battery life if you ride somewhere sunny, but in dreary conditions don't add a lot of charge.

What does phone integration give me?

Basically, every modern smartwatch can connect to your phone via Bluetooth and let you know who is calling or display a text message. Some will also allow for Strava Live segments, contactless pay features, music control and may even have onboard storage for your tunes. 

An accompanying phone app can provide a lot of analysis. Garmin Connect is a great example, giving you data including sleep score and heart rate variability to track your exercise readiness.