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Best cycling watch in 2021 | What is the best smartwatch for cycling?

Everything you need to know about these wearable devices

Collage showing of the best smartwatches for cycling

If you’re looking for the best smartwatch for cycling, you’ve come to the right place. Our team of expert reviewers have put smartwatches from some of the biggest bands to the test.

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Why choose a smartwatch for cycling over one of the best bike computers?

Screen size might not be as big as some cycling computers – smartwatches have to be small enough to fit on your wrist – but this makes these wearable devices popular with athletes who partake in multiple sports, compete in triathlons or cross-training.

Many smartwatches now have dedicated cycling modes, will support GPS tracking and connect to other training devices, such as power meters.

Plus, in some cases, smartwatches have more functionality than cycling computers with in-built heart rate monitors and other health tracking metrics, such as calorie counters, step counters and sleep quality monitors.

Here, we have listed the best smartwatches for cycling and if you want to find out more about these devices you can skip to our buyer’s guide to smartwatches at the end.

Best smartwatch for cycling in 2021, tried and tested

  • Garmin Forerunner 945: £500 / $600 / AU$999 / €550
  • Coros Pace 2: £180 / $200 / AU$320 / €199
  • Polar Ignite GPS: £174.50 / $229.95 / AU$349 / €199.95
  • Polar Vantage V2: £449 / $500 / AU$699 / €500

Garmin Forerunner 945

5.0 out of 5 star rating
Best cycling watch
The great thing about the 945 is that, no matter how deep you go into the functionality, it’s still intuitive to operate.
Immediate Media
  • £500 / €550 / $600 / AU$999 as tested
  • Excellent battery life in GPS mode
  • Countless features

The Garmin Forerunner 945 improves on its predecessor, the Forerunner 935, by incorporating new features for athletes as well as some more day to day functions that give this Garmin smartwatch extra appeal.

It has a new optical heart-rate sensor and, after a ride, its inbuilt software will calculate how you benefitted aerobically and anaerobically.

The 30.4mm screen is easy to read and the battery has an impressive 36-hour battery life in GPS mode.

The watch has ANT+, Bluetooth, and WiFi connectivity and will instantly share ride data with most of the best cycling apps on the market.

The Forerunner 945 will also let you play music directly from the watch to Bluetooth headphones and features Garmin Pay for contactless payments.

This is the best Garmin cycling watch we’ve tested and the only thing holding this watch back is the high price tag.

Coros Pace 2 smartwatch

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Best cycling watch
The Coros Pace 2 might not support navigation but it’s still an attractive watch for cyclists.
Jack Luke / Immediate Media
  • £180 / $200 / AU$320 / €199 as tested
  • Good battery life and great value
  • Lacks navigation and routes

Compared to its predecessor, the Coros 2 has a number of updates that make it an attractive option for cycling but even more so for multi-sport athletes.

These updates include five times more RAM for faster processing and four times more storage. The watch will link up to any conceivable device via ANT+ and there is a training plan feature that works in tandem with the Coros app.

The watch is probably better suited to cyclists who also like to run than those only interested in life on two wheels, though. It provides running power metrics and is operated with two buttons instead of a touchscreen. These are easy to use when running but not so easy when wearing thick winter cycling gloves or holding a handlebar.

It also doesn’t support navigation or routes, which might rule it out for many cyclists.

However, the Coros Pace 2 does boast a claimed battery life of 30 days in regular use and 30 hours in full-on GPS mode, which we found to pretty much be the case in testing.

Polar Ignite GPS fitness smartwatch

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Best cycling watch
The strap is made from TPU plastic while the watch’s bezel is made from stainless steel.
Alex Evans
  • £174.50 / $229.95 / AU$349 / €199.95 as tested
  • Great battery life and data
  • Heart rate monitor isn’t the best

The Polar Ignite GPS fitness smartwatch is designed for cycling, running and other outdoor activities.

The watch handles GPS duties almost as well as a dedicated GPS cycling computer, with the GPS tracking only wandering in particularly dense woods during testing.

Vigorous activity did lead to some spurious data from the heart rate monitor, but as wrist-based monitors are generally less reliable than other heart rate monitors it’s hard to mark the watch down for this.

The Polar Ignite features other metrics that, while not specific to cycling, proved to be surprisingly useful. These included sleep data and daily activity monitoring, where exercise is presented as a percentage to help inform you of when you should rest.

The watch is a good choice for more casual cyclists who don’t want to pay the price of a halo product or someone who’s looking for greater insight into fitness, body stress and sleep.

Polar Vantage V2

4.0 out of 5 star rating
Best cycling watch
The Polar Ignite V2 can perform an FTP test so you can calculate your training zones.
Immediate Media
  • £449 / $500 / AU$699 / €500 as tested
  • Range of cycling tests
  • Route visuals are limited

The Polar Vantage V2 is a multisport smartwatch with metrics for many different activities, but it has an array of cycling-specific functions and tests including Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and VO2 max.

The watch also has a function called Fuel Wise that tells you when to eat and drink. Reminders depend on ride intensity, which is established via the smartwatch’s in-built heart rate monitor.

This Polar smartwatch has navigational capabilities when paired with Komoot, but despite the bright display, the visual guidance is basic. The watch will also link up with Strava to display live segments.

The touchscreen works pretty well when wearing gloves, but there are buttons too if this proves difficult.

Battery life is impressive at 38 hours in full GPs mode (claimed battery life is 40 hours), and GPS pickup and retention are also impressive.


Also consider…

The best smartwatch for cycling will often come down to personal preference, due to the combination of particular functions. The following smartwatches scored fewer than four out of five stars in our testing, but they might just tick the right boxes for you.

Garmin Forerunner 745

3.5 out of 5 star rating
Best cycling watch
The handy ClimbPro feature tells you the distance and gradient remaining, to guide pacing.
Immediate Media
  • £400 / $500 / AU$849 / €450 as tested
  • Variety of features including fitness analysis
  • Less appealing to pure cyclists

The Garmin Forerunner 745 is a streamlined version of the Garmin Forerunner 945 and, like its more expensive sibling, it’s mightily good, just with some quibbles.

The key update to this version is its training features, which include detailed daily workout suggestions and a seven-day training load that will suggest recovery time and tell you if you are overtraining.

The Forerunner 745 smartwatch measures heart rate, and oxygen saturation of your blood via a Pulse Ox sensor. It is ANT+ compatible, so will connect to devices such as power meters.

Battery life is significantly lower than the Forerunner 945 and the buttons aren’t the easiest to press when wearing thick winter gloves.

The watch is primarily categorised as a running smartwatch, but does have handy features for cycling such as Garmin’s ClimbPro. Despite this, many of its features will be redundant unless you run or compete in triathlons.

If you’re a pure cyclist, you might be better off spending a bit more on the Forerunner 945 or investing in a dedicated Garmin cycling computer.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival

3.0 out of 5 star rating
Best cycling watch
The Rival lacks the deep physiological and performance analytics of its contemporaries.
Immediate Media
  • £350 / $380 / AU$600 / €380 as tested
  • Easy usability and links to Wahoo’s Kickr trainer
  • Lacks in-depth analysis

The Elemnt Rival is Wahoo’s first foray into the world of smartwatches.

Like with its Kickr smart trainer and Elemnt Bolt, the brand has prioritised usability for its first timepiece, stripping out features it deems unnecessary to focus on the essentials.

The Rival is easy to use but lacks in-depth performance analytics and, disappointingly, there is no navigation.

However, the Rival can be used in conjunction with the Wahoo Kickr as a form of wearable controller and its ‘touchless transition tracking’ setting automatically registers when you move into different phases of a triathlon, providing you with splits for each stage and transition.

For the pure cyclist, we’d advise spending your money on a dedicated Wahoo cycling computer instead.


Buyer’s guide to smartwatches | What to consider when buying a smartwatch for cycling

Here we run through some of the key features to look for when buying a smartwatch for cycling, as well as how smartwatches stack up against bike computers and smartphones when you’re out on two wheels.

Cycling modes

Best cycling watch
The Coros 2 has an interval training function.
Jack Luke / Immediate Media

Because smartwatches are often designed to be used across multiple sports, they often come with different modes tailored to everything from swimming to alpine skiing. These modes will present different data fields relevant to your selected sport.

Many have specific cycling modes, with multiple profiles suited to road or mountain bike riding. Others will go as far as to provide training workouts and cycling performance tests to establish training zones.

While some provide lots of cycling-specific functions other will be weighted more towards running for example, so it’s worth thinking about what you want from the watch and whether it has the right functionality for you.

Connectivity

Best cycling watch
Wahoo says its Elemnt Bolt computer works seamlessly with the Elemnt Rival smartwatch.
Wahoo Fitness

If you use a heart rate strap, speed and cadence sensor, or power meter, you’re going to want a watch that will connect to them.

For the most part, it seems Bluetooth is the protocol of choice for brands these days, though some high-end watches will also include ANT+ connectivity.

If you connect your smartwatch to a power meter it can display data such as power-to-weight ratio, one of the most important statistics for climbing.

However, the ubiquity of Bluetooth in GPS watches can create some difficulty if you ride with a power meter because units from SRM and Quarq only broadcast an ANT+ signal. Most other power meters will broadcast over Bluetooth, though.

Bluetooth connectivity also allows the watch to connect to a phone. Precisely what functionality this opens up varies from watch to watch, but most allow rides to be synced wirelessly, activities modes to be created and edited, and apps, watch faces and metrics to be downloaded if connected to your phone.

The Bluetooth connection also allows the watch to display notifications from your phone. There’s some inconsistency as to what application notifications each watch shows, but they can all be limited to just calls and texts during an activity or turned off completely.

Other smartwatches will work in tandem with a cycling computer or smart trainer. Connecting to a cycling computer is particularly useful for triathletes transitioning from the swim leg to the cycle leg and then onto the run.

Many of these watches also feature the ability to connect to your home WiFi network, so can sync your rides without a smartphone connection.

GPS watch for cycling

When looking for a smartwatch for cycling, it’s best to find one that has its own GPS chip because this will mean it can record rides without relying on a phone, as some lower-priced smartwatches do.

Higher-end GPS watches offer some breadcrumb style routing, providing less detail than GPS cycling computers, although this is still enough to navigate simple terrain.

Routes must be preloaded into the device, but some GPS smartwatches will integrate with apps such as Komoot to provide navigation, and the watch will buzz as you approach junctions.

Wrist-based heart rate monitor

Best cycling watch
Smartwatches have heart rate monitors on the back of the watch case.
Jack Luke / Immediate Media

Many smartwatches come with wrist-based heart rate monitors to provide insight into how hard you’re working when training, as well as other fitness metrics, such as sleep quality and recovery.

Wrist-based heart rate monitors don’t tend to be as accurate as chest strap monitors because they use optical sensors that have to maintain contact with the skin for an accurate reading.

Having said that, many do perform well and provide good insight into heart rate and, in particular, averages rather than peaks.

Accelerometers and altimeters

Some smartwatches come with built-in accelerometers and gyroscopes, which can be helpful when GPS is turned off or there is satellite dropout. They’re also useful for swimming and rep counting in gyms.

A smartwatch might also have a barometric altimeter. GPS altitude data isn’t hugely accurate, so if you want precise altitude readings, this is the way to go.

Fitness tracking and other metrics

Best cycling watch
A smartwatch can tell you if you are overtraining.
Colin Levitch / Immediate Media

One of the main appeals of smartwatches over bike computers or phones is that they double as fitness trackers to provide insight into your health.

Many will provide a breakdown of the quality of your sleep and others will give feedback on training intensity and tell you whether you’ve overtrained, as well as suggest workouts based on what exercise you have recently done.

Some will also provide information on blood oxygen levels and tell you when you have acclimatised to the altitude.

Alongside niche metrics, many smartwatches also record more basic stats such as step count and calories burned.

It is worth noting that some of this insight is worth taking with a pinch of salt, but can act as a good guide to what your body is doing.

Apps

It’s becoming more common for smartwatches to support third-party apps, such as Komoot and Strava, which help with route selection and navigation as well as direct uploads to ride-sharing platforms and can unlock features like Strava’s live segments.

Some smartwatches also support Spotify for music streaming.

Screen size and straps

Best cycling watch
The Huawei Watch GT 2 Sport has a large 46mm screen.
Immediate Media

Because they have to fit on your wrist, smartwatches have smaller screens than most modern bike computers. This doesn’t stop them from being big enough to display basic routing as well as multiple data fields, though.

There can be lots of variety in screen size. For instance, the Garmin Forerunner 945’s screen measures 30.4mm while the Huawei Watch GT 2 Sport has a 46mm screen. So it’s a good idea to think about what screen size will fit on your wrist and be comfortable for you to wear.

Another consideration for comfort is strap type. Most sports smartwatches come with flexible silicone bands, but for a smarter look, some are available with metal bands, while others offer aftermarket leather and fabric bands. Some watches have a ‘tool-free’ strap change system and others require a Torx or hex bolts to be removed to swap.

A scratched watch screen is no good to anybody, so most of the current crop of GPS watches come with a mineral or Gorilla Glass screen, while premium units get a sapphire or crystal screen.

Smartwatch battery life

Claimed battery life is something to look into before spending your hard-earned cash on a GPS smartwatch, too.

While it’s quite common for brands to claim their watch’s battery will last weeks on end, be sure to check the ‘in activity’ or GPS battery life because the internal GPS chip draws quite heavily on any battery.

Smartwatches that work like a phone

As smartwatches have grown more powerful they have begun to function more like smartphones.

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While an Apple Watch probably won’t replace your cycling computer, some sports smartwatches have begun to ape Apple Watch functionality, letting you store music and pair them with headphones, as well as alert you when you receive a call and even make contactless payments.