If you are treating yourself or a loved one to a new GPS wrist watch and want to buy them the Best Cycling WATCH then you’ve come to the right place for the latest recommendations. Luckily for you, it’s a great time to buy a great cycling WATCH. At the mid- to lower end of the pricing there are many feature-full models to choose from and further up the pricing scale there are many technical innovations taking place for more serious tech-cyclists. There are also now some 2 year old models that are still surprisingly good, awesome even, and falling in price to more sensible levels as replacement versions are released.
It’s hard to determine the absolute best cycling watch for everyone. On the flip side, most cycling needs are covered by very many watches.
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THE BEST CYCLING WATCH FOR WHO?
I’m going to cover devices from $100/£100 and upwards to the high-end cycling watches at over £/Eu/$500. You are lucky in that this year there are many well-featured watches with all the key bits of functionality even at the very lower end of that price range.
I’m going to recommend the best devices for the kinds of usage you might put them to. If you are looking for a recommendation to fit within a price range then that’s not what I am doing here, sorry. What’s the point in buying the best watch in your budget if you can’t do what you want it to??
I think you may well be surprised though at some of the ‘bargain’ prices in some of the categories.
Here are the categories and, hopefully, you might be able to best fit yourself into just one of them. This post is written in a lighthearted way, BUT the recommendations ARE SERIOUS.
Categories and Special Categories
- MOUNTAIN BIKER
- MOUNTAIN CLIMBER
- BIKE-TECH GURU
- THE XMAS PRESENT
Having considered those categories, I suspect that most of you will want your cycling watch to do other things as well. Let’s face it, if you are JUST cycling then your best option is to get a handlebar-mounted cycling computer. Those recommendations would be TOTALLY different and are covered in the Best Cycling Computer review.
BEST CYCLING WATCH MADE BY WHOM?
Apple? Fitbit? Suunto? Garmin? Polar? Apple? Lezyne? TomTom? I’ve looked at very many devices. If you can see a photo that looks like it’s been taken by me then …it has and I REALLY have used that device.
A standalone device or an app or a watch?
These recommendations only look at cycling WATCHES not smartphone apps. The argument FOR using your smartphone for cyling ARE compelling.
STRAVA is the popular & obvious choice for an app to use on your smartphone. There is a free version which is good and perfectly usable as well as a premium version offering some more features. If you are buying a high-end cycling computer then often you will also need a PAID-FOR STRAVA account to benefit from some of the innovative features. A year’s subscription to STRAVA PREMIUM can be a good present for a keen cyclist. You could maybe also look at ridewithgps, WAHOO Fitness or sportrstracker (Suunto/Amer). Once you’ve searched for those, similar ones will come up in your app store.
All cycling watches will be able to be handlebar mounted or worn on the wrist. Watch screens are generally quite small and not ideal for navigation, especially when on the wrist. Indeed the practicality of a wrist-worn watch is that you will have to turn your wrist and look slightly sideways to see the screen. A cycling computer/head unit is a generally better option. Even your smartphone, when handlebar mounted, is a better option with a LARGE screen and access to live cellular-based services.
- ESSENTIAL READING: Best Cycling ‘COMPUTER’. Handlebar-mounted cycling computers specifically designed JUST for cycling.
- ESSENTIAL READING: Best Triathlon Watch. Cycling watches there too! Probably the BEST FEATURED cycling WATCHES are there…
- ESSENTIAL READING: Best Running Watches. Pretty much all running watches have a decent cycling mode too.
- ESSENTIAL READING: Best Power Meter
FEATURES TO CONSIDER
To ‘train well’ you will probably consider distance, time, power, speed, cadence and heart rate. However, the 3 key features you should look for as a minimum are the ability to support:
- Heart Rate (but optical HR will be POOR when cycling)
Most watches will meet those criteria, sometimes bundled with a couple of sensors.
I tend to assume that you are ‘training’. However, I’m sure MANY of you will NOT be ‘training’ and will want a cycling watch for many other reasons like commuting, smartphone notifications, activity tracking and pure recreation. So…
Other key feature sets cover
- Power meter support (for serious training and many will also deliver cadence)
- Barometric Altimeter (for those who are concerned with metres climbed)
- Navigation (for those who want to explore and those who want a BikeNav and those who want to follow simple routes)
- Speed / Cadence (I prefer separate speed/cadence sensors)
- Durability (for MTB or commuting usage)
- Connectivity to special sensors: brake lights, proximity radar; and night lights
- Workouts and Intervals
- Connectivity to other people
- Connectivity to other services both in-ride (weather, STRAVA) or post-ride (STRAVA, TrainingPeaks)
- Connectivity to apps, sensors and wifi
Within each feature SET there will be many, many individual features – WAY too numerous to cover here.
The following list of recommendations links to individual cycling device reviews – there you will find the detailed features that I have taken into account when making the recommendation.
Neither of us are Nicolas Vouilloz but we still want a device that won’t fall apart at the sight of either a splash of rain or distant tree root.
Lezyne’s MICRO C IS a watch but it does somewhat resemble a cycling computer plus a strap!
It is sturdier than most alternatives. It supports power meters;ANT+ and BLE sensors; and GLONASS and, if you check out the Lezyne feature table, below, you will see it has a VERY wide rage of features.
The main downside is the small size, but you are here because you wanted a watch and they are all pretty small! The screen is not always great in all light conditions. On the flip side the rectangular screen and the ability to increase the size of some of the data on display improves readability.
If you read my Lezyne Micro C Watch review (link to: the5krunner.com) you will see I had a few issues when the device was initially released. Firmware improvements released since then has meant I can let the MICRO C sneak onto this list.
The Lezyne range IS confusingly similar. This might help
The Micro C WATCH is the only WATCH that Lezyne make.
- Positives – Compelling feature set at a low price.
- Negatives – Aesthetics and a slightly ‘boxy’ form.
Winner – Garmin Fenix 3 (Review)
Like the Mountain Biker you want a degree of durability in your choice. Yet, by definition, you are cycling into work and so this cycling watch might need to stay on your wrist all day.
OK, OK. You don’t like the look of the Lezyne watch. I hear you.
You still want something a bit rugged? With a few features, half-decent GPS and reasonable navigation. Then you buy the Garmin Fenix 3 (three, not 5) which is cheaper and generally works better…you’ll see the Fenix 5 range ‘superseded’ soon by the 5plus range. ie the ones that work, treat yourself to one of those later in 2018.
The Suunto Spartan ULTRA is another beast of a watch and I personally prefer its looks for the office. Most of the Suunto
SPARTANs will also be a good choice for you but you might want to consider one of the custom-built versions with a bit extra durability in the case. That will cost you a little more. If you have sensors on more than one bike then the Suunto is a bit of a faff as you will have to continually re-pair them as you switch bikes; you might avoid the Suunto for that reason alone.
- Positives – Compelling feature set, prices are lowering.
- Negatives – Rugged aesthetics and quite large when wrist-worn.
ESSENTIAL READING: Garmin Fenix 3 Review
ESSENTIAL READING: Suunto SPARTAN ULTRA Review
You want a good shot at getting decent altitude and decent GPS. Don’t forget whatever you wear on your wrist WON’T get decent HR when cycling, so you can forget that. However, the SPARTAN SPORT BARO has got market-leading GPS accuracy and a clever little barometer which meshes barometric altimetry with GPS altimetry. They call it FusedAlti.
If you’re following a route then the SPARTAN SPORT BARO is OK for that but following pretty much any route on any device is limited by the small size of the watch face and the bounces of the road/track.
- Positives – Great build quality and quality internal components to deliver accuracy.
- Negatives – Rugged aesthetics and quite large when wrist-worn. Lack of sensor pool. No ANT+ support.
Winner Garmin Forerunner 935 (Review)
You have N+1 bikes and Y+1 power meters where N>Y. How many cadence sensors do you have? You probably lost count, I know. You’re not bothered about optical HR as you know it’s rubbish and you have numerous HR straps instead; including Garmin’s HRM-TRI (review) which you know will cache your HR even when you are having a ‘comfort break’ behind a tree.. you simply can’t miss any data for ANY reason. You’ll need the 935 to retrieve the cached HR data.
To be able to cope with lots of bike sensors you will need a watch that has a sensor pool. And you know which one has that? yep…the 935.
Did I mention STRAVA LIVE SEGMENTS? No. Of course, you guessed it, it does those too. It does everything. Almost….
The downside to the 935 is that it is quite lightweight and not as rugged as other watches. It also only has ‘line’ maps rather than the ‘proper’ map of the Fenix 5X. The Fenix 5X and 935 are pretty much otherwise identical. Both of them inhabit Tech City. Maybe they rule tech city?
I like the 935. It works. You can get a 10% store credit and a great price from PowerMeterCity in the USA and you help this blog a little too. Thank you.
- Positives – Vast feature set.
- Negatives – Price. Some of the internal components are not as accurate as they should be at this price..
Winner – Garmin Forerunner 920XT
In reality, the Tri-Racer would also buy the Garmin Forerunner 935 if they could afford it. However, the tri-racer may well be a bit of a purist and realise that the 935 does so much that its menu system challenges Professor Stephen Hawking.
The tri-racer may well opt for the cheaper Garmin Forerunner 920XT (review) or maybe the prettier and smaller Garmin Forerunner 735XT (Review). They will both ‘do’ triathlon very nicely, thank you very much.
The 920Xt is a bit ugly but it was my ‘staple’, when it came to a tri watch. Both the 735XT and 920XT have some more modern feature and app capabilities missing but they also have a few hundred dollars missing from the price tag too. Both are perfectly sensible choices.
- Positives – Good build quality and feature set
- Negatives – Ugly.
THE BEST CYCLING WATCH AS AN XMAS PRESENT
Winner – Apple Watch 3
Sporty, gadgety people like me will sneer at the Apple Watch. After all, it cannot really be a proper sports watch and cycling definitely is a sport.
However, Mr Gore’s unfortunate truth applies here too. The Apple Watch is a pretty good sports watch and a pretty good cycling watch too. Unfortunately.
It can be worn for work or pleasure. Though perhaps not rugged pleasure.
If the app isn’t already on the device there’s a pretty good chance someone will have already developed it for you for the exorbitant price of $1.99.
The Apple Watch still has the same optical HR issues that everyone else has when cycling. Apple really are not that much more wonderful at designing bits of hardware than anyone else.
Apple’s GPS and altimetry are NOT as good as the likes of Suunto but Apple’s GPS is as good as many Garmins…even some of the higher-end ones. And that’s despite what your friend says. Really it’s true. Unfortunately.
Probably the main downside is the battery life but the Apple Watch 3 has made some steps forwards on that front compared to the previous version and also has an inbuilt eSIM chip for cellular access and all that comes with that eg mapping.
The other downside, while I think about it, is that some people REALLY don’t like Apple products. A good way to tell is by looking at their phone. If they have an Apple Phone you know you are on to a winner with the Watch as a present. You know what to do. Miss Visa should help.
- Positives – Aesthetics, two sizes to cover smaller wrists, app store.
- Negatives – Battery life. No ANT+ support. Probably best if you are already an Apple adherent.