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Best GPS watches and fitness trackers for cycling

Cyclist magazine
4 Aug 2021

Here are the best GPS watches and fitness trackers from Polar, Garmin, Wahoo and Apple

It’s never been easier to track your health, fitness, and ride data. While any smartphone will do the job, the spectrum of dedicated health and fitness gadgets is now also increasingly large. And while some of us will always feel more comfortable with a dedicated bike computer bolted to our handlebars, others are finding that a watch with a brain can provide all the data they need.

Fitness trackers and sports watches have evolved at a striking pace. Previously little more than slave units for your smartphone, today they’ll measure everything from your heart rate to the quality of your sleep while offering features like standalone GPS tracking or the ability to direct you through preset workouts. Some will even display maps and harvest data from your power meter.

Useful for any number of activities, many can also be mounted to your handlebars. Meaning that if you’re happy to put up with a smaller screen, you could save yourself from having to shell out for two devices with similar attributes; this is good news for keen runners, swimmers, hikers, or triathletes.

With the market increasingly split between potentially computer-killing sports watches and simpler sports trackers, we’ve rounded up a few of our faves from both categories.

What to look for and how much to spend

Here are the best fitness trackers for cyclists

1. Polar Grit X: Best-value multisport watch for cycling

Buy now from Polar for £379

Hitting the middle of the market price-wise, the adventure-specific traits of Polar’s Grit X will particularly appeal to outdoor-types. Ideal for adventuring in rugged bits of the world, one of its most impressive features is the ability to divide your efforts between uphill and downhill via its Hill Splitter function.

Generating automatic splits when the gradient changes, it means you won’t need to remember to hit any buttons at the base of the climb to see your progress. A bonus for forgetful types is its ability to provide alerts as to when you should be eating and drinking based on the data it’s gathered during your session. Also universally useful is the watch’s ability to warn its wearer of incoming weather fronts.

Paired to route-planning app Komoot it’ll also provide turn-by-turn instructions. And although you’re not going to get a map on your wrist, rather a compass and bread crumb trail, it’s still a cool feature – assuming, of course, you have the prerequisite subscription.

More prosaically the Grit X offers all the conventional sports watch features you’d expect, like heart rate tracking, GPS, power meter-compatible Bluetooth connectivity, and the ability to guide you through suggested workouts every day. Including plenty of cycling-specific functionality, just be aware there’s no ANT+ link if you’re running older sensors. Further slight connectivity downsides include the lack of some smartwatch features, meaning no contactless payments or skipping tracks on Spotify.

Powering the Grit X is a durable battery. Imparting life of up to 40-hours in training mode with GPS and wrist-based heart rate, this can be extended up to seven days in one of the several power saving options available.

With a medium-sized 1.2-inch screen and weighing just 64g, the whole assembly is wrapped up in a particularly solid and weatherproof package, which we think is also very nice looking.

Battery life: 40 hours (GPS and HR), 7 days (HR Only), GPS: Yes, Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth only, Waterproof: Yes, Heart-rate tracking: Yes

Buy now from Polar for £379

2. Garmin Fenix 6 Pro: The best watch if money is no object

It’s fair to say that aside from a few eager challengers – Wahoo Fitness, we’re looking your way – Garmin is the king of the cycling GPS computer. No surprise, then, that the GPS specialists have created an extremely good GPS sport watch for cyclists.

The list of features on the Fenix is seemingly endless, from basic heart rate tracking to oxygen spirometry (whatever that is), safety beacon feature, mapping and ANT+ and Bluetooth compatibility with a near-infinite variety of components, including power metres.

It also has the level of phone-connectivity that we'd expect from a top smartwatch: displaying messages, voice call prompts and app notifications.

You can check out some of the broad performance features in our sister-title Expert Review’s full review here.

With almost all the features of a Garmin 830 and Garmin’s neat handlebar adapter that means the watch can be mounted to the handlebars, it essentially offers all the advantages of a top GPS bike computer while also being a versatile and hugely functional smartwatch.

With a choice of three case sizes (42, 47, and 51mm) dictating the legibility of the display, the more oversize the watch on your wrist the more readable it’ll be on the bars.

The downsides? It is a tad pricey, and it is bulkier and heavier than some of Garmin’s alternatives such as the Forerunner. That may be less of an issue for cyclists than triathletes, though.

Using the GPS+GLONASS tracking systems that Garmin uses in all its computer ranges, you can be sure that all your rides will be tracked with startling accuracy.

Battery life: 36 hours (GPS), 10 hours (GPS and Music), GPS: Yes, Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth & ANT+, Waterproof: Yes, Heart-rate tracking: Yes

3. Wahoo Elemnt Rival: the best minimalist tri-sport GPS watch

Having created lots of fans with its Elemnt handlebar GPS devices, it was only a matter of time until Wahoo followed Garmin into the wearable market. Despite the radically different format, many recognisable features carry over.

Likely to find its way primarily onto the wrists of triathletes, the Elemnt Rival can automatically detect which leg of the race you’re on. Equally clever, but requiring a bit more investment, it can also automatically connect to your Wahoo bike computer, so the details from your entire race to that point instantly pop up on your head unit as you transition from each sport.

Being Wahoo, the app-based set-up and customisation are characteristically easy. Once achieved, the Elemnt is designed to be as simple to use as possible. Medium in size, it should be readable with even its maximum of six data fields displayed. Using reliable buttons rather than a touch-screen, these let you navigate through all the functions, and review some saved stats, although in-depth analysis is better reserved for your phone or laptop.

A sports-focussed watch, the Elemnt Rival doesn’t do sleep tracking or let you shuffle through your Spotify playlist. And although you’ll get things like smart notifications, step counting and calorie burn, it is, as the box suggests, all about swimming, cycling and running. Somewhat austere, it also does without navigation or guided workouts.

Instead focussed on monitoring your efforts in real-time, to this end it’ll link up with sensors via both Bluetooth and ANT+. Pairable with your existing heart-rate strap, the Elemnt also includes an in-build LED monitor, so you might find yourself happy relying on just the watch. Any data captured by either watch or any paired sensors can then be sent straight to your platform of choice.

Undercutting Garmin’s offering in terms of price, Wahoo bills the Elemnt Rival as being ‘radically simplified’. Meaning it’s worth digging into the spec list to see if your needs are covered, otherwise, it promises easy operation along with the arrival of another big player into the wearables market.

Battery life: 24 hours (GPS and HR), 14 days (stand-by), GPS: Yes, Bluetooth/ANT+: both, Waterproof: Yes, Heart-rate tracking: Yes 

4. Coros Apex Pro: the best newcomer 

Buy now from Wiggle for £449

Not yet hugely well-known in the UK, Coros is better recognised in the US. Making multisport watches popular with runners, climbers and other rugged outdoor types, its top-of-the-line Apex Pro nevertheless has plenty of features that will suit cyclists, triathletes or general exercise enthusiasts.

With a very chunky battery life, breadcrumb navigation and full-feature set, it certainly competes with bigger name watches in terms of both spec and pricing. Its design is based around a bright 64-colour 1.2 face with touchscreen functionality. This is paired with a more glove-friendly dial on the side that allows you to scroll through menus, plus buttons to select your choices.

Thinner than some, the Apex Pro also uses titanium and carbon fibre to good effect, resulting in a light-on-the-wrist weight of 59 grams. More heavyweight is the claimed battery life, with a two-hour charge imparting 30 days of regular usage or 40 hours in full GPS mode.

Able to track more than 20 activities, unsurprisingly cycling is well up the list, with the Apex Pro happy to work with most ANT+ or Bluetooth sensors. Data can then be sent onwards or analysed in Coros’s clean looking mobile or desktop app. Here you can also access training plans and individual workouts which you can then send to the watch.

Out in the wild, the Apex Pro’s navigation feature presents an outline of your route without a base map. Still very useful for ensuring you don’t get lost, the touchscreen then allows you to zoom in or out to see what’s ahead. Paired with the long battery life, this should suit it to more adventurous multi-day escapades.

Besides sports, the battery life of the Apex Pro also means there's no reason not to leave the watch on for days at a time. Although a little large to wear to bed, besides steps, it can also record a range of passive fitness tracker-type metrics, including those evaluating the quality of your sleep. It’ll even monitor your blood oxygen level. A new name, but one well worth considering.

Battery life: up to 30 days, GPS: Yes, Heart rate: Yes, Bluetooth/ANT+: Both, Altimeter: Yes

Buy now from Wiggle for £449

5. Garmin Forerunner 945: Best sports watch for triathletes

Lacking some of the bulk of the Fenix, the Forerunner 945 is the mildly less technical but slightly more practical solution for cyclists. It’s also a tad cheaper.

Aimed primarily at runners and triathletes, the Forerunner is a hugely versatile smartwatch. With many of the same training metrics as the Fenix, on-screen mapping, ANT+ and Bluetooth compatibility, it has pretty much everything most riders would look for in a GPS computer unit.

On top of that it’s lightweight and slim build and integrated music playback make this a great option for running or swimming, and would no doubt be the favourite for triathletes.

Read a full review at our sister title Expert Reviews.

Battery life: 36 hours (GPS), 10 hours (GPS plus music), 14 days (watch mode), GPS: Yes, Waterproof: Yes, Heart-rate tracking: Yes, Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth, ANT+

6. Fitbit Charge 4: Best fitness tracker for cycling

Buy now from Fitbit for £129

The Fitbit Charge 4, an update on the Fitbit Charge 3 which is still available to buy, comes with a number of interesting upgrades that are particularly interesting for cyclists.

First and foremost is integrated GPS, the Charge 4 the first non-smartwatch Fitbit tracker to feature the technology. That means you can leave your phone at home if you want to take the Charge for a bike ride.

As well as the usual heart rate data, the Charge 4 is also the first showcase of a new fitness metric for Fitbit – Active Zone Minutes. The features give users a way of measuring the intensity of their activities over the course of a day or week and can be used for broadly measuring cycling load.

As a tracker, it's more suited to passively hoovering up data and as such lacks the bells and whistles of a full-blown smartwatch. However, it's still a great product for cyclists who don’t need all the data or would like a health and fitness-focussed band to go alongside their cycling computer setup.

Battery life: 7 days, 5 hours (GPS), GPS: Yes, Waterproof: Yes, Heart-rate tracking: Yes

Buy now from Fitbit for £129

7. Apple Watch Series 6: Best smartwatch for cycling

Apple is fairly good at tech. Extremely good, you might say. No surprise then that when it comes to wearable devices, the Apple Watch trumps pretty much everything made by more specialist brands.

The latest Series 6 Apple Watch is the best yet for sports tracking. Retaining the always-on screen – meaning you can see your sporting stats at a glance without having to turn your wrist to activate the display, it now also has constant altitude monitoring.

It’s also worth remembering that Apple has really invested in the optical heart rate monitor, boasting extremely high accuracy – so much so it's approved by the FDA as a medical device in the US. Finally available for us in the UK, the ECG and new blood oxygen saturation features could be a fine feature for cyclists who are health-conscious.

There is also independent GPS tracking, as well as music playback without having to rely on your smartphone. Then, of course, you can make calls and use Apple Pay with it. For riders keen not to dig their phone or credit cards out of the back pocket, that’s a big advantage. If you upgrade to the cellular version you could ditch the phone altogether when riding – making it possible to make and receive calls, but that does come at an extra cost.

The limitation of the Apple Watch is that unlike the Garmin Fenix, it won’t offer any compatibility with ANT+ based devices such as power meters and speed-cadence meters.

That said, using third-party apps the Apple Watch can record power data from some Bluetooth-compatible power meters, and there are a variety of Bluetooth heart rate straps that are compatible if you choose to mount the watch on your handlebars.

Perhaps the lack of native ANT+ compatibility is a modest trade-off for the biggest advantage of the Apple Watch – access to a wide world of possibility in the App Store – Strava, Komoot, Cyclemeter or thousands of other options.

If you’re on a budget it’s worth knowing that most useful Apple Watch overhauls arrive via free operating system updates rather than tweaks to the hardware itself. This makes older watches a real bargain. However, being vain, we’ve gone for the latest and greatest.

Battery life: 18 hours (GPS), GPS: Yes, Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth, Waterproof: Yes, Heart-rate tracking: Yes

8. Withings Steel HR Sport review: Best hybrid fitness tracker

Buy now from Withings for £140

When I was a teenager everyone wanted a Casio Baby G. Most sports watchmakers seem to assume none of us has grown up since.

Withings is the exception. It may look like a normal wristwatch, but the Withings Steel HR Sport is backed-up by some useful technical fitness-tracking features.

Fitness tracking is contained on a small, circular monochrome OLED screen, which shows up text notifications and heart rate info, and also allows you to track your cycling speed and distance, though it will rely on a smartphone GPS. On top of this, you get a pleasingly analogue watch face complete with ticking hands.

It’ll counts steps too, while its attendant app lets you choose six out of 30 activities to send over to the watch for real-time selection. Allowing you to review your progress via your phone it’ll also give you an idea of how well you’re sleeping.

Just don’t be expecting to pair up any additional sensors or that sort of thing. However, while it lacks the functionality of more conventional sports watches, it can last up to 25 days between charges. Plus its styling is far more man-about-town than man-having-a-mid-life-crisis, so that’s a bonus.

Battery life: 25 days, Screen type: Monochrome OLED, Replaceable strap: Yes, GPS: Connected only, Heart rate: Yes, Altimeter: Yes

Buy now from Withings for £140

9. Garmin Forerunner 55: best value smart watch

Buy now from Cotswold Outdoor for £179.99

If you want the fun of that Forerunner 945 for less than half the price, why not try the Garmin Forerunner 55?

A multisport watch fit for cyclists (as well as runners, swimmers and triathletes) of all abilities, it has built-in GPS with heart rate, fitness, respiration and stress tracking as well as suggested workouts and Garmin Coach adaptive training plans optimised for your goals.

On top of that it has daily suggested workouts, GPS-based pacing guidance for training and race strategies, estimated finish times mid-workout and even recovery advice to know how long you should leave it before your next big effort.

It does most of what the 945 does, especially if you don't need music (which you don't if you're cycling outdoors), but at just £179.99 is a lot more bang for your buck.

Battery life: 14 days (smartwatch), 20 hours (GPS), GPS: yes, Heart rate: Yes, Fitnes tracking: Yes

Buy now from Cotswold Outdoor for £179.99

10. TicWatch Pro 3

Buy now from Mobvoi for £246.49

There's LED, there'x OLED. then there's AMOLED. The TicWatch Pro 3's display is a 1.4" retina AMOLED, which stands for Active-Matrix Organic Light-Emitting Diode and is used in a lot of modern Samsung smart phones.

This technology allows for high quality displays while consuming a lot less power, which is part of why the TicWatch can last up to 45 days in essential mode, even with an always-on display.

Alongside that it's primed for fitness and health tracking. It can record a whole load of sports, including outdoor and indoor cycling - and even yoga - with a built-in GPS, motion tracking, altimeter, heart rate monitor and blood oxygen measurements. It also monitors your sleep, breathing, noise and stress levels for all-round health coverage.

It's run by Google's Wear OS and can be bought with cellular so you don't have to take your phone with you to use data and make calls and texts. It's also 15% off for a short time only so be quick if this is the one for you.

Battery life: Up to 45 days, Screen type: Retina AMOLED, GPS: Yes, Heart rate: Yes, Altimeter: Yes

Buy now from Mobvoi for £246.49

11. Huawei Watch GT 2

Mobile phone giant Huawei has decided that battery life is the best place to focus its efforts, and claims its new Watch GT 2 will go for two weeks between charges. We have one on test, and the battery does indeed last an almost surreal amount of time between charges.

Two weeks i based on ‘average use’, which it defines as continuous heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking and 90 minutes of GPS-tracked exercise per week – covering everything from cycling to gym work to swimming.

Of course if you’re riding, 90 minutes per week isn’t huge, and to ride and record more you’ll need to charge the GT 2 more often. But what is quite incredible is the claim that the GT 2 can record a GPS-tracked activity such as cycling for up to 30 hours continuously.

It offers heart rate tracking and independent GPS tracking, and offers great on-screen metrics including an impressively accurate 2-decimal point live speed reading. At less than £200, it’s one of the cheapest all-singing smartwatches on the market.

There is a downside, though, and that’s that Huawei hasn’t introduced any compatibility for Strava or other fitness apps that have become favourites for cyclists. Indeed, we tried our very best to export a GPX file from the watch, and short of some serious programming knowhow, we simply couldn’t work out how it could be done.

Battery life: 14 days, GPS: Yes, Heart rate: Yes, Bluetooth/ANT+: Bluetooth (to phone only), Altimeter: Yes

Finding the right GPS Watch or Fitness Tracker

What to look for

Cyclists’ needs for a watch or tracker are likely to be slightly different than the mainstream consumer – most likely runners and triathletes.

Features such as GPS, an altimeter and heart rate tracking will be much more useful for cyclists who are keen to track rides and analyse training data.

Bluetooth or ANT+ compatibility will mean that a watch can use data from external sensors like cadence or power meters. That sort of functionality means a watch can become a standalone alternative to a GPS computer or relying on a smartphone for activity and fitness tracking.

That said, simpler units that purely track heart rate, sleep and general movement will still offer useful data on training and general health. That may be a good supplement for a bike computer but unlikely to offer the same functionality, and will rely on a smartphone for most functionality.

Although not easy to spot, some smartwatches don’t offer compatibility with apps like Strava and MyFitnessPal. Many won't export gpx files for use with third-party training tools.

Comfort is always important, so making sure a watch has an ergonomic fit and replaceable straps can be important. Some brands, such as Garmin, also sell handlebar mounts so the watch can be positioned in the same way as a cycling computer. However, this will of course sacrifice heart rate tracking.

Finally, keep an eye on battery life. For a long sportive where the GPS, heart rate, Bluetooth and ANT+ functions are all at work, you’ll need a sturdy battery life to avoid a power down before the finish line.

How much do I need to spend?

If you want a watch with in-built GPS, which means you won’t rely on your phone for location data, then you’re looking at a minimum of around £80 to 100.

You can buy a simpler fitness tracker that connects to the GPS receiver in your phone for under £50 that will also record heart rate data.

Between £150 and £300 you can begin to expect a little more sophistication in terms of training metrics and features such as music playback.

To get a watch that will offer the most advanced features such as live Strava segments, basic mapping, jaw-dropping battery life, pairing with power meters on top of working as a great smartwatch, you should expect to pay over £300.