The Best GPS Watches for Cycling

by Jordan Villela with Molly Hurford

If you like your data in one place because you run/swim/hike/any other sport in addition to biking, you might prefer a GPS watch rather than a dedicated cycling computer. And compared to a few years ago, wearables are getting much better at tracking data, actually providing navigation, and syncing to all your bike devices like power meters. At the time of writing, Apple hadn’t yet released their new Apple Watch Ultra, so we’ll have to wait to see how that compares to some of these established watches.

If you like to keep everything in one place, the world of fitness wearables is quickly catching up and, in some cases, surpassing cycling head units. Most brands that used to deal solely in bike computers are adding watches to their offerings. These super lightweights, hardly noticeable wrist computers, are a great way of tracking data without the mess of multiple devices and platforms. Here, we’re sharing a few of our favorites.

 Polar Grit X Pro 

 

It’s not cheap, but for a watch that looks great for daily use, has killer battery life, and can guide you on your ride while also providing heart rate data from your wrist and connecting to your power meter, it’s hard to top the Polar Grit X. And it’s constantly improving: One of the best features we’ve seen in some of the latest connected electronic devices like Polar’s Grit X smartwatch is the ability for over-the-air updates. Who doesn’t love extra features for free! With smart, adaptable hardware, Polar has repeatedly been able to develop new capabilities with each new generation of smart devices, then figure out how to bring much of that new functionality back to existing users via firmware updates. Read more about it here.

  • Special Features: GPS, Heart Rate, Smart Watch features
  • Sensor Pairing: BTE
  • Navigation: Yes (with komoot)
  • Included mounts: No
  • Screen: Color
  • Run time: 40h of trainings with full GPS and HR tracking (up to 100h with power save options)
  • Weight: 73 grams
  • Size: ‎4.7 x 4.7 x 1.3 cm
  • Price: $500

PROS: Amazing battery life
CONS: No ANT+ connectivity

 Suunto 9 Baro 

Suunto is typically regarded as more of a runner-friendly brand, but the navigation on the Baro 9 combined with great battery life makes it a strong choice for cyclists as well.

Want something sleeker? Suunto 9 Peak brings O2, heat maps, route planning to lighter, thinner sports watch

  • Special Features: GPS, Heart Rate, Smartphone notifications
  • Sensor Pairing: Bluetooth
  • Navigation: Yes
  • Included mounts: No
  • Screen: Color
  • Run time: 25 hrs in Performance mode /40 hrs in Endurance mode / 120 hours in Ultra mode
  • Weight: 80 grams
  • Size: 1.97 inch screen
  • Price: $500

PROS: Turn by turn navigation is solid
CONS: Pricey

 Wahoo Elemnt Rival Watch 

The long-awaited, highly anticipated Wahoo Elemnt Rival smartwatch is the brand’s first wearable, and it’s definitely in the lead group of cycling wearables. This watch for all intents and purposes is like having a head unit on your wrist without the bulk in a fashionable lightweight package – 54 grams to be precise.

Wahoos Elemnt watch is a simplified version of a multisport watch – it tracks all the pertinent data and transmits it to your 3rd party training apps. But doesn’t surf the internet or share photos. It will alert you of texts and emails if you want. But this unit is much better at displaying the metrics you use for an adventure race or Xterra Race, rather than social media updates. If you prefer to see your data on your wrist or are a ‘cross athlete looking for a wearable that also does everything that a Wahoo head unit can do – the Wahoo Elemnt Rival watch is a good starting point. But note: This watch collects GPS data, but DOES NOT offer turn by turn navigation or any other navigation features or in-watch mapping.

  • Special Features: GPS, Heart Rate, Smart Notifications, Music Controls
  • Sensor Pairing: ANT+ and Bluetooth
  • Navigation: Yes No
  • Included mounts:
  • Screen: Color / B+W
  • Run time: 24 hours
  • Weight: 54 grams
  • Size: 1.2 inches
  • Price: $330

PROS: Solid price and has ANT+
CONS: NO navigation

 Garmin Fenix 

If you’re looking for a sports watch that can double as a rugged, sophisticated metric machine – Fenix 6 series is worth a look. Features include an always-on 1.3″ sunlight-readable display with bezels in stainless steel, titanium, or diamond-like carbon (DLC) coating.

Rugged and great if you’re the outdoor type, this unit is built for swimming, running, biking, and literally everything in between. The wrist heart rate and Pulse Ox help keep track of your training vitals. While the Garmin Connect app gives you an updated body battery and advanced sleep monitoring so you can train smartly.

If you like to hike and camp, the Fenix navigates the outdoors with preloaded TOPO maps, ski maps for over 2,000 worldwide ski resorts, and multiple global navigation satellite systems (GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo). The compass is top-notch with built-in sensors for a 3-axis display, gyroscope, and barometric altimeter.

  • Special Features: GPS, Heart Rate, Smart Notifications
  • Sensor Pairing: Bluetooth and ANT+
  • Navigation: Yes
  • Included mounts: None but can buy handlebar mount separately
  • Screen: Color
  • Run time: Up to 36 hours in GPS mode
  • Weight: 79 grams
  • Size: 1.2 inches
  • Price: $600

PROS: Most feature rich of all the watches
CONS: … with a price tag to match

 Garmin Forerunner 945 

If you’re a mountain biker that also likes to hike, trail run, swim, kayak, and everything outdoors the Garmin Forerunner 945 should be on your shortlist. It takes the ethos of the Fenix 5 Plus, trades metal bezel for weight-saving plastic, and adds some connected features like onboard music and contactless payments.

The Forerunner 945 connects easily with Bluetooth, ANT+ devices like power meters/ indoor trainers and has WiFi connectivity. It can access multiple satellite location networks, and even has Garmin’s new ClimbPro, and altitude and heat acclimation. Features until now were only available with Edge cycling computers. The battery life is claimed at 36 hours in ultra track mode – and the watch features the Elevate optical HR sensor including the Pulse Ox data — plus it’s a lot cheaper than the Fenix smartwatches.

  • Special Features: GPS, Heart Rate, Smart Notifications, Music control, Garmin’s ClimbPro
  • Sensor Pairing: Bluetooth, ANT+
  • Navigation: Yes
  • Included mounts: No, but handlebar mount available
  • Screen: Color
  • Run time: 36 hours in GPS mode
  • Weight: 50 grams
  • Size: 1.2 inches
  • Price: $650

PROS: Most bike-specific watch of the bunch; ultralight
CONS: Also pricey

Polar Vantage V2 multi-sport GPS tracking training smartwatch, on bike

Buyer’s Guide for Cycling GPS Watches

Picking a GPS watch can be challenging. You need to purchase something that gives you the data you require and allows you to grow. The newest units from Garmin, Wahoo, and others offer more than time and distance for a ride. These new metrics allow for personal competition, as well as some additional ways to keep you engaged during your next ride.

Understand the limitations: Here’s the thing. Watches are great for multisport athletes, but like any product that claims to do it all, it might technically do everything, but maybe not as well as the specific tool for the job would. You might have a corkscrew on your Swiss Army Knife, but would you use it instead of  a proper corkscrew if you had the choice? Similarly, if you could choose between a watch with GPS navigation versus a cycling computer, the cycling computer is going to win every time, simply because of the size and shape of the screen. Even the smaller cycling GPS computer screens are 150% bigger than a typical GPS watch.

Navigation and GPS: If you are a rider that likes to explore new trails and travel for adventure, having navigation and an accurate GPS and can map correctly is a huge advantage—and one that watches are still trying to perfect. Thanks to Trailforks, Strava and other mapping softwares, more and more trails and gravel roads are accurately mapped and are downloadable to these units for easy turn-by-turn directions. But be careful with this if you’re looking at watches that aren’t on this list—there are many multi-sport watches with great GPS, but don’t provide any actual mapping or navigation.

Mounting options: Some watches actually come with a handlebar mount so you can use the watch exactly like a cycling computer. And some don’t come stock with the mount but offer it as an add on—we tend to prefer that, especially when using the watch for navigation, but plenty of people will just wear the watch and glance at it as needed. (When it’s on your wrist, though, it is much harder to read, so will mostly be for data collection rather than in-ride intel.)

Polar-Grit-X-Pro-Mountain-Bike

BTE, ANT+, WiFi: While many smartwatches are great with GPS, some will struggle to sync to your power meter. Make sure your watch has the connectivities that you need.

Fit and comfort: For smaller wristed people, some of these watches can be uncomfortably large. Once you do get the watch, make sure it feels comfortable before committing to it. Most brands accept returns, especially if the watch is unused. You can also check at your local bike shop to see if you can try one on before purchasing.

Best MTB GPS computer wearable Wahoo Watch side

How the screen displays power and heart rate: If you’re a cross country racer or someone who trains with power – you’re in luck. Most units display power and heart rate. Something that separates them is how they can display the power readings (show Garmin, wahoo, stages volume). When you’re dodging trees and trying to hold your line, the last thing you want to do is have to look for your power on the screen. Some of the units have creative ways of displaying power and heart rate to give the rider a quick snapshot of their effort via lights or a color scale so you can make sure you’re in the correct zone and roll on.

Extras: Some smartwatches are actually smart enough to act similar to an Apple Watch and will allow you to control your phone, change music in ride, and make calls. Some act as all-day fitness trackers or measure HRV. You may not want or need these features, so if you’re on a tight budget, make sure you’re not paying a premium for extras you won’t use.

Smart notifications: Most GPS watches now are almost always ‘smart,’ so you’ll get notifications from your phone. Remember though, you don’t need to leave them turned on. Who really wants to see the text from your boss while you’re on your lunch ride?

Other sport options: If you’re looking for a watch for cycling, it’s almost always because you’re a multisport athlete. So make sure that the watch you choose has the ability to track all of your sports. Most do have options for the obvious sports like running, swimming (open water and pool laps), and hiking, but what about paddling, cross country skiing, etc.?

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Huffman
Huffman
8 days ago

I can’t comment on the others but I use Garmin because of their Garmin Connect app. It does a great job of storing all my activities. To get the most accurate information for bike rides get a wheel sensor. Much more accurate especially when your ride has a lot of elevation change.

FrankTheTank
FrankTheTank
7 days ago

I just want to say that, overall, this is a great article. I’ve been using a Forerunner 935 as my only cyclocomputer/GPS for several years now and I find that it gets the job done just fine. Short of a multi-day tour, it handles everything well. I have actually used it for a couple 2-3 day bikepacking trips and it was ‘good enough’ especially since I could always reference my phone as needed for additional navigation help.