Are you thinking about buying a watch for cycling but aren't sure what's what?
We created this buyer's guide as a one stop shop to help cyclists find the best watch.
You'll learn what to look for in a cycling watch, the best brands to consider, and find the best current deals. So lets get started! But first, here's a quick summary (In no particular order! They are all great for different reasons) :
Garmin Fenix 5 Sapphire
Best for the outdoorsy type. Super rugged and durable. Includes lots of smart watch and fitness tracking. Up to 2 week battery life.
Suunto Spartan Ultra
Great for serious cyclists. Has cadence and speed sensor integration and tracks GPS. Oh, did we mention its absolutely beautiful?
Polar V800 GPS
Ideal for Triathletes. Waterproof and includes functions to track a variety of sports. Great battery life, includes GPS.
Tom Tom Spark 3 Cardio
If you care about sport tracking features over flashy design and smartwatch functionality, this is a great option in a reasonable price rage.
Garmin Forerunner 645 Music
This beautifully designed watch comes absolutely loaded with features including a ton of smartwatch functions and the ability to add onboard music. Good for just about everyone.
This is a great all around watch. It comes in at a decent price and will accurately track heart rate data. If connected to your phone it can track GPS and cycling data from Strava. Comes with some smartwatch features.
Garmin Vivoactive 3
This watch is great if you care about design and function, but are okay with it being a bit bulky. Includes GPS tracking.
How important is a cycling watch?
Tracking your progress while exercising has become the new standard for all athletes. Specifically, cyclists have become accustomed to be able to track the stats of their ride to share with the friends and improve their performance.
Many people begin this journey with an app such as Strava. This is great for tracking speed, distance, and personal records. However, apps like this can drain your battery and lack the ability to track things such as heart rate during your ride which can lead many cyclists to look for an alternative.
Let's face it, nobody wants to get caught 20 miles into a ride with a dead cell phone battery. Not only is that dangerous, but if your tracking stops mid ride, no one will believe you when you say you finally crushed all those personal records! 🙁
Being an avid cyclist, I know from experience how important a cycling watch can be, so I decided to put together this list to help others find the best cycling watch for their needs.
What to look for in a cycling watch
When starting your search for a new cycling watch, the first thing you will find is that the market is extremely saturated. In the past decade or so, smart technology and smart watches have grown in popularity substantially.
With that quick jump in demand comes an influx of manufacturers flooding the market to take advantage of this new trend. A lot of companies then push out sub-par products backed by millions of marketing dollars in an attempt to capitalize on this trend.
If you are serious about finding a good cycling watch, here is what you need to look for:
1. Water Resistance:
If you are down to ride, rain or shine, you will want to invest in a cycling watch that wont be hurt by rain. This is a feature that still isn't very common, so if you come across a water proof or water resistant cycling watch for a good price, snatch that up!
2. GPS Capability:
While most phones offer this, not having to rely on draining your cellphone battery can help you accurately track your route on long rides.
You cant always stop to check your phone on a ride so choosing a cycling watch that at the very least allows you to view your messages/calls will keep you from having to juggle with your phone while cycling or having to stop to check a text.
Most of these cycling watches are great for everyday use as well. You should select a watch that fits your personal style and has the ability to blend into your everyday life. From experience, having a watch that tracks your heart rate and can be left on all day goes a long way in helping you assess your physical fitness and make improvements to your health.
Notice we didn't say price? All of the watches on this list are an excellent value for their respective price points. You don't want to overpay for a flashy watch with a bunch of features you will never use. Find the features you care about and go with the option that has everything you want at a price you can justify.
How we made this list
A few of the best cycling watches for 2018 are designed to give users a stylish look with increased workout potential. There’s a plethora of cycling watches currently available, but this list isolates the top watches specifically designed for cyclists. By combining personal experience and in depth research, we were able to put together the most detailed list to help fellow cyclists make an informed decision.
Top Cycling Watches Under $300
Just because you are passionate about cycling doesn’t mean you are able to open your wallet too wide. The following list was specifically put together with a modest budget in mind. The following watches may not be the best of the best, but they will meet the needs of most cyclists
The TomTom Spark 3 Cardio is the next version of the ever-popular TomTom Spark. With this cycling watch, TomTom hasn't reinvented the wheel, but has definitely added in some new cool features making it worthy of consideration.
We wont spend too much time talking about the design of this watch, because it's very simplistic and doesn't differ much from the original Spark. The "watch" in this case is essentially a watch module that can be slid into a variety of watch band colors. This is great if you are looking to customize your look.
It is light, comfortable and simple. It doesn't try to be too fancy and that's fine by me. When I'm looking for a cycling watch, style takes a backseat to function and features.
The TomTom Spark 3 Cardio comes with 7 sport modes which help you keep track of your workout stats. It also has activity and sleep tracking which is almost a secondary thought and very easy to overlook. If you are looking for a an everyday fitness tracker, you may like this though.
Sport Tracking & GPS: To touch again on the sport tracking, we focused mostly on cycling and GPS tracking, but put the running, swimming and gym modes through the ringer as well. This watch was very impressive overall. The GPS tracking was accurate but did take about a minute to actually pick up. This isn't quite as fast as some other watches such as those made by Garmin, but is right on par with what we expected for the price range.
Route Exploration: One of the main reasons to consider this watch is its route exploration feature. Put simply, this feature lets you go on a long cycling trip and your route will be mapped on the screen. This can help you see where you have been and navigate home again.
Heart Rate Monitoring: Optical heart rate monitors can be a bit dodgy, so we are always skeptical of their accuracy. However, the TomTom Spark 3 Cardio was an exception. When compared to chest strap heart rate monitors, it proved to be accurate at rest and even in peak performance. It also allows you to participate in zone-based training, allowing you to track whether you are in Sprint, Speed, Edurance, Fat Burn, or a custom zone. This is great for improving overall fitness and health.
Music: One feature that is often overlooked by other watches is the ability to stream music from your watch without using your phone. This feature is crucial if you want to preserve the battery life of your phone. It comes with 3GB of storage which allows you to store a decent amount of songs for your ride without relying on phone battery or an internet connection.
TomTom Spark 3 Cardio Review
Pros: It is a no-frills, high function cycling watch. You get a bunch of features for a reasonable price such as GPS tracking, music storage, and its even waterproof. Heart rate monitoring is accurate and reliable at rest and at peak. It allows you to train within a handful of heart rate zones to help improve your overall fitness.
Cons: It isn't the prettiest watch and lacks "smartwatch" functions such as notifications for texts and phone calls. It is an activity tracker first and foremost.
Garmin has a solid reputation for putting out quality sport watches, and the Vivoactive 3 is no exception. In my humble opinion, it is one of the prettier watches in its price range and packs a bunch of useful features. These features extend far beyond those useful for cycling, including payment processing and stress monitoring.
At first glance, the Vivoactive 3 is a bit bulky. It has a large round watch face which looks good with a variety of different bands. By default, it comes with a silicon band which can be swapped out for just about anything, including some more upscale metal options.
It is a bit bulkier and heavier than some other watches listed here, so women may have trouble warming up to the look.
The watch comes in 3 styles, white/stainless steel, black/stainless steel, and the slightly more expensive black with slate option. If you are looking for a watch with a custom look and all the features needed in a good cycling watch, this may be one to strongly consider, as it is one of the best Garmin watches specifically for cycling.
>> You May Also Like: Garmin Forerunner 230 vs. 235
Garmin is known for watches with a handful of features, and the Vivoactive 3 is full of them. However, it is heavier on the sport functions than overall smart watch features.
Battery: On a full charge, the Vivoactive 3 will last up to 13 hours with GPS running, and up to a whopping 7 days when just in smart watch mode. THIS IS INCREDIBLE. By far one of the better batteries available, making it a solid choice if you plan on using it on long rides or want to make it an everyday fitness companion.
Fitness Tracking: As a fitness tracker, with the Vivoactive 3 you get a full set of tracking features that range from running to stress tracking. You can customize which activities you want included so you can track your fitness stats for activities that aren't included.
GPS: To piggyback off of the fitness tracking, using the cycling option with GPS enabled was a wonderful experience with this watch. The GPS tracking was easy to get started and was fairly accurate for both running and cycling. It nails your route and has very few deviations.
Notifications: Unlike some other options, the Vivoactive 3 does provide the ability to receive notifications, and if you are using an android device, you can respond to texts right on the watch.
Stress Reading: Yup, this feature is cool. Albeit a little quirky this does exactly what it sounds like it does. It takes your heart rate and movement data from the day to quantify how stressed you were. So when you get home and complain about how shitty your boss is, you have numbers to back it up!
Garmin Vivoactive 3 Review
Pros: It has a lot of great features that other watches don't have at this price point. It has accurate GPS tracking and a KILLER battery life (up to 7 days!). It has a load of watch bands to choose from and 3 watch face colors.
Cons: It is bulky, making it a more masculine watch and not suited for everyone. The charger is proprietary making it a hassle to charge if you don't bring a spare charger and aren't at home.
Fitbit has become somewhat of a household name in the wearable technology arena. The Blaze offers the same great fitness features its brand has become synonymous with, while appearing much more sleek than any previous models. It still lacks a lot of smart watch features that you might expect from looking at it, but it's still a solid choice for a cycling watch.
The actual tracker snaps into a stainless steel frame that comes with a removable strap. The idea is that you should be able to keep the same fitness tracker with a variety of different style needs. This watch is the type of watch you can wear on the trail, and also in your next business meeting. The actual assembly is a definite improvement over the surge, which was much bulkier.
The one complaint I have about this watch is that is has a lot of ununsed display space. If you look at photos, you can tell that there is a large border around the screen that isn't part of the display.
This watch feels honestly cheap in comparison to other watches on this list. Its very light and there are some plastic components that leave things to be desired. However, in the spirit of what this buyer's guide is all about, it's a great cycling watch and deserves a spot on this list regardless.
Battery life: The Blaze has a very respectable 5 day battery life that doesn't really falter no matter how much you do or don't use it. This makes it a very reliable cycling companion. It won't die even on long rides. Additionally, Fitbit is known for their sleep tracking, so a watch that can last almost a full week means you don't have to take it off at night to charge is a big plus if this is a feature you're looking for.
Notifications: One of the few actual smartphone-like features the Blaze does come with is text and app notifications. Although, you cannot reply to anything and the OS is a bit behind so you can't see images or certain emojis 😮
Connects with Strava: Although it does not have built in GPS tracking, you can pair this easily with the Strava cycling app which allows you to feed heart rate information into the app making it a great choice as a best watch for strava cycling.
Heart Rate Monitoring: Many cyclists like to keep track of their heart rate during a ride to see how well the performed. The Fitbit Blaze comes with Fitbits high quality optical heart rate monitoring system, making it comparable to chest strap monitors in terms of accuracy.
Fitbit Blaze Review
Pros: It has a great battery life and a track record of very accurate heart rate tracking. It is lightweight and stylish enough to be worn everyday. It connects directly with Strava to feed information about your effort and heart rate into the app.
Cons: It feels a little cheap, but it isn't the most expensive model on this list so we aren't surprised. It also isn't waterproof, although it will be able to withstand rain, Fitbit does not suggest taking it in the shower or in the pool.
The Polar V800 GPS Sports Watch is a multi-sport athletes dream watch. It has so many features that it may actually be overkill if you are planning on using it only for cycling. It is built to compete directly with watches such as the Suunto Ambit3 and Garmin Forerunner models.
The V800 is beefier than the previous M400. The word I would use to describe its design is robust. This is a masculine-looking watch but it can take a beating. The screen is made of Gorilla glass and is encased in an aluminum housing.
Although it is beefy, it has a solid feel and you won't forget you're wearing it, but its weight isn't excessive. There aren't a lot of different color options, even with bands. Right now, you get a pleasant red/blue or sleek black. The bands are silicon, which is a good choice considering one of the main selling points for this watch is the fact that it is waterproof and its solid design makes it a great choice if you plan on swimming in open water.
Triathlon Ready: If you are looking to compete in a triathlon, it is resistant to water up to 30 meters (100 ft.) and has the basic tracking features you expect with an athletic watch such as compass functionality. The model has adjustment capabilities for swimming in a pool or in other body of water.
Durable Screen: The screen is clear in almost all lighting conditions, and is protected by Gorilla glass, which is more than you can say about some other watches. This one is built to take a beating.
Notifications: You are able to receive notifications from both Android and IOS devices on this watch. However, you cannot respond to messages at this point.
Battery Life: This is definitely a big strength of the polar V800. The battery life depends on how you use it. You can run it in GPS low power mode and get 50 hours out of it, or up to 30 days in GPS-less mode, which basically just means using it as a basic activity tracker.
GPS: The Polar V800 watch has GPS capabilities which allows you to track your route with a surprising amount of accuracy. The one small complaint is that it does not seem to cache any satellites so the connection time can be up over a minute in some instances.
Accurate Multi-Sport Functions: Some cyclists may not be blessed with beautiful weather all year around, so it is important to have a watch that can track your indoor activities at the same level as outdoor. Running and distance information is as accurate inside as out. Cycling is one of those sports where consistency yields results. When activities are monitored, it is easier to nurture your progress
Polar V800 GPS Smart Watch Review
Pros: It is easily the most durable watch in our lineup, and would be great for those looking to compete in a triathlon. It has an insane battery life, although it is dependent on how you use it. GPS and mult-sport features are accurate.
Cons: It has a proprietary charger located under the watch band which doesn't always stay in place. There aren't a lot of customizations, you get what you get. Bulky design could be off-putting to some.
One of the newest models on this list, the Garmin Forerunner 645 Music is the first of its kind from Garmin. Previous forerunner models focused on utilitarian design and straight to the point functionality. With the Forerunner 645 music, Garmin has stepped it up a bit in terms of design, and as its name suggests, the ability to hold music.
Garmin has jumped on the touch-screen display bandwagon. Now, most serious athletes would argue that buttons are easier to use than a touch screen, especially when cycling, and Garmin has taken that into consideration. The Forerunner 645 music has 5 buttons that are intuitively placed and labeled making navigation while cycling a piece of cake.
Unlike some other Garmin cycling watch options, the 645 music has a more expensive, premium feel due to the stainless-steel bezel, and is lighter than previous models by a few grams. If you'd like, you also have the ability to swap out the bands for a classier look if you plan on making this your everyday watch. Of all the watches on this list, this one is easily best fitted to look nice on and off the bike.
Garmin Connect: No matter what sport you prefer, the online training app, Garmin Connect will help you improve. You can compare yourself to other athletes in your area and see how your performance measures up. This little competitive push can help you take your ride to the next level.
Versatile Fitness Tracking: Of all the cycling watches that support the ability to store music, the 645 music is by far the most functional fitness tracker of them all. It is very easy to start, pause, and stop workouts and delivers an in-depth post-ride analysis right on the screen.
Apps: The Forerunner 645 music is extremely versatile in terms of functionality. You have access to over 1600 apps through Garmin Connect, which is far more than just about anything other than an Apple watch.
Phone-Free: The Forerunner 645 music truly lets you exercise phone free. You can access music, GPS, and workout tracking all without being tethered to your phone and draining its battery.
Music Music Music: As its name rightfully suggests, the 645 Music has a focus on giving you the ability to listen to music without your phone. You can store up to 500 songs, connect to bluetooth headphones and it even syncs music from a growing list of streaming services for offline listening.
Smartwatch: This cycling watch is basically a full-fledged smart watch, it comes packed with features such as text and email notifications, weather updates, calendar notifications, payments and can even be paired with a Garmin Virb camera and function as a remote control.
Garmin Forerunner 645 Music Review
Pros: Packed with tons of features that are great for cycling and everyday use. It is very stylish and customizable. Has access to tons of great apps. Design is intuitive and easy to access while riding.
Cons: It cant sync with all music platforms at the time of this review, but it is a feature Garmin says they are working on.
The Suunto Spartan Ultra is one of the best fitness watches out on the market. It is Suunto's entry into the market of high end sport watches for athletes. It has a large, easy to read display, and is both comfortable and durable. It has over 80 different built in activities and includes premium features such as GPS, altimeter, compass and barometer, making it a good watch for mountain biking. Who's ready for an adventure?? 🙂
Let just cut to the chase here -- The Suunto Spartan Ultra is a very attractive watch. It has a large color display but is comparably thin. It is so gorgeous, it actually won the 2017 iF Design Award.
The touch screen provides high-contrast visibility even in full sunlight, which is an excellent perk for cyclists who ride in sunny areas.
The watch comes in a full selection of colors ranging from the basic black on black all the way up to special edition custom creations. This watch is without a doubt one of our favorites in terms of design. It is sleek and made of high quality materials. It takes the minimalist approach, but sometimes less is more.
Notifications: The Suunto Spartan Ultra connects to your phone via bluetooth, giving you the ability to receive notifications. However, at this time you cannot reply to them directly on the watch.
GPS: The Spartan Ultra has built in GPS that can be used in a number of ways. Most notable being the ability to map out your ride before you start. You can see where you are going as well as where you have been. Additionally, you can see a "heat map" of sorts in the app showing you where other cyclists have been in your area.
Sport Tracking: This watch has a handful of features that are not included in any other singular watch, which gives it the ability to track your fitness arguably better than any other sport watch. It includes a altimetere, compass, barameter as well as GPS.
"Feeling" Tracker: After a ride, the Spartan Ultra can ask you how you are feeling, which is then recorded for tracking purposes. This can help you improve how you train and your overall performance.
Versatility: There are honestly way too many features of this watch to mention all in one review, so I am just going to sum this up by saying this watch is just overall very versatile. It can do just about everything you ask of it and then some.
Suunto Spartan Ultra Review
Pros: It comes with a plethora of features that is unmatched by any competition. It has a decent battery life and it overall a gorgeous watch.
Cons: The Suunto Spartan Ultra can handle Cadence sensors heart rate and speed sensors. However, it does not provide an outlet for ANT+ sensors of any kind. It is still a somewhat new model, and could benefit from bug fixes, increased customization and watch-face options.
The Garmin Fenix 5 Sapphire Performer Bundle is a classic in the field of watches. It measures the quality of sleep, heart activity, has GPS capabilities and handles text messages and emails. This is watch has just about everything you could be looking for. It is designed for the type of people who like to spend a lot of time outdoors. While this watch most definitely does not come cheap, it is an excellent all-purpose GPS watch and fitness tracker.
Being a watch that is specifically designed to spend a lot of time outdoors, the Garmin Fenix 5 can best be described as rugged. It looks like it can take some abuse, and it really can.
A black bezel is held in place by 5 screws which houses and 1.2 inch display. There are 5 buttons on the side which makes for a more traditional watch feel which is appealing to many users.
The Fenix 5 is mid-sized option of the 3 Fenix watches introduced by Garmin. The smaller being the 5s, and the larger being the 5X.
It also has the ability to switch out your bands so you can easily romp through the wilderness during the day, and have a night out on the town at night while wearing the same watch.
Power Meter & Cadence Sensor Integration: The Fenix 5 comes with maps and the ability to integrate with power meters. This is one of only a handful of watches with this capability. The unit supports Bluetooth Smart power meters and Bluetooth Smart speed/Cadence sensors. When connected, you will be able to view the information from your power meter while riding.
Robust Activity Tracking: It honestly is hard to find an activity that the Garmin Fenix 5 can't track. Of course, you have the basics like running and cycling but there are so many options, they literally even have skydiving covered.
V02 Max: This feature isn't unique to the Fenix 5, but its accuracy and versitility is what sets it apart. Your V02 max score is essentially a measure of your overall fitness and can predict how well you will perform in events like a marathon or 5k.
Smartwatch Features: You can receive local weather, calendar appointments, notifications from calls and texts and control music from your phone.
Battery: One of the biggest benefits of dishing out the extra money for this premium watch (apart from how pretty it is!) is its battery life. It is truly spectacular, but you're paying for it. If you aren't heavy on the GPS, your battery can last up to two weeks, which most other watches can't event come close to.
Garmin Fenix 5 Sapphire Review
Pros: The multisport design lets sports enthusiasts choose any activity with confidence. It gives you the ability to measure your power meter output in real time. It does come with an optical heart rate monitor which is accurate, but you have the option of adding on a chest strap for superior accuracy.
Cons: This is the most expensive watch on our list. However, it is still a great value. It is packed with more features than a lot of the other watches and is a gorgeous piece of tech that will last you for years.
Choosing The Best Cycling Watch For Your Needs
Cycling is the type of sport that really lights a fire of passion within athletes. It is a fun, competitive sport, but can also double as a relaxing solo endeavor. Having the right accessories to measure your fitness goals can help encourage you to keep on track and crush personal records. Although cycling watches are available in a variety of price ranges, there is likely one that is perfect for your needs.
If you are in the market for a cycling watch, you are probably already pretty serious. Depending on your needs, you may care more about accuracy, features, or comfort. Each watch listed in this article has their pros and cons but are ultimately all great choices for the passionate cyclist.
Share Your Thoughts!
What do you look for in a cycling watch? Think we missed something?
Let us know in the comments section below!