What’s the Best Garmin Watch for Cycling? [Top 5 in 2021]
To some, the straightforward technology involved with cycling has always been part of its enduring appeal. The act of turning pedals and wheels projects utilitarian simplicity. It opens up the world and permits escape into it.
Commuters who cycle to and from work trust uncomplicated mechanical parts. They know that essential repairs are relatively inexpensive and can be carried out at home on or the roadside. They may only see the bicycle as an essential part of their nine to five; they pick it up and lock it up, uniformly and for efficiency.
To many, riding the bicycle could be their only form of exercise. Doing so is considered one of the most beneficial forms of giving the body a daily workout. From here, that routine can develop into more strenuous tests of speed, hill-climbing, descending and endurance. It may include doing so with a group of like-minded folk or friends. The enjoyment and thrills involved in these may stimulate them to join a club, or take up competitive riding.
- Why Garmin is Popular for Cycling
- Does Strava Work with Garmin?
- Best Garmin Watches for Cycling [TOP 5]
Once mastered, using a bicycle may become one of many ways to stay fit and challenge an individual. Exploration and mental stimulation can also be formed from running, or paddle-boarding or swimming. Combining these activities is manageable and provides alternative ways to keep motivated and to keep moving.
We’ve established cycling is great for the heart and soul. Depending on use, the majority of materials and components used to manufacture a bicycle are made to last a long time. Maintenance can be learned quickly.
Many will use the same bicycle for one or all of the cycling activities highlighted. Some may have one bicycle to cover all of them, or may have one reserved for each activity.
The joy of cycling for many includes access to a wide range of different bicycles from a reliable hybrid all-rounder, through a commuter, ready made with lights, racks and mudguards to a technology-laden, lightweight electric mountain bike with suspension hydraulics. Bicycles are designed so that they can give you as much or as little feedback as you desire.
Benefits of a Smartwatch for Cyclists
If it is agreed that a bicycle carries out as little or as many tasks as you want it to, the same is true of watches specifically worn for cycling. They can do most things that a wristwatch can, they can do many of the things that a smartphone does. They can do almost as many things as a specific handlebar-mounted device does. They can be adaptable and flexible.
However you choose to use a watch for cycling, the information that they collect, hold and provide you with needs to be trustworthy and for some, instantly accessible for digestion and comparison. It needs to be synchronised with third-party applications back at base and easily shared to them.
The necessity for features and monitoring will almost certainly influence the watch you choose. However, a central theme which runs through most common requirements seen by users of the bicycle will be dependability and reliability. Trusted brands with a track record of delivering what we want, ride after ride, are key drivers in the choices we make. If your cycling takes you far away from the comfort and familiarity of the urban centre, you want to feel safe that your machine will aid your return you home, time and again.
You may wish to leave your smartphone, Apple watch or other dependables at home knowing that you are wearing a watch that is designed to make you available to people, give you turn by turn instructions, monitor your average speed and calories burned, pay for your coffee and stream from your Spotify account. A good brand is trusted to do that.
We’ll dig a bit deeper into the features of a watch for cycling but we should ensure that it can be called upon to perform over and over.
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Why Garmin is Popular for Cycling
For many, Garmin is a name synonymous with the provision of what is needed from a device used for outdoor activities. They are considered a global icon and leader in automotive, aviation and marine navigation. Over 20 years old now, they have invested in technologies and acquired companies which support the functionality of their devices in order to streamline and improve performance.
They have sponsored professional road-racing cycling teams. They offer a global network of support and guidance. They now support synchronisation with some of the other key fitness and lifestyle applications used by cyclists.
Garmin also produces handlebar-mounted units for cycling. If you use your bicycle for more strenuous exercise regularly and tend to enjoy riding longer distances over new roads or terrain, then there is a case for investing in one of these. If you travel quickly and need to concentrate on what’s in front of you at all times and keep both hands on the handlebars, then investing in a handlebar-mounted unit needs consideration.
They have large displays which provide dozens of data points. These markers are updated for you to monitor and area easily read in all conditions. Relying on any watch to give navigation guidance through the reader worn on the wrist is dangerous, not recommended and will hinder every ride you go on.
Garmin devices, including watches for cycling, are often designed to partner with Garmin technical accessories such as heart rate monitor straps or speed and cadence units which attach to the body or the bicycle. However, as you move through the range, the built-in technology can dispense with the need to acquire more equipment, unless you are fixated by measurement of power output and speed from a meter, a cadence unit and your wheels rather than a Global Positioning System (GPS).
In considering which Garmin watch to buy, perhaps the most important thing you can do is to take a moment to look at what function the bicycle carries out for you. Garmin does not promote cycling as a core activity in the products tab of watches on its website at the time of writing. It features within the multisports category. That may be with an emphasis on the more athletically, directionally and statistically functions found on the handlebar-mounted units.
Garmin highlights many of the compatible functions of its watches with cycling and all of the watches highlighted here have a built-in cycling mode for you to activate quickly and easily at the start of your ride for essential monitoring.
How I Ranked the Best Garmins For Cyclists
I spoke to a nationwide bike shop and a nationwide outdoor pursuits retailer who each confirmed that Garmin provides them with full training about their range of watches for cycling and the comparisons between them. Both confirmed that most purchases are made after the consumer has carried out research and compared devices online.
I also spoke to several users of Garmin watches for cycling, ranging from those with no prior knowledge of the brand who received theirs as a gift, to a Type-1 diabetic who relies on the device to keep him informed of the level of glucose in his blood during exercise, to a multi-sports Strava segment junkie who loves to compare all ride times posted on Strava with his mates.
There was a consistent agreement that, whilst there was an awareness of all the features that Garmin watches have to offer, the take up of these features is limited. That’s understandable because of the shared technologies with other dependable devices such as smartphones or simply that the users wanted a specific experience. There was very little negative feedback about use of Garmin watches – limited to the aesthetic of older devices and reading of information on its face. Some users would appreciate more bundling of products and accessories into discounted price points.
All purchasers fed back to me on the reputation for quality. Some highlighted the positive reviews received online and in-store and the data-tracking and GPS offered.
Everybody was happy with battery life. The dependency on energy consumption depends on use. Utilising the GPS to provide speed and distance measurement plus turn by turn instructions and streaming from your paid for Spotify account will use the battery up after perhaps eight hours on the most expensive units. Use as a daily watch with a simple heart rate monitor and to record your daily commute or local ride without GPS should get you over a week of use between charges.
Does Strava Work with Garmin?
You can connect Garmin and Strava via Bluetooth using the Garmin Connect app which syncs data between the two.
Strava is surely the most popular application for measuring cycling activities. In March 2021, Strava had 76 million active users. Although now used to track more than 30 sports activities, in its infancy all of the activity was driven by cyclists. A popular saying amongst cycling communities remains, “If it’s not on Strava it didn’t happen.” Users appear to be loyal to the brand and would not consider shifting the recording of their activities away to other sites.
Strava is free to download and use at the most essential levels including receiving and giving ‘kudos’ to other verified users. It charges a subscription for some of the most sought after statistics like setting training goals, analysis of data and tracking performance over time. Probably the most used feature of the premium settings is comparing times for specific segments of a ride with other users. Over 50% of rides by Tour de France competitors feature on Strava if you ever need to ask yourself how close to the pros you are in terms of performance.
You can upload your rides manually via a USB connection to your PC or laptop. Historical content can be imported to both Strava and to the Garmin hubs.
One use for Strava creeping into your world is that authorities are giving serious consideration to its data for route planning. Using crowdsourcing can help establish the relationship between cycling data and how the ground around us is used. Understanding how representative they are of where cycling takes place is a key consideration for debate, however. Do commuters use Strava as much as committed ‘weekend warriors’?
If you like to look into the details, you will sometimes find differences in some of the data captured by Strava and Garmin. The two companies process the real-time data differently using methods which package up the end result differently. This is influenced more if you add optional speed and cadence devices which are sold separately and whether you stop and start your watch when you stop at lights or for coffee and cake.
You may see more differences in the elevation measurements between the two devices. For day to day use and measurement of distances this will go unnoticed. Check which watch displays Strava Live segments if you want to ready yourself and safely fight for the KOM on a verified and permitted regular stretch of your popular routes.
Best Garmin Watches for Cycling
A selection of the best smartwatches for cycling for Strava from a range of fitness brands are reviewed here. As a leader, Garmin watches do feature and we will revisit these and some more of the range.
There are hundreds of features across the Garmin range so it’s not possible to list all of them. And one model even has 19 different variations from the base unit. The users I spoke to each admitted that they have not investigated, downloaded and utilised everything on offer.
But that’s to be expected. Not everyone is the same. Some people want to take their phone out with them. Some only want to measure one or two metrics. We’ve identified already that not everyone needs every feature. Competition amongst manufacturers means that certain ranges are limited and targeted at certain users.
On top of hours, minutes and seconds, timer, stopwatch and alarm clocks standard features include:
- wrist heart monitor
- GPS sensors
- training, planning and analysis features
- available cycling profiles
- health monitoring
One shift in market patterns is towards multisport users who want one device to cater for everything – walking, running and hiking, or paddleboarding and swimming, for example.
Another comes with the development of health and performance indicators. There are even some practicalities included like incident detection and activating your bicycle lights. Day to day wearability and practicality are also important and so is all round value for money.
We’ll look at some core functionalities for everyday use across a range of activities and examine what you might need to consider more of before buying. All will add some value to your experience of riding your bicycle. You should also pay attention to which features require you to take your smartphone with you before you buy.
Top 5 Garmin Watches for Cycling
|Garmin Fenix 6 Pro||Rating|
|Heart Rate Monitor||⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
This is the top pick if you want a watch to do everything and you don’t have a budget. It is adaptable within your cycling needs and way beyond. It connects to three different types of GPS position which increases reliability. It uses toughened glass on the face to protect against scrapes and outdoor hazards and the large display is visible in sunlight. Although not recommended, that might help if it is necessary to look at the watch whilst you are riding with sunglasses.
The battery power save becomes more useful the more adventurous you get as 10 hours is noted as the limit when on GPS and Music mode as opposed to two weeks in smartwatch only mode. Your body’s power and emergency reserves are monitored too if you need an excuse to rest.
The ClimbPro feature is neat as it allows you to see real-time gradients and helps you pace yourself for upcoming climbs on downloaded courses.
The Fenix 6 has a 47mm diameter face which might not sit well with your choice of working clothes or lifestyle as it is clearly aimed at the most sporting and adventurous. The price tag is consistent with the features and battery capabilities packed in.
Lifestyle support is there too with options for playing your saved Spotify Premium playlists or podcasts during your resting breaks or coffee stops. You can catch up with emails and texts. 32GB of available memory will provide for thousands of songs.
Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Advantages + Disadvantages
|Rugged for use in multiple sports||Price|
|Power saving mode||Not many will use all features|
|Widget overview on screen is great||Comparable to other cheaper models|
- Train even better: With a heart rate measurement directly on the wrist, determine your Pulse Ox oxygen activation, monitor your current training load, Pace Pro for an increase in distance planning....
- Perfect navigation: Thanks to the pre-installed TopoActive Europe map with extensive navigation functions, you will always find your destination. Whether trail running or strolling around the city on...
- Stylish design: A clear design statement on your wrist: stylish, sporty, durable. The perfectly readable 1.3 (33 mm) display made of Corning Gorilla Gl 3 has a permanent display and is held by a...
|Garmin Venu 2||Rating|
|Heart Rate Monitor||⭐⭐⭐⭐|
The Venu 2 is lifestyle focussed and light touch. It provides up to 11 days of uninterrupted updates of your health and almost 24 hours in GPS mode.
It has a touchscreen which you can swipe for access to a widget or app of your choice.
If you log a two minute session, key numbers including heart rate, respiration and stress are recorded for comparison with your baseline levels.
Should you desire, your fitness age can be calculated from your actual age based on the severity of the activity and your resting levels.
It has a 45mm diameter case which is almost as large as the Fenix 6. Like the others, its performance slows with GPS and music modes.
There are some rewarding alarms triggered when you reach a performance goal such as time, distance, heart rate or calories burned.
Garmin Venu 2 Pros + Cons
|Very good battery life||Only a smart watch in the essence of the word|
|Sports tracking is good||Expensive|
|High resolution display||Limited notification response capability|
EDITOR NOTE FROM PETE: I own the Garmin Venu 2 and absolutely love it. I’ve not been particularly sold on smartwatches before, but I find the Venu 2 is the ideal blend of functionality and style. It looks amazing, it tracks really, really well and the battery life is far better than anything I have come across as I only charge it about once per week.
- Know your body better with extensive health monitoring features, including the Health Snapshot feature, Body Battery energy levels, sleep score, fitness age, stress tracking and more
- Find new ways to keep your body moving with more than 25 built-in indoor and GPS sports apps, including walking, running, cycling, HIIT, swimming, golf and many more
- Use preloaded workouts that include cardio, yoga, strength, HIIT and Pilates, create your own in the Garmin Connect app on your compatible smartphone, or try Garmin Coach free adaptive training plans...
|Garmin Vivoactive 4||Rating|
|Heart Rate Monitor||⭐⭐⭐⭐|
This is great if cycling is one of many sports you participate in, record and share. It has 20 preloaded and indoor sports apps. The watch features an always-on display.
It uses Move IQ performance trackers to automatically detect the type of routine you are performing.
It’s small size is helpful and is almost all display screen. You can select the number of data fields on display at any one time but it still keeps track of them all. The Vivoactive 4 gives animated workouts on screen if you are someone who counts yoga and pilates into your routines.
The notifications are there when you pair with a smartphone although you can’t always respond to notifications. You can download songs and playlists if you have the correct subscription package.
Garmin Vivoactive 4 Pros + Cons
|Records ‘all the ways to move’||Not so many distinctive cycling features|
|Price||Limited battery life even in smartwatch mode|
|Comfortable as a daily watch||Limited features overall|
- The broadest range of all-day health monitoring features keeps track of your energy levels, pulse ox (this is not a medical device and is not intended for use in the diagnosis or monitoring of any...
- Easily download songs to your watch, including playlists from Spotify or Deezer (may require a premium subscription with a third-party music provider), and connect with headphones (sold separately)...
- Record all the ways to move with more than 20 preloaded GPS and indoor sports apps, including yoga, running, swimming and more
|Garmin Forerunner 745||Rating|
|Heart Rate Monitor||⭐⭐⭐⭐|
If you are a beginner to cycling the Forerunner 745 could provide you with the kind of encouragement and motivation to ride your bicycle further and for longer.
All the basics are here plus it gives on-device cycling workout suggestions and training guidance is available if you want to take it running. Goal predictors will help to visualise the impact of your training. A recovery time tool is built in to support your body’s own messages regarding rest. It has the same ClimbPro feature as the Fenix.
Its routes connect directly to cycling apps such as Komoot and Strava. Social media, messaging and texts are all available. It should store up to 500 downloaded songs.
Battery-life is not as hardy as other models at a verified six hours with GPS and music. Smartwatch only features brings that up to 16 hours. Some guidance features rely on pairing apps with your smartphone.
Garmin Forerunner 745 Pros + Cons
|On device workout suggestions||Battery life|
|Preloaded activities||No offline maps if you get lost|
|Functions well with social media apps||Heart rate monitor synching issues|
- swim, bike, run — do it all with a smartwatch that uses multiple satellite systems to accurately track your workouts
- switch up your workout routine whenever you like with preloaded activity profiles for running, triathlon, multisport, cycling, pool swimming, track running and more
- receive on-device run and cycling daily workout suggestions based on your current training load and vo2 max
|Garmin Forerunner 45||Rating|
|Heart Rate Monitor||⭐⭐⭐⭐|
This is a feature-packed watch aimed at runners that has cycling options. Like all Garmin watches it will work fine in tracking miles, times, distance and heart rate. The smaller frame might suit you and it’s compatible with Android and IOS systems. Its light in weight and battery life are appealing for the price.
There are some useful personalised training plans for beginners and the controls are very easy to navigate. You can download custom faces, add apps and widgets from the Garmin store.
At this price point there are limited multisport profiles and a lot of plastic included in the build. And you can’t play music on its own. You can use it to control the music playing on your phone, however.
If this is your exit point for pricing and you only need simple features for cycling then investing in a handlebar-mounted unit becomes just as attractive.
Garmin Forerunnner 45 Pros + Cons
|Value||Construction influenced by plastics|
|Lightweight||Can’t play music from the watch|
|Ease of navigation and controls||Garmin Edge I30 Plus may be better|
- Easy-to-use running watch monitors heart rate at the wrist and features GPS to track your pace, distance, intervals and more
- Works with free Garmin Coach adaptive training plans that bring expert, personalised coaching right to your wrist
- Connected features include smart notifications for incoming texts and calls, automatic uploads to Garmin Connect, live tracking and controls for the music playing on your phone
- What’s the Best Garmin Watch for Cycling? [Top 5 in 2021] - September 6, 2021