If you’ve wanted a tracker on your bike in years gone by, you’d be pretty much limited to an old-school bike speedometer, which could track speed and distance but that was about it. These days though, there are a dazzling array of different metrics which you can track and later analyze. Whether you’re a semi-professional triathlete looking to develop your cycling performance, or a weekend rider who simply wants to track their route and improve your best time, we can help you find the best fitness tracker for biking.
How do I know which features I need?
There’s simply loads of features to consider when deciding which fitness tracker to buy, but don’t let that overwhelm you. Here we’ve sorted them out into a handy list, from the simplest to the most technical. Bear in mind you may well not want or need all these features, but it’s certainly useful to bear them in mind in case you suddenly find your performance improving at a rapid rate!
Fitness trackers are able to tell you how far you’ve travelled, either with a number of steps for the entire day (similar to a pedometer) or with miles travelled for a particular ride. Useful to know if you have a daily overall target, or simply want to know how long that four-hour bike ride was!
This option will tell you how fast you travelled, and for how long. This is really useful if you want to vary your speed throughout a ride, or improve your pace over particularly challenging sections of your route such as hilly sections.
More and more trackers are coming with this feature, whether as a standalone or combined with an app on your smartphone. It means you can track your route in case you want to complete it again. Some units even give you the option of ‘racing’ against others who have completed the same route and seeing if you can beat their time.
If you cycle alone and sometimes lack the motivation to keep going, then this could be a great option for you. Bear in mind though that the GPS will require satellite signals to work so may not always function perfectly in bad weather. Their use also have a significant impact on battery life.
This is an important one if you’re trying to lose weight and improve your general fitness, but not so significant if you’re already quite serious about your cycling, as results may not always be that accurate. That said, many fitness trackers do come equipped with this feature.
Chest straps are the most effective way of measuring your heart rate, but many wrist worn devices also measure your heart rate.
Whilst not necessarily directly relevant to cycling, there is often a sleep tracker option on these devices and they can prove useful. If you need to wake up for that early morning training ride you can set an alarm for a particular time and the fitness tracker will wake you up at the optimum point in your sleep cycle.
You’ll want to look out for a fitness tracker with an altimeter if you’re after this option. Wrist worn trackers will often use this to tell you how many virtual (or real!) flights of stairs you’ve climbed. Serious cyclists find this useful to know if they’re completing a hill ascent, or cycling in a mountainous region where the altitude may affect atmospheric oxygen levels.
This is measured in watts, just like the power that is used to power your home electronics. Using this metric will give you an idea of your work rate at any given point during your ride. This will obviously be very different when climbing a hill compared to coasting down the other side!
This is a measure of the number of pedal strokes per minute. Varying this will mean you use (and develop) fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscle fibers. If you are a serious cyclist measuring cadence can be a powerful tool for analyzing your natural preference and ensuring you alternate your cadence, to make sure you develop both types of muscle.
This measures the amount of oxygen your body can absorb during exercise. Basically, the higher your VO2 level, the better your cardiovascular fitness.
So now you know what your tracker might be monitoring, you will want to have a think about which of those metrics is important to you, and where you would prefer your tracker to be located.
Types of trackers
There are two main types of tracker that you will come across, these are either mounted on your handlebars, or worn on your wrist like a watch. Some trackers have the option to do both, making them very flexible. Let’s have a look at the advantages and disadvantages of both these systems.
Advantages include the fact that the display on these systems is easily viewed at all times, because it will be directly in front of you on your handlebars. These bike-mounted systems usually offer a wider range of metrics as well.
Disadvantages include that if you want to measure heart rate, you will need to wear a heart rate monitor which is usually a strap placed around the chest. Some bikers find these uncomfortable to wear which may put you off.
Many fitness trackers are now incorporated into a wristwatch style. Advantages are that it is always with you and offers loads of additional extras including sleep trackers and integrated heart rate monitors.
Disadvantages can be that these trackers are sometimes quite a bit bulkier than a standard watch, so may not fit comfortable under some clothes such as tailored shirts and suits.
Now let’s take a closer look at a few different brands of both bike mounted and wristwatch style fitness trackers to try and make your choice a little bit easier.
Top Products on The Market
Garmin Edge 520 Bike Computer
Weight: 11.2 ounces
Dimensions: 6 x 6 x 2 inches
Specific features: In-ride challenges, cycling-specific VO2, recovery time, smart uploads
Best use: Cyclists focused on tracking and improving their performance
The Edge 520 Bike Computer is a feature-rich cycling computer from the market leaders Garmin. The initial set-up out of the box can take a little longer than with a touchscreen device, but rest assured that once all your selections are made, daily use is straightforward and quick. The 520 can be set up to display the information you’re really interested in on a couple of screens for easy access.
If you combine this unit with a heart rate monitor and power reader then you are able to access some extremely detailed analysis including VO2, left/right balance and average, minimum and maximum cadence. Some users have found that the base maps are not that detailed, with whole neighborhoods unmapped. So if you’re keen to track your route, this may be a significant downside.
The 520 comes equipped with Strava Live Segments, and tells you how you’re performing against other riders on the same route, showing how far ahead or behind the best relevant time you are. You do need to have a Strava Premium account to activate this feature. Some users found that, depending on the mount used, the location of the buttons on the sides of the unit somewhat dictate placement on your bike. There is no option for a Wi-Fi connection, but it does allow for automatic wireless uploads and smartphone alerts.
Polar V650 Cycling Computer
Weight: 4.3 ounces
Dimensions: 2.8 inch screen
Specific features: Integrated GPS and altitude data, touchscreen, integrated GPS, free maps
Best use: Ambitious cyclists looking for the chance to analyze a wide range of metrics
Polar is best known for their heart rate equipment, meaning that the V650 Cycling Computer is capable of providing you with great metrics to improve your riding. If you do want to record your heart rate, you will need to purchase the Bluetooth Smart Heart Rate Sensors. You can also purchase an additional sensor to measure cadence and cycling speed. The Polar V650 gives you an overview of each training session and comes fully equipped with an adjustable bike mount.
Cleverly, this device also comes with a front safety light, a small LED which is triggered automatically in low light situations. It’s not bright enough to replace your standard lights, but is a good emergency backup. The screen can be hard to read in very sunny conditions which may be a consideration especially if you are trying to read it quickly whilst cycling.
Fitbit Surge Fitness Superwatch
Weight: 12 ounces
Dimensions: 6.9 x 1.4 x 0.6 inches
Specific features: GPS tracking, automatic sync function, water resistance, silent alarm
Best use: Multi-sport enthusiasts looking for a compact device.
A sleek and stylish watch that is available in five sizes and three colors to suit pretty much anyone. The Fitbit Surge Fitness Superwatch collects data on a wide range of factors, including distance travelled, pace, and elevation climbed. It also measures continuous heart-rate as well as tracking your calories burned and active or resting time.
The Surge also employs SmartTrack and Multi-Sport settings, which mean that you can track and record data for many different sports. This watch really provides a huge amount of functionality, including the ability to see both call and text notifications from your phone and sync automatically to both computers and leading smartphones. It also has the ability to monitor your sleep and set a silent alarm to wake you up at the optimum time.
This Superwatch is larger than your average wrist watch which may take some getting used to. Some users have found that the strap is not durable long-term, which may be an issue especially if you envisage wearing it day and night. If you’re looking for a cycling specific fitness tracker to take your riding to the next level then be warned that there have been reports of the battery on this smartwatch only lasting five hours when using GPS mode (necessary for tracking) which may not be long enough for some users.
Garmin vívoactive HR GPS Smart Watch
Weight: 1.6 ounces
Dimensions: 2.2 x 1.2 x 0.5 inches
Specific features: Tracks a wide range of sports, measures heart rate, and customizable watch faces
Best use: Fashion conscious cyclists looking for a great all-round and high quality product
The Vívoactive HR GPS Smart Watch from Garmin ticks all the boxes. If you’re a keen triathlete or just enjoy a wide range of sports, then the vivoactive can track them all, from running, cycling and swimming to golf and even skiing. Using Garmin’s Elevate wrist heart rate technology means you can keep track of your heart rate, day and night.
The vivoactive can also provide you with data on calories burned, GPS, sunrise/sunset, monitor your sleep patterns and workout intensity. You can also customize this to your hearts content, with different watch designs and many apps available. This is quite a chunky fitness tracker, much more so than your average wristwatch.
So if you wear a suit to work every day you may have difficulties fitting the cuffs over this smart watch. The watch face is hardened plastic which some users found to be easily damaged.
Weight: 1 ounce
Dimensions: 0.4 x 1.3 x 1.5 inches
Specific features: Ten vibrant color options in two sizes
The Apple Watch measures a range of metrics including heart rate, speed, calories burned and steps taken. The band of the watch itself is a smooth soft plastic with a metal clasp which provides a neat and customized fit once on, although some users have reported that they find it hard to put it on one-handed.
You can choose a range of digital watch faces which fully customize this watch and make it truly individual. You can text and make phone calls from the watch as long as your phone is nearby. Advanced options such as cadence and power aren’t available though, so if you’re looking for a wide range of metrics you may find yourself somewhat limited.
Nike+ Fuelband SE Fitness Tracker
Weight: 10 ounces
Dimensions: Available in three sizes: small, medium/large and extra-large
Specific features: Available in three sizes and four colorways
Best use: Perfect to monitor general activity, but lacks cycling specific features
The Nike+ Fuelband aims to make exercise goals fun and achievable. This tracker provides a single way to measure all your activity. It lets you set a goal for the amount of activity you would like to accomplish in a day and will remind you to get moving every hour until that goal is reached. This tracker does not come enabled with GPS, but you do have the option of linking to the Nike+ Running app on your phone as a way of mapping your route.
There have been some reports that the Nike+ Fuelband doesn’t necessarily correctly report calories and fuel points burnt when cycling. Some users have secured the Fuelband to their wrist or shoe as a way of getting around this potential problem. If you’re looking for a tracker to monitor general activity throughout the day then this is a good option for you.
TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio
Weight: 12.6 ounces
Dimensions: 4.1 x 3.7 x 3.7 inches
Specific features: Extra-large display, Graphical Training Partner, One-Button Control and GPS Technology
Best use: Fashion conscious athletes looking for a way to track and improve their performance
The stylish TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio is a great tool to help motivate you to improve your performance. Detailed workout metrics are displayed intuitively, enabling you to reach your goals with ease. This comes enabled with a heart rate monitor when worn on your wrist, or with the option to use a separate chest monitor if you prefer to attach the Multi-Sport Cardio to your handlebar bike dock.
TomTom lets you pick a heart rate ‘zone’ to train in, to match your goals, and will alert you to speed up or slowdown in order to stay in the optimal range. You can train in one of the five intensity zones, ranging from easy to fat burn, endure, speed and sprint. The screen graphics on this watch are impressive, with the ability to compare your current performance to past attempts, meaning you’re always one step closer to achieving a personal best.
You can set goals including distance or time, and receive alerts when you’re nearly there. Designed for athletes, this includes many tools which cyclists will love, including the ability to monitor your cadence as you ride as an optional accessory. Some users have found that the heart rate monitor is not always reliable, in which case you may need to try repositioning the watch further up your wrist.
Willful Waterproof Sports Watch
Weight: 0.5 ounces
Dimensions: 0.96 inch OLED display, strap size 6 inch to 8.5 inch adjustable
Specific features: Pedometer, calories, distance travelled, GPS enabled, sleep tracker, alarm clock, push notifications, sedentary reminder
The Willful Waterproof Sports Watch comes with a whole host of features including a pedometer, calorie counter, sleep monitor and sports tracker. The sports tracker is suitable for a range of activities including swimming, cycling, running and a multi-sport mode for gym workouts such as skipping, sit-ups and treadmill work. It also comes GPS-enabled so you can track your route and access statistics such as pace and duration.
Currently, the Willful Sports Watch is only compatible with the Android operating system, but if you do have an Android phone you can link this watch to your phone to access email and text notifications, among others. Whilst some users suggest this watch is not the most stylish, it is incredibly light and has a great battery life of seven days. The large HD touchscreen is easy and intuitive to use but you do need to link it to your phone in order to set it up correctly.
Unlike many other smart watches, this one does not come equipped with a heart rate monitor so if you’re looking to keep an eye on that throughout your ride then this might not be the watch for you. Whilst cycling, you can use this watch in combination with the linked app, in order to check calories burned, ride duration, speed, distance and route. In order to access some functions you need to ensure your smartphone is nearby.
So… smart watch, bike mounted tracker or even both?
Whether you’re a semi-professional cyclist or simply enjoy tracking your rides to improve your performance, there’s such a wide range of fitness trackers out there that you’re bound to find one that’s the perfect match for you. With choices including smart watches that you can wear day in and day out, to bike mounted trackers with high-level capabilities, we’re sure that you’ll be able to do so with ease.
If you’ve found a fitness tracker that you wouldn’t go cycling without that we haven’t included in this list, please let us know in our comments section.