Smartwatches can be a better alternative to cycling computers for athletes who want to track their workouts as well monitor their step count, heart rate, and recovery throughout the day all in one device. Smartwatches incorporate the functions of a cycling computer, heart rate strap, and a fitness tracker into one subtle wearable that you don't feel weird bringing to work. They track your workouts, monitor your daily movement, sleep, heart rate, and some even read your blood oxygen levels. And unlike many fitness trackers, they have a large display that shows you all this data in real-time. Cross-training and multisport athletes will definitely benefit from one device that can be easily carried along through all kinds of activities, including swimming, running, hiking, skiing, and weight training.

The best smartwatches for cycling

Garmin Fenix 6X Pro
The Fenix 6X Pro is as jam-packed with useful features as we would expect from a device at this price point: It can plan a heat-map based route from your location based on how far you want to ride, and will guide you with turn by turn directions.

It calculates your VO2 max to keep you honest during training intervals, and adjusts the numbers for altitude and air temperature effects on your performance. On pre-downloaded courses, it displays real-time data on your current ride, including gradient, distance and elevation gain of upcoming climbs. It does all this with great accuracy, even on remote trails, with the help of multiple navigation satellites it connects to. And of course, it doesn't skimp on the basics either: The Fenix 6X Pro tracks heart rate variability, stress, sleep and gauges your blood oxygen levels to track how rested you are to help you plan recovery days. Bonus safety feature: it can be programmed to send your location to emergency contacts if it senses that a crash has occurred. The battery lasts two weeks in smartwatch mode (not using GPS), 36 hours in GPS mode, and up to 48 days in battery saver mode.

  • Route planning on your wrist
  • Bluetooth, ANT+ and wifi connectivity
  • Expensive
Best for: Multi-sport adventurers

Price: $700
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Polar Grit X Multisport Watch
If you frequently get bored of riding the same ole route, a watch with a built-in take-me-home function like the Grit X can be a godsend. Unlike the Garmin 6X Fenix Pro, it doesn't create rides for you on your wrist, but the Back-to-Start feature allows you to explore all you want, and then direct you back to where you came from. While you're out there, the FuelWise function reminds you to hydrate and refuel based on calories burned to help you avoid a bonk in the middle of nowhere.

A stainless steel case and Gorilla glass lens means this thing is durable and tough, even when things go sideways (or scrape against trees). All the vitals it monitors are super precise: the heart rate monitor offers accurate and continuous reading using bioimpedance electrodes and optical sensors, and the recovery advisory function considers cardio load, muscle load and perceived load separately on how your training is affecting performance. It also has a forecast reader, VO2 max estimate, and recognizes your ascents and descents to record climbing metrics for later analysis. On top of all this, it's got killer battery life: 40 hours in training mode with GPS and wrist-based heart rate active, or up to 7 days in watch mode with continuous heart rate. This thing is ready to explore with you.

  • Super durable
  • Back-to-start routing features
  • Bluetooth connectivity only (no ANT+ sensors)
Best for: Serious fitness tracking that's more wallet-friendly than the top-shelf competitors

Price: $430
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Fitbit Charge 4
This small watch packs a punch: Interval tracking, step counter, GPS activity recording, sleep tracking, all-day calories burned, heart rate monitor, VO2 max estimate….it's got all the basics and then some. Though it doesn't go super in-depth for any of these metrics, they can be used to give you a more comprehensive picture of your fitness patterns and habits so you can maintain or make changes to improve them.

The shorter battery life (five hours in GPS mode) means you'll have to charge it up more often. Sync it up with your phone to receive notifications, use Fitbit pay, look over your data, and play Spotify while you're working out. As your ride, the only metrics it displays are pace, heart rate, and distance, so it's ideal for riders who don't pay close attention to minute ride data or do their intervals by heart rate or perceived rate of exertion. Speaking of cycling, a bonus feature for users with menstrual cycles is that the Charge 4 lets you track your cycle to estimate fertility and ovulation windows.

  • Affordable
  • Tracks all the basics metrics
  • Shortest battery life on this list
  • Not as in-depth analysis available
Best for: Casual fitness tracking

Price: $150
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Samsung Galaxy Watch Active
This budget-friendly watch tracks all the basics, and is ideal for cyclists looking to get a peek into their health and wellness metrics for the first time. It's not bogged down with an overwhelming amount of data, and the user interface is designed to be simple and accessible. If you have a Samsung Galaxy phone, you can charge up your watch on the go by simply setting it on top of your phone.

If you don't have a Samsung phone, don't worry-it will still pair with an iPhone, and any Bluetooth earbuds you want to use to stream music while you work out. Another great thing about this watch is the construction-it's super thin and lightweight, but the Gorilla Glass screen is tough and durable, and it's waterproof so you can wear it to swim or shower. And of course, it has built-in GPS to record all your workouts, and keeps track of your sleep pattern, heart rate trends, and steps taken throughout the day. If you're not a data junkie and just want a little insight into how your body is doing before, during, and after your rides, this is a great watch for you.

  • Just the right amount of data
  • Music, Bluetooth, and GPS functions
  • Samsung was unclear on their site about how long the battery lasts on one charge
Best for: Fiscally-responsible and fashion-forward riders

Price: $200
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Fitbit Sense
If you're juggling work, family, chores, and riding all the time, a smartwatch that clues you in to your stress and exertion levels can be a huge help in avoiding burnout and maximizing your ride time. The Fitbit Sense is a great option for this. Between your workouts, it charts your heart rate and rhythm, sleep quality, steps, blood oxygen levels, and breathing rate so you can optimize your recovery, stress-management, and overall wellness.

This watch also displays your pace and distance as you ride, and saves all activities. Post-workout analysis lets you see your heart rate zones on the map of your route, so you can see where you were working the hardest. It's also super fast-charging-getting a day's worth of battery power in just 12 minutes-so no more putting off your ride a couple hours to make sure your tracking device is ready to roll. A full battery will last at least six days on smartwatch mode, and over 12 hours in GPS mode.

  • Excellent stress and recovery tool
  • Not as much ride data available as other options in this list
Best For: Balancing fitness with wellness

Price: $300
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Garmin Forerunner 45S
Thin-wristed riders might find the smaller face and band on the Forerunner fits them better than a lot of the oversized options out there-it's 39.5 square millimeters, versus the 47 or more found in others on this list. This mid-priced smartwatch tracks all your rides and workouts, while monitoring your heart rate, steps, and calories burned around the clock to help clue you in if you're overtraining. Its training functions include pace, distance, and interval tracking, and will guide you through workouts with Garmin Coach training plans (they're free). Connect it to your phone to receive incoming message notifications and send incident alerts to your emergency contacts if necessary. It doesn't offer route planning functions, but records your location during activity for analysis and upload post-workout.

As far as wellness monitoring, it tracks stress and energy-expenditure to help you meter your efforts and recover when you need to, and offers a relaxation breathing timer to help fit a little mindfulness into your day. The Bluetooth connectivity allows you to connect your headphones and play music in the gym or on the trail, if you like. The battery life is what we would expect for a mid-range watch like this: Seven days in smartwatch mode and 13 hours in GPS mode.

  • Small face and band circumference
  • Stress and recovery tracking
  • Free training plans included
  • Not power meter compatible
Best for: Multisport riders with smaller wrists
Price: $200
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Timex Ironman R300
One of the more basic and affordable options in this list, the water resistant Ironman R300 tracks performance data for all your rides, swims, and runs. It records your distance, speed, calories burned, and heart rate during activities, and gives you mid-activity reminders to hydrate and replenish calories burned.

The GPS functions track your distance, pace, and route, but don't offer any route planning or directions capabilities. The watch comes with some pre-downloaded running, cycling, and triathlon workouts and training plans, and you can sync it up with the app to download workouts of your own as well. The Ironman R300 also keeps track of your personal bests and logs activities in the Timex app on your phone for analysis.

When you're not training, it tracks your steps, calories, sleep patterns, and heart rate the entire time you're wearing it. You can also program it to nudge you to move when you've been sedentary for a set period of time. And for a watch at this price, it has pretty solid battery capacity: 20 hours in GPS mode, and 25 days in smartwatch mode.

  • Affordable price
  • Free workouts and training plans included
  • No cadence or power meter connectivity
  • Not a lot of extras like music, tap-to-pay, weather, etc.
Best for: Dipping your toes in the smartwatch pond

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Wahoo Elemnt Rival
Wahoo products are some of the most user-friendly devices I've used, and the Rival definitely follows suit. The user interface is super intuitive, making it easy to get the most out of all the features this watch has to offer.

The coolest thing this watch has? ANT+ connectivity. This means it can sync up with your cadence sensor and power meter for comprehensive ride data tracking, as well as connect it to any trainer that has ANT+ connectivity. So you can peek down at your watch during an interval to see what power zone you're in, and whether you ride inside or on a trainer, you'll have comprehensive ride data with accurate wattage and cadence numbers to send to your coach or analyze later. You can also see charts of your ride data right on the watch face, which has a colorful display and allows you to zoom in on sections of the screen.

If you also use an Elemnt bike computer in addition to a Rival, the two devices will automatically share info with each other. The Rival doesn't offer an outrageous number of activity profiles like some watches on this list do, but it covers all the basics that might be incorporated into a cyclist's or triathlete's training plan: outdoor cycling, indoor cycling, running, treadmill, lap swimming, open water swimming, strength training, and yoga. It has an average battery life of 14 days, and up to 24 hours in GPS mode.

  • Can read your cadence and power sensors
  • Data charts on the watch face
  • Customizable activity screens
  • No sleep tracking or stress monitoring
  • Only tracks active calories burned
Best for: Multi-sport athletes integrated into Wahoo's user-friendly ecosystem

Price: $380
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Coros Apex Pro
If you're a training data junkie, consider tracking your activities and data with the Coros Apex Pro smartwatch. It comes with downloadable workouts and training plans, as well as the capability to design and follow your own. Based on your efforts, the Apex keeps track of your VO2 max and lactate threshold estimates, aerobic and anaerobic training effects, including training load and how much time you'll need to recovery.

It also tracks a metric called "stamina," which is an estimate of how much energy you have left in your own tank. This could come in handy when you want to need to make it through that last threshold interval and still get yourself home in one piece. ANT+ connectivity means it can receive data from your cadence sensor and power meter for comprehensive ride-data tracking that you can upload to programs like Strava and TrainingPeaks later.

It offers 40 hours of battery in regular GPS mode, and can be extended to 100 hours (this isn't the longest battery life in this list-that would be the Garmin 6X Fenix Pro). It's also super lightweight (55 grams total) so you'll barely notice it's there.

  • ANT+ connectivity
  • Super lightweight
  • Recovery advising and stamina estimates
  • No music playing capabilities
Best for: Data junkies

Price: $500
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Garmin Forerunner 945 HR
A higher-tech version than the Forerunner 45S listed above, this Forerunner has all the basics and then some: The workout tracking features include speed and distance, Garmin Elevate wrist-based heart rate, lactate threshold VO2 monitoring, and training status to determine if you're training productively, peaking, or overreaching. In addition to heart rate and movement, the watch monitors your blood-oxygen levels, and clues you in to when your body needs a little R&R.

You can download or create workouts and upload them to the Forerunner 945 HR, and it will guide you through your intervals. If you want to follow a route, the smartwatch will give you a map and turn-by-turn directions, and the full-color map makes it easy to see where you are and where you're going. It's waterproof and durable, and pairs with your phone for analysis as well as your power meter and cadence sensor to track all your ride metrics.

It also has extra features like Samsung pay, music streaming, and high/low heart rate monitoring. The battery lasts 2 weeks in smartwatch mode, 10 hours in GPS mode (with music!), and up to 60 hours in UltraTrac mode.

  • ANT+ connectivity
  • Thorough workout data and analysis
  • Create and follow your own workouts
  • Turn-by-turn route guidance
  • Price
  • Only comes in black (okay, okay, we're reaching-it's a really awesome watch!)
Best for: Cyclists who want the best balance of functions in a smartwatch. This is our top pick!

Price: $600
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What to look for in a smartwatch for cycling
While many cyclists prefer to keep an eye on their wattage, speed, and cadence throughout a ride, some simply don't. If you'd prefer to focus on the road without numbers in your face, a smartwatch can save the data from your activity to look at later (or peek at periodically)and automatically upload to Strava. Not all smartwatches track wattage and cadence data, but some do. And once your ride is over, your smartwatch will continue to track your recovery, heart rate, step count, and other daily functions and movements. Each model has slightly different functions, capabilities, and compatibilities, so we've explained a few of the most popular ones below. Read on for a general understanding of what these watches can do, and keep scrolling for an analysis of 10 of our favorite smartwatches, and the types of riders we recommend them for.

Heart Rate: A direct metric on how hard your body is working. Keeping an eye on it during workouts will let you know what training zone you're in, and help the watch calculate calories burned. Once you get familiar with your normal resting heart rate, this can also clue you in to how recovered you are (or aren't). Many of the watches use heart rate variability to track your stress and recovery levels as well.

Step Count: Most smartwatches keep track of your non-workout activity throughout the day as well to give you a more comprehensive picture of your overall movement patterns. Some just track your steps, while others might include tallies like flights of stairs, or number of hours you incorporated some kind of movement, which can be motivating for people working a desk job.

Sleep: Using an accelerometer and/or heart rate monitor, many smartwatches track your sleep cycle and quality based on how much you're moving throughout the night. This can help you recognize things you're doing during the day that might correlate to nights you have poor sleep, or help you pinpoint an ideal bedtime or wake time.

GPS activity tracking: Most smartwatches have the ability to connect with GPS satellites to ascertain your position and record activity routes. The top-tier models connect with more than one satellite, for better connectivity and service even out in the mountains. Some simply record as you go and the route shows up later on an app, while others offer route planning, access to heat maps, and turn-by-turn directions right from the watch.

ABC: Stands for altitude, barometer, and compass, which are common metrics found on endurance or off-the-grid style watches.

Bluetooth Connectivity: This allows you to sync your watch with your phone. Most smartwatches are designed to be used in tandem with a certain app in which you can analyze your activity data. This often allows you to receive phone notifications on your watch screen. Some also connect to music streaming devices and Bluetooth headphones so you can leave your phone behind.

Blood-Oxygen Levels: Some super-high-tech (let's be honest, these are ALL high tech) watches measure the amount of oxygen saturated in your blood. The small window on the back of some watches shines a light into your wrist, and can use the light reflected back to measure how much O2 is circulating with your red blood cells. This is measured as a percentage and can be used to monitor recovery as well as overall health and wellness.

Best smartwatches for cycling FAQ
Is a smartwatch better than a cycling computer?
Like so many things in cycling, the answer is "it depends." If you need to reference data or navigate during your ride, a traditional cycling computer is probably a better choice. If, on the other hand, you want to log the data, but don't want a large screen mounted on your handlebar to distract you from your surroundings, then a smartwatch is a better approach. Additionally, a smart watch is much more versatile than a cycling computer, especially for cyclists with multiple outdoor hobbies such as trail running, swimming, or kayaking.

How much should I spend on a smartwatch for cycling?
Most smartwatches range in price from $120 to $700. Your exact needs will determine the best watch for you within this price range. Additional features mean additional costs.

Is a smartwatch less likely to be damaged in a crash than a cycling computer?
Yes, a smartwatch is less likely to be damaged during a wreck than a cycling computer mounted to your handlebar or stem. This is a key reason why some mountain bikers prefer smartwatches over cycling computers.