Best Fitness Trackers & Smart Watches for Cyclists
Fitness trackers have come a long way in recent years.
The latest activity trackers feature far more capabilities than those glorified pedometer bands that dominated the market a few years ago.
Prices start at $100 or less for a simple watch that can track workouts, such as the Fitbit Alta, and run into several hundred dollars for a sophisticated GPS-enabled smartwatch with route mapping.
Here, at Ira Ryan Cycles, is a quick look at some of the top picks for smart watches and trackers that you can buy today and that will improve your workouts.
Fitness Tracker or Smart Watch – Which is Best?
Firstly, you need to decide whether you need a fully-featured smartwatch, a robust GPS unit, or a basic fitness tracker.
The humble fitness tracker is good for tracking sleep, heart rate, and daily calories burned, but they don’t do much more.
They may help you track total miles ridden or distance run, but you will need to spend a little more to get auto-tracking of activities (so that you don’t need to manually start and stop your logging), or to enjoy Bluetooth connectivity.
Some fitness trackers offer wireless pay features and text notifications, which puts them in a blurry line between a fitness tracker and a fully-featured smartwatch.
A true smart watch will have far more features.
The Samsung Galaxy and the Apple Watch both offer music screaming, GPS recording, and even the ability to take calls.
There are also fitness-specific GPS watches, such as the Garmin Fenix, which have better battery life, especially for people who use the GPS extensively.
The GPS-specific watches have better route-mapping features, and also have good waterproofing, so they are ideal for people who like to spend a lot of time enjoying the great outdoors.
Good Battery Life is a Must
For a cyclist, good battery life is probably one of the most important features.
Some companies may claim that their fitness tracker will last for days between charges, however, performance can fall off dramatically when you actually start using the features of the watch, such as tracking a workout with the GPS.
If you are planning on using the GPS features, then you need to consider how long you will use it for each day, and whether a basic battery is going to suffice.
GPS vs GPS Plus GLONASS
GPS is something that even the budget fitness trackers claim to have these days, but not all GPS devices are the same.
Look to see whether your fitness tracker has GPS or GPS and added GLONASS.
If you cycle a lot, then you want GPS with GLONASS, because this is the Russian version of a GPS service, and having it means you enjoy roughly double the number of satellites to access.
You enjoy more accurate readings while in shaded, remote or congested areas and get more consistent tracking regardless of the time of day.
There’s another GPS service called Galileo, which is the European satellite system, and having access to that is useful too.
Another good reason to own a fitness tracker is having the option to access and play music.
To do this, the majority of fitness trackers will need to connect via Bluetooth to your phone. There are some trackers that can stream via Spotify, Apple Music or Pandora.
Some even allow you to store MP3 or Flac files on the device, removing the need for tethering or cell connections.
If you ride in remote locations, then you will want to have local storage. If you are on the go in cities and want access to a huge library of songs, then cellular service is a handy feature.
Another handy feature is NFC. A growing number of fitness trackers offer NFC for Apple Pay or similar ‘touch and pay’ services so you can pay for those mid-workout drinks and snacks without having to hunt for your wallet.
Some devices promise the ability to take ECG readings.
The Apple Watch 4 and Withings Move ECG are two fitness trackers that claim the ability to monitor heart rhythms, potentially spotting AFib and other issues.
While the idea of being able to take an ECG reading from your wrist is promising, it may not be reliable, and there is the risk of misdiagnosing issues.
The prospect of reliable heart rhythm tracking is great, but for now it’s best to seek advice from a doctor rather than relying on a watch to track your heart health.