Finding the best mountain bike GPS Watch: What to look for

Finding the best mountain bike GPS Watch: What to look for

Here is my guide to help you choose the best mountain biking GPS watch. Tracking your ride with one of these is a great thing to do. We can see how we improve as riders, keep tabs on our distance traveled or how fast we did that downhill run in the alps. But more importantly, rub our mates nose in it after beating their time.

It is possible to track all this with our smart phones, but a GPS watch is a far more accurate way of doing so.

Connectivity

The best mountain biking GPS watch will connect to heart rate monitors, cadence sensors and power meters. As a result you get extra data from your ride. Consequently, most brands use Bluetooth, allowing connectivity with your phone, utilising apps to sync your data.

Garmin use a similar system to Bluetooth, called ANT+. Therefore, most of their devices are now compatible with Bluetooth accessories now. Therefore, if you have some of these accessories, it is worth finding out what method of connectivity they use before buying the watch.

There are lots of these watches that have WiFi connectivity too. Therefore you can  sync your data without needing to connect it to your phone or computer.

Navigation

These watches have GPS built in, hence you don’t need to connect your phone to it to receive the GPS. Additionally, many of them have the Russian version of GLONASS built in too. As a result of this , you get extra accuracy, as they use either system as it is needed.

best mountain biking GPS

 

Battery life

It would be pretty pointless having a watch that keeps going dead. Most of them have a battery life that will last weeks, however this all depends on what you have connected to it. You also need to check the “in activity” battery life. This is when the GPS is working during your ride, and it can deplete the battery quite quickly.

What it is made of

The screen isn’t much use if it is scratched, so the best mountain biking GPS smartwatch will have a toughened mineral glass screen. For the most part, straps are made from silicone, making  them very comfortable. But you can change the straps for leather or metal versions, for when you are not in your biking gear.

Controls

Watches with touch screens are great, however they can be a bit awkward for those riders with larger fingers. They are not always that reliable when they are wet either. But one of the main frustrations is, that some models don’t work while you are wearing gloves.

Models with buttons on the side have their advantages, but make sure that you can ‘lock’ the buttons. This is because you can easily press them by accident, pausing your ride.

Versatility

You can use many of the watches for different activities, due to their built in sensors. The most note worthy sensors are, altimeters, barometers, accelerometers, heart rate monitors, compasses and gyroscopes. Consequently, these make the watches useful for hiking, climbing, skiing, snowboarding etc. They are also waterproof for when you want to go for that triathlon you have always wanted to complete.

Heart rate monitors built in to the strap work by shining LED lights through your skin. As a result, the watch detects the blood pulsing through your veins (how clever is that?!). Therefore, you need to make sure that the strap is in proper contact with your skin, to get accurate results.

Garmin Fenix 5

best mountain bike GPS

Ideal for: Those who want a versatile watch for a number of activities.

£385
$558.93
€495
$599

Features:

  • This one has a stainless steel bezel and forged steel back
  • Built-in GPS + GLONASS EXO antenna
  • Anti-glare coated lens back to maintain the best integrity in demanding environment
  • Suitable for multiple activities with preloaded profiles for running, cycling, swimming, trail running and more. Supports Strava Live Segments
  • Performance Widget shows your training status, training load, VO2 Max, recovery adviser and more.
  • Built-in navigation sensors include: GPS and GLONASS satellite positioning, 3-axis compass with gyroscope, barometric altimeter
  • Smart Notifications, Connect IQ App support
  • Interchangeable straps (no tools required) for further customisation
  • Battery life: up to 2 weeks in smartwatch mode (depending on settings), up to 24 hours in GPS mode or up to 60 hours in UltraTrac battery saver mode

What we like:

  • Large easy to read face.
  • Water proof
  • Looks great
  • Comfortable
  • Good battery life

What we don’t like:

  • Pricey, but you get what you pay for
  • Some people have reported that the bezel scratches easily, but protectors are available

The Verdict:

This one is considered by many to be the best mountain biking GPS smartwatch. The Garmin Fenix 5 is fantastic and is perfect for mountain biking as well as many other sports. It is loaded with features and is customisable, hence the high price.

Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical

best Mountain biking GPS

Ideal for: Those who want an alternative to the Garmin, but still wants lots of features

£240
$248.99
€259.40
$431.99

Features:

  • Compatible for many sports, including mountain biking
  • Route navigation and Track Back,
  • Accurate heart rate monitoring and Calories burned
  • Bike Power Support
  • Sleep and quick recovery tracking
  • Training programme
  • Interval workout planner
  • Quick GPS/GLONASS-Tracking
  • Barometric altimeter,
  • Bluetooth (from 4.0)
  • Coordinate system
  • Route planner with topographical map
  • Altitimeter
  • Easy to upload to social media
  • Track performance against other Suunto users

What we like:

  • Comfortable
  • Good battery life
  • Conectivity to accessories

What we don’t like:

  • Data not too accurate when swimming
  • Needs separate chest strap for heart rate monitor (included) Not really a problem, just not as convenient as others.

The Verdict:

A great alternative to the Garmin and at around half the price.

Garmin Vivoactive 3

best mountain biking GPS

Ideal for: Those who want a GPS smart watch for multiple activities, but don’t want to spend too much.

£239.99
$249.86
€248.60
$446

Features:

  • Wrist strap heart rate monitor
  • High-resolution colour touchscreen display
  • Preloaded with multiple sports apps including yoga, cardio, strength training, running, swimming and many more
  • Download workouts
  • Create custom workouts
  • Monitors, VO2 max and fitness age estimate
  • All-day stress tracking and relaxation-based breathing timer
  • Smart notifications including the ability to send prewritten responses to text messages, LiveTrack, Connect IQ watch faces and apps and more

What we like:

  • Good price
  • Looks good

 

What we don’t like:

  • Battery only lasts 4 to 5 days

The verdict:

This watch is more than just a fitness tracker. But it is not quite the all singing all dancing Fenix 5.

 

Fitbit Blaze

 

best mountain bike GPS

Ideal for: Those who want a “basic” fitness watch that looks nice.

£129.99
$172.50
€169.12

Features:

  • Tracks steps, distance traveled , calories burned, floors climbed and active minutes
  • Multi-sport tracking including running, cardio, cross-training and cycling
  • Wrist strap heart rate monitor
  • Record workouts to your personallised dashboard
  • Five day battery life
  • Map your routes and see stats like pace and duration on display

What we like:

  • Simple to use
  • Looks good
  • Customisable
  • Not bulky
  • Vibrates when your phone rings or you get a message

What we don’t like:

  • Some bugs with the GPS have been reported

The verdict: 

This watch is not as feature rich as the other watches reviewed, however it does look great. Above all, this is a nice bit of kit to track how fit you are (or not). You may also want to consider the Fitbit Charge. Click here for details.

 

Do you have the best mountain biking GPS smartwatch?

Have you used any of these products? Or similarly, do you know of a great alternative that you believe to be the best mountain biking GPS smartwatch? If so let me know what you thought of them in the comments below.

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