Watches are clever things these days and are not just used to count down to lunch time anymore. There are lots of smartwatches on the market that are oozing with features, but not all of them are suited to mountain biking. In this post, I am going to go through the best watches for mountain biking.
Why Can't I Just Use My Phone?
Mobile phones are great for monitoring your rides. The amount of apps available make your phone very versatile. There are arguments for and against using your mobile phone over a smartwatch.
Reasons For Using Your Phone
- Price – Most people already have a smartphone, so it. ay not be at the top of everyone’s list to buy another piece of electronics. This is especially the case when fitness apps are generally quite inexpensive.
- Apps – By downloading various apps, you will be able to make your phone do similar things to what a smartwatch can do. You can get apps that track your speed, distance, time, how much work you are putting in etc. All this is done by pairing your phone up with heart rate monitors and various other sensors.
Reasons For Buying A Smartwatch
- Convenience – A smartwatch is small, light and sits on your wrist. This means that you don’t have to take your phone out every time you want to check your location, the time or even for notifications.
- Battery life – GPS, bluetooth etc zap the battery power on your phone. If you are riding in cold weather, the battery life is reduced dramatically too. Some GPS smartwatch batteries can last 20 hours. This means you can continue to monitor your rides and still have your phone working for emergencies.
- Accuracy – The accuracy of the GPS sensors in a smartwatch is much more accurate than in your phone. This is why you may notice a discrepancies between you and your friend’s Strava data.
- Waterproof – When it is raining, it is best to keep your phone safely tucked way in your bag or waterproof pocket. Smartwatches are much better as they are properly waterproof and some can even be used while swimming.
- Replicability – Watches are very secure on your wrist, so the chances of you losing them is pretty slim. But, if you manage to lose or break it, it isn’t as inconvenient as losing or breaking your phone, as your phone is used more in your day to day life.
- Versatility – Depending on which watch you buy, the features available make them very versatile. They can be used to monitor your performance in all sorts of sports and activities.
In conclusion, if you are not too serious about monitoring your rides, a smartphone app or two will be enough. But if you want accuracy, convenience, security and safety, a smartwatch is the best option.
Best Watches For Mountain Biking
Garmin Fenix 5
Features & Specifications
- Garmin Fenix Works with iPhone and Android
- GPS speed and distance
- Downloadable training plans
- Strap material: Silicone or Steel
- Physical size: 47 x 47 x 15.5 mm
- Garmin Fenix Battery life ( As follows ):
Smartwatch mode: Up to 2 weeks
GPS/HR mode: Up to 24 hours
UltraTrac™ mode: Up to 60 hours without wrist heart rate
The Garmin Fenix 5 is a very durable watch for mountain biking. But, it is very feature rich, making it suitable for pretty much any sport or activity. If you can spend the money, this is the watch to get.
- Durable design
- Outdoor-readable display
- Long battery life
- Customizable display
- Low-resolution screen
The Garmin Fenix 5 is a great looking watch. The exposed screws, bezel and buttons all look really cool. It has a quality and premium feel to it, thanks to its weight. There is a choice if metal and silicone straps. The metal strap adds to the premium feel to it, but the silicone one will be more comfortable for mountain biking.
This watch has a huge amount of sensors built in to give it its versatility:
- Optical heart rate (HR)
- Barometric altimeter
All these sensors add up to a lot of data to power all sorts of apps.
You can easily monitor your basic activities, such as running, cycling and swimming. But you can also use it for golfing, stand up paddle boarding, yoga and much more.
Where the Garmin Fenix 5X performs well for mountain bikers. This is thanks to the full-colour maps, auto climb data, storm alerts and points of interest and “back to start” navigation.
The Fenix 5 can be used as a day to day step tracker. This is very accurate and it also monitors the amount of calories you burn.
The Garmin Connect app lets you check out all your exercise data immediately by connecting it to your phone. But, if you want more detail you can connect it to your computer.
The app, is available on both Android and iOS. It is very easy to use and gives you in-depth charts, allowing you to see details like heart rate overlaid on your route.
When on the bike, it has compatibility with Strava built in. You can use beacon and live segments on the watch as you ride. Once you have finished your ride, simply upload your data over Wi-Fi when you get home.
Battery life on the Fenix 5X is one of the best of any smartwatch available. You can extend battery life by changing between the modes to suit your activity.
Who Is It For?
If you’re a fan of any outdoor activity then this watch is perfect for you, thanks to the maps, tracking, storm alerts and notifications. If you don’t mind the size and price this is a very capable watch to track pretty much anything you do.
Garmin Forerunner 245
Features & Specifications
- Evaluates your current training status to indicate if you’re undertraining or overdoing it; offers additional performance monitoring features
- Get free adaptive training plans from Garmin Coach
- Create your own custom workouts at our Garmin Connect online fitness community
- Provides advanced running dynamics including ground contact time balance, stride length, vertical ratio and more
- Safety and Tracking features make it easy to share your location with chosen contacts
- Customise with free watch faces, apps and more from our Connect IQ store
- GPS, GLONASS and Galileo network capability helps your track how far, fast and hard you’ve run – on or off the city streets
- Connected features include built-in smart notifications, automatic uploads to the Garmin Connect online fitness community and the ability to track your runs with the LiveTrack feature
- Automatically uploads your data to Garmin Connect app
- Up to 7 days of battery life in smartwatch mode
- 24 hours battery life in GPS mode
A very feature rich watch, the Forerunner 245 has a lot for such a compact and lightweight item. It isn’t the cheapest watch on the market, but it should deliver pretty much everything you’d need from a fitness tracker as long as you’re not super serious about your training.
- Lightweight and unobtrusive design
- Super comfortable, even during sleep
- Great battery life
- Doesn’t have a premium feel
- Sleep tracking could be more accurate
- No triathlon mode or Garmin Pay
The Garmin Forerunner 245 has been updated so it tracks more sports than before. you can track now strength training and swimming. Other improvements over its predecessor give you better feedback on your training to help you tell if you are working as efficiently as you can. In addition to this, it gives you daily stress insights and tells you if should be resting or not, with Garmin’s Elevate heart rate sensor. One of the most useful upgrades is the battery. It now lasts more than twice as long as the old version when GPS is in use.
The Forerunner 245 is designed for providing fitness tracking data to those who workout often but aren’t trying to be become a super athlete. It has a good number of sports tracking capabilities but not at the expense of the Fenix 5.
It is lightweight and doesn’t look or feel too obtrusive on the wrist. But its plastic construction doesn’t have a premium feel. It is much smaller in comparison to the Fenix series too, at at just 38.5g with a 30.4mm diameter face.
The lightweight design and silicone strap makes the Forerunner 245 extremely comfortable when wearing it. For mountain biking, this is pretty important, as when you are riding bumpy terrain, heavy watches wobble around on your wrist, proving very uncomfortable. However, its size is still good enough to make it easy enough to look at your performance data.
It is controlled using the side buttons, rather than a touch screen. This works better for many sports, especially in water and is good for battery life.
The Garmin Forerunner 245’s 1.2″ screen is sharper and has better detail than the 235. It is easy to read essential information, such as timings, heart rate information and elevations even in direct sunlight. In the dark you can use an LED backlight at the touch of a button when required.
The Garmin Forerunner’s preset tracking setting include running, trail running, indoor track running, yoga, cardio, treadmill, cycling, indoor cycling, indoor rowing, walking, indoor walking, elliptical, and stair stepper.
But now, you can also track pool swimming and strength workouts. The functionality allows you to create your own workout too and you can add whichever tracking tools you’d need to monitor it, such as GPS or heart rate monitor.
For mountain biking (or running for that matter), the Forerunner has all the standard tracking tools to monitor distance, speed, and pace. Garmin have made it super easy to customise the data that you want to see on the screen without having to go into the app.
Who Is It For?
The Forerunner 245 is a great for those who take exercise more seriously than somebody that likes to go for a jog. However, it isn’t ideal for the more adventurous people. For this, you should probably go for the Fenix series of Garmin watches.
Features & Specifications
- Continuous heart rate
- Fitness Test with wrist-based heart rate
- Training and activity benefit
- Smart calories
- Also work as a fitness tracker
- Display: 128 x 128 px high resolution display
- Connectivity: USB cable for data sync with PC or Mac
- Sensors: Compatible with Polar BLE heart rate sensors
- Battery life ( As Follows ):
A very capable watch for keeping tabs on your fitness goals the Polar M430 has a reliable wrist-based heart rate monitor, accurate GPS tracking and sleep tracking. It also displays smartphone notifications to create one of the best mid-range smartwatches to buy.
- Good battery life
- Easy to use
- Reliable and accurate
- The appearance may not be to everyone’s taste
The Polar M430 is the updated version of the M400. It looks quite similar to the older version, but it has some added features to bring it bang up to date.
The addition of a built in optical heart rate monitor, improved GPS and new sleep tracker, makes this a good value for money watch. It is probably the best mid-range smartwatch for tracking your fitness and mountain bike rides you can get.
It doesn’t have a colour touchscreen, like you would find on the Garmin options above, but the M430 is a capable piece of wearable tech. It has all the basics a fitness watch should have, such as pace, distance, speed and cadence. The built in optical heart rate monitor allows for day to day activity tracking, advanced sleep tracking, fitness tests and recovery time tips. You get all this data when you sync it up to the Polar Flow App or Web tool.
The M430 is suitable for mountain bikers and anyone that wants to improve their general fitness and reach their goals. This watch is simple to use, but is loaded with tech. Which makes it a cheaper alternative to the Garmin Forerunner. This makes it one of the best fitness watches you can buy at the moment.
The M430 looks fine to me, but it may not impress the more style oriented people out there. Style isn’t at the top of Polar’s list with this watch, as it is primarily a tool for exercise.
The M430 has a monochrome-style display with no fancy colour touchscreen. But don’t let that put you off, as screen is clear and easy to read in any light conditions. There is a backlight for using it in the dark, but you can also invert the display to make it easier to read in low light.
The M430 is much more comfortable than the previous M400, as it uses a new softer silicone for the strap. This new material is also breathable and has a more ergonomic design for a better fit.
As this watch doesn’t have a touch screen, you control it using its five buttons. Each one has its own function and they are very easy to use on the move.
There is a huge amount of functionality with this watch, but a nice little touch that you might like, is the customisable watch faces. You can choose from five different layouts to suit your personal preference.
As a mountain biker, you will be interested in how good the GPS is. It works well, especially when you sync your watch regularly. This means you get the latest A-GPS data.
The GPS gives you all the usual data, such as pace, speed and distance along with GPS-based altitude. Bonus features you may like are the sleep tracker, fitness test, VO2 Max and daily activity tracker.
Who Is It For?
The Polar M430 is a great watch for anyone who considers themselves to be fitness goal-driven. It will help you no matter what level of fitness you are and I great for monitoring your mountain bike rides.
Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical
Features & Specifications
- GPS capability
- Comes with altitude profile
- Tracks your vertical gain from yearly total to, day by day
- 15 hour battery in GPS mode
- 5-second GPS accuracy
- Measures speed, pace and distance
- Includes compass
The Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical is a great choice for people who prefer a watch over using their phone or a GPS computer on their bike. It can track any metric you want, including power.
The user-interface isn’t as smooth as the Garmin Fenix and there have been reports of unreliable Bluetooth syncing. But these issues shouldn’t put you off being one, as they are not deal breakers.
- Looks great
- Works with power meters
- Real-time elevation profile
- Bluetooth sync not great
The Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical is a stylish GPS-enabled watch. Its tough build quality is ideal for mountain biking and other outdoor adventures.
The GPS antenna is hidden in the bezel, making it a much more stylish watch than other Ambit watches. It is also available in white, blue and black.
The silicone rubber strap is pliable and extremely comfortable. It texture is nice and slippery, which means it doesn’t catch on your arm hair like some straps do.
It has an LED backlit screen, which is quite small. However, it is very sharp and easy to read in different light conditions. The watch is controlled with its five buttons around the bezel instead of a touch screen. This means you can keep your gloves on to change screens or start/stop and activity.
The Suunto Ambit 3 has modes for cycling, mountain biking, and generic heart-rate-based indoor training. In addition it has modes for other activities, such as Ski Touring and Triathlon. You can customise these modes using the Movescount app and you can create new ones too. You can even change between sports mid-activity.
The battery lasts 15-hours using the five second GPS accuracy mode. This is extended to 100-hours with GPS reporting reduced to one minute. The Ambit 3 Vertical can also access the Russian GLONASS network for pinpoint GPS accuracy.
The Ambit 3 Vertical is Bluetooth enabled so it can be link up with Bluetooth heart rate monitors and power meters. There have been reports of it taking a few attempts for bluetooth pairing. But once it connects to the devices, activities are uploaded instantly via Suunto’s training software, Movescount. This works well with third party applications like Strava.
This app is easy to use, with the dashboard displaying a summary of your activity over the past, with a list of all your recorded ‘Moves’, which are divided up by activity type.
The Bluetooth connection also allows the Ambit3 Vertical to display on screen notifications from your phone. If you want it to, you can set it to vibrate to alert you to notifications from Instagram and Twitter. Although I suggest you switch this off.
GPS accuracy for riding is good thanks to the option of using GLONASS. It also locates the satellites quickly. After each activity the Movescount app allows you to make Suunto Movies.
When it comes to navigation, the Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical has a breadcrumb-style navigation. This is very accurate, but it isn’t as easy to read while on the bike as the Garmin Fenix 5. However, it can keep track of up to 250 points of interest (POI), and it will alert you to them by vibrating as you approach one.
Once your activity is finished the Movescount app allows you to make Suunto Movies. These show your route on a map and let you know stuff like where you were at your peak heart rate, where your fastest kilometre was and peak altitude. Like Strava, you can add in any photos of your ride.
Who Is It For?
The Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical is a cheaper alternative to the Fenix 5. The controls are not as intuitive, but you may like the Movescount app and the Suunto Movies, to geek out on your data in an easy to follow way.
If you are a mountain biker or a roadie, the Suunto Ambit 3 Vertical is a great option to monitor your rides and pretty much anything else you do.
Things To Consider When Buying The Best Watch For Mountain Biking
The watches above are great options and you can’t really go wrong with any of them. But which one you choose will be down to a few different things. Now I will go in to the things you should look in to when buying the best watch for mountain biking. You just need to realise that you will have to compromise on something, whether that be spending more or sacrificing certain features.
The best watches for mountain biking will connect to devices such as heart rate monitors, cadence sensors and power meters. This connectivity will give you all the data from your ride possible. Therefore, most watch manufacturers enable their watches with Bluetooth. This means you can also use phone 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. So, before you buy the extra accessories, you should look in to what type of connectivity they use to make sure they are compatible.
Many mountain bike watches have WiFi connectivity too. Therefore you can sync your data without needing to connect it to your phone or computer.
All of the watches above have GPS built in. This means that you don’t have to connect your phone to use its GPS. For extra accuracy, look for watches that have the Russian GLONASS built in.
Most watches have a battery life that last weeks, but this all depends on what you have connected to it and the mode you have it set to. 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.
The best mountain biking watches have a toughened mineral glass screen. Most of them have straps that 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.
Watches that are controlled with touch screens are great. However, if you have fat fingers, they can prove to be a bit awkward. Also, they are not always that easy to use when they are wet. But one of the main issue with touch screens, is that some 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
Many watches are suited to multiple sports and activities, depending on their built in sensors. For mountain biking, the most note worthy sensors are, altimeters, barometers, accelerometers, heart rate monitors, compasses and gyroscopes. But obviously they are useful for other activities such as hiking, climbing, skiing, snowboarding etc.
Watches with built in heart rate monitors work by shining LED lights through your skin. This detects the blood pulsing through your veins. Therefore, you need to make sure that the strap is in proper contact with your skin, to get accurate results. This is why the silicone straps are so soft and ergonomic.
These Are The Best Watches For Mountain Biking
Are you going to buy one of these watches? Do you have any thoughts or questions about them? If so please leave them in the comments section below.