Smartwatches are certainly smarter. It collects a fair amount of data and acts as a 24-hour health tracker, while providing post-ride numbers and GPS mapping capabilities just like a traditional cycling computer.
It’s also paired with peripheral sensors such as a power meter, but often has a built-in heart rate monitor, eliminating the need for extra equipment.
There are guides on the best cycling computers and the best smartwatches for cycling, but how do you choose from these different types of devices? And which one offers the best value for money for cycling?
The answer probably depends on your priorities. Do you mainly need the mapping function? Are you a multisport athlete looking for features in a variety of activities? Is cost a driving factor?
Let’s dig into some details to determine if a smartwatch or cycling computer is the best choice for you …
The most obvious and perhaps important advantage of a smartwatch is its ability to span a variety of activities. Designed primarily for running, they can also be worn on the wrist for swimming, hiking, or sports and activities where you can comfortably wear your watch or benefit from tracking performance.
Today’s smartwatches combine all the benefits of regular fitness trackers such as the FitBit and Apple Watch with the usual data you would expect from a cycling computer, such as speed and distance traveled. Because smartwatches are paired with additional sensors, you can use data from power meters and heart rate monitors to measure your workload, but most watches have the latter built-in.
Wearing the watch on your wrist also offers other benefits that computers cannot easily provide. You can track measurable things like sleep, breathing, and even blood oxygen levels. In short, smartwatches are generally better than cycling computers when it comes to collecting the vast amount of data provided. This data is very useful for monitoring recovery and avoiding overtraining.
The battery life of smartwatches has improved significantly in recent years. Too many, now comparable to or better than cycling computers. For example, the Garmin Enduro smartwatch (£ 649.99) claims to use a solar rechargeable lens for 80 hours in GPS mode, but has a maximum charging interval of one year in minimum power mode.
Garmin’s just-released 1040 solar cycling computer costs a bit like the Enduro smartwatch (£ 629.99) and can be used for up to 100 hours in battery-saving mode, making it a bit cheaper and, in some cases, a little longer lasting.
If you are interested in saving a few watts, your smartwatch could be aerodynamically superior. Today’s head units are designed to reduce drag, but they are always aerodynamically efficient on bicycles without computers. Moving the GPS unit from the front of the bike to the wrist improves this efficiency, but with a small gain.
If you’re running handlebars that are out of range today, it’s also worth considering the location of your GPS device. For example, if you’re riding a classic road bike with a 26.0mm diameter bar, you may need to purchase additional mounts to accommodate this size. Similarly, if you spend a lot of time on a TT bike or use a triver, installing a cycling computer can be a daunting task. Smartwatches do not present any of these issues.
It goes without saying that the size of the display screen of a smartwatch is smaller than that of the head unit. How bad this is depends on how you use it. If you’re cycling and you’re focusing on a single metric such as speed, average speed, or distance traveled, you may not have problems with a smaller screen.
Watches such as the Wahoo Elemnt Rival provide a “perfect zoom” that allows you to zoom in on a single number. However, if you want to scroll between different indicators while riding, you can reduce the screen size and the fact that it’s on your wrist can be more problematic.
When you think of your watch as a GPS unit, both screen size and wrist position restrictions are most noticeable. The limited display size really matters here. If you follow the route on a small screen, you can quickly recall why the head unit display screen is much larger than the previous screen.
As the cycling computer becomes undesired again, it adds to the complexity of the small screens attached to the wrist and smartwatch. Simply put, not only is it difficult to follow, but you also have to take your eyes off the road and often you need to take your hands off the bar.
Not surprisingly, smartwatches are lighter than their head unit counterparts. The difference isn’t big, but it’s probably 50-80 grams in favor of the watch. However, when worn on the wrist, you may feel its weight, but the 200g head unit attached to the mount is less noticeable in relation to the total weight of the bike.
True weight obsessions may ask you to be different, but except when competing in hill climbing championships, athletes shave as much as possible from their bikes and wrist watches at the bar 2 Worth one … or something like that! !!
Cycling Computer: Advantages
Designed exclusively as a cycling computer, the state-of-the-art head unit excels at displaying a variety of information in an easy-to-read package. Today’s models range in size from the 3.5-inch Garmin Edge 1040 or 3.2-inch Hammerhead Karoo 2’s larger display screen to the 2.2-inch Wahoo Elemnt Bolt’s more compact screen. Even the smaller edge of the spectrum is generally much larger than the smartwatch screen, making it easier to use on the move.
The large screen size of the dedicated head unit is probably the most appreciated when using its mapping features. Despite the improvements smartwatches have made in terms of both display size and GPS capabilities, there is no comparison when compared to cycling computers.
Simply put, it’s easy to see, track, and navigate routes with confidence. If you’re doing a lot of touring, bike packing, or exploring new areas of your bike, the head unit may be a better choice than your smartwatch.
The head unit mounted in front of the handlebars of the bike allows you to see comfortably without adversely affecting your concentration. It’s a great place to follow the map or check other data. Of course, if you need to move from one feature to another, you’ll have to take your hands off the bar, but it’s a much safer suggestion than checking your watch with your wrist while it’s in motion.
Cycling Computer: Disadvantages
The sole purpose of a cycling computer is to have advantages such as a larger screen size and a design optimized for handlebar mounting, but its versatility is incomparable to a smartwatch. Of course, you can run with the head unit or in your pocket, but it can’t provide that much comfort and performance.
Less data collection
This singularity extends to the range of features provided by cycling computers. If you just want to cycle the data you need, a cycling computer will provide this information, usually in a functional and easy-to-digest way. However, it is the second best when compared to devices that can be worn day and night.
Today’s head units have expanded the range of data collected and have since been able to track, for example, body stress, but they are not as simple or intuitive as a wrist-worn unit.
Both cycling computers and smartwatches come in a wide range of models, and the prices are just right.
Entry-level head units like the Garmin Edge 130 Plus cost less than £ 200, while “basic” smartwatches like the FitBit also cost less than £ 200.
At the other end of the scale, there is equivalence again. The GarminFenix 6 Solar will return to around £ 650 and the new Edge 1040 solar head unit will sell for £ 630.
There are some similarities between the two extremes, but this is the price at which the head unit will probably give you more for your money. Hammerhead’s high-performance Karoo 2 costs just over £ 350, while Wahoo’s redesigned and reliable Elemnt Bolt has a suggested retail price of £ 265. Equivalent watches like the Wahoo Elemnt Rival cost close to £ 300, and Garmin’s Enduro smartwatch costs over £ 600.
However, keep in mind that your smartwatch has this feature built-in, although you’ll need to purchase an additional heart rate monitor to pair it with your head unit (if you need it, of course).
So which is the better value?
In many respects, value is a relative term when comparing a smartwatch to a head unit. It’s not apples and oranges, but there are plenty of differences between the two options, and you can mainly make subjective comparisons. If you just cycle, the head unit wins every time.
Similarly, if navigating new routes or unknown regions of the country is at the top of the list, the larger screen size and better mapping capabilities provided by the head unit will tilt the scale of value to your advantage. ..
However, if you are a runner as well as a cyclist, the scale dial will start pointing in the opposite direction. Smartwatches provide adaptability across activities that cycling computers cannot or are not designed to support. Similarly, if you’re tracking fitness 24 hours a day, a wrist-worn watch can collect large amounts of data that the head unit can’t.
So is a smartwatch worth more than a cycling computer? The answer is still likely to be no. Even if you’re looking for something that works in a variety of sports, you’ll never forget the ease of use of the head unit when it comes to cycling. Simply put, they fit the purpose in a way that smartwatches can’t match.
Our Choice: Best Value Cycling Computer
The Garmin Edge 530 has a suggested retail price of £ 259.99, but it’s not uncommon for it to sell for less than £ 200.
Read the full review of the Garmin Edge 530 here and find a guide to the best cycling computers with options in different price ranges here.
Our Choice: Best Value Smartwatch
You can jump on all our guides The best cycling computer And that The best smartwatch If you want to read more, check here.