New features make Apple Watch a one-stop-shop for cyclists

Apple Watch power meter integration cycling
Image: Apple.
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Earlier this year, Apple added a bunch of great new cycling tracking features to the Apple Watch, making it easier than ever for you to jump on your bike and keep track of your effort. One of the biggest features added with WatchOS 10 was the ability to pair a power meter to get more accurate cycling metrics.

It’s one of several big additions for cyclists, who now might consider moving away from the workout-tracking Strava app or other bike computers. In addition to pairing a power meter, you can also view cycling workouts on your phone screen and connect more bike accessories to your Apple Watch.

Those new to cycling might be wondering: what is a power meter? Also, with so many different ways to track your bike rides, what’s the best option? Between Apple Watch Cycling Workouts, Strava, and bike computers, there’s a lot to consider.

What is a cycling power meter?

A power meter is a device that measures how many watts of power you’re putting into your pedal strokes. This is key for athletes to measure their power, track how they’re improving, and see what differences certain things make to their ride.

They also help athletes with zone training, a training method that gets you to move between zones in certain intervals to increase stamina. For everyone else, it’s a bit of overkill, but that doesn’t mean it’s not fun.

There are different ways to attach power meters to your bike: the right way for you will depend on a lot of factors. If you use clip-in pedals (usually known as clipless pedals), you might be able to get power meter pedals for your bike, which are the easiest to install on most bikes. If you have a bike with electric shifting (like Shimano Di2 or SRAM Rival AXS), there’s a spindle-type of power meter. There are also spider-based and crank-based power meters, which are a bit fiddlier to install.

Power meters are not cheap. If you already have a bike with electric shifting, you might get away with “just” spending $400 for a power meter, but other forms generally start at $800. From there, the sky is the limit. Some of the big brands include SRAM, Shimano and Wahoo Fitness.

What else does WatchOS 10 have for cyclists?

Lots of things! You can also pair a cadence sensor with your watch now, which is generally a much more affordable way to estimate your effort and train to aim for a certain cadence. They start around $80-ish. For most, sticking between 70-100rpm is the aim, but your goal will vary depending on the type of riding you’re doing, and what level you’re at.

Before I eventually caved and upgraded my SRAM Rival AXS-enabled bike with a power meter, I mostly focused on heart rate zones, which I still think is the gold standard for most athletes (and probably also me, were I not so hopelessly addicted to metrics). The heart rate zone screen, which you can see on your phone during a workout, shows you how hard you’re working.

WatchOS 10 cycling
WatchOS 10 adds a lot more cycling features for Apple Watch owners. Image: Apple.

When I’m training for longer distance rides, I try to keep my effort primarily between zones 3-4, and zones 4-5 for sprints. This is a good way to tell if you have your gears up too high (legs struggling but your cardio feels fine) or low (legs feel no pain but your heart is about to explode). It also is a better way to make sure you’re training to your ability that day – yesterday’s legs are not today’s legs, but if you’re going as hard as your heart will let you, then you’re still doing your best.

Do you still need Strava or a bike computer?

Maybe! That’s up to you. But an Apple Watch Cycling Workout, Strava and a good bike computer serve different purposes. There’s no reason why you can’t combine them if they offer something you want.

The Apple Watch Cycling Workout gives you just the basics. You can have speed, average speed, heart rate zone, distance and time, along with power meter metrics or cadence depending on what accessories you have. For most people, this is more than enough. But it’s also not everything, and the screens won’t give you all the info you’re looking for at the same time.

I also use a Garmin Edge 840 Solar, and that ties into the Garmin Varia RCT715, which tells me when cars or other bikes come up behind me, helping me be more aware of my surroundings. It also has a good GPS that doesn’t need a mobile connection, and tells me if the altitude is going up or down (so I don’t get tricked by a false hill). It gives me all the same metrics as Apple Watch Cycling Workouts, plus other helpful metrics. A bike computer has a lot more information with fewer distractions, which is good for people who want two things: to leave their phone behind and have a wider variety of information.

Garmin Edge bike GPS
Garmin Edge 840 Solar. Image: Alice Clarke.

I was recently in a bike accident. I landed on my right side, and because I wore my watch on my left wrist, it didn’t detect the fall. However, the crash detection in my Garmin 840 Solar went off with an alert tone and started counting down to alert my emergency contacts. Had I not been riding with someone already, that alert tone would have probably let someone know that I needed help. It’s now something I won’t ride without for extra peace of mind.

The social benefits of Strava

Strava is then a whole other beast, and after years of being sceptical, I have finally embraced it wholeheartedly. It has all the metrics you’d expect, and more. It also encourages you to compete on different sections, discover new routes in your area, create and share your own routes, and participate in challenges. It’s effectively social media for people into running and cycling.

In an interview with GadgetGuy, a spokesperson from Strava said: “We know the secret to keeping people motivated is other people – whether it is finding friendly competition on a popular segment’s leaderboard, or finding Clubs or Challenges to join on Strava that gets them moving.”

“Data from Strava’s 2022 Year in Sport report showed that athletes who exercise together or in groups go further and faster than those who are alone, 21% farther and 10% longer to be exact. In the UK specifically, cycling in pairs saw Brits ride for 224% longer and 276% farther than if they were alone.”

That rings true for me, because I recently went cycling with a new friend who was more advanced, and I broke multiple personal records (and also nearly had my heart explode with effort) in a way that I don’t think I could have achieved by myself. When I go for solo rides in the country, having Strava on my screen showing me the route and how I’m going against the King of the Mountain (the record holder for that section), I find I also push myself nearly as hard as if I was with someone. Plus, I spend a lot of time discovering and planning routes in the app, seeing where other people with similar interests/bikes have ridden and enjoyed. It makes the hobby more social while I’m getting up the courage to join a cycling group.

Plus, there is no reason (other than cost) to choose between one or the other. I don’t have a separate heart rate sensor, so I can’t connect one directly to Strava, so I import my Apple Cycling workouts to Strava to get all my metrics in there and compare myself to others.

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