New features for cyclists in Apple WatchOS 11

If you're a cyclist in the Apple ecosystem, you may have considered adding an Apple Watch for workout and fitness tracking. Apple has announced new features that cyclists will be interested in as part of the upcoming WatchOS 11 release. Let's take a look at how cyclists will be able to use some of the new tech coming this Fall 2024.

Training load trends

The biggest new feature for cyclists is probably the Training Load Trends screen. WatchOS 11 will now help you prepare and taper for big events, helping you understand the intensity of your workouts, reducing the risk of overtraining and helping you apply the right amount of training effort. This data is based on a baseline of your fitness from a history of workouts, comparing recent (7 days) of activity with what you've built over the last 28.

Unlike some other tools, you won't see a rolling number like TSS (Training Stress Score) as used by other providers like Garmin or Training Peaks. Training Load Trends instead will flag your activity as "below", "steady", and "above" trends.

Power meter users accustomed to reviewing a TSS will still need an external tool to do so. Unfortunately, while the new Training Load trends function in WatchOS 11 uses your heart rate, speed, elevation, weight, and so on to calculate a workout intensity on a scale of 1-10 (which the user can override if desired) cycling power output (from a power meter) is not one of the factors considered. Serious cyclists training with power will need another tool - the Training Loads function is a relatively crude substitute by comparison.

While it's already possible to pair an Apple Watch with a power meter as a sensor in the current WatchOS 10 and display that data during a workout, actually using the captured data for training analysis still appears lacking in the upcoming WatchOS 11. Hopefully additional enhancements are offered here in the future.

Can the Apple Watch with WatchOS 11 replace a GPS cyclecomputer?

A common question is whether an Apple Watch can replace a full-blown GPS cyclecomputer like a Garmin, Wahoo, or Hammerhead Karoo device. For serious cyclists, the answer is no. However, with the new vitals and fitness tracking features, an Apple Watch might work as a reasonable substitute for novices and new riders, who do shorter riders and don't measure their output with a power meter.

Apple Watch is also ideal for cyclocross racers of all levels, who may need to swap bikes during a race - a handlebar-mounted GPS doesn't work in that use case. Keeping the GPS and heart rate monitor on your wrist is compact and light for race day, allowing you to leave the Garmin or Wahoo device behind, then put it back on for training days.

Check In

If you notify friends or family when you depart for a workout, the new Check In feature on WatchOS 11 will be useful. You can send notifications when you arrive at a specific destination (like getting to work after a bicycle commute) or a notice when you start a workout. Check In is a nice feature for cyclists since it allows you to automate some of the "I'll be back at xyz and and I'm riding to abc" converstations you may already do with loved ones.

Sleep metrics in "vitals" on WatchOS 11

If you're training regularly, you already understand the impact of rest on your fitness and recovery. WatchOS 11 offers a summary of sleep quality, tweaked to consider outside factors like alcohol consumption, elevation, or medication you're taking. Heart rate, respiratory rate, and wrist temperature are tracked during sleep, and the system will notify you about unusual values.

These functions are beginning to overlap with the features provided by competing products like Whoop or Oura Ring. The Apple Watch with WatchOS 11 doesn't completely replace these types of tools (it lacks the "readiness" feature that serious athletes might use to prepare for competitive events), but offers a nice way to experiment with monitoring some rest and recovery related metrics without investing in a separate device or subscription.

WatchOS 11 builds on features already in Apple Watch

WatchOS 11 seems like more of an evolution than a revolution - older versions already had some nice features for cyclists, like fall tracking and detection. The new release of WatchOS 11 is a decent upgrade, especially with new quality of sleep and rest tracking features, but if you aren't already in the Apple Watch ecosystem, this new release probably isn't enough to change that.

When is the WatchOS 11 release date?

These features aren't available immediately. You'll need to wait until the WatchOS 11 update is formally released in Fall, 2024.

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