Apple announced their new Series 7 Watch today, which has some key new features that may be of specific interest to cyclists, including a fall detection featured that can detect bicycle crashes.
I've previously taken a look at the Apple Fitness+ service, as well as the AirPods Pro headphones, both of which have ready applications for road, mountain, and gravel riders. Notably, the AirPods Pro have become a mandatory part of my "getting ready to ride" daily checklist. With the release of the new Series 7 Watch and features for athletes, Apple has further expanded the reach of their "ecosystem" for cyclists. Let's take a look at some of the features of the new watch.
Fall detection and other new features for cyclists
Apple Watch 7 adds some features specifically for bicycle riders. The watch detects when you start riding and can remind you to start a workout; your workout can pause automatically as you start and stop riding (like stopping for stoplights.)
There's also fall detection that can monitor your safety and alert others of accidents while riding. Watch Series 4 and later already had this feature, but it was focused mostly on people falling while walking - like tripping and falling down the stairs. The new fall detection on the Series 7 Watch is designed specifically for the speeds and motion associated with cycling.
Finally, Apple claims "better support for ebikes with an improved algorithm for workouts" (not sure what that means specifically yet, but I assume it means more accurate estimates of calories burned when your legs are supplementing an electric motor.)
The Apple Watch 7 hardware
As with any annual upgrade, Apple promises "better/faster/newer" - here's what's new with Watch 7:
- bunch of new color options
- faster charging compared to Apple Watch Series 6
- the screen is higher resolution ("Retina") and physically larger than on previous models, so it could be easier to read while riding
- IP6X dust resistance and WR50 water resistance should appeal to all-weather riders
Can the Apple Watch replace your Garmin or Wahoo GPS cycling computer?
Maybe. With Apple Watch now offering built-in GPS, optional cellular models, fall detection, and other features for athletes, many riders are considering dropping their Garmin, Wahoo, Bryton etc. handlebar-mounted GPS and going watch-only.
Depending on your specific needs, you might also be able to skip carrying your iPhone on roads, too, since cellular-equipped Apple Watches can make and receive phone calls and SMS text messages with your phone not present.
Pros of replacing your Garmin with Apple Watch:
- Carry less stuff. The Watch replaces your handlebar GPS, and potentially your mobile phone (which is vulnerable in your back pocket while riding)
- Built-in safety features, like fall detection. Garmin has incident detection built into some of their head units... but your GPS still needs to be paired with your mobile phone for it to work; whereas the Apple Watch 7 with cellular can work alone, without the phone.
- Strava and other apps are available for the Watch if desired
Replacing your Garmin with an Apple Watch also has limitations:
- No power data. I'm not aware of any ways to send data from a power meter (pedals, crankset) to the Apple Watch for display or recording. If a power meter is part of your training, the Watch-only approach probably isn't for you - you'll still need that Wahoo, Garmin, etc. head unit to view and record power.
- More limited battery life. You'll need to charge frequently, and the Watch approach isn't good for multi-day bikepacking trips when you're away from charging - use a dedicated Garmin or Wahoo GPS instead.
- No ready display of data. Consider the Garmin GPS on an "out front" mount - you can easily see your speed, distance, heart rate stats without taking your eyes off the road, because it's designed for cyclists. With the Watch, you'll need to remove your hand from the handlebar to look at the watch face (this won't work in a paceline at 25 MPH or while riding challenging off-road terrain)
Getting rid of a Garmin or Wahoo GPS entirely probably makes good sense for casual riders, but limitations may stop serious riders from replacing them entirely with an Apple Watch. It seems like a better bet for casual / recreational riders.
Apple Watch 7 for cyclocross racing
I'm especially intrigued to try the Apple Watch 7 for cyclocross racing. Unlike long training rides, I don't typically want a bunch of data during a race; while I've used a Garmin Edge GPS for cyclocross racing in the past, it's mostly for recording purposes, and I set it to display just my heart rate during competition.
Elite athletes often use GPS watches instead of handlebar-mounted GPS for cyclocross, largely due to the bike changes common in the sport. If you change bikes in the pits, you can't readily swap your handlebar GPS from bike to bike, but with a watch, the recording stays with the rider, not the bike. An Apple Watch would allow speed, distance, and heart rate tracking in an unobtrusive fashion during racing. Because the Apple Watch 7 has built-in heart rate monitoring on your wrist, it might also be possible to ditch your ANT+ / Bluetooth heart rate monitor strap - this could be more comfortable and less constrictive during a race.
How much does Apple Watch 7 cost for cycling?
Bicycle riders are likely going to be interested in the cellular-equipped Apple Watch 7, which might allow at least some riders to leave their much more expensive and fragile mobile phone at home or in the car while riding.
The cellular Apple Watch 7 will set you back $499 or $529, depending on which screen size you choose. Depending your carrier, you'll also pay a monthly charge to add the watch to your plan.