Apple Watch is so much better for cyclists now

Lexy Savvides / CNET

The Apple Watch Series 7 has a larger screen than before, as well as a durable construction that can resist cracking and dust. But it also has many new cycling features to make cycling even more enjoyable. These include automatic cycling detection, fall detection, and better calorie tracking when riding an electric bike. But you don’t need the latest Series 7 to take advantage of most of the new cycling features on the Apple Watch – they’re available when you update to. WatchOS 8.

I used the bike features on the Apple Watch Series 6 and Series 7 for a month now, and while I don’t think the watch is quite ready to replace a dedicated bike computer, it’s now much more useful for casual riders to keep track of their workouts. Here are some of the new cycling features on the Apple Watch and why they changed my riding experience.

Read more: Apple Watch 7 vs 6, Apple Watch 7 vs. SE and Apple Watch 6 vs. SE vs. 3

Automatic cycling detection is ideal for forgetful cyclists like me

Sometimes you just want to hop on your bike and go. I often forget to manually start workouts and when I finally get to my destination I’m disappointed that I can’t get credit for it. Apple Watch can now detect when you start riding and then prompt you to save your ride a few minutes later. While automatic workout detection has been around for a few years for races, walks, swims, paddles and elliptical workout types, cycling is now supported for outdoor rides on the 6, 7 and Apple Watch SE.

By analyzing your GPS data, accelerometer, gyroscope and heart rate readings, the watch can now determine when you are riding. In addition, the magnetometer also works to detect small swings that occur on a bicycle. Basically he knows you’re riding a bike rather than watching a horror movie on the bus.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been surprised at how nuanced training detection can be. Whether I’m on my regular bike or on an electric bike, the watch always recognizes when I forget to start a workout. Sometimes I even tried to trick the watch by starting at the top of a hill and going down without pedaling. But, it still detected the trip and took a little over 3 minutes to inform me with a haptic buzz or a chime.

Another time, I was about to confirm the automatically detected workout when another notification popped up on the screen which cleared the workout prompt. Thinking that I had lost the ability to get credit for everything I had just done, I continued and a few minutes later the prompt started again. To my surprise, I hit confirm and it had kept recording in the background from the first prompt, so I didn’t waste time or credit.

The only difficulty was trying to tap the screen to confirm that I was training. When riding, taking my hands off the handlebars might not be the best idea, especially on a faster e-bike. Perhaps a future update could allow you to use Siri to start training, hands-free, as you can if you don’t rely on auto-detection.


Lexy Savvides / CNET

Automatic workout detection should be on by default, but if not, go to Settings> Workout> Start workout reminder on the watch or iPhone app. Note that this only works for outdoor rides, not for stationary bike rides.

Apple Watch isn’t the only wearable device to offer automatic workout detection. Some Garmin watches offer it via Move IQ; Fitbit has SmartTrack which detects activities such as going outdoors after 15 minutes; while older Samsung watches like the Galaxy Watch Active 2 and Watch 3 also have automatic cycle detection. But oddly enough, the new Galaxy Watch 4 doesn’t support it.

E-bike owners get better calorie tracking on Apple Watch

There has been an increase in the number of e-bike owners since the pandemic, and the Apple Watch is said to give you more accurate calorie tracking when riding with assistance.

Again, using GPS and heart rate data, the watch will detect when you get a boost from your electric bike. Suppose you speed up but your heart rate does not increase proportionately, it means you get help from the bike and then your calorie rate will be assigned based on your heart rate. Note that there is no special type of drive for e-bikes – everything is factored into the outdoor bike option.


The Zoomo Sport on one of my rides around San Francisco.

Lexy Savvides / CNET

To test it, I had to challenge myself that would determine the difference this new algorithm really makes in total calorie count. I decided to do the exact same route on my regular bike and then rinse and repeat with a Zoomo Sport electric bike. But I didn’t make it easy on myself, walking up some of San Francisco’s notoriously steep streets with elevation gain of over 440 feet. You can watch the full result in the video on this page, but the calorie count on the e-bike was lower than the workout done on my regular 18-speed bike.

Third-party apps can also connect to the new outdoor cycling algorithm to use the same e-bike calorie algorithm as the Apple Workout app.

Training times are unaffected by downtime thanks to automatic pause and resume

Suppose you are commuting and making many different stops along the way, such as at traffic lights. All that time spent waiting for the light to turn green can not only increase your overall workout time, but potentially affect stats like average speed. All Apple Watches from Series 3 now have an automatic pause and resume for bike rides, but they may not be enabled by default.


Lexy Savvides / CNET

Find it by going to Settings> Workout> Auto Pause and turning on the toggle, either on the watch itself or in the app on the iPhone. I have found that it takes about two to four seconds for the watch to notice if I stop or resume the bike, pause or continue tracking respectively. Some third-party Apple Watch apps also have this feature, but it’s now native to the Workout app.

Fall detection now knows if you get off your bike

If you are 55 and over, fall detection is automatically activated. But if you’re between 18 and 55, you can also turn on fall detection for all major types of training including running, walking, cycling, etc. Just make sure you’re up to date to WatchOS 8.1 and have an Apple Watch Series 4 or later, then go to Settings> SOS> Fall detection and turn it on for workouts, or anytime. If the watch detects that you are getting off your bike and standing still, it calls emergency services and can alert your emergency contacts with your location.

Voice prompts can tell you your cycling stats

He’s one of those who either love him or hate him. Apple Watch can now give you beeps when you reach certain training milestones while riding, such as when you reach a distance of 5 km or miles, average speed, when automatic pause and resume occurs or when you close your activity rings. I found it to be most useful when trying to beat my personal time on my regular run, so I didn’t have to look down on my wrist to see my overall speed. You will be able to hear the prompt from the speaker of the watch, or through your headphones or Bluetooth earphones if you have connected them. Just make sure you don’t leave the watch on silent like I did and wondered why I couldn’t hear anything for my first 5 mile stretch.



The Apple Watch is a great cycling companion, but it could go even further

I’m an occasional cyclist who rides my bike for recreation and exercise, so the Apple Watch works great for me for tracking my rides. I don’t have to think about adding more gear like a dedicated heart rate strap or separate GPS tracking because it’s all on my wrist.

But more serious riders probably aren’t ready to trade in their bike computers just yet. It’s even harder to look at your wrist to see your training metrics, or even try to tap the screen with your other hand than it is to check a screen on the handlebars. You might want to add some extra tools like a power meter or cadence sensor that usually only work with bike computers.

Then there is the issue of battery life. The Series 7 will last up to seven hours with GPS for outdoor training, or six with GPS and LTE, which might not be enough for day-long ATV rides.

I’d also love to see Apple push its watch security features a step further, offering functionality similar to Garmin’s LiveTrack, where you can share a real-time location and route with your emergency contacts. Some third-party apps available on the Apple Watch, such as Strava, offer similar functionality. You can use the Find My app to share your current location, but this only works if your contacts are also using Apple devices.

About Yvonne Lozier

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