The way we gauge fitness and track our rides has long been dominated by Garmin since the first Edge devices. As we move more into a connected lifestyle, smarter devices have made some big leaps the last few years. If you’re an Apple ecosystem user the Apple Watch offers integration that no other sports device offers. Mountain biking with the Apple Watch Series 6 has me thinking that I will gladly be waving bye-bye to my Garmin Edge.
I’ve been waiting to commit to an Apple Watch with hopes of better battery life and map integration options over previous generations. When Apple announced those updates with the Series 6 I decided it was time to give it a try. What I’ve found after a couple months use is that there are some misconceptions with battery life while using GPS. Honestly these misconceptions had overshadowed my interest in the watch and I’m happy to say they were unwarranted.
Apple Watch Series 6 VS Garmin Edge
Most mountain bikers either use a Garmin or phone to track rides. I’ve found myself continually frustrated with Garmin’s software over the past five years. Recently I can’t remember a Garmin software update (usually monthly) that had bugs resulting in rides not auto-uploading or GPS being super slow to find satellites. Lately I’ve given up after a few minutes and punched start to have the device never finds satellites during an entire 2-hour ride.
OK, so it’s not entirely fair to compare the Apple Watch 6 to a Garmin Edge since they are definitely different devices. An Apple Series 6 is more of a fitness watch, so why wouldn’t I compare it to a Garmin Watch? Well, I haven’t really used Garmin’s watches since I felt they were a bit overpriced especially compared to an Apple Watch and I’m an iPhone and Mac guy. The communication between apple devices is flawless and the same can’t be said for Garmin. Additionally, the Apple Watch allows the user to do many of the same things done on your phone.
Apple Watch Series 6 | GPS $399/ GPS+Cellular $549 | 44mm (tested) or 40mm size
- Very intuitive and easy to use
- Battery life while using GPS better than Garmin Edge 130 and 530
- Super quick to find GPS signal
- Walkie talkie function for staying connected to riding partners or home
- Ease of communication for replying to messages or answering calls vs digging out phone or even bringing
- Not as easy to view as Garmin Edge series
- Using GPX files for navigation is limited and very clunky
- No Trailforks integration yet
- Have to manually import rides to Strava if using native Apple workout app (VERY easy though)
Mountain Biking with Apple Watch Series 6
Like many riders, I don’t have just one bike or even just one mountain bike. I always have at least 2-3 bikes I’m putting miles on and dabble in trail running and some paddle boarding. For these reasons I have long thought that a watch would simplify my life and also clean up mounting on all my different bikes — I’m not a fan of most of the mounting solutions for Garmin Edge. Nit-picky? Yes but I do like a clean looking bike!
The watch was not comfortable for the first week or two of riding. I haven’t worn a watch in many years and the last time I did I remember the same issues while doing long rough mountain bike rides. I switched wrists, tightened, loosened, pushed the watch up my arm further with nothing really helping much. It just took my wrist skin toughing up (yep, my arm skin was peeling from the watch abrasions). Now after a month of riding it’s pretty comfortable until I do a particularly long and rough 3 plus hour loop. Then I might have a spot or two that the watch rubs raw. Maybe I need to Chamios butter my wrist?
Recording Activity and Connectivity
To record a ride there are several different methods with the Apple Watch. I prefer the native Apple workout app, but there is also a Strava app. Finding a GPS signal has been instantaneous for me. I’ve always had a GPS signal even when I am starting a ride outside of cell coverage.
If you need to utilize a GPX file for turn-by-turn directions you will be disappointed. There are apps such as WorkOutDoors that allow you to upload GPX files for viewing maps but do not have turn-by-turn navigation.
The Apple Watch is not only easier to use and more intuitive than the Garmin Edge, but it also makes my life easier. I do sometimes forget which button does what on a Garmin Edge even after years of using them. That doesn’t happen with the Apple Watch with its flawless touchscreen you always know what you’re pushing. Responding to a text via voice or taking a phone call or checking the weather is a breeze without stopping and pulling out the phone. I’ve had conversations over the Walkie-talkie function with my wife while riding up climbs in the middle of Pisgah National Forest.
Battery life was perhaps one of the most misunderstood attributes of the Apple Watch and the one that concerned me most. Apple states that the Series 6 will last up to 18 hours on average with a one-hour workout. I’m doubling that easily most days getting 30+ hours with 2-3 hours of riding using GPS. I’ve done 6+ hour rides that had very little impact on battery life.
Other features that I dig:
- Remote control your phone – Playing a podcast or music over your phone or through an earbud (I only use one on the super rare ride that I want to listen to something).
- Super quick charging. A full charge usually only take 1.5 hours and to charge to 50% 30 minutes! I have forgot to charge before a ride and on my 15 min drive to the trailhead got more than enough charge to ride a few hours.
- Health tracking features – Sleep tracking, and even simple reminders to stand if you’ve been sitting too long or simply to take some deep breaths every once and while.
- The watch truly is smart! If you forget to start your ride, the watch will alert you and ask if you’d like to start recording. The watch will go back and start your ride from the beginning without losing any time or mileage.
So far I have not missed my Garmin Edge at all. The Apple Watch Series 6 is so much more usefully to me than the Garmin Edge unless you need navigation. No more waiting for the device to find GPS signals. No more issues uploading rides. In short, I wished I would have tried the Apple Watch sooner due to the additional conveniences that it offers in addition to it being a ride tracker.
Little did I know that there were that many other features as a mountain biker that I’d be into with the Apple Watch. Things like glancing down at the face to see what the outside temperature is so I know how to dress, the walkie talkie for communicating without my phone while I’m riding, and the list could go on. What sets the Apple Watch apart is how the Apple ecosystem flawlessly communicates between devices and its easy of usability.