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.
This Post Has 22 Comments
Did you ever use the Fenix for rides?
Hey Bud, I haven’t used that Fenix, only a Forerunner 245. If you need a watch that can utilize on trail turn by turn directions and works with Trailforks the Fenix looks like a good choice. If you already are in the Apple ecosystem with an iPhone and don’t need turn by turn directions on the trail then the Apple Watch is hard to beat. It has many more convenient feature that seamlessly work with the iPhone.
Thanks for the response!
Which Apple workout do you select for mountain biking? They don’t have a specific workout for mountain biking and I’ve found the outdoor cycle workout is only accurate for road biking (in terms of calorie count). I’ve been using the “other” workout, which is more accurate, but I can’t understand why Apple hasn’t created a MTB specific workout, yet they have badminton and bowling!
Hi Mark, I use “Outdoor Cycle” for all my rides. I guess I never paid attention to calorie count since I don’t even review my data on “Fitness”. For my mountain bike rides and trail runs, I only look at Strava and Training Peaks data since it’s much more detailed. I just have the Apple watch data syncing with Strava and Training Peaks. There isn’t a mountain bike specific option to choose that I’m aware of on any device or training platform — it’s just always lumped in with cycling data.
Cool, thanks for the response Chad.
SUPER late to respond here….but Garmin has MTB specific rides on their Fenix watches.
Does it show elevation gain and loss on a chart after your ride?
It does show elevation gain, max and min elevations but not elevation loss. You’d have to look at your Strava to see that.
Does the RideWithGPS app now work for turn by turn directions?
I haven’t used Ride with GPS, but they say that turn-by-turn will work as long as your watch is connected to your phone and the route is downloaded into your phone. Ride with GPS looks like a nice solution if you need turn-by-turn directions.
I noticed if you use the Apple Watch native cycling app whilst using Strava on the iPhone (for routes info) you can import the heart rate data into Strava, only issue is it displays as a group ride. Have you tried using the strava app on both Apple Watch and the iPhone simultaneously? Would be great if there was direct support to use the watch as a heart rate sensor.
I have not tried using the Strava app on iPhone and watch simultaneously. I have Strava uploading my watch data from the Apple workout app which includes HR. I tried using the Strava app initially on the watch, but there was something that I didn’t like about the app – can’t remember what it was. Maybe the display?
Hey Chad, I want to record my MTB ride on my Apple Watch and be able to transfer my ride onto a map. Would I use an app like Strava in order to see my ride on a map.
Hi Robert! Yes, I like Strava for viewing my rides on maps. Trailforks is another excellent way as well if you want to see additional details over the map Apple Fitness gives.
Full credits to DCRainmaker: there is a little app called HealthFit on iOS, that can sync any workouts from Health to, well, nearly anything including Strava. I‘ve been using it for about a year now and so far, this tool is genius. I sync Apple Watch workouts to Strava, and to iCloud Drive as a backup. Even my Rides on my Wahoo Bolt get backed up this way.
I’ve found the AW6 to be unable to handle MTB. Comparing it to a Fenix 6 Pro, the distance is off by about 20%, the calories off by a few hundred (in just a 4 mile ride recently), and the average speed is off by about 2 MPH. I haven’t found an answer to the lower recording frequency of the AW6, unfortunately. Outdoor Cycle works fine when you’re going in straight lines or wide, smooth curves. But it can’t seem to handle quick ascents, descents and switchbacks with any accuracy.
Have you tried to recalibrate? I’ve heard that this may be needed if you feel accuracy is an issue. I find my watch is pretty close to both my Garmin Edges while riding heavily forested and mountainous trails in western NC. The Garmin’s have accuracy issues as well. If you compare data to others on a group ride that are using Garmin’s, you’ll see how wide a range the recorded data from different units are.
I don’t think the Apple Watch is perfect for sure, but so far I haven’t had any of the issues with software updates from Apple that drove me away from Garmin.
Isn’t that really only effective for walking/running workouts? The calibration really has to do with stride length and form.
I have two more days to return to AW…I may give it another shot tomorrow but we’ll see.
Not sure about the calibration, I haven’t found a need to explore that with my unit yet. I like the AW due to its versatility as a smartwatch. Things like replying to a text without pulling out my phone, or talking on the phone via watch. I love the walkie talkie function for communication with my wife on the trail when we separate and around the house when we’re at opposite ends. The AW like most Apple products is intuitive, easy to use and the longer I own it the more useful features I find that are locking me into my decision to move away from Garmin.
If I just have gps on watch I would have to carry phone to record distance correct?
You won’t need to carry your phone to record your ride. Gps functions work perfectly without your watch.