The Apple Watch Changed How I Ride My Bike

Commentary: Live Activities instantly turns your iPhone into a bike computer. It's good enough for me that I don't need anything else.

Lexy Savvides Principal Video Producer
Lexy is an on-air presenter and award-winning producer who covers consumer tech, including the latest smartphones, wearables and emerging trends like assistive robotics. She's won two Gold Telly Awards for her video series Beta Test. Prior to her career at CNET, she was a magazine editor, radio announcer and DJ. Lexy is based in San Francisco.
Expertise Wearables, smartwatches, mobile phones, photography, health tech, assistive robotics Credentials
  • Webby Award honoree, 2x Gold Telly Award winner
Lexy Savvides
4 min read

The iPhone 15 mounted on a bike, showing the metrics from the Apple Watch Ultra 2.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

Someone at Apple is a keen cyclist, and for that, I'm eternally grateful. The Apple Watch has gained a range of helpful features for cyclists over the past few years that's made my riding experience much more enjoyable. But it's the latest WatchOS 10 update that's really changed the game for me by turning the iPhone into a bike computer.

I'm a cyclist who rides for exercise and recreation, so having a dedicated bike computer to track my performance and navigate feels like overkill. When Apple unveiled the cycling Live Activities feature for the iPhone, I knew I was going to use it frequently. Live Activities shows real-time information from an app on the iPhone lock screen, so you can quickly see anything from sports scores to the status of your food delivery. 

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I start an indoor or outdoor cycling workout on my watch and a Live Activity shows up on my iPhone. I tap my iPhone to have it show the same metrics from my wrist on its big screen. Live Activities for cycling is available on any Apple Watch from the Series 4 and later that runs WatchOS 10 and any iPhone that can run iOS 17.

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Mounting the iPhone that I already have onto my road bike's handlebars, instead of buying an extra device, makes a lot of sense. In fact, the new bike features have been so helpful that the Apple Watch is my smartwatch of choice when I ride outdoors or on my spin bike.

A big screen on the handlebars is a safer way to ride

One of my biggest concerns when going out for a ride is safety. The Apple Watch can't predict if a car is going to take a sudden right turn and cut me off in the bike lane -- if only! But being able to glance down to my iPhone mounted on my handlebars and see my cycling stats as a Live Activity means I no longer have to raise my wrist up to view the metrics I need. And that makes riding all that much safer. 

Power meter pedals and WatchOS 10

This is what it looks like when you pair power meter pedals to the Apple Watch then use the iPhone to view the Live Activity.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

Depending on what sort of ride I'm doing, I could be targeting a specific metric like my speed or heart rate. What's great about Live Activities for cycling is that I can quickly swipe across its different screens on my iPhone to get to those metrics, take a quick peek at what I need and then keep my eyes on the road. 

Obviously, you need both an iPhone and Apple Watch to take advantage of all this. But there's another upside to having Apple's wearable around your wrist for a ride. The Apple Watch has fall detection for primary workout types, including cycling. It's not new and has been around for a few years. But it can place a call to emergency services and your emergency contacts if it detects a fall from your bike and you don't respond to the prompt -- hopefully, you'll never need to use it. A few high-end bike computers also have crash detection, but they can cost as much as an Apple Watch or even more.

Watch this: New bike features on the Apple Watch Series 7

Pairing Bluetooth accessories to the Apple Watch is easy

When Apple revealed it would support Bluetooth bike accessories like cadence sensors and power meters in WatchOS 10, I was thrilled. It's something I've wanted ever since the company added automatic cycling detection and more accurate calorie tracking for e-bike rides to the Apple Watch in WatchOS 8 (you can find out more about these features in the video above).

I ride a spin bike with power pedals at home. Unlike some stationary bikes, it doesn't have a screen that shows metrics like power and cadence. In the past, I've had to use a third-party app on my phone to see these metrics from the pedals, but then it doesn't reflect my entire effort in the first-party Apple Fitness and Health apps. 

Since the update, I can pair the pedals in my watch's Bluetooth settings. Now I can see cadence, speed and power on my Apple Watch and iPhone's workout screens during the ride.

Having pedals paired to the Apple Watch also enables an automatic estimation of Functional Threshold Power (FTP), or the maximum level of intensity you can maintain for an hour. This is really helpful for me so I can chart my progress over time and know if I'm going too easy on a ride, but there are several other reasons why more serious cyclists want to measure FTP. The Apple Watch calculates your estimated FTP after about five high-intensity rides lasting at least 10 minutes each, but you can also enter your FTP manually.

There's also custom workout support, so you can import training routines from third-party iOS apps like TrainingPeaks. That's made it easier to jump on my bike and ride because it's all integrated into Apple's own workout app.

TrainingPeaks and Apple Watch

You can now send custom workouts from apps like TrainingPeaks to the Apple Watch.

Lexy Savvides/CNET

The iPhone is a great bike computer for many, but not all

The iPhone isn't going to replace a traditional bike computer for everybody, especially serious and pro athletes. If you're going on longer rides spanning more than a few hours, biking new routes or riding in extreme weather conditions, the phone does have limitations. The screen can be reflective which makes it tricky to see in bright conditions and keeping the display on all the time eats into battery life.

Also, if you have a bigger iPhone like the 15 Pro Max, it could be too large to mount comfortably on your handlebars, and a traditional bike computer may be the better option for aerodynamics and weather resistance. I'd also seriously consider investing in a rugged case with impact protection if I was going to use my phone on the trail.

But for shorter rides that only last a few hours, your daily commute or even spinning your legs out at the gym, the iPhone and Apple Watch have become ideal bike companions for most people.