Your Apple Watch is about to get a whole lot more useful for bike riding and performance
If you’re looking for on-bike navigation and wearable heath tech, the choice between a do-it-all device like the Apple Watch and something specific like Garmin Fenix 6 is getting harder to make as new functionality gets rolled out. With the new OS10 update, the Apple Watch now gets more metrics, automatic Bluetooth pairing with sensors like speed and cadence, and better mapping and navigation aids.
One big selling point the Apple Watch already offers mountain bikers is the Fall Detection function. According to Apple, this feature will detect if the wearer has had a hard fall, then if it detects that the wearer has been immobile for about a minute, it will “tap your wrist, sound and alarm, and then attempt to call emergency services.” This sounds like a very useful functionality to have, particularly for riders who head out on their own, and in fact one rider has already credited it with saving his life after a crash left him unconscious and alone in a remote location.
The OS10 update adds more functionality to the mix, with automatic connectivity to Bluetooth-enabled elements such as power metres, and cadence and speed sensors which, combined with new algorithms, mean the Apple Watch can calculate power output in watts, Functional Threshold Power (FTP) and from there work out personalised Power Zones. These are extremely helpful for anyone looking to hone their fitness and train for power and speed for maximum fun and performance on the bike.
Another feature relates to cycling workouts. When these are selected and started from the Apple Watch, it will also show as a Live Activity on a paired iPhone and can utilise the full screen displaying metrics and features such as heart rate zones, elevation, route, workouts and speed. Pop the phone on your bike and you’ve got a whole navigation and workout system ready to go.
We would just caveat that with the fact that we get pretty nervous about mountain biking with a very expensive and relatively delicate piece of kit (the phone) to a mountain bike.
OS10 also has functionality that, while designed primarily for hikers, will also be useful for mountain bikers and bike packers who like to head out into the hills and mountains for their adventures. This includes a Compass app which automatically generates two waypoints; ‘last cellular connection waypoint’ which will help users find the nearest place with phone reception, and ‘last emergency call waypoint’ which identifies where on the route there was access to any carrier network to enable emergency calls to be made.
And there’s a new Elevation view which combines map information with elevation data to provide a 3D view of waypoints, plus topographic maps with contours, elevation and points of interest (US-only to start with). For anyone planning a big day or days out on the bike, this is likely to be very handy.
Other handy features
Navigation which only works while in signal range isn’t very useful for a big day out in the hills, so now iPhone offers offline maps with turn-by-turn navigation which can be used on a paired Apple Watch.
It’s also easier to share contacts with people by bringing two Apple watches close together to ‘send’ a contact from one to another. So if you make a friend out on the trail and want to keep in contact, you don’t need to spend precious time typing in numbers when you could be riding.
Apple Watch OS10 availability
So you’ve read the features and are now keen beans to download the update? The bad news is that unless you’re on the Apple Developer Program you can’t access it yet, but there will be a public beta version available from July, and the main OS10 update will be coming out this fall, free, for Apple Watch Series 4 and later, paired with iPhone Xs or later, running iOS 17.
Prefer something more specific for your riding? Check out our guide to the best GPS and navigation devices for mountain biking. Of if you’re going old-school with a map, don’t forget the hydration pack or hip pack to pop it (and your snacks!) in.