Okay, so the helmet comes first. Plus the water bottle. And you really don’t want to ride for any great distance without padded shorts. But while you’re gearing up for a bike ride – zipping up your jersey and clipping in your shoes – you’re gonna want to strap on a watch. A good one requires instant legibility (eyes on the road!) and serious durability (to withstand all-weather conditions and the occasional crash). Even with those criteria, you have countless options.
Earlier this year, we asked our pals at Tracksmith to tell us the best watches for runners. Today, it’s the best watches for cyclists – as chosen by the staff of Rapha, the London brand that singlehandedly rescued bike apparel from neon purgatory. Rapha employees have, over the years, logged exactly one jillion miles on the bike. They know how a watch should look, feel, and work while cycling. See below for ten personal testimonials. And share your own picks in the comments.
Simon Mottram, Founder and Chief Executive
Cycling is such an important part of my life and my identity that, when choosing a timepiece, I want something I can wear all day, every day, on and off the bike. I have no interest in data (I left that behind a long time ago, and these days I don’t need to be reminded how slow I am), but I really value quality and timeless design. So the Rolex Explorer is the perfect choice. The face is easy to read, and I fitted a rubber strap so that I can sweat as much as I like. Over the years, the Explorer has become part of who I am as a cyclist and as a person.
I wear the watch on my right wrist because years ago I made the mistake of riding the infamous cobbled ‘Arenberg Forest’ on the Paris Roubaix course, and the crown gouged a hole in my left wrist!
Jess Morgan, PR & Communications Manager (UK)
Unlike the swathes of people who took up cycling over lockdown, as a seasoned cyclist, I pivoted in the opposite direction and started running. Luckily, the company that makes my favored bike computer, Wahoo, has brought out a multi-sport watch called the RIVAL which is perfect for both. It seamlessly syncs with my phone and my bike computer, so it’s a dream to use. No stress, just press go and focus on your session. I can record my bike rides directly from my watch if it’s a quick journey from A to B, or pair it with my bike computer if it’s a longer one and I want to see more data on the screen.
I was initially worried it wouldn’t fit my tiny wrists, but it’s very comfortable and isn’t heavy at all, so I can wear it all day whether I’m on a pre-work run, riding around doing errands, or sitting at my desk.
Brett Cleaver, West Coast Retail Regional Manager (North America)
Having grown up in the ‘80s, I still can’t shake the allure of a Swatch watch. In grade school, a new Swatch was always on my holiday wish list, and over the years, my collection (aka borderline obsession) began. I hung on to most of the models I accumulated as a kid and have continued collecting throughout my life. I never needed or sought out anything other than a plastic Swatch watch. So, when I ride, it’s my preference.
The colors work well with cycling kit, and the watch is easy to clean with soapy water after a ride. I do prefer to cycle with a model that has actual numbers on the face in case I need to sneak in an interval or meet a friend at a specific time.
This particular watch is special because the dial and hands are from a 1989 Lemon Iceberg transplanted into a later-model Swatch Automatic case. A Rapha customer who works in the watch industry helped me with the conversion, bringing two of my passions full circle.
Christopher Chen, Head of Marketing (Asia Pacific)
My cycling watch of choice, the IWC Mark XVIII “Tribute to Mark XI,” might seem like an unnecessary flex. But I like my unabashed passion for watches to shine through in my other passions, just the same way I identify myself as a cyclist even off the bike.
The IWC is my constant companion on my cycling adventures, powered by the humble movement of my wrist. No need for a USB cable or a charging point. Like my bike, it just goes when I do.
It’s on its second NATO now; the first has worn out. The case is dimpled with marks from riding adventures overseas: back-to-back days in Adelaide during the Tour Down Under, climbing steep grades in Hong Kong, meandering down sweeping descents in Chiang Mai, testing myself against the long climbs of Malaysia, and of course, the unforgettable times with my teammates and our customers.
Why a pilot’s watch, you may ask? Well, to me, cycling is the closest you can get to flying.
Tsai Hsi Chun, Assistant General Manager of Rapha Clubhouse (Taipei)
The watch is never the dominant device when you’re on the bike. It’s actually more important when I’m off the bike. The GARMIN fenix 6x Pro can constantly monitor my heart rate, track how well I sleep and recover, and record my steps.
It’s also a handy tool when I want to do some other workouts like running or swimming. When I don’t have a bike computer around, the watch can still log my activities. And that’s not to mention all the other features like receiving/replying messages, music control, weather forecast, and more when connecting to my phone. You don’t lose anything without it as a cyclist, but you will gain a lot if you have it.
Lindsey Walker, Social Media Manager
I have had a love/hate relationship with bike computers because monitoring data, speeds, and distances can often detract from the task at hand. I enjoy feeling a sense of freedom and exploring places, without overanalyzing my ride. But a year ago, I decided to try the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt, a compact device which offers a great map view.
The Elemnt Bolt has enabled me to find new roads and trails and ride further, for longer, without the fear of how I’ll get back home. It has reinstalled a feeling of adventure and confidence when riding, whilst also providing me with the data I need post-ride. It’s basically a smartwatch for my handlebars.
Tiff Pan, Social & Localization (Taiwan)
The first smartwatch I purchased, the Garmin fēnix 5s, was solely for the purpose of recording my cycling metrics like speed, time, and distance. Since then, it’s become my everyday companion, with me while I go about my day – and also on my runs. It’s got a nice watch face that fits my arm size, it’s lightweight, and it has a great design.
The monitor function is effective and lets me know how many calories I’ve burned. When I’m done with a ride or run, I check my heart rate and training performance to evaluate my training plan. For me, it is a useful exercise partner with a simple and comfortable surface design.
Rob Obeng-Manu, Product Manager
I’m probably a bit too focused on data given how average a cyclist I am, but as a result, I use my Garmin 1000 to track the majority of information while I’m out riding. I’ll have a different screen setup showing different data depending on which bike I’m riding, or type of ride; although, for some reason, I’ve never used it to know the time of day. (It’s probably got something to do with having to double-tap the screen, then look in to the top right corner at the smallest font possible to see what the time is, all whilst paying attention to the road.)
So, I pretty much always wear my Bremont Solo when out riding. It’s got a large, super legible face, which makes it easy to tell the time at a glance, and I’ve swapped out the leather strap it came on for a NATO, which means I don’t have to worry about sweating through it.
Mark Alford, Rapha Cycling Club Coordinator & Events, Rapha Los Angeles
Early, during my quest to become a professional cyclist, I learned a lesson that would shape how I viewed cycling for the rest of my life: A constant, boring training schedule was one way, if not the only way, to achieve that goal. For years, my life revolved around countless intervals like 3×15 minutes at so-and-so power, measuring watts per kilogram, and worrying about tapering correctly. This took its toll, and I realized that the digital age had taken the fun out of cycling for me.
My Omata analog bike computer was the change I needed. The lack of a GPS-enabled map encourages adventure. It has allowed me to track the necessities, so I can focus more on just riding to have fun. I ride a steel Ritchey Swiss Cross, so aesthetically, the Omata fits right in with its simple, clean, modern design. It has truly saved cycling for me!
Darren Read, Head of Retail
My watch of choice for “Sunday Best” club rides is my 1972 Rolex Oyster Perpetual, which was marketed as a “sport watch” by Rolex back in the ’70s. It’s surprisingly light, with a sleek low-profile dial, a hand-wound mechanism, and an elegant bracelet. It has no fancy bells and whistles, which suits my style of riding. For me, it’s more about smiles than miles.
The watch provides me with a useful distraction whilst battling with a climb – I’ll often just zone out by focusing on the seconds hand and count the pedal strokes to take my mind off of my screaming legs. I do a lot of traveling as part of my role at Rapha (or at least I did, pre-pandemic…), and when I’m away, I always keep the watch on U.K. time. As it was a gift from my wife, this reminds me of her. And of riding on my home roads.