For the past several years I have used a GPS watch when mountain biking.
I like tracking my rides. I tend to use it as a record of how often I ride, a way of finding trails that I may be riding for the first time and to gauge what, if any, improvement I’m making.
I prefer to not use my phone for this as I like to keep my battery fresh in case of emergency. And I’ve also found phone GPS recording to be a little hit and miss. And when I’m in the habit of having my rides tracked, when it fails is guaranteed to be the time that I feel like I’ve hit the trails at warp speed. And we all know, if it’s not on Strava, it didn’t happen.
However, the Lezyne is a bulky thing that really is only of any use when riding. It doesn’t have an integrated heart rate monitor (although it will pair with dedicated sensors) or any real features for tracking daily activity. And even then, it can be awkward to fit under sleeves or gloves in colder weather.
I have envied people with Garmin watches for quite some time. Most of their watches look like something you could wear all day, to the office, out to dinner and for a spin on your bike. So, before our mountain biking trip to Spain, I approached Garmin to see if they would let me test one of their sports watches. And, kind people that they are, they agreed. Not only did they agree to loan me one for a few weeks but, to my surprise, they sent me one of their top of the range models, the Garmin FR945.
For anyone not quite up to date with the various ranges and models that Garmin sell, the FR stands for Forerunner, their range of running and multi-sports watches.
My first impression when I took this watch out of the box was that this looks and feels like a normal digital watch. I would happily wear it all day for any occasion. And when you consider that most of Garmin’s watches have the option of interchangeable straps, including leather and metal versions, then you really do have a watch for all occasions.
The FR945 comes with an integrated optical heart rate monitor. Some say optical monitors are not as accurate when compared to the strap type that are worn around the chest. However, I am not a pro athlete and I don’t train hard enough to need the most accurate heart rate readings I can get. It is great to get a gauge of how hard I pushed on a ride.
Garmin’s software, however, uses this information, combined with the GPS tracking, in all sorts of clever ways to track your daily activity, monitor your sleep, set your heart rate zones to work out the intensity of your activities and a whole host of other stats that didn’t really mean that me, but look very interesting.
The two areas I was most interested to try the Garmin Forerunner watch in were, daily activity monitoring for general fitness and accuracy and ease of use while tracking mountain bike rides.
One thing to note is that the Forerunner does not have a touch screen, instead using four buttons, two on either side of the watch. In practice, I never missed having a touch screen while recording bike rides. Touch screens are notoriously tricky to use while wearing gloves and in less-than-ideal outdoor conditions. During daily life, it might some times have been handy to have a touch screen. Possibly when the watch is linked to a phone and it receives a message notification, it would be easier to scroll using the screen than the buttons. But as this is a watch aimed at sports, the advantages of a touch screen are far outweighed by the negatives. If you would prefer a watch with a touch screen Garmin have other watch models that do have them.
Daily Fitness Monitoring
Without needing to record anything specifically, the Garmin watch tracked things like the number of steps I took in a day, how often I climbed the stairs, and how much time I spent active, or moving, per day. While life won’t grind to a halt if I didn’t have this information, it is a simple and very informative way of watching my general activity and by extension fitness level.
Garmin set certain goals for things like daily step count and stair flights climbed. Nothing quite motivates me like getting an alert during the day that I’ve met one of these goals, or conversely, that I am X steps short of reaching a goal. There is also an option for the watch to remind you at set intervals to move. This feature is especially handy for people that work desk jobs as I do. I set an hourly alert and while this didn’t make me jump up every hour to do a lap around the office, it did remind me to not sit at my desk for hours on end without a break.
The only feature that I didn’t quite manage to figure out during the time that I had the watch was the Training Status. This is meant to tell you whether you need to train more or less. It almost always told me that I had ‘No Status’ or occasionally that I was ‘Maintaining’, even after riding for four consecutive days in Spain.
Mountain Bike Tracking
I used this watch on rides locally and, as I said, on a multi-day riding trip abroad. I found it very simple to start and stop it recording while riding. One button selects the activity type, mountain biking in my case, and the same button then starts and ends the activity. The only minor niggle I had is that for some unknown reason I couldn’t get used to the recording buttons being the opposite way around from my own watch. And on a couple of occasions, the start/stop button would get pressed when I put my hand into a pocket.
The GPS accuracy was more than adequate, even on GPS-testing twisty mountain bike trails. Certainly no worse than my own watch, and generally better when compared to trials I have previously recorded using a phone.
Sadly, as this watch was loaned to me, the day came all too soon when I had to send it back to Garmin. And for a couple of weeks, my wrist felt bare without it. I would happily continue wearing a Garmin FR945 for mountain biking and daily life. If my budget ever allows, I will definitely be looking at buying one.