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Finland’s sport watch and dive computer company Suunto began designing orienting devices eighty years ago when the orienteering enthusiast, Tuomas Vohlonen, invented the liquid based compass for mass production. The company’s name is pronounced “Soon-toh,” the Finish word for direction.

I am intrigued by mountain bike sport watches for a number of reasons. I like to look at where I have been and save particularly good routes to share with friends, I don’t enjoy wearing a heart rate strap but I want to know how my ticker is doing while training, and I have broken every handlebar-mounted computer I have had in one dirt-nap or another.

Several of Suunto’s sport watches have been designed for endurance trail running, and one, in particular, was specifically created for “ultra-endurance” athletes. In my mind, the use of “ultra” nomenclature means that I can ride for the entire day, recording every turn, and re-trace all of those turns at a later date. I recently received the Suunto 9 multi-sport watch to review from the saddle, and subsequently waited several days for the battery to need a charge.

Overview

The multiple screens and fields on the device display a useful variety of information. I want a minimal amount of input to consider while riding, so I found a page that shows me how long I’ve been riding, and what time it is, and was happy with that.

The 9’s bezel, case, and face are a collection of clean lines and precise aesthetics. If it were half as thick it could pass for a broad-faced fashion watch. If you don’t dig the white case and band, the watch also comes in black or lime.

  • MSRP: $499.99 USD
  • Actual weight: 84g
  • GPS navigation
  • Optical heart rate sensor
  • 100m water resistant
  • Touchscreen
  • Battery life: 25hrs in active mode, 120hrs in ultra mode

Compare Suunto 9 GPS prices

The 9’s proprietary plug

A magnetized USB plug connects to the flat waterproof surface on the back of the watch face. This clean and simple interface is free of small connection pockets and plugs that would eventually break off and become corroded with sweat.

These four dots on the back light up the optical heart rate sensor, similar to those on most newer sport watches. In order for the sensor to work properly, you need to wear the watch above the bumpy spot that your ulna bone makes above your wrist.

On the trail

The first sensation I noticed while riding with the Suunto 9 is that it is massive. Not only is it as wide as my dainty wrist, but it feels heavy. I would expect a watch with spaceship features to have some heft, but the 9 is a bit much for me. It’s heavy enough that I had to strap it fairly tight to keep it from sliding around, which in turn caused some intense chafing on my wrist and a bit of donated blood. My skin eventually toughened up under the watch, but we had an unpleasant first few weeks together.

In addition to feeling generally girthsome, the face of the 9 is broad enough that my arm skin actuated the buttons while riding, setting loose a storm of functions and analysis I didn’t even know existed. It seems the engineers at Suunto may have neglected to seriously mountain bike with the watch on before stamping it with the “multisport” label.

Fit and ergonomics aside, the watch largely works well. It tracks rides with great accuracy, possibly better than some others I have tested, and accurately saves data for later viewing and analysis. It finds the GPS signal quickly, and its interface is relatively intuitive. Suunto’s online software, however, is a bit clunky and requires more energy than I want to give to any computer. It was easy enough to link the watch with Strava to save everything there, and I soon forgot about the Suunto app.

I tested the watch’s heart rate sensor against a heart rate strap that I connected to a bike-mounted computer, and another watch based heart rate monitor I own, and it failed each test quite surprisingly. While resting the sensor is fairly accurate, but as my heart rate went up it became increasingly less so. On one ride my other watch, which Is accurate when compared to a chest strap, said that my heart rate was around 140bpm, while the Suunto 9 stayed closer to 85bpm. My perceived effort was definitely closer to the 140bpm mark. I let the battery run down, reset the watch, and tried again, only to find similar results. You can pair the device with a chest strap, but for my interests, this would negate a key impetus to buy the watch.

Finally, the battery life in this device is phenomenal. It can track your daily steps and heart rate for several days before needing to be plugged in and is one of the few watches that can track a solo 24hr race without recharging. For folks looking for longer runtime to record “ultra” adventures, the 9 shines above much of the competition.

Final words

The Suunto 9 is a good looking watch, ready to track your path in most sports. If you are in search of a device that you can use to record a wide variety of sports, with impressively long battery life, and heart rate is not a top priority, this piece is worth a look. If you prefer a simpler computer that tracks your rides and heartbeat accurately, there are better options out there for less cash.

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# Comments

  • aes5455

    I’ve been using a Suunto Alpha Traverse Stealth for about a year and a half and love it.

    The metal case feels rugged and has protected it through a handful of falls and bumps. There is a lock feature so I don’t accidentally press buttons (not sure if the 9 you reviewed has that feature).

    Also I can easily drop a GPS pin if I ever find an interesting location I want to go back to.

    I’ll be using their watch til it dies and probably buy another from them after that

  • Sparts

    This is not a good review.
    The main negative is that it leaves marks in the wrist. because of where it sits. Of course this will happen with any optical sensor that is placed to actually work. But you won’t get this problem with a more accurate and reliable chest monitor, which you don’t like. A wrist mounted optical sensor will never work as well on a bike due to you flexing the wrist and the watch moving around when on gnarly ground.

    The other gripe, the buttons being pressed mid ride and that Suunto hadn’t tested it on mtb, well, you can lock the buttons so this doesn’t happen, long press on bottom button if I remember correctly. See, they thought of this too 🙂

    • Brian Gerow

      Sparts, thanks for your feedback on the review.

      I own and have tested several other GPS/training watches that don’t cut into my skin, and that have far more accurate wrist-based optical HR sensors, when using my chest strap monitor as a base comparison. The weight and size of this piece didn’t work well for me, nor did the HRM, nor software, and I reviewed it accordingly. Put simply, at €399 retail, this watch should perform better than it does.

      The Garmin Forerunner 235 that I am currently using doesn’t have any of these issues, and weighs far less than the Suunto 9. Look for a review on the Fourerunner soon.

  • Sparts

    Hey.
    The Garmin Forerunner is a running watch, not Multisport. You’d have to compare the Fenix v Spartan or Suunto 9 in my opinion.
    The optical sensor in the Suunto is widely regarded as the best sensor in the business and certainly waayyyyy better than anything Garmin produce in terms of accuracy.
    It’d take a brave person to state the a forerunner is in anyway better in that regard.

    The fact is, optical wrist based sensors are simply not good for cycling whether road or mtb or cross. They never have been and never will be as they lose contact. Just as they are no good for swimming. Far better to use a chest strap if you want accurate readings.

    lastly, The Suunto is bomb proof. For MTB you’d be replacing a forerunner every time it took a knock, I think – (basing this on the quality of a vivoactive that I have in my hand right now) – that too is light -cheap plastic fantastic.

    But you are right, different strokes for different folks. 🙂

  • rmap01

    Ultimately the choice of device comes down to what’s most important to the user. First, and foremost, comfort should never be a trade off. Beyond that, accurate heart rate tracking is my top priority and it sounds like this watch failed miserably within that context. I use a Garmin FR with chest strap as well as the Apple Watch. The latter, which performed poorly in earlier versions has gotten much better in terms of heart rate correlation with the Garmin + chest strap. Problem with Apple is that they don’t integrate well (if at all) with apps that make good use of that data.

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