The trusty old Garmin Forerunner 235 stood out as a plausible contender in my recent quest to find a GPS-enabled wristwatch that tracks rides and doesn’t cost as much as my bike frame. Runners have been strapping this computerized bracelet on for quite some time, but its cycling prowess hasn’t received much mention.
Other multisport watches I have tested, seemingly designed for Xterra and triathlete needs, performed below my expectations when applied to mountain biking. I didn’t start off with the highest expectations for the Forerunner 235, but given the watch’s low weight and somewhat reasonable price, I had high hopes.
The digital details
The Forerunner 235 offers more smartwatch functions that I will ever use, including weather updates, news notifications, message notifications, as well as “find my phone” and music remote-control features. The user interface can be configured to fit your needs and preferred level of connectivity. On the bike, you can program the watch to limit distractions, or you can receive all of the information and notices you need while pedaling.
- Price $249.99 / €307 (shop online)
- Actual weight: 42g
- Actual battery life: Up to 9-hours GPS mode and 5-days in Smart Watch mode
- Elevate™ wrist-based heart rate monitor
- Water rating: 5 ATM (roughly 50 meters)
- Pairs with phone post ride, so you can leave the other computers at home
- Smartphone connectivity with Android and iPhone
- Customizable background via Garmin’s Face It app
With a cozy silicone band and feathery 42 grams of weight, the Forerunner 235 is by far the most comfortable sports watch I have worn. It’s light enough that it doesn’t have to be cinched super tight to stay where I want it, and it doesn’t leave any marks or abrasions on my skin. The low weight is thanks to its largely plastic construction, and treated glass lens. It feels like you could easily beat it up on the bike, and after a few dirt-naps, I am happy to report that the watch still looks and functions like new. I did put a protective lens shield on the watch when I first received it, as I would with any other watch, and the shield has a few deep gouges proving its worth.
The watch’s satellite locating system works quickly here in northern Italy, and I have not had to wait for it to sort out where I am in the world before heading off toward the trails. In fact, recording a ride with the watch is so simple that you can do it without even looking at it, which is nice when it’s tucked beneath a jacket or jersey sleeve. Simply press the runner icon button three times, and when it begins actively recording the watch will vibrate. To stop or pause the recording, push the same button again; and to resume, hit the same button once more.
I have seldom used a computer of any sort that is as user-friendly as this watch, and it is patently clear that Garmin is working directly with consumers to create a hassle-free interface. For example, at the end of a route, you will be prompted to save the ride, resume, or delete it. Simply select one, and press the runner icon to confirm. Once your ride is saved you can open the app on your phone and the software will automatically upload your data, via Bluetooth, and share the data with all of the training or tracking sites you have connected it to. If your Strava account is connected to the Singletracks trail database, your ride will automatically load so you can add details about the trail. The GarminConnect mobile app’s user interface is clean and intuitive enough that there is no need to describe it herein. You can track whatever information interests you, or simply use the app to move information to the places you prefer.
Garmin’s Elevate™ wrist heart rate monitor (HRM) works better than some wrist HRM systems I have tried, though it’s not perfect. I tested the watch’s HRM against a trusty chest-strap HRM, and it consistently picked up beats with far more accuracy than other watches. If the band was too loose, allowing the watch to slide down past the end of my ulna bone toward my hand, it read poorly. Additionally, if I bent my wrist in an unnatural position, the watch was more likely to read incorrectly. If 100% precise HRM is a training necessity for you, pairing a chest strap with the watch is still the best option. However, if you are looking for a fairly accurate reading of your heart-rate over the course of a ride, the Forerunner can provide that.
If you like to time segments of the trail, track intervals, or know how long you have been exploring in a particular direction, the Forerunner’s lap function is a great way to watch time tick past. You can also hit the lap button, to save a location. Once you upload data from a ride you will be able to see where you started each given lap. This can be a cool trick to use when you pass a new trail and want to go home and look at where it leads before taking the full plunge.
I have yet to ride at night with the Forerunner 235, but I have used its backlight while walking at night and I have no doubt that it will provide ample luminescence for the rare occasion I want to look at my watch while I pedal.
The band keeper has a tooth to hold it in place. The watch’s main body is thin compared to its HRM-enabled competition. Garmin’s Elevate™ HRM uses three lights on the back side to read your pulse. Charging is handled by a USB cord that clips to the watch and charges through the four metal dots on the underside of the body.
Off the bike functions
Working at a desk all day, standing or otherwise, leaves me feeling stiff and lethargic. When I’m not on a trail, my favorite element of the Forerunner 235 is the programmable movement notification. I can set a reminder to take a break for pushups or to walk around the block every hour, and I feel better for it at the end of the day.
Additionally, the calendar sync feature has proven convenient when I am away from my computer and need to check a meeting time or deadline. Some of these “smart” features have grown on me.
The Garmin Forerunner 235 is a fantastic option for folks who want to record their ride, collect some general health data off the bike, and otherwise have a watch and calendar on their wrist. Riders who locate themselves closer to the Luddite side of the digital spectrum will appreciate its hassle-free interface and rudimentary setup procedure. I have enjoyed using the watch in place of a handlebar mounted computer because when I am ready to go for a ride it is already on my wrist where I am less likely to forget it.
Buy it: $249.99 MSRP, see current price at Walmart.com
Compare Prices: Garmin Forerunner 235
Thanks to Garmin for sending the Forerunner 235 for review.