Best triathlon watches:

A well-chosen tri watch can revolutionise your performance, making you stronger, smarter and faster. But which triathlon watch is the best for you? We test six from £80

Credit: Steve Sayers

Believe the claims and the right triathlon watch will have Alistair Brownlee and Lucy Charles chasing your shadow. The hyperbole is a turn-off for committed sceptics but wade through the marketing and, though they might not win you an Olympic gold, tthe right multisport watch certainly have you training smarter and racing faster.

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Just be aware of the pitfalls. Many a triathlete has been lured into purchase by a long and ‘scientifically-proven’ features list only to realise a month later that 99% of its capability simply isn’t required. If you’ve never used a heart rate monitor and are training for 3-4hrs a week, for example, will your triathlon performance benefit from spending upwards of £300 on a multisport watch that monitors your aerobic capacity, run cadence and cycling fatigue rating?

Also, remember that some of the metrics offered – ground contact time, for instance – are useful but arguably maximised by the intervention of a coach. Then again, if you’re aiming for podium finishes, digging deep will be worth it. You’ll refine your training, resulting in greater gains for the same effort.

But beyond our test, do your own research to confirm the efficacy of many ‘performance-changing’ features that are on multisport watches. Take sleep tracking, which is primarily monitored by the user’s movement. The gold standard requires measuring brainwaves and eye movement, which even a top-end Garmin or Suunto can’t do. Instead, watches or bands combine an accelerometer and an algorithm to estimate the quality and quantity of your sleep. Recent Chinese research highlights just how inaccurate this method is.

WAHOO ELEMNT RIVAL

£349.99 This is Wahoo’s first foray into the world of tri watches and it’s a divisive offering. At the end of last year, I interviewed Wahoo founder Chip Hawkins, an interesting character who you’ll hear more from next issue. Chip highlighted that key to this debut was usability; they’d stripped out features they’d deemed redundant to focus on ones that they deemed useful.

The key usable hit comes in the form of touchless transition tracking, where you don’t need to press one of the five buttons to signal you’ve moved from swim to T1 to bike to T1 to run. Instead, it gauges your body position to determine discipline. It’s a cracking idea and, on the whole, works well, yet it was much quicker recognising the move from T2 to run than T1 to bike. Why, we presume, must be down to the more jarring nature of the run. Whatever the reason, you’re given the option to correct splits before downloading to the app. Another fine trick is syncing to a Wahoo bike computer so you can see your swim split and on-the-fly bike data as you pedal.

It covers up to 60 sports, but you could argue pays lip service to many. You see, in stripping things back, you lack the deep physiological and performance analytics of its rivals at the same price point. Polar’s Grit X is just £30 more and comes with many more useful features. Another complaint is that GPS is a little slow on the uptake and the charging clip isn’t as authoritative as we’d like. Despite that, we enjoyed its usability and ease of viewing on the fly. We just wish it came in £100 cheaper. uk.wahoofitness.com

Verdict: Usable but lacks features we’d

expect at this price 74%

Garmin
forerunner 745

£449.99 Garmin’s new FR 745 is essentially a slimmed-down FR 945 (see overleaf). A key advancement is its coaching capabilities where you’re given detailed daily workout suggestions based on training load. You can also tap into separate and pretty accurate cycling and running VO2max measurements (though not the swim but further swim metrics include HR data). As chest strap remains the wearable gold standard, the HRM Pro chest strap (£120) is a useful upgrade, and you can explore further run metrics.

Like the Fenix 6 and 945, it comes with a Pulse O2 sensor to measure oxygen saturation of your blood. This isn’t lab accurate but is useful for how well you’ve acclimatised to altitude. The coaching partner calculates how well you’ve adapted to the heat. You can utilise the ClimbPro feature for dissection of specific portions of climbs to help with pacing strategies; race-prediction time based on training history; accurate measuring of track sessions; PacePro, which allows you to upload a course and put in your hopeful finishing time before prescribing your pace; and even menstrual tracking.

There’s also Garmin Pay and music storage for 500 songs, the screen’s easy to use and you can really dial down in the great Garmin Connect. Yet battery is down on the 945 – just 16hrs with GPS on compared to 36hrs – and it lacks the mapping feature. garmin.com/uk

verdict Superb but

let down by battery –

go for the 945 instead 79%

Coros pace 2

£179.99 Hold onto your run caps – here’s a second edition multisport watch that’s £70 cheaper than the original. Which is good news for both Coros and triathletes as our model 1 review concluded: “Drop £50 and this’d be an absolute winner.”

When it comes to upgrades, Coros inform us its processor is 1.5 times more powerful, it has five times more RAM and four times more storage. That means a whole host of new features plus a 20% increase in battery life, up to 30hrs in full GPS mode. These include tapping into running-power metrics, which we can only see growing in 2021; the addition of training plans; and a neat night-mode that automatically enables backlight during workouts between sunrise and sunset. It’s also frighteningly light at 29g – they claim the lightest in the world and we can’t argue – and drops from the four-button original to a single button and dial.There’s a strength training programme, which could come in useful for home workouts this off-season. It includes over 200 exercises and autodetects your bodily movements via sensors and accelerometers to calculate effort output.

Things that have remained are the key ones – that this is still a full-on multisport watch featuring tri mode. So all the usual metrics related to swim, bike and run, many deriving from the solid GPS and optical HR measurer. All syncing nicely to the usable Coros app for further analysis. With many usable features at such a good price, this is the watch Coros has been building up to. uk.coros.com

verdict coros’ best

yet and a  Staggering

watch for under £200 90%

GARMIN
FORERUNNER 945

£519.99  Whereas the Fenix 6 offers a classier, more expensive package, the 945 is Garmin’s flagship ‘plastic’ multisport watch. Its 2019 release saw many improvements over the 935, including the option to play music directly from the watch to your headphones via Bluetooth without your phone, improved battery life, a new optical heart rate sensor and a host of tracking and analysis upgrades.

The 945 adapts its feedback if you’re training in hot conditions or at altitude, and generally the training analysis is incredibly detailed. Straight after a workout, you can see how your session benefitted you aerobically and anaerobically, and the Training Effect feature tells you how the session will impact fitness long-term.

You’ll need to wear the watch almost constantly to maximise the Training Load feedback, yet what’s great about the 945 is that, no matter how deep you go, it’s intuitive to use. The screen is big and clear and the colours look vibrant when using the excellent mapping features, while the battery life is a whopping 36hrs in GPS mode (and we had no problems with satellite pick-up on land).

All the connectivity we’ve come to expect remain on the 945, including instant sharing to third-party apps and smart notifications. Future editions could be lighter and smaller, and open-water swim accuracy remains slightly patchy, but the 945 has everything the modern triathlete could possibly want or need. garmin.com/uk

erdict The most

complete tri watch

we’ve used to date 92%

KALENJI ONMOVE 500

£80 The tested tech masterpieces from Garmin on test here, while loaded with features, leave a sizeable dent in your wallet. That’s why it’s amazing that the OnMove 500 comes in at £80, but has an equally-lengthy checklist. Wrist-based HR, GPS, smartphone analysis… it’s all here.

Sadly, corners have been cut. Regular readers will know we’re unconvinced by many optical HR systems and the same is true here. Yes, it’s from Philips, but it’s inaccurate, especially when sprinting. GPS pick-up and retention is moderate for both cycling and running, though suffers against a busy urban backdrop, and it’s not swim friendly. Impressively for the price it syncs with your smartphone to transfer data via Bluetooth for post-session dissection on the company’s Geonaute app. That value’s diluted somewhat by two key flaws: the app’s not the most intuitive and connection’s erratic. On the positive, once all the data’s transferred, the app is Strava compatible, ensuring your sessions are presented in a more useful manner. Then again, some have reported discrepancies over distance run between the two apps.

The nutrition alarm to remind you to drink and the interval-training setting are both solid additions and, ironically, highlights this watch’s main flaws. While its feature list and price are perfect for marketing, in use it’s bitten off more than it can chew. For £80, it might be worth a punt but we’d recommend seeking out a more reliable watch with fewer features. decathlon.co.uk

verdict SMART price

and SYNCINg, BUT MORE

ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER 69%

POLAR VANTAGE V2

£449 Polar’s original Vantage hit the market two years ago, with our resounding thumbs up concluding it was Polar’s best multisport watch to date. In the interim, the Finnish tech masters launched the Grit X, which proved arguably even better. So the V2 has a lot to live up to.

Unique to the V2 is a battery of fitness tests, from running to cycling to leg recovery, to gauge metrics like your aerobic capacity, functional threshold power and readiness to train. They’re useful, yet measurements like VO2max are often calculated in the background rather than requiring a standout day in your training plan. You’re also given neat music controls to tap into streaming services such as Spotify, though this is via your phone rather than the V2. Its battery life is impressive, too, at around 40hrs in full GPS mode.

They’re positive additions but the main upgrades over the V1 are taken from the Grit X, including Hill Splitter, offering you detailed performance about your ascents and descents; FuelWise, to guide you on beneficial factors like carbs per hour; and Energy Sources, to determine how much of your session tapped into fats and carbohydrates.

GPS is accurate; the optical heart-rate sensor’s not bad, either, but the usual caveats apply about lagging on high-intensity efforts. You can also route plan via signing up to Komoot, measure sleep and chart running power, plus tap into the Recovery Pro feature, though that requires a£40 spend on an HR strap. All in all, it’s impressive but V1 and Grit users would find it hard to justify the spend. polar.com

verdict All you need

but underwhelms as a

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sequel to the v1 78%

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