Garmin Indoor Cycling [A Guide for Beginner]

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Did you just buy, or are you considering buying a Garmin Sportwatch? Congratulations, you will not be disappointed. Garmin has all you can expect if you are into sports and will most certainly bring you fun, better performances, and…big frustrations when indoor cycling?

To make a long story short: If you are not willing to invest in an expensive indoor bike or install fancy sensors…your Garmin smartwatch will just be a heart rhythm tracker! You will get your heart rhythm and the time spent on your bike without distance, power, or any specific bike metrics. This is why it gest frustrating. Garmins are expensive equipment, and the least you could expect would be to get at least basic data when cycling indoors. 

Unfortunately, they can not. Why? Because smartwatches rely on accelerometers and gyroscopes to track movements. While cycling, the watch is attached to your wrist, and your wrist lays on the bike’s handlebar, meaning there are no movements to detect. The same principle applies when running on a treadmill and holding the front bar without moving your arms.

For a smartwatch, we run and bike with our arms, and when we do not move them, we are just not exercising! 

So if you are into indoor cycling: What are the options? Are there ways to somehow get the pace and distance data? Keep on reading, and I will tell you the trick I found to quantify my sweat when biking indoors.

The Gold Standard: Use an ANT+ device for tracking indoor cycling

If you are into digital fitness devices, I trust you have already heard about ANT or ANT+ (just the better version.) ANT+ stands for “Advanced and Adaptive Network Technology.” It may sound like a mouthful of words, but it is just a communication technology.

How does the ANT+ protocol change the way exercises are monitored?

In the same way, Bluetooth transmits data between devices, ANT+ will transfer information between sensors and smartwatches.

Compared to Bluetooth, the main difference is that the ANT+ protocol allows connecting multiple devices simultaneously, meaning that a cadence or speed sensor fitted on a bike will transfer the data to a smartwatch and a bike computer all at once. When Bluetooth is a one-to-one communication, ANT+ is a one-to-multiple device protocol. 

Even though ANT+ is designed and managed by the ANT+ Alliance, which Garmin owns, the wireless protocol is utilized by many firms, including Garmin, Samsung, Adidas, Fitbit, Nike, and more. At the time of this writing, ANT+ supported 974 devices, and the list is constantly growing.

Another benefit of the ANT+ protocol is that the signal will have a limited transmission range. When Bluetooth signals can transmit up to 15 ft, ANT+ data will only reach up to 10 ft. It may seem like a weakness, but it is a strength. For example, when exercising in a busy gym with plenty of bikes and users, the last thing you want is to pick up somebody else’s data. ANT+ sensors’ transmission range will let you pick your signals and nobody else’s.

Why do ANT+ sensors matter for tracking indoor cycling?

As we mentioned, when exercising, a smartwatch will detect the movements of the arms. When cycling, what is needed is getting the movements of the feet.

For indoor cycling, the solution is to use an ANT+ bike. The famous Peloton bike is an excellent example of high-tech fitness equipment that will smoothly connect with compatible Garmin smartwatches and fitness trackers. 

Cadence and speed data will be smoothly transmitted to the Garmin Connect App.

The only drawback is the price. At more than $1,500 for the first model and up to more than $3,000, a Peloton bike is for serious and wealthy indoor cyclists.

Even if other smart bike brands are available, I think they are a bit over the top for the weekend of after-work training. Therefore, I do not consider them, and you probably should not.

Another more affordable option is to use your outdoor bike and slightly update it to make it ANT+ compatible. It is surprisingly easy and affordable. Garmin offer cadence and speed sensors that are well priced, easy to install on standard bikes, and will detect the speed and cadence while streaming them to the Garmin Connect App. It is possible to buy an ANT USB Stick that fits into a computer and will stream the data to your computer for further analysis.

Garmin Speed and Cadence Sensors Bundle
  • The speed sensor 2 attaches to the hub of either wheel and self-calibrates with your Edge cycling...
  • The cadence sensor 2 fastens to any size crank arm and measures pedal strokes per minute so you can...
  • Send live speed, distance and cadence data to compatible training apps or displays by using ANT and...
  • The odometer feature — for the speed sensor only — tracks your distance to help plan for bicycle...

Last update on 2022-11-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

If you own a bike, using a sensor is the best option for collecting data while cycling outdoors or indoors.

If you are like me, you mainly exercise in a gym and use the equipment provided. So what are the options assuming that you do not want to be kicked out of the gym when fiddling with their bikes and trying to install an external sensor.

How to collect data on your Garmin while cycling in a Fitness Club?

The easiest way is, of course, to go to a Fitness club that already has ANT+ compatible bikes. The issue is that it may be hard to find. I have a fantastic and reasonably priced subscription to Anytime Fitness. Unfortunately, none of the equipment provided by Life Fitness is ANT+ compatible. To make life even more complicated, and contrary to Fitbit, Garmin Connect does not offer the possibility of synchronizing the data with the Life Fitness App. 

It can be frustrating to invest in a Garmin sports watch, to train, and not to be able to get anything else from a cycling session than the heart rate. Do not get me wrong, I am okay with knowing my heart rate, but I would have liked more. 

I will now the trick I used. It may not be perfect, as I will only get the distance and average cycling speed, but that is good enough to get a better picture of my cycling sessions and how I improve over time.

How to add indoor cycling data without an ANT+ compatible bike or sensor?

The trick I will show you worked well with the Life Fitness App, but it works with any equipment. As long as you can get the total distance cycled, you should be good to go.

First, launch the Life Fitness Connect App and connect it to the bike. The app will get the total distance cycled, speed, and more. Then, before starting cycling on the indoor bike, launch the “Bike Indoor” workout on your Garmin Watch. Without ANT+ speed or cadence sensors, the only data you will get will be the heart rate.

Once done with your cycling workout, go to either the Garmin Connect App or website and select the activity.

Open the Life Fitness app and select your cycling activity to access the information on your smartphone. You are primarily interested in the distance covered.

Launch the Garmin Connect App, select the cycling workout, tap on the three dots in the screen’s upper right corner, and tap “edit activity.” It will then become possible to input the distance covered manually

Once done, the app will automatically calculate the average speed and the total calories burned while cycling.

The exact process can be done on the Garmin Connect website.

I realize that the data may seem a bit limited. Still, we are not all competitive cyclists, and often the only things we need, I need, are just to make sure that I keep track of my exercises and that my various workouts will all be summarized in the same app.

To Wrap Up

Biking indoors is a great way to stay fit or lose weight. When combined with a Garmin smartwatch, it becomes possible to track all your exercises in the same place. It keeps me motivated to go the extra mile and exercise more.

The issue is that biking will involve resting the arms on the handlebar and confusing the tracker that will think that you are just lying on the couch watching Netflix.

Even if smart bikes exist, they are premium devices, and most of us will not use them. Luckily, the ANT+ standard allows synchronizing data from various sources in a single app. In addition, ANT+ speed and cadence sensors are an easy and affordable way to check on your biking exercises. Usable both indoors and outdoors, these sensors may well change the way you exercise with your Garmin.