I biked 18 miles with the Garmin Forerunner 165 and Apple Watch SE — this one was more accurate

Apple Watch SE 2022 on the wrist next to a Garmin Forerunner 165.
(Image credit: Dan Bracaglia/Future)

The latest edition Apple Watch SE and Garmin Forerunner 165 each start at $249 and boast bright, crisp touchscreens, onboard GPS, heart rate monitoring and excellent wearability. Both devices also have a dedicated mode for tracking bike rides — but which is better? 

I decided to take advantage of an unseasonably beautiful spring day in the Pacific Northwest and find out. With a smartwatch strapped to either wrist, my bike tuned and ready to roll, I made my way toward the rocky shores of Seattle’s Golden Gardens.

The watches' key features

But, before pumping the pedals on the bike comparison, real quick, here’s how the two smartwatches stack up. 

The entry-level Apple Watch SE is the best value smartwatch you can buy right now. Oozing with smartwatch features the rectangular device is also a competent workout tracker. However, the SE lacks some of the wellness tech found on the Garmin, like a SpO2 sensor, as well as advanced fitness training tools. 

The Forerunner 165 is Garmin’s latest mid-tier running watch equipped with comprehensive training, rest and recovery features for enthusiasts looking to step up their pace and/or reach a new fitness milestone. Unlike the Apple Watch SE, though, the Garmin is rather light on smartwatch features. 

Garmin Forerunner 165: $250 @ REI

Garmin Forerunner 165: $250 @ REI
The Garmin Forerunner 165 is a sporty smartwatch designed with runners in mind, especially those training for marathons. It boasts a bright AMOLED touchscreen — also, physical buttons — as well as GPS, heart rate monitoring, sleeping tracking, and a whole lot of tools dedicated to training and recovery. 

Apple Watch SE (2022): $249 @ Best Buy

Apple Watch SE (2022): $249 @ Best Buy
The entry-level Apple Watch SE is more than a fitness tracker, it's a companion device to your iPhone, offering many of the same features — and apps — as its bulkier cousin. Plus, you get heart rate monitoring and activity tracking for popular workouts like yoga, strength training, outdoor cycling, and dancing. 

The bike ride

Back to the action: Gold Garden Beach is a roughly 20-mile bike ride round trip (that’s 32km, for my Euro friends) that winds past lakes abuzz with seaplanes and sunkissed recreation revelers, active ship canals, industrial zones, postcard-perfect houseboats and boxy apartment complexes — not necessarily in that order.

The ride is notably flat for all but the very start and end. We reached our initial destination around 5:30 pm, roughly 90 minutes after departing — my companion and I were in no hurry — and headed to the northern shore to catch our breath and enjoy the scenery. 

Trek ebike next to a standard bike

(Image credit: Future)

At this point, I paused the activity tracking on both devices and refocused my energy on the ice-cold beverage in front of me and the distance dogs galloping in the gently crashing waves.

Roughly an hour later, we again donned our helmets, flipped on our bike lights, and made our way home as the evening chill began to set in, taking a slightly different route to avoid overly steep hills at the ride’s conclusion.

Once back safe and sound, I ended both workouts, headed inside and checked my stats. Here’s how they compare.

How did bike stats compare?

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Header Cell - Column 0 Apple Watch SE Garmin Forerunner 165Strava
Distance17.95 miles17.90 miles18.56 miles
Total ascent 465 feet571 feet561 feet
Average speed8.3 mph8.4 mph (avg.)11.4 mph (avg. moving)11.1 mph
Max speed17.5 mph25.3 mph27.3 mph
Average heart rate144 bpm144 bpmn/a
Max heart rate 178 bpm179 bpmn/a
Calories burned 695 calories958 caloriesn/a

For additional points of data, I ran Strava on my iPhone 12 mini, mounted on my handlebars, and utilized the auto-pause feature during our downtime at Golden Gardens

All three GPS-enabled devices noted similar total distances, with Strava being the most generous by roughly half a mile. Differences in elevation gain are more notable: the Apple Watch SE marked my total ascent at 100 feet less than the other two devices. And, having tracked nearly identical versions of this ride in the past, 465 feet of total hill climb struck me as a tad low.

Similarly, the Apple Watch SE put my max speed at 17.5 mph, which struck me as sluggish. Mostly, because I hauled my butt down the very last bit of the ride to try and catch up with my quick-whizzing, ebike-riding partner.

And, unlike the other two devices, the Apple watch only provided an average speed calculation for (presumably) the entire duration of my bike ride, minus the part where I paused the workout, and not an average moving speed, which is much more useful. 

That said, it's refreshing to see heart rate data from the Garmin and Apple watch nearly mirror each other, even if there are differing takes on calories burned — I always take this metric with a grain of salt, anyhow. 

The Garmin Forerunner 165 wins

Garmin Forerunner 165 fitness tracker in a person's hand

(Image credit: Dan Bracaglia/Future)

When it comes to tracking and a lovely Sunday bike ride to the beach, both the Apple Watch SE (2022) and Garmin Forerunner 165 performed well, keeping tabs on all the key metrics I care about, from heart health to ascent. 

However, the next time I head for a cruise around town, whether on my analog bicycle or one of the best ebikes, I'll almost certainly reach for the Forerunner 165 over the Apple Watch SE — Seattle has a lot of hills, and I don't want to be short-changed. 

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Dan Bracaglia
Senior Writer, Fitness & Wearables

Dan Bracaglia covers fitness and consumer technology with an emphasis on wearables for Tom's Guide. Based in the US Pacific Northwest, Dan is an avid outdoor adventurer who dabbles in everything from kayaking to snowboarding, but he most enjoys exploring the cities and mountains with his small pup, Belvedere. Dan is currently training to climb some of Washington State's tallest peaks. He's also a big photography nerd.