Review: Fitbit Surge

I’m a reluctant user of technology while riding. I rarely have any type of digital device on my handlebars and only rarely use my cell phone to track things with the various apps out there. And heart rate monitors? No thanks, those chest straps are not for me.

But I’m sometimes curious about things like how long my ride was and what my heart rate looks like. But I don’t want to deal with bar-mounted computers or running my cell phone battery down with apps. Which is why the Surge was so interesting to me.

The Surge is a GPS-enabled fitness tracker. While it is marketed more for runners and walkers, it does have a bike mode that will record riding data. Heart rate info is recorded via sensors on the back of the watch, no need for a chest strap. I liked the idea of being able to track things without worrying if I had the right mount on the bike I was riding or if my cell had enough charge to make it through a ride.

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The watch is simple-looking, more functional than fashionable. It is comfortable to wear all day, even when sweating. Fitbit says not to submerge the Surge, but it held up fine to some rainstorms and hard off-road use. The Surge can track sleep as well, which is pretty eye-opening. Besides telling me just how little sleep I was getting at times, it also revealed my resting heart rate and how restless I was at night. This info can help recovery efforts, by tracking quality and quantity of sleep.

You do need to go online and add the “bike” mode to the menu options on the watch, which took me a while to figure out. The watch can automatically detect when you are riding, but it is much more accurate to stop and start things manually. The GPS consistently connected to satellites in under a minute and tracked well while moving. Sometimes while stopped it would have me walking around in circles rather than sitting still.

The watch has three buttons on the side and a touch screen. The “lock” screen is the time of day and can be set to digital or analog style. It is also possible to receive call and message notifications from a connected smartphone, but they were hard to read and difficult to dismiss from the screen, so I turned that “feature” off. It is also possible to skip and pause music apps from the watch.

If a screen is mounted on the handlebars, it is hard not to stare at it while riding. Since the Fitbit has only limited readout of data while riding (no current speed, nor directional info), and it takes some effort to pull a hand off the bars to view it, I spent more time just riding and less time looking at little numbers add up. This might be my favorite thing about the Fitbit.

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From what I could tell, it does a fine job with tracking walking, but the runners reading this should look elsewhere for a review, as I only run if I am chasing or being chased these days.

The Surge occupies an interesting middle ground between a full-featured bike computer and a smartphone. You can’t use it to find your way to places, but it does a great job recording data. While I don’t use it every day, I’ve come to appreciate it as a tool that captures data for me that would normally go unrecorded. And its unobtrusive nature is a boon for screen-fixators. Think of it as a compromise for riders with Luddite tendencies that still don’t want to be completely in the dark about ride data.

MSRP: $250


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