The Apple Watch may not have been the wearable tech sales hit the company hoped for, but I’ve found it is particularly useful for motorcyclists.
I may be young, but that doesn’t mean I’m automatically into technology and gadgets. I don’t use social media and I didn’t even have a computer until last year. My personal stance on Bluetooth headsets and com systems is that they’re not for me. I’m not interested in listening to music or making phone calls while riding. Remaining focused while riding is important to me and headphones seem distracting.
The only reason I have an Apple Watch is because I got it almost for free as part of a promotion when I bought a phone. I only had to pay the tax on it. So I tried it, and now I’ve found it’s very useful on the bike. Here’s why.
GPS on my wrist
The first and most obvious feature the Apple Watch provides is a simple and easily accessible GPS and directions system. My riding experience before my Apple Watch consisted of memorizing step-by-step directions in my head as best I could just prior to throwing a leg over my bike. This worked well for short trips, but anything longer typically resulted in me riding until I was confident I had missed a turn or made a mistake. Then I’d pull over, remove my glove, take out my phone, pull up the GPS screen and see where I had gone wrong. I would then backtrack and try again.
Repeating this process three or four times on a single journey wasn’t uncommon for trips with complicated directions. Though I’m aware of the “directions taped to the tank” method, it’s incredibly handy to have the Apple Watch display either step-by-step directions or turn arrows and street names which are visible via a quick glance at my wrist. It can use a myriad of popular GPS apps, such as Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps and many more. Having GPS directions without having to mount or install anything is surprisingly convenient, especially when I’m getting on and off the bike repeatedly when running errands.
Though the Apple Watch was not designed to be viewed through a Pinlock visor on a constantly trembling wrist (or handlebar mount) at 70 mph, it is still surprisingly visible. The clarity and brightness, and its ability to handle glare, are comparable to that of an iPhone. The watch compensates for its smaller size by displaying only the limited information that’s vital to the task at hand.
Apple claims the series one watch is waterproof, but they don’t recommend submerging it. The series two watch is fully waterproof and can be used for shallow water activities, meaning it will stand up to whatever weather you can ride through, with the same temperature sensitivity and restrictions that apply to the iPhone.
Another feature I appreciate is the ability to screen calls and texts. The ability to see if a phone call is coming from my sick aunt or my high school friend who’s at Burning Man lets me know if I need to pull over to take the call or if it can wait.
There’s an app for riding
GPS, calling and texting features in the Apple Watch were all developed in house at Apple, but a few other companies have launched apps for riders that take advantage of the smartwatch’s technology.
My favorite app for the Apple Watch is EatSleepRide (ESR). The app is capable of detecting when you are riding and it automatically records every ride, allowing you to go back and see your exact route on a map. Speed, elevation and lean angle are available for any given point of the ride as well as minimum and maximum data figures for those three areas. ESR also allows users to post ride routes or follow routes posted by other users. You can also post photos, videos and stories.
All that is handy, but the serious side is the “CrashLight” feature, which can detect an accident. Upon the detection of a crash, a screen will pop up essentially asking if you’re OK. If you don’t swipe yes, a message will be sent to your emergency contact. As someone who rides daily and often at night, I like knowing that if I ever wreck and am knocked unconscious or go off the road and land somewhere not visible to passersby, help will be able to find me.
Possibilities and practicalities
The potential applications for smartwatches are almost endless and I’m sure some people smarter than myself will dream up some pretty cool stuff. While it was more for fun than it was for practical purposes, I mounted my iPhone on the tail of my bike facing backwards and I was essentially able to rig together a rearview camera system that I could monitor via the Apple Watch on my wrist.
On a more practical level, I find it easy to wear the watch on the outside of my gauntlet glove and simply position the screen at the right angle so I can see it at a glance while riding. If you don’t like wearing it, products like the simple handlebar mount by Satechi let you easily mount the Apple Watch on the bike and instantly remove it.
I’ve found the battery holds a charge through a full day of riding. It doesn’t drain much energy while running riding apps or GPS and I’ve used it on trips from Los Angeles to San Francisco. It charges via a charger shaped like a slice of a cylinder that attaches to the underside of the watch magnetically and has a USB plug on the other end. So if you have a USB outlet on your bike, as many of us do for charging gadgets on the go, you’ll be able to keep the battery fully charged.
Could you do everything the Apple Watch can do by using your smartphone? Yes. But the portability and ease of use of the watch makes it extremely beneficial for riders, I’d argue. I’m sure other smartwatches are similarly useful, but I haven’t tried others yet.
Being able to follow GPS directions without a com system and being able to screen calls and texts without worrying if I’ve missing something important have removed an element of stress from my riding and made my two-wheeling that much more enjoyable.