Cycling with the Fitbit Ionic explained: Beyond Steps – Week 6

Recycle your commute with a bracing bike ride

It's the final week of my Fitbit challenge and I'm taking the Fitbit Ionic for a cycle. For those who are new to this series, I'm Becca Caddy and I've embarked on a series of workouts with the Fitbit Ionic, to see whether focusing on heart rate tracking can be a game-changer for my workouts.

Not only will this be interesting in terms of the fitness data I'll be able to track, such as my heart rate on uphill grinds or how many calories I'll burn, but because the Ionic is a bike-friendly GPS smartwatch, I'm excited to see just how my route looks when it's mapped out in detail within the Fitbit app.

As an added bonus for those who are serious about their fitness – and really love looking at stats and graphs – the Ionic can also be teamed up with the Strava app. This means once I've completed a bike ride (or a run) it'll serve up even more data about my performance on the Strava app on my Ionic, as well syncing the data with the Strava app on my phone.Let's get peddling!

Planning, preparing and picking a route

Before we started mapping out the route, I spoke to Greg Whyte, Fitbit ambassador and British Olympian, about how to best use cycling to aid in my fitness journey.

Cycling with the Fitbit Ionic explained: Beyond Steps week 6

"Even if you don't cycle every day as part of your commute, adding in a session every so often provides a variety to boost performance, motivation and enjoyment," Greg said.

With a friend I planned a couple of routes: the first a nice easy cycle out of East London into the countryside via some lovely off-road paths. The second a more ambitious one across central London, just to have a look at the difference in my data.

Before we began, I swiped to the Bike setting on the Ionic, which then automatically got a GPS lock-on . Here I chose which stats I wanted to access easily on the screen. For cycling you can select from distance, elapsed time, current speed, average speed, heart rate, calories burned, time, lap time and lap distance. I decided not to keep the watch screen on constantly – I didn't want to get distracted as I rode. So this meant with a quick twist of my wrist the screen turned on and I chose to display elapsed time, distance and heart rate.

It can be really tempting to push hard when cycling, especially when you have an empty road or you're going downhill. "Remember there are different types of exercise for different purposes," explained Greg.

"When I work with athletes, what I'm doing is making sure they stay in the right zones. Because often I find they're automatically wanting to work too hard. Working too hard now and again is fine, but too often and it'll lead to burnout and maybe injury."

Cycling with the Fitbit Ionic explained: Beyond Steps week 6

Keeping Greg's advice in mind, we decided our goal for the session would be to keep going at a consistent pace – despite my nerves around busy roads – in an attempt to hopefully use cycling as part of my fitness routine in future rather than scaring myself silly, working too hard or getting tired out too quickly.

For that reason we picked a route that felt challenging, with a few hills and a few speedier stretches, but that would overall keep my heart rate in the Cardio and Fat Burn zones.

A nice surprise was finding that the Ionic's touchscreen worked well throughout the ride – even with cycling gloves on!

Fitbit meets Strava: Delving into the data

The first ride was a beefy 26.48km, which took just under two hours – not bad going. From the results, I could see that I managed 43 minutes of cardio exercise and 58 minutes in the fat burn zone. My average heart rate was also 133bpm for my first long ride, with a peak of 158, and it was great to have my effort tracked over the course of a ride, all from the wrist.

I was really impressed with myself, and shows that something that was off-road and enjoyable was, in many ways, just as beneficial to my regime as some of the classes. Of course, at no point did I reach peak heart rate, which is fine. But it would mean that I should plan to get a peak session to complement it, which would make for a really complete week of exercise.

As Greg suggested, I kept monitoring the Ionic to ensure I was spending enough time in the Cardio zone. Being able to see all the important data on the Fitbit app, but then using Strava to see even more information is great for those serious about cycling (or running too).

Cycling with the Fitbit Ionic explained: Beyond Steps – Week 6

The Fitbit app is one of my favourite things about using the Ionic. It's simple to use, very clear and colourful enough to keep my tired and sometimes unmotivated mind switched on to the important stats. As I was expecting, the biking data was no exception and lots of information synced straight after my run to present colourful, accessible graphs.

I was a real fan of seeing where I rode on the map, and the breakdown of speed throughout the ride. I admit it, I'm a sucker for data, and this made a day out cycling so much more enjoyable.

Cycling with the Fitbit Ionic explained: Beyond Steps week 6

Next up was my city ride.

The app tracked my 4.42 mile cycle across London, and showed my speed, which fluctuated a lot throughout the ride, thanks to all that traffic. It certainly wasn't the most relaxing workout I've ever had.

For most people, the Fitbit app's data is detailed enough, but if you're serious about your training – or already a fan of Strava – the integration of the two is really interesting and useful.

Cycling with the Fitbit Ionic explained: Beyond Steps week 6

Strava provides a super detailed map view of my cycle, which I could switch out for a satellite view too. I could also get to grips with the elevation fluctuations, track my heart rate highs and lows in incredible detail and look at a breakdown of my speed analysis.

On the Ionic itself I could see my last tracked bike rides and runs, all with distance, elevation and speed displayed. That makes it easy to compare performances if I was doing the same ride (or run) again).

And of course, access to Segments is where things really get interesting. It turns the world into your race track, where you compete in virtual races against every other Strava user wherever you go. Pretty much every street is a Strava Segment, which you can use to compete against yourself with every effort tracked and your improvement logged over time, or claim an all-time victory. It's a free service, and all available from the data on your Fitbit Ionic.

Cardio Fitness: Did the challenge improve my score?

At the start of the challenge I worked with Greg to measure my Cardio Fitness score. He explained: "This gives you a single number that's understandable and accessible and trackable. This way it's really easy to tell whether you're improving, staying the same or getting worse."

For those who need a refresher, the Cardio Fitness score is a fitness level Fitbit comes up with based on a number of factors, including your age, weight, heart rate and an approximation of your cardiovascular fitness, using VO2 Max without the need to do lab based testing.

In Week 1 my Cardio Fitness score was 32. The app tells me this is average for someone of my age – but that still felt a little disappointing. After six weeks of fitness challenges and personalised programmes from Greg, I'm happy to say it's improved a little and is now 34 – a step in the right direction.

Cycling with the Fitbit Ionic explained: Beyond Steps – Week 6

"The Cardio Fitness score is important because it tells you where you currently are. But then the great thing is it'll then profile you across time. So you can see how you're improving – if you're improving," says Greg.

But it's not just my cardiovascular fitness that's improved. Being armed with the Fitbit Ionic and a lot of professional insight from Greg has given me a refreshed outlook when it comes to my fitness. I feel excited to take on more challenges, mix up my routine and track how I progress each session with the help of the Ionic in future.

Catch up with our full series

Week 1: Running

Week 2: Yoga

Week 3: Spinning and sleep

Week 4: Guided workouts and Fitbit Coach

Week 5: Swimming and CrossFit

Shop recommended Fitbit devices

Fitbit Ionic
Fitbit Ionic
Fitbit Charge 2
Fitbit Charge 2
Fitbit Flex 2
Fitbit Flex 2
Fitbit Alta HR
Fitbit Alta HR

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