The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar has a better indoor cycling mode than any other mainstream wearable
High-end Garmin runner’s watches have stacks upon stacks of features. But one of the most interesting is a recent addition that has barely been talked about.
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro, and a select group of other watches, can be used as a controller for a bike turbo trainer. This feature is advanced from day one because it was already available in Garmin cycle computers like the Edge 530, 830 and 1030.
If you already have a smart turbo trainer and a higher-end Garmin watch, you need to try this out.
Why has Garmin added this? It bought top turbo trainer manufacturer Tacx in 2019. Adding smart trainer control to its watches now brings parts of its business together.
However, you don’t need a Tacx turbo trainer. I use an Elite Drivo, a discontinued smart turbo trainer from a completely different brand. It works perfectly.
You do not need the Fenix 6 Pro Solar I’m using either. Other Fenix 6 models and the Forerunner 745, Forerunner 945, MARQ and Tactix Delta have Smart Trainer control too.
Garmin owns Tacx, which makes some of the very best smart turbo trainers
How Garmin Smart Trainer control works
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The Garmin Fenix 6 will attempt to connect to your turbo trainer over ANT+ when you start a session using the “indoor cycling” mode.
If it finds one, you’ll see stats like power and cadence as you work out. This instantly makes the Garmin watches the best mainstream wearables for indoor bike tracking. As long as you have a turbo trainer, anyway.
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro automatically connects to turbo trainers over ANT+
The interaction between your Fenix 6 and smart trainer is a two-way one. That means your watch can control its resistance, as well as just showing its stats.
If you just want an low intensity workout during which you watch a movie or read something on your phone or tablet, you might want to set a consistent resistance or power output.
The latter, which is effectively ERG mode, seems to work perfectly. It holds resistance very well and reacts quickly to changes in cadence, just as the turbo trainer would connected to TrainerRoad or Zwift.
This is how I’d probably use the Garmin’s smart trainer mode, at times when I can’t be fussed to setup Zwift.
It can do more too, though.
Head to the Garmin Connect app and you can make a custom workout. These break up the session into sections limited by distance, time or calories and so on. They can have “targets” too, such as reaching a speed or watts range, which are then displayed on the watch.
There’s more. You can create courses based on real-world terrain.
This is the course creation view in Garmin Connect
Do this in the Connect app and you can simply set a start point and let Garmin work out a route based on the distance your specify. Or you can create your own by tapping waypoints on the map itself, anywhere in the world.
When you ride these courses, the resistance will change to match the ups and downs along the route. Alternatively you can use routes you’ve actually ran or cycled out in the real world, handy if you want to optimize your pace for a future on-the-road session.
The Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar’s map view during a virtual workout
You can create courses directly on the Fenix 6 watch, but doing so on the Garmin Connect app is much quicker, and less fiddly. For once, the all-button control of Garmin’s high-end wearables becomes a burden.
The app also lets you add course segments from Strava, yours or those of other riders.
One of the Fenix 6’s on-watch mid-exercise screens is a map, showing you where you are along the virtual ride. Another shows a graph of the terrain ahead. It already feels fully fleshed-out.
The elevation view of a course on the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar
You don’t get large-screen visuals to keep you entertained while you ride, of course, but the big benefit here is there’s no additional cost. Zwift is $15 a month, TrainerRoad is $20 a month. If that starts to seem steep, you can get a similar level of workout customisation for free from Garmin because, well, you’ve already paid for it by buying the watch.
There’s even an FTP test. Not done one before? It’s a stress test that works out the wattage you should be able to hold for 40 minutes. Prepare for it, mentally and physically, before giving it a go.
HR: the one bad bit
The Garmin Fenix 6’s Smart Trainer mode only has one annoying issue. Heart rate readings from the optical sensor on the back of the watch are disabled when connected.
You need to use an HR strap if you want to see heart rate readings for the session.
The on-board optical heart rate sensor is disabled during smart trainer sessions
This doesn’t make a great deal of sense when the ANT+ connection should not be disturbed by the optical heart rate sensor. And this mode is perfect for quick and easy sessions when you want to minimize setup time.
It may change following an update, or work differently with watches other than the Fenix 6 Pro Solar. There’s no disclaimer to suggest this is a deliberate “feature”.
Still, Smart Trainer control is a another great reason for cycling fans to consider a Garmin watch like a Forerunner 745 or Fenix 6 instead of an Apple Watch Series 6 or Samsung Galaxy Watch 3.