Cycling Watches:
The Bike-Loving Horologists' Dilemma

By: Peter Shoemaker

As far as hobbies go, cycling and horology have a good deal in common. There's a fascination with gears and intricate machinery, a taste for functional design, and the obsessive pursuit for technical and aesthetic perfection. And yet, unlike motorsports or aviation or diving, cycling has not inspired a strong tradition of watch design. So how is the cycling enthusiast with an interest in horology supposed to find watches that express his/her tastes?

To be clear, there are a myriad of electronic devices for cyclists that track mileage, speed, power, heart rate, etc… Most sport cyclists own one of these devices. They're often equipped with GPS and sometimes look like a watch. The Garmin Fenixis an extremely popular (and well-designed) “watchish” bike computer. But just as a diver may enjoy wearing Seiko or Rolex watch in addition to a diving computer, I would love to own well-designed watch inspired by cycling.

Tissot sells several chronographs with Tour de France co-branding, but other than the use of the Tour’s colors (yellow and black), they are not meaningfully different from the brand’s other offerings. Festina sells cycling chronographs, too, but again there is nothing in particular to distinguish them from other $200 quartz chronographs (it should also be noted that Festina is associated with one of the most notorious pre-Armstrong doping scandals. Just Google “Festina affair” - it’s quite a story). And I have to admit that the quartz thing bugs me. I know that turning up my nose at quartz watches is the worst form of snobbery, but I want a cycling watch to be interesting in some way or another because of its human-powered movement (bikes are human-powered, too), or for some other cool reasons.

In the “fashion watch” arena, the London-based Camden watches produces casual quartz watchesthat integrate cycling aesthetics (such as spokes) into a Bauhaus-ish design. While I applaud the effort (and while these watches are better than the cheapo image-printed-on-a-watch-dial Ebay offerings) they don’t particularly capture my imagination—at least not based on the pictures on their website.

The vintage market offers meager options. Trek- or Schwinn-branded quartz watches can be found on Ebay, but there is nothing particularly inspiring about their design. I suspect that they were intended to be distributed by the sales reps of these brands to the owners of bike shops. Somewhat more interesting are the vintage Swiss “Tour de France” watchesmade by Verdal, which appear to have movements from mainstays such as Unitas. At least these watches represent an attempt to market real (i.e. non-disposable) watches to cycling enthusiasts.

It has crossed my mind that another option would be to find a good mechanical chronograph and to give up on the idea that it be specifically cycling-inspired. Here, there are a plenty of vintage options, without much to distinguish them one from another. In the new market, Tissot makes an inexpensive automatic chronograph with Tour de France colors (but without the branding), so that’s an option too. And I’ve considered just buying a Seiko SKX011 since my bike is bright orange.

By far the most intriguing option that I’ve encountered is a Kickstarter analog horological cycling smartwatch (quite a mouthful!) from a company called Moskito. These watches, due to ship in fall 2018, are advertised as “Swiss Made." According to their promotional materials, they incorporate a Swiss movement and a Swiss-made CNC case. The watch is only 12mm thick, but it is capable of displaying speed, average speed, distance, and is integrated by Bluetooth with a smartphone app. The case of the watch can be easily be removed from the strap and attached to an adapter that is integrated into the threadless headset of a bike. There is even the option to color-coordinate with a Chris King headset (an American-made, precision bike component). And the design is fairly attractive; I wouldn’t hesitate to wear it to work on my wrist. But prices start at 765 CHF, and I struggle with the idea of spending that kind of money for a product that may be obsolete (even unusable) in a few years.

And there's this from Richard Mille. So what is the cyclist-horologist supposed to do?

Photo Credit:
Chris Bishop at Bishop Bikes


Watches From This Read:


Check Out The TBWS Podcast

Wrist Watch Podcast