How to enable bike mode on Fitbit Surge

Fitbit was at the Sea Otter Classic last weekend handing out their Fitbit Surge “Fitness Superwatch” to media folks. Like their other fitness watches, the Surge monitors your activity during the day to help you achieve your fitness and health goals. Unlike their other watches, however, the Surge includes a GPS receiver. This watch is apparently popular with runners and hikers, but Fitbit wants to see more adoption among cyclists.

Fitbit Surge fitness watch

Ted King and Richard Fries were on hand to talk about the benefits of the Surge for cyclists. Heart rate is measured through the wrist instead of through a chest strap, which King says is a wonderful feature. Your activity data automatically syncs up with Strava, and you can receive text notifications from your phone via the Surge so you don’t need to pull your phone out of your back jersey when you feel it buzzing.

You track your activity by selecting an activity type on the watch, then hit the “Go” button. Out of the box, the available activities are Run (with various options such as free run or treadmill), and Exercise. From the “Excercise” activity menu, you select from Workout, Weights, Spinning, Yoga and few other items, but absolutely no “Bike” or “Cycling” activity. Hmmm….

When you ask “How do I enable bike (or cycling) mode on the Fitbit Surge?”, everybody points to this remarkably unhelpful help page. You can’t just select the “Run” activity either, because the upload to Strava results in oddly screwed up data for your ride.

Enable cycling mode on the Fitbit Surge

After a couple of days of screwing around with the watch, I finally figured out how to enable a cycling activity mode on the watch. You must go to the Fitbit desktop website, login using your Fitbit account, then navigate to the Device Settings page for your Fitbit Surge. Scroll down to the section “Edit Exercise Shortcuts,” then click “Edit Exercise Shortcuts.” Un-select everything you’re not interested in, and click “Bike.”

Fitbit Surge Activity Menu with Bike enabled

After the next device Sync (which you can force from the Fitbit app), you’ll see a “Bike” activity. Hurray!

A quick first look at the Fitbit Surge

Unlike the “Run” activity, which can begin before it has a good lock on GPS, the Bike activity cannot be started without a GPS signal, probably because it’s hard to measure distance with an accelerometer. So far I haven’t had problems obtaining a GPS signal within about a minute, but it’s good to prime your watch by selecting the bike activity from the Surge menu several minutes before you begin the ride.

The other thing to keep in mind: normally, the Surge can go five days or so between recharges, but turning on the GPS brings the battery life down to just five hours.

This watch is pretty fun to play with. I haven’t worn a watch in over 20 years, so the wristband is moderately annoying to me, especially since I have hairy forearms. I shaved my arms the other day to workaround that issue, and my wife laughed so hard as I shaved that I think she cracked a rib.

The Surge is more bulky than Fitbit’s other watches, likely because of the GPS. It’s thick enough that I can’t pull the sleeves on my long sleeve dress shirts over this watch.

Heart rate function seems moderately accurate, though I have’t compared it against a chest strap monitor just yet. GPS tracks also seem to be accurate, but I don’t yet know if Fitbit snaps the track to well known routes or how it measures elevation. I’ll track my bike rides via the Surge and upload to Strava and let you know how it works out later.

The Surge retails for $200 to $250 at the usual online places.

4 Comments

  1. Good to know you can upload to Strava, but what does it display while you’re riding? Speed? Miles? HR? Time?

    The 5 hour battery limit is substantially less than my iphone 5s. With my display off (I use a Wahoo Reflct to see time, speed, miles, hr during my ride via Bluetooth) I can go 7 hours using Strava on the iPhone and still have 40% left. And that’s with Bluetooth to the heart monitor as well as to the Rflct.

  2. The watch shows mileage, current speed, and elapsed time. It’s probably possible to change the display but I haven’t explored this yet.

    That five hour limit might be a deal killer for me as well, but I’ve seen updates from Fitbit claiming they can now go 10 hours w/ GPS enabled. I’ll go on a long ride this weekend and see what happens. With my phone, I can also plug in external power for extended battery life; probably true of your iPhone too. I don’t know if this is possible with Fitbit.

  3. Did you hook up with dc rainmaker? He didn’t have very good things to say about Surge with regards to biking. Same thing went for Blaze.

  4. I’m just getting started with the watch but I agree with Rainmaker’s assessment that this watch is lightweight in terms of usefulness for training. The Surge seems nearly useless, for example, in helping you stay at a desired heart rate zone, so it’s not the best tool if your primary goal is to become a stronger, faster athlete. Fitbit’s recent marketing is skewed that way, too. I’ll try to upload Ted King’s product endorsement talk sometime later this week but it was along the lines of cycling for enjoyment rather than the brutal, non-fun training regimen he endured as a pro.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.