Has the Apple Watch Ultra 2 just become the go-to cycling watch?

Cyclist wearing the new Apple Watch Ultra 2
Unfortunately Apple didn't think to provide an a shot of off-road cyclist wearing the new watch (Image credit: Apple)

Apple entered the more hardcore outdoor smartwatch market this time last year with the Apple Watch Ultra, a flagship model inspired by explorers and athletes, designed for the harshest environments. Although most of the features originally seemed to be aimed toward hiking, running, and diving, Apple did recently announce a host of cycling-specific features with the new watchOS 10 update. Third-party cycling brands have also started developing specifically for Apple watches, with 4iiii recently announcing a partnership with Apple to launch the world's first power meter integrated with Apple Find My technology, which also came alongside a new ‘Ride’ Apple Watch app. 

At their recent Apple September event, Apple has now announced the launch of the Apple Watch Ultra 2. This new watch is available to pre-order now with a release date of September 22, 2023. With it being just a year since the launch of the original model, many people who spent heavily on the Apple Watch Ultra will be intrigued to see what's new, and if the new model is worth the upgrade. For those wondering if the Apple Ultra 2 might just be the best smartwatch for mountain biking and gravel bike riding, we've had a look to see what the Apple Ultra 2 has to offer...

1. Operating system

Strap and screen details of the new Apple Watch Ultra 2

New strap options and colors are also available (Image credit: Apple)

First up, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 runs on watchOS 10, which the brand says was a milestone update, especially for cyclists. The update featured a host of useful additions including Bluetooth connectivity for power meters, speed sensors, and cadence sensors. New metrics and workout views, with additional cycling workouts. Workouts can now automatically show up as a Live Activity on iPhone and can utilize the full screen when tapped when using the Ultra 2 with an iPhone as a head unit. Power Zones are added to help users get the most out of their cycling training.

Other useful mountain biking and gravel riding additions include an updated Compass app which displays current elevation in real time and includes a 3D view of waypoints showing relative elevation. New topographic maps in the Maps app show important details like points of interest and trailheads and provide helpful details such as hill shading, contour lines, elevation, and cellular and Emergency SOS waypoints. Mapping is also boosted by what Apple claims is the longest battery life, 36 hours with regular use and up to 72 hours in Low Power Mode, and the best GPS functionality in the Apple Watch range.

2. Design and screen

Details of the new Apple Watch Ultra 2

Apple Ultra 2 gets a 50 percent increase in brightness (Image credit: Apple)

The design of the Watch Ultra 2 hasn't really changed and looks exactly the same as the original, so it's still made from titanium which makes it look like a ready-for-anything beast of a watch, way thicker than the usual Apple Watch. The Action Button remains the same as the Ultra 1 on the side for quick access to useful tools that users can customize to suit.

The only real change is the screen, which is the same size and resolution as before, but can now reach 3,000 nits of brightness (the previous Apple Watch Ultra hit 2,000), so with a 50 percent increase, it should help visibility in extreme sun conditions on the trails. There is also a new face for the Watch Ultra 2 called the Modular Ultra, which is the most information-dense watch face from Apple so far. It's capable of squeezing information right to the edge of the display and delivering real-time data for cycling and outdoor adventures, and is fully user-customizable.

3. On-device Siri health data logging

Details of the Modular Ultra watch face in Night mode

There is also a new watch face for the Watch Ultra 2 called the Modular Ultra (Image credit: Apple)

For the first time on an Apple Watch, the Ultra 2 can process Siri requests on the device, but only for things that do not require information from the internet, like starting a workout or setting a timer, Siri no longer relies on Wi-Fi or cellular networks, which results in quicker and more reliable responses. The powerful Neural Engine also makes dictation up to 25 percent more accurate.

On-device processing is private and secure, and Siri can also be used to access data from the Apple Health app for health and fitness-related queries. For example, a user can ask Siri to start a cycling workout or make requests like setting a map waypoint with just their voice, even with no connectivity. Queries like how many hours of sleep they had or progress on closing their daily Activity rings can also be done. Users can ask Apple Watch Ultra 2 to log health data such as weight, body temperature, period, or medications taken, again, with access done by just a voice command. Health data is also improved with the optical heart sensor getting a new machine learning algorithm to improve HR accuracy.

4. Powerful new S9 SiP chip

Double Tap gesture details on the new Apple Watch Ultra 2

New powerful Double Tap gestures can control a host of functions on the Ultra 2 (Image credit: Apple)

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is powered by custom Apple silicon in the all-new S9 SiP chip which they say is Apple’s most powerful watch chip to date. It delivers system-wide improvements and brand-new features, including a new double tap gesture and a new 4-core Neural Engine that can process machine learning tasks up to twice as fast as the original Apple Watch Ultra.

Double Tap gestures are perhaps the most useful addition giving users the ability to easily control Apple Watch Ultra 2 using just one hand and without touching the display. Users can tap the index finger and thumb of their watch hand together twice to quickly and conveniently perform many of the most common actions on the watch. Double tap will also open the Smart Stack from the watch face, and another double tap will scroll through widgets in the stack.

Double tap controls the primary button in an app so it can be used to stop a timer, play and pause music, or snooze an alarm. The gesture can also be used to answer and end phone calls, take a photo with the Camera Remote, or even switch to the new Elevation view in the Compass app to see the relative elevation of saved waypoints.

5. Carbon neutral models

Side view details of the new Apple Watch Ultra 2

Some versions of Apple Watch Ultra 2 become Apple’s first-ever carbon neutral product (Image credit: Apple)

Select case and band combinations of the new Apple Watch Ultra 2 also becomes Apple’s first-ever carbon neutral product and they claim the carbon footprint of Apple Watch Ultra 2 has been significantly decreased. Emissions from the three biggest sources of greenhouse gasses – materials, electricity, and transportation – have been reduced, with the emissions remaining offset by "high-quality" carbon credits from nature-based projects – though many environmental organizations say that carbon offsetting is of dubious value.

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 when paired with an Alpine Loop or Trail Loop will feature 95 percent recycled titanium, compared with no recycled titanium in the original version. A new logo on Apple Watch Ultra 2 packaging indicates models that are carbon neutral.

Pricing and availability

The Apple Watch Ultra 2 is available to pre-order from today, with availability in stores beginning September 22. Apple Watch Ultra 2 is available in a 49mm sizing and is claimed to be carbon neutral when paired with the new Trail Loop or Alpine Loop bands.

New band colors are available for the Alpine Loop in either blue, indigo, olive, and the Trail Loop in orange/beige, green/gray or blue/black. With the Ocean Band in blue or orange.

Apple Watch Ultra 2 is priced at $799 / £799 / €899 and includes three months of Apple Fitness+. To order and for more information on Apple visit Apple.com.

Paul Brett
Staff writer

Paul Brett is a staff writer for BikePerfect.com. He has been an avid cyclist for as long as he can remember, initially catching the mountain biking bug in the 1990s, and raced mountain bikes for over a decade before injury cut short a glittering career. He’s since developed an obsession for gravel riding and recently has dabbled in the dark art of cyclocross. A fan of the idea of bikepacking he has occasionally got involved and has ridden routes like the North Coast 500, Scotland and the Via Francigena (Pilgrim Route), Italy.

Current rides: Marin Alpine Trail 2, Ribble 725, Cube Stereo 160

Height: 175cm