After the obvious things like a bike, cycling shorts and cycling shoes, a heart rate monitor (HRM) is the thing that will have the next biggest effect on the way you ride your bike.
HRMs have been available since the 1980s but it was in the 1990s that they really came to prominence, with professionals like Chris Boardman spending whole interviews reeling off facts and figures from their HRMs. Of course, if pros have got them, it doesn’t take long for enthusiasts to get their hands on them too and before long it seemed like owning a HRM was the holy grail of physical fitness.
HRMs are useful tools for all cyclists at any level for a number of reasons: they help prevent you from going too fast on days when you should be recovering or when you are doing a really long ride; they allow you to monitor your health (an abnormally high/low HR at a given speed may indicate that you’re getting ill – take some rest); they allow you to carefully monitor the intensity of your training – much more accurately than speed.
If you have been tempted to buy a HRM, expect to pay around £40 for a really basic model from one of the big companies, such as the Cardiosport Go 10 (£40) or the Polar F1 (£40). Cheaper HRMs can be found but usually in places like Aldi or Tchibo (we recently picked up a very functional HRM in Tchibo for £20).
Functions you should be looking for are: average heart rate, maximum heart rate, a stopwatch, target zones with or without an alarm, calorie consumption, and possibly computer download ability. You should also be looking at the comfort of the chest strap – this has to be worn next to your skin for hours at a time so make sure it’s comfortable.
Having the ability to download your heart rate data from a ride onto your computer is a nice extra that many companies now offer but do you really need it? The truly dedicated racing cyclist may make good use of it, but be aware that it can add a fairly hefty premium to the price tag.
More and more companies are making cycling specific HRMs that are combined with normal cycling computers such as the popular VDO Cytech HC12.6 (£65). These are great so long as the screen doesn’t become too cluttered and so long as you only want a HRM for cycling.
Polar’s dual use HRMs are amongst the most expensive but have the advantage of still being a normal watch which you can wear to the gym. The Polar S520’s previous incarnations have had good reviews on RCUK’s member review pages and it’s easy to see why: for its £180 price tag you get a fully functioning heart rate monitor with a speed sensor and bike mount and you can download all the information to your PC using the PC Coach Light software that’s included.
If you’ve already got an HRM why not share your thoughts on its performance in the members’ review pages?