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Buyer's guide to heart rate monitors

Buyers guide to Heart Rate Monitors

Andy Waterman

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.

HRM’s have been available since the 1980’s but it was in the 1990’s that they really came to prominence, with professionals like Chris Boardman spending whole interviews reeling off facts and figures from their HRM’s. 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.

HRM’s are useful tools for all cyclists at any level for a number of reasons: they 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. Cheaper HRM’s can be found but normally 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; computer downloadable. 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.

More and more companies are making cycling specific HRM’s that are combined with normal cycling computers. 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 HRM’s are amongst the most expensive but have the advantage of still being a normal watch which you can wear to the gym.

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 is of little real value to anyone but the truly dedicated racing cyclist and adds a fairly hefty premium to the price tag.

Of course, to get the most out of your HRM, you need to know what you’re looking at so it’s well worth buying one of the many excellent cycling fitness books that are available.

Have you already got a HRM? Why not review it in the members’ review pages?

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