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With all the attention given to power meters in recent years, you’d be forgiven for thinking that heart rate monitors have vanished. Not so, and they’re still a useful training aid.

A heart rate monitor, as the name suggests, measures your heart rate in beats per minute and displays it on a screen. As you’ve no doubt noticed, the harder you ride, the faster your heart beats, so heart rate is a useful proxy for your effort level.

You can therefore use a heart rate monitor as a training aid, setting target heart rate ranges for training sessions. Some monitors record your heart rate every second for later examination and may also estimate the Calories you’ve burned, useful if one of your cycling aims is to lose weight.

Heart rate’s not a perfect measure of riding effort though. It can be affected by the time of day, caffeinated beverages, the weather and how tired you are. But with that in mind, it’s still useful, and a heart rate monitor costs a lot less than even the cheapest of the new wave of power meters. The more sophisticated units will work with a power meter too, so you can upgrade to training with power later if you get more serious.

Types of heart rate monitors

Most sport-orientated heart rate monitors work the same way: a sensor band round your chest detects the heart's electrical activity and transmits pulses to a device with a screen that does the spade work of calculating and recording your heart rate. It's the same principle as a hospital electrocardiography (ECG) machine. In the last few years wrist-mounted fitness trackers have appeared that shine a bright LED into your skin and detect your pulse by the change in the reflected light as blood fills and drains from the capillaries, a process called photoplethysmography. This isn't as accurate as ECG.

The device providing the read-out could be a watch or a handlebar-mounted computer or GPS unit. It might also be your mobile phone; many heart rate monitor bands now use low-power Bluetooth Smart that will communicate directly with a phone, or you can add an ANT+ dongle to your phone to work with a compatible band.

At the cheaper end of the price range are standalone heart rate monitors, almost always built into a watch. They’re easy to use and if you do more than one sport they’re the most versatile way of measuring heart rate. The more you spend the more features you get and the more the device or its associated applications will do for you, including working out your heart rate zones and warning you if you’re going too hard or too easy on a given session.

Cycling-specific heart rate monitors roll the function into a computer or, if you’re spending a bit more, a GPS unit. More advanced (that is, expensive) units log your ride and heart rate data so you can see how much time you spent in each of your heart rate zones and compare segments from one ride to another to measure your progress. For example, if you’re faster up that hill for the same heart rate, then your fitness has improved.

All of this means you have a huge range of choice in devices that display and record your heart rate, to the point where the importance of this function has been over-shadowed by all the excitement about GPS-enabled exploring and bagging Strava segments. Nevertheless, if you’re aiming to get fitter, it's the core function you want whether you’re spending £30 or £300.

Kalenji Cardio ANT+/Bluetooth Smart — £29.99

GEONAUTE ANT+:BLUETOOTH SMART HRM.jpg

If you have an iPhone or Android 4.3 device, this Bluetooth Smart heart rate strap will pair with it, so you can add heart rate data to your Strava logs. It has ANT+ capability too, so you can add heart rate measurement if you have a compatible bike computer or GPS unit.

Find a Geonaute dealer

Ciclosport CM 4.21 HR — ~£41

Ciclosport 421.jpg

One of the cheapest computers with heart rate function and the necessary strap bundled, the CM4.21 can download ride data to your PC so you can keep a record of your rides.

Find a Ciclosport dealer

Wahoo TICKR — £35.75

Wahoo Tickr.jpg

It’s not the cheapest option, but Wahoo’s Bluetooth Smart heart rate strap comes with Wahoo’s own Fitness app that provides training zones for fat-burning and intense training and creates a eight-week training schedule for you. It works with iPhone 4S and up and devices running Android 4.3 or later.

Find a Wahoo dealer

Mio Velo Cycling Heart Rate Wristband — £86.36

Mio Velo Cycling Heart Rate Wristband

The Mio Velo measures your heart rate from your wrist and sends it to other devices via both Bluetooth Smart 4.0 and ANT+. It can also take data from other ANT+ devices – a speed and cadence sensor, for example – and re-transmit it using Bluetooth Smart, allowing you to link ANT+ sensors to a non-ANT+ smartphone.

It takes your heart rate via LEDs and an 'electro-optical cell' that monitors the volume of blood under your skin. Mio boast a 0.99 correlation to electrocardiogram in laboratory testing. In other words, they claim that it is highly accurate.

If you don’t like wearing a heart rate chest strap — and let’s face it they’re not the comfiest thing especially if you’re less than svelte — then this is well worth a look.

Read our review of the Mio Velo Cycling Heart Rate Wristband

Find a Mio dealer

Garmin Vivoactive HR Smart — £119.99

Garmin VivoActive HR Smart

If you want a wrist heart rate monitor with a more sophisticated set of features, this one from Garmin includes GPS, incorporates some cycling-orientated features — it'll work with ANT+ speed and cadence features — and can be customised with Garmin's Connect IQ apps and widgets.

Garmin Edge 25 Bundle with HRM — £121.89

Garmin Edge 25 HRM 2.jpeg

The Edge 25 is Garmin's smallest ever GPS computer, and along with its diminutive size, Garmin has nailed the user interface, which is a dream to use.

If you don't need route mapping and navigation and just want to track all the important metrics like speed, distance, elevation — and heart rate, of course — the Edge 25 does everything you need.

You can currently pick up an Edge 25 on its own for £75 from Halfords, so you'd save money by doing that and adding the Kalenji sensor belt, rather than buying this bundle.

Read our review of the Garmin Edge 25 Bundle with HRM

Find a Garmin dealer

Cateye Padrone Smart — £47.08

Cateye Padrone Smart Triple Wireless Kit - head unit

This big-screen Cateye computer can talk to your phone using Bluetooth Smart, and to compatible sensors. You can get it on its own and use it as a head unit for data from the GPS on your phone which is then safely tucked in a pocket, or you can buy it with Cateye’s own sensors (in theory; we can't find anyone who actually has the bundle in stock). The extra £80 for the sensors is a shade pricy, but at least you can be sure they’ll work together. If you wanted to save money, though, you could use a third-party heart rate belt for about £30 paired with your phone.

Cateye’s Cycling app transmits your ride data to CatEyeAtlas, Strava or TrainingPeaks.

Read our review of the Cateye Padrone Smart Triple Wireless

Find a Cateye dealer

Polar V650 — £174.50

Polar V650 GPS cycling computer - screen 2

Want heart rate, maps and GPS? Polar's V650 provides all that and more, and while it has limitations — it lacks ANT+ connectivity — it's excellent value for its feature set.

Read our review of the Polar V650

Garmin Edge 130 HR Bundle — £166.99

edge_130_main_2.jpg

If you can live without a detailed map display, the latest offering from Garmin has line-on-the-screen navigation so you can follow planned routes, plus lots of phone connectivity and segment-racing features.

Read more: Garmin launch Edge 130 and Edge 520 Plus
Read our review of the Garmin Edge 130

Garmin Edge 830 GPS with Cadence and HRM — £426.95

Garmin Edge 830

This version of Garmin’s benchmark GPS comes with sensors for speed/cadence and heart rate, and Garmin's Cycle Map of the UK.

The Edge 830 is highly customisable, and generally very reliable with enough battery life for all but the longest of epics and the ability to run from an external battery if you’re riding for more than the nominal battery life of 20 hours.

Find a Garmin dealer

Garmin Edge 1030 bundle — £449.99

Garmin Edge 1030 - maps.jpg

Garmin's latest unit features a bigger screen, longer battery life and a host of new connectivity features compared to the Edge 1000.

The Edge 1030 gets a 3.5in high-resolution capacitive touch screen that Garmin reckons works in the wet or with gloves, and ambient light sensors automatically adjust the screen brightness to suit the riding conditions. Battery life has been extended to a claimed 20 hours and there’s a new Garmin Charge integrated battery pack accessory to double the run time to 40 hours for longer rides.

Garmin has beefed up the navigation and course planning features. Trendline utilises the many activities uploaded to Garmin Connect to provide routes using the most popular roads and off-road trails, backed up by preloaded Cycle Maps for turn-by-turn directions on all terrain with alerts for sharp corners and elevation information. You can also choose from three round-trip suggestions by choosing a distance and starting direction if you want the Edge 1030 to recommended new routes.

Read our review of the Garmin Edge 1030
Find a Garmin dealer

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40 comments

Avatar
PRSboy [533 posts] 1 year ago
2 likes

Don't bother with the Garmin soft strap Garmin HRM... basically consumables.  They quite quickly die and nothing you do will bring them back to life.  It starts with them being slow to pick up a signal at the start of the ride, then its downhill from there.

The Garmin hard strap HRM I have has been fine, for over 2 yrs so far on the original battery.  Mainly plastic too, so easy to keep clean.

Avatar
shufflingb [71 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Sorry, hadn't realised forum zombie thread

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ridein [216 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

You neglected the rechargeable Wahoo TICKR FIT, which road.cc did a (below link) review. It works on your forearm and unlike a chest strap doesn't need any saliva/gel on the electrode contacts.
http://road.cc/content/review/236659-wahoo-tickr-fit

Avatar
PRSboy [533 posts] 1 year ago
1 like
shufflingb wrote:

Sorry, hadn't realised forum zombie thread

In fairness it is a zombie article!  Presumably been updated.

Avatar
Gelphyn [2 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Re: 

In the last few years wrist-mounted fitness trackers have appeared that shine a bright LED into your skin and detect your pulse by the change in the reflected light as blood fills and drains from the capillaries, a process called photoplethysmography. This isn't as accurate as ECG.

This statement clearly says that the LED Heart Rate System is not as accurate as ECG, whilst the absence of a similar statement regarding Heart Straps suggest they could be a better choice?

Frankly I could not tolerate the sweaty demon, needing regular careful washes and subsequent drying, that even with great care refused to perform after several uses. So, after testing a New HR Strap in comparison with the HR Watch,  I switched to a Watch Based Heart Rate Monitor. The outcome in my case was absolutely synchronised identical readings. No guesses as to my choice of HR Monitor.

It is important is to avoid using LED HR Systems that deploy only 2 LEDs, lots of devices using this system were reported as being pointless or at best inaccurate. Of course 3 LED versions are more expensive. Having only 1 Heart and not wishing to take any risks with it there seems little else to do other than the best possible within your means?

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bigbiker101 [65 posts] 8 months ago
0 likes

Tickr Fit... absolutely love it, I wear it around my bicep (even though it says it should be around your forearm), I've done loads of tests agains the normal chest Tickr, having it on my bicep makes no difference to the forarm, overall the HR reading is very close to the chest strap, , it is slightly slower to pick up changes of HR but it catches up within a couple of seconds and the average HR and Max HR is near as damb it identical, it is also effectively invisible on the top of the arm and more confortable than a chest strap.

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jollygoodvelo [1853 posts] 8 months ago
0 likes

Whatever you do, though, don't try using a 'running' watch HR tracker.  I've got a Garmin Forerunner 30 and it's pony.  Takes five minutes (seriously) to lock onto my elevating HR at the start of a workout, jumps about a lot, sometimes drops out, and when outdoors on a bike the GPS is hilariously inaccurate: offset by many metres, updating only every few seconds, and when stopped it wanders about like a lost sheep.  

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kil0ran [1574 posts] 6 months ago
0 likes

Another vote for the Scosche (now updated with longer battery life). Reliable, quick to connect, unobtrusive because of the strap (which is removable and washable), easy to put on. I've tried several over the years - chest straps rarely work for me and whilst the Mio Link was pretty good it had a tendency to drop out and under-read - a problem with most wrist straps it seems when used for cycling. Scosche's upper arm positioning is perfect.

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Westy [27 posts] 6 months ago
0 likes

I tried two Mio optical HRs but found them very unreliable, to the point of being useless in fact. But I decided to try the Scosche Rhythm+ a couple of years ago, and its been totally faultless - literally never missed a beat.

For me the best position is using the larger strap to wear it on my upper arm just under a short sleeved jersey sleeve. I’ve found left or right arm are both fine. It’s invisible and comfortable, much more so than a chest belt. And of course its BT and ANT+ and connects rapidly with my iPad (for Zwift), Wahoo Bolt, or my old Garmin 520.

Having had trouble with chest HRMs (the so-called flapping jacket syndrome - not sure if the problem was really static, but the readings would sometimes go haywire mid-ride), then the Mio Velos,  I was amazed at high reliable the Scosche has been - should be top in this review and definitely should replace the Mio Velo in my opinion.

Avatar
kil0ran [1574 posts] 6 months ago
0 likes
Westy wrote:

I tried two Mio optical HRs but found them very unreliable, to the point of being useless in fact. But I decided to try the Scosche Rhythm+ a couple of years ago, and its been totally faultless - literally never missed a beat.

For me the best position is using the larger strap to wear it on my upper arm just under a short sleeved jersey sleeve. I’ve found left or right arm are both fine. It’s invisible and comfortable, much more so than a chest belt. And of course its BT and ANT+ and connects rapidly with my iPad (for Zwift), Wahoo Bolt, or my old Garmin 520.

Having had trouble with chest HRMs (the so-called flapping jacket syndrome - not sure if the problem was really static, but the readings would sometimes go haywire mid-ride), then the Mio Velos,  I was amazed at high reliable the Scosche has been - should be top in this review and definitely should replace the Mio Velo in my opinion.

 

This matches my experience exactly. I think part of Scosche's problem is that they just don't market their straps over here. Very difficult to find stock of the new Rhythm 24.

I too have found that either arm works, although anatomically you're probably better doing a reading on the left arm. Not sure whether it's the same in the NHS but I've heard that pulse oximeters should always be used on the left hand and blood pressure be taken from the left arm. Left side of the body gets a more direct blood supply from the heart (I wonder if this is why heart attack pain often manifests in the left arm/shoulder).

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