Heart Rate Monitors are used for various reason; to monitor periods of exertion, to calculate calories burned, to set training zones (see Review Two on my opinion on why Power is better!), and more. So getting one that works is important.
I use mine to gather information on exertion and calorie burn, and I’ve used a few different models and types. Sadly, not all are great, some are terrible, and there is only one of each type I’d recommend.
I’ll start my explaining the two types. Ant+ is a system that uses “a propriety open access multicast wireless sensor network technology” or radio waves, as is my understanding! It allows wireless transfer of data between two units, in this case heart rate monitor and Garmin device (other devices are available – I’ve only used Garmin Edge 500). It is not a protected service so anyone can see your data, and here lies the only real problem with it. If you are on your own and you go to connect your monitor to device it’s fine, but when there’s a group your device will detect all of them and then give you a choice of which is yours. This choice is a serial number on the device, again not a simple as it sounds as this number may be only found on the box, so if you’re out you’re going to struggle. Another problem, if you’d call it that, is that Ant+ isn’t widely used on smart phones (I have an iPhone – not sure if Ant+ is available on other devices) so if you want to link Ant+ heart rate monitor to your smart phone you need an adaptor. However, if you’re like me and go on some quite long rides, it’s likely that your phones battery doesn’t last the distance. Anyway, it’s hardly an inconvenience linking your Garmin to your laptop to transfer data, and in my experience my Garmin device is far more accurate than my phone.
The second type of connection is more widely known. Bluetooth has been around ages. It is likely that you have a smart phone that connects to your car stereo, home stereo, ear piece, and so on. Again, like Ant+ it’s not protected so anyone can see it, but once you have linked once your devices should remain connected which immediately eliminates the problem with Ant+ where you may have a group of riders’ heart rate monitors to choose from. My Garmin Edge 500 doesn’t link to any Bluetooth devices but I believe newer models of this (not to mention all the other devices) do link. The problem with linking to a phone is that, as mentioned above, phones seem to be far less accurate than Garmin (or similar) devices. Some riders who use phones who I ride with, end up with ridiculously larger elevation totals on Strava compared to me. And I’m sure you all have segments near you that are Cat 4 although perfectly flat? I believe this is a smart phone glitch to do with how it connects to GPS.
So now I’ll tell you about some of the issues I’ve had with heart rate monitors. When I was using Bluetooth all the time I started with Wahoo Blue HR Monitor. I used it a lot and was very happy for a long time. However, after a while I started having trouble linking it with my phone, then eventually not at all. I’d change the batteries and that might help for a while but eventually I’d have to give up. Not wanting to give up on Wahoo I got a second, and sure enough the same happened with the second. Maybe I’m unlucky, but I’m not spending anymore on Wahoo.
I then got a Topeak Bluetooth monitor. Unless you have a bracket for your phone on your handlebars (which I wouldn’t advise after my iPhone 4 took a 30 mph trip down the road on the first ride I used it) you probably have your phone in your jersey pocket. The problem with the Topeak unit I tried was that with the monitor on the front of my body and phone in the rear pocket it wouldn’t connect. Despite me being just over 70 kg, the Topeak unit could not connect through me, straight back to the shop that went then. So then I tried a Polar Bluetooth unit. No problems, very happy, and connects every time, but I moved on.
I now only really use my Ant+ heart rate monitor and Garmin Edge 500 device. Mainly because it’s easier, more accurate, and even when I rode with my phone tracking the ride I’d have my Garmin on the handlebars anyway. So the Ant+ device I use is actually also a Garmin device, it was more expensive but I’ve had it years, had no problems, and never had to change the battery. There are probably load of devices out there that are good, but I cannot fault the Garmin unit I have. I therefore would recommend it as the monitor you should buy if you’re looking for one. You can pick one up for around £40.00 so about the average price, so basically if you’re looking for one, buy it!
Next week I look further into the differences between training indoors and outdoors. There are lots of reasons why you will be doing interval sessions on a turbo trainer, but can you get the same results, or even better, from training outside?
As usual, thanks for reading, and please remember to share this around!