One of the most important pieces, yet often overlooked cycling accessories is the heart rate, monitor. Sometimes, it’s referred to as the HRM.
The heart rate monitor provides you with valuable data you can use to measure your progress toward your goals.
There are many types of heart rate monitors out there today. But for cycling, the best ones are chest straps-based.
On this page, I’ll do a deeper dive into what you should know before buying a heart rate monitor and also share some of the popular models around.
On This Page
Why You Should Use A Heart Rate Monitor
1. Real Time Monitoring
Heart rate monitors also allow you to monitor your heart rate in real-time during your rides.
On top of that, many cyclists incorporate interval training into their rides which involves short bursts of high-intensity riding alternated with slower intervals to recover.
Heart rate monitors allow you to determine whether you’re hitting your interval targets while you’re working out.
Keep in mind that there is a slight delay between when you increase your intensity and when your heart rate increases. It may take around a minute for your heart rate to increase once you start cycling with more intensity.
Another more accurate way to measure intensity is using power meters.
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2. Exercise Effectively
To train effectively, you need to do it at the right intensity and zone. And using a heart rate monitor is a cheap and affordable way to do so.
You’d probably heard about heart rate zones and how training in each zone will have an effect on increasing a specific fitness.
If your intensity is too low, you may not get the results you’d like. If you overexert yourself, you could hurt yourself, and you won’t be able to work out as long.
Having said that, you should always consult your medical practitioner if you have any doubts about your overall health.
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3. Exercise Safely
Heart rate monitors measure your heart rate in beats per minute or BPM.
Monitoring your heart rate allows you to ride safely and stay within your physical limits. You can determine the appropriate target heart rate and strive to stay near that target.
4. Track Your Progress Overtime
You can also track your overall fitness by using a heart rate monitor.
As your fitness level improves, you will be able to ride harder and faster without your heart rate increasing as much as previously.
You’ll also notice that you’ll be able to ride at the same heart rate without feeling breathless or tired easily.
You can review your data to get a sense of whether your fitness is improving and set new goals accordingly.
Cycling HRM Buying Guide & Tips
1. Types of Heart Rate Monitors
As the name implies, you’ll need to wear a chest strap around your chest.
Right in the middle of the chest strap where your heart sits a sensor unit.
The sensor unit collects and transmits the heart rate readings to a head unit which then displays them to you. It houses a small, user-replaceable coin battery, typically a CR2032, and all the electronics for connectivity which I’ll talk about next.
Your heart rate readings are collected using a technique called electrocardiography which measures the electrical activities of your heart.
This is done via a pair of electrodes, a shiny and flat panel at the back of the strap which is in contact with your skin.
Optical Heart Rate Sensors
Optics are mainly found in wrist-based fitness tracking devices.
You’ll see green LEDs on the underside and they shine through your wrist to obtain your heart rate.
A technique called photoplethysmography (PPG) where the light is shined to your skin to measure the blood flow through your wrist.
The reflected or refracted light will then be collected by the sensor which then computes your current heart rate.
Geek Tip : Use a chest strap heart rate monitor for cycling.
2. Connectivity Options
The heart rate monitor is just a sensor and it needs to communicate with a head unit to display all the readings.
For cycling, the head unit can be either your GPS bike computers or even your phones if you’re running apps like Strava.
There are 2 types of wireless connectivity protocols used in heart rate monitors today.
- ANT+ often pronounced as ant plus is a wireless communication protocol designed and maintained by the ANT+ Alliance, which is owned by Garmin. That’s also one of the reasons why Garmin is a big proponent of ANT+. Up until 1 to 2 years ago, almost all heart rate monitors uses ANT+, but things are starting to change recently with the increasing popularity of Bluetooth.
- Bluetooth is another type of wireless communication protocol that has been around since 1994 when it was invented by Ericsson. Since then, Bluetooth has undergone several refinements. The latest Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) version has been increasingly used in sensors such as heart rate monitors as it requires much less power to run than its predecessors.
Geek Tip : Since ANT+ and Bluetooth protocols are standardized, you don’t need to use the same brand of heart rate monitor and the head unit.
3. Heart Rate Measurement Accuracy
Since we’re talking about heart rate here, accuracy matters. In fact, you’d want a heart rate monitor that is not only accurate but consistent and reliable.
The chest strap wins hands down in this.
The reason is that the chest strap’s sensor is placed next to the heart and this allows it to capture a very strong signal compared to other locations around the body.
To put things into context, medical professionals place 12 leads throughout the body to perform an ECG test and most of these are around the heart.
The heart rate monitor is a simplified version of this technique.
Since the strap is worn snug around the chest, you can expect consistent and reliable readings since it barely moves at all if worn correctly.
But that’s not to say that optical heart rate monitors are not accurate at all.
They’re accurate for daily use but not ideal when you’re working out hard where your heart rate rises and falls within a short period of time, like in interval training.
Optical heart rate monitors don’t track sharp rise and fall effectively and you’ll typically see a lag in the reading.
Geek Tip : Chest based heart rate monitors are more accurate.
Heart Rate Monitors Care Guide
For your heart rate monitor to be effective, you need to use it correctly.
The exact care instructions vary depending on your specific model.
In general, here’s how you should care for your heart rate monitor.
1. Wet the strap before use
It’s best to wet the entire electrodes on the strap before you put on the monitor.
Even if you’re going to be cycling in wet conditions, it’s still best to wet your strap before you ride to get the best reading.
2. Wear it correctly
It’s easy to get your monitor upside down. This can interfere with effective readings.
Look for the left and right side labels on the straps and place the monitor centrally on your chest. It should fit snugly, and you should also make sure the unit is right-side up.
3. Wash after every use
The build-up of sweat and salt can directly affect the heart rate monitor’s accuracy.
Check the label or instructions to see if can be machine-washed or hand washed.
If you’re machine washing, use a washing bag or mesh laundry bag to keep it from getting tangled in your other laundry. Do not put the strap in the dryer. Use a mild detergent or dish soap to wash it.
4. Remove the sensor unit from the strap to let it dry
If you don’t remove it, it could lead to corrosion around the sensor’s metal parts.
Corrosion could interfere with getting accurate, effective readings. If you notice corrosion, you can wipe it off with an alcohol wipe.
Heart Rate Monitors for Cycling
Wahoo offers high-tech products for cyclists and runners. The Wahoo Tickr is currently the most popular heart rate monitor that supports dual-band technology.
That’s ANT+ and Bluetooth compatibility.
You can easily tell if it’s working with the LED lights. It lights up blue when it’s connected and red when it’s detecting your heart rate.
And best of all, it’s one of the few heart rate monitors that are waterproof with a rating of IPX7 (up to 5 feet deep).
Garmin Premium Heart Rate Monitor
The Garmin Premium HRM comes together with all Garmin Edge devices if you buy them in the bundle.
You’ll probably notice that there are several variants of the heart rate monitor.
This model is specific for cycling and if you’re into other sports such as running and swimming, consider getting the HRM-Tri instead.
Connectivity-wise, only ANT+ is supported and it’ll work with all head units that support ANT+.
4iiii Viiiiva HRM
You probably have not heard about this Canadian company, 4iii. They’re an up-and-coming manufacturer of bike power meters and heart rate monitors.
The Viiiiva heart rate monitor is targeted at more advanced users or data geeks. 4iiii claimed that it’s 10x more sensitive when compared to traditional heart rate monitors such as the ones from Wahoo or Garmin.
It’s both ANT+ and Bluetooth compatible, but that doesn’t stop there. 4iiii takes things a step further by including an ANT+ sensor bridge in it.
This allows your ANT+ devices (such as power meters) to talk to your Bluetooth devices, such as your smartphones.
For exceptional accuracy, near-total compatibility, and universal acclaim, the Polar H10 is hard to top.
Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity allow it to work smoothly with hardware from Garmin, Apple, Suunto, and of course, other Polar products. It also connects seamlessly to fitness tracking apps like Strava and all cardio devices with heart-rate monitor compatibility.
The comfortable synthetic strap can withstand temperatures up to 122°F and as low as 14°F, all while staying firmly in place without interference in your ride. Extras include onboard memory good for one full training session and reliable waterproofing.
Stages Cycling HRM
All of the features expected from a premium heart rate monitor combine this product with an unbeatable price tag. With dual ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity, the Stages HRM works comfortably with smartwatches, smartphones, head units, and training apps.
The 2032 coin cell battery can reliably power this device for more than 900 hours without fail. You’ll be able to complete dozens of rides and training sessions while enjoying the 30 to 230 bpm sensor range. When it comes time to replace the battery, simply seat it firmly and get right back on it.
Want a quality heart rate monitor at a price that won’t break the bank?
Check out this Fitness Tracker from CooSpo, a company that develops devices for monitoring all kinds of workouts.
This Bluetooth 4.0 and ANT+ compatible heart rate monitor will give you real-time heart rate data at a budget price. The CooSpo Fitness heart rate monitor is compatible with all ANT+ and Bluetooth enabled bike computers.
In addition to heart rate data, the monitor allows you to view training zones and calories burned. The CooSpo comes with a one-size-fits-all adjustable strap.
And it’s water and sweatproof.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are the heart rate monitor straps replaceable?
Most heart rate straps are replaceable since the sensor unit can be easily removed.
When you’re buying a replacement chest strap, make sure to check that it’s compatible with your sensor unit. Sizing wise, it’s adjustable, and one size fits all. So, you don’t have to worry about that.
Some generic ones are compatible with all the major heart rate monitor brands.
Are heart rate monitors waterproof?
It depends on the model.
It’s best to read the manufacturer’s exact specifications. But in general, all heart rate monitors are water-resistant at the minimum.
Those which are waterproof cannot transmit real-time heart rate readings due to how the technology works. ANT+ and Bluetooth use the 2.4Ghz microwave frequency band for transmission, and these radio signals are easily absorbed by water.
Can I use a wrist based heart rate monitor for cycling?
Yes, you can. But I wouldn’t recommend you to do that for the reasons I’ll explain below.
- Fit. A wrist-based heart rate monitor doesn’t fit as snugly as a chest strap. Your hand movements will cause it to move around and hence affecting the reading.
- Real-time Display. While the wrist-based heart rate monitor collects readings, they typically don’t sync with your GPS unit. Hence, you’ll need to keep glancing on your wrist to see your heart rate, which can be dangerous, especially if you’re riding in a group.