A heart rate monitor is a near-essential piece of kit for any rider who wants to track their cycling fitness.
A heart rate monitor can be used to ensure that structured intervals are ridden at the correct intensity, to chart training volume and intensity over time, and the data can also indicate when it’s time to take a break.
When choosing the best heart rate monitor for cycling, the key things to consider are where you want to wear it and how it talks to the device recording your rides (cycling computer, watch or phone). We’ve detailed all you need to know when deciding what’s best for you below, but first we’ve listed a few of the best heart rate monitors at different prices.
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Some of the best heart rate monitors for cycling
Garmin HRM-PRO heart rate monitor
Garmin Edge cycling computers are some of the most widely used, with even the most basic models providing heart rate data. The HRM-Pro is Garmin’s pinnacle heart rate monitor, rolling all of it’s sport specific models in to one, as we as incorporating Garmin Connect IQ, making it compatible with a large range of, currently free, data specific tracking apps on the Garmin Connect website, Garmin’s equivalent of the Apple or Android app store.
Having just been launched, we’re yet to get our hands on one for a review, but it promises to deliver all your heart rate data needs, as well as the ability to store data when it’s not possible to use a wearable and then automatically download.
Like the HRM-Dual, see below, the Pro also uses ANT+ and Bluetooth transmission, meaning it’s perfect for in and outdoor use, as well as at the gym.
The Garmin HRM-Pro takes a standard CR2032 battery, which going on experience should last about a year, and retails at £119.99.
Read more: Garmin HRM-PRO heart rate monitor
Garmin HRM-Dual heart rate monitor
The HRM Dual is Garmin’s heart rate monitor that is compatible with Bluetooth as well as ANT+, and it has a 3m range. Like Garmin’s Premium heart rate monitor the unit takes CR2032 batteries that can be easily replaced by the user – although this only needs to be done roughly every 3.5 years.
The monitor comes fitted to a adjustable strap, with a range of 63.5cm to 132cm this should provide a secure, snuggly fit for the majority of riders. As you are likely to get hot and sweaty while wearing a heart rate monitor, it’ll come as a relief that the strap on the HRM Dual is also easily washable.
Read more: Garmin HRM Dual heart rate monitor review
Polar H10 heart rate sensor
Like the Garmin HRM-Pro and HRM-Dual the Polar H10 uses both ANT+ and Bluetooth transmission to make indoor and out door cycling data recording as easy as possible.
Fans and the brand consider the H10 the most accurate heart rate sensor to date.
Another monitor that supports multiple sports, and a built in memory, with auto download for when it’s not possible or suitable for using the data receiving device.
A claimed battery run time of 400 hours, 7 hours of training a week means you should mean it’s an annual CR2025 battery change.
Polar H7 heart rate sensor
Polar’s H7 uses Bluetooth to transmit data to a phone or app. It uses an encrypted GymLink transmission (5 kHz) to send your heart rate data to compatible Polar training computers, as well as compatible fitness equipment like treadmills which might be handy for gym users.
It comes with a comfortable chest strap, available in a selection of colors and takes CR2032 batteries.
Wahoo Tickr heart rate monitor
Wahoo specializes in fitness tech, and they’ve got two key heart rate monitors: the Tickr and Tickr X – the former with an RRP of £39.99 /$50 as opposed to £64.99 / $79.99 for the more advanced option. The Tickrx can measure some extra metrics, like cadence, as well as providing running analytics, even when you’re on a treadmill. That’s all very nice, but if you just want to know what your heart’s been doing on the bike then the Tickr is more than capable.
Unlike most heart rate monitors, it’ll also estimate your calorie burn and has a connectivity indicator light on the front. It is Bluetooth Smart & ANT+ compatible to link up to third-party apps, as well as Wahoo’s own and takes replaceable CR2032 coin-cell batteries.
Some of the best heart rate wristband monitors for cycling
If you like the idea of an optical HR wristband, but don’t want all of the extra bells and whistles, the Scosche Rhythm+ might be the ticket. It’s ANT+ and Bluetooth enabled to transmit data to your watch, head unit, 200+ smartphone apps.
The battery is USB rechargeable and claimed to last for 8-hours. The neoprene band is plenty adjustable, comes in two sizes and a range of colors.
Garmin Vivosmart HR Wrist Watch
The Garmin Vivosmart is a really handy option for two types of people (well, obviously there’s a cross over, but bear with us). Firstly, people who just want to keep fit and track their overall activities. The watch tracks distance walked, steps and calories all from your wrist, and data can be uploaded to Garmin Connect for fitness tracking.
Secondly, people who already have a Garmin Edge computer and who don’t want to wear a heart rate strap. The data collected by the in-built heart rate monitor will be displayed on screen.
Whoop 3.0 wrist strap
Whoop is a little different from the rest. At its core, the Whoop band is a Bluetooth enabled heart rate wrist strap that can communicate with head units, watches, and phones — but it does so much more than that.
It tracks 24/7 heart rate (and HRV) and quantifies your sleep, stress, movement, and training. All of this data is aggregated into a companion app which gives you a strain and recovery score; the idea here being that the Whoop takes into account all of the stressors in your life, not just training, into fitness and recovery.
The Whoop band on its own will serve as just a HR wriststrap, however to get access to the fitness and sleep tracking you’ll have to sign up for a subscription which costs $30 per month and includes the band at no cost — or $24-per month if you sign up for a year.
What is a heart rate monitor?
Your heart is your body’s blood delivery agent: it pumps oxygenated blood full of nutrients to your limbs, and when you exercise it has to work harder and faster to meet the needs of the body.
A heart rate monitor measures how fast your heart is beating in BPM: beats per minute, and providing an insight into how hard your body is working.
How can cyclists use heart rate monitors?
The most common use for a heart rate monitor is to record intervals. Interval training means riding short efforts at high intensity, interspersed with rest intervals of easy pedaling. In time, this forces the body to adapt so that the intensity can be held for longer or can be increased.
Intervals can be ridden based on RPE (rate of perceived exertion), power (which measures the actual output of the body in watts) or heart rate (which measures the effect that the effort has on the body).
In an ideal world, power and heart rate are combined to show how much stress is required for the body to produce a given output – but power meters are expensive and heart rate monitors allow a rider to know that they’re riding the efforts hard enough and the recoveries easy enough.
The intensity required during each interval will vary depending upon its length, but will usually be expressed in a ‘zone’ which is based on a calculation of the rider’s max or threshold heart rate. So when training with a heart rate monitor, the rider just needs to know what BPM they need to hold for each interval to have the best chance at completing the training correctly.
Heart rate ‘zones’ are very individual. The baseline starting point for one rider might be a threshold heart rate of 180bpm whilst it could be 160bpm for another.
However, training forces the heart muscle to become stronger. A well-trained athlete will see their resting heart rate (which is usually measured in the morning on waking up) drop, so tracking this can show your fitness improvements during the year.
Not only that, your resting heart rate often increases during periods of overtraining, or when you’re sick. An increased resting heart rate is therefore a red flag which can indicate it’s time to take a few days off training.
What types of heart rate monitors are there?
Most cyclists opt for a chest strap heart rate monitor. A chest strap heart rate monitor measures small electrical signals given when your heart constricts. By contrast, wrist and headphone heart rate monitors usually use Optical technology which shines a light into the skin and reads how much is reflected back. As your heart beats, the volume of blood flowing through your veins changes, causing different amounts of light to return back to the sensor against your skin, then uses an algorithm to determine pulse rate.
As techy and scientific as the latter might sound, electrical technology is generally considered more accurate – sample rates are higher and the chest doesn’t move around as much as the wrist, resulting in fluctuations in info.
A wrist-based heart rate monitor, however, can be handy if you want to keep an eye on your activity levels off the bike, and track your resting heart rate.
The other thing to check when buying a heart rate monitor is the type of connection it uses. Most can transmit data to a cycling computer or phone app via ANT+ and Bluetooth. However, some will only use one or the other, so it’s important to check the unit you’re looking at is compatible with what you’ve already got.