I came to cycling too late in life to learn cadence control, so my cadence is fixed between about forty and sixty revolutions a minute, depending on which side of the bed I got out of that morning. That has turned out to be a really good thing, because from the beginning it forced me to control my exertion by my respiration rate rather than by my speed or whatever the gearing of my bike demanded or even by the terrain. From that follows the gearing specification of my bikes, for fifteen years or so now with internal hub gearboxes, currently Rohloff Speed 14.
UNSATISFACTORY HEART RATE MONITORS (HRM) CAN SOON MOUNT UP TO REAL MONEY
In 25 years of cycling, a fair number of heart rate monitors (henceforth HRM) have been through my hands. Let’s leave aside cheap supermarket crap I bought to have another HRM on standby; they all broke too soon to justify their cost. Let’s also leave aside a Medisana Polar H7 copy, bought at Lidl, which did everything right with every software package I tried it with, except the last step: it wouldn’t put my heart rate on the display page, making it useless; returned for a refund. Let’s leave aside Chinese ripoffs of the Polar H7; none of them worked as expected.
THREE HRM THAT LASTED MORE THAN A YEAR
The Ciclosport HAC 4 PLUS was a superb HRM. with all the bells and buttons you could wish for. So it should have, at 300 Euro. For that price I expected it to last at least 10 years. It broke on the day after the three-year guarantee ran out. I didn’t buy another because I don’t like planned obsolescence! Also, as watch, it looked cheap on the arm. Note that the head unit, left on the bike when you remove the watch part, is vulnerable to theft; there is a thriving trade in these units on Ebay…
The Sigma PC9 was altogether at the other end of the scale. It cost 40 Euro, had all the functions Iactually used on the Ciclosport HAC 4 (except altitude) and then some, was much more elegant as a watch, and still works after about ten years; it was replaced simply to save some space on my handlebars by combining various bits of kit/functions/displays into my iPhone. I’m a big fan of Sigma, and also use their bicycle computers; their stuff is very fairly priced, especially for top quality German goods, and lasts forever.
An iPhone or other smartphone with Bluetooth 4 (a low energy transmission protocol that saves battery use) with appropriate software, much of it free, is already an HRM. All the hardware you need to add is sensor/sender belt to fit around your chest. I’ve tried quite a few and the only one that is truly an allrounder (works with everything I tried it with) is the Polar H7, which cost STG 47.15 delivered in Ireland from Amazon UK. Mine was returned inoperative to the manufacturer shortly after arrival, fixed, and returned to me in a couple of weeks. It has worked well since.
I put the iPhone in a waterproof bag on the handlebars where I can see it, but I could keep it in a pocket because Polar’s own programme, which I use, reports every kilometer or mile, to choice, in a loud woman’s voice the elapsed time or average speed, and heart rate. If you need to control your heart rate closer than that, you need to cycle with your physician or a trained nurse. (My pedal pals include both.) With the phone on the handlebars you can control your exertion very closely to your chosen or permitted maximum respiration rate. (Here’s a tip: the physio will normally set a lower max heart rate than your physician or a cardiologist will. Get an opinion from all three, if you can.) I also have a motor on my bike, and when my respiration rate hits max, I keep up with the group by cutting in the motor.
THE ADVANTAGE OF BLUETOOTH 4
The smartphone/BT4 belt setup has an advantage over all dedicated HRM. Your dedicated HRM is set up so that a bunch of roadies riding in a peloton don’t have HRM interfering with each other, so the range is at most 18in. This is a stupid irritation for a utility cyclist or a tourer who sits upright and usually has 24in or more between the sender on his chest and the reporter unit on the handlebars or even on his wrist if he’s being energetic. Any BT4 band though has a 10m/33ft sender radius, so there is no interruption in the flow of information if you step away from you bike. This can be important, because if you really need an HRM, the second most important thing you do with it is check your respiration recovery rate R^3: the faster your respiration settles, the fitter you are.
Polar’s H7 has the fastest latch onto a heart signal of any belt that I’ve ever tried; about a third of all the belts I’ve tried failed altogether to detect a signal. This is important especially when it is cold and your skin is not naturally moist.
QUICK AND DIRTY RECOMMENDATIONS
If you’re a luddite or poor or a multi-gadgeteer, I recommend the Sigma PC9 (or its successor), which is easy to set up because it has very clear instructions, beautifully printed, and it just keeps working, and it is extremely reasonably priced, and goodlooking too.
I don’t recommend any Ciclosport because mine was ultimately unreliable, and they’re too expensive for what they offer.
If you have a smartphone with Bluetooth 4 already, I don’t see why you should want anything more than the Polar H7 belt, which lets you choose which software you want to use; I find Polar’s own free software quite good enough, and it has outstanding automatic record-keeping, useful when my cardiologist asks.
André Jute is a novelist and cyclist, and a teacher via his non-fiction textbooks of creative writing, engineering and reprographics.
Copyright © 2015 Andre Jute