Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Heartbeat

When I was 16 I trained and raced with a heart rate monitor pretty much every time I was on my bike, as did most PRO riders and most other amateurs. These days the big fashion is for power monitoring - heart rate data tells you internal goings on, but that extra external data of what your body is producing for it's 190bpm gives it all context. For elite athletes more information equals improved performance and training gains. For most of us mortals it means 20 minutes with a graph that looks like an alpine tour stage but represents a spin to the local cafe - it's over the top and not that helpful.

When I decided to try and shift the beer belly and began running with renewed vigour I didn't use an HRM or anything more complex than a stopwatch left in my flat to time my jogs. A few weeks in and I caved in however; I felt that more information and more control of the exercise I was doing could only improve the session I did. To that end, and after 4 sessions using it, here is my review of the Polar CS300, a cycling / multi-sport heart rate monitor with some interesting features.


I wanted a monitor to track basic information - my heart rate across a training session, time spent at different percentages of effort, maximum and minimum hear rate values, and maybe even some bike specific data for when I start riding in a few weeks. Then I wanted to upload it to my computer to analyse and put my Sport Science degree to work after all these years. The CS300 does all of that more or less, gives you energy use estimates in calories, and allows up to two bikes to be stored. It uses an audio transfer system where little clicks and beeps send my training to my PC, then straight to the online tool. And if I ever lose weight, or want to add my new bike to the system, I can write it into my PC and send it over just as easily.

The bike set-up tool - pretty simple!

Overall it's pretty solid. The buttons feel a little cheap and flimsy but the watch unit is about the right weight for a watch, and won't factor on the bike at all. The bike kit is sturdy, wireless, and looks pretty quick to fit and set up as computers go. The strap is more comfortable than I remember them ever being, even if the transmitted itself feels quite chunky when running. Once transfer to my PC was set up it became quick and easy to send training over. It gives decent amounts of information and lets you type in extra data to the file, from which you can do basic analysis and plan further training.

An example training file from my torture this morning

Pros -

  • Does all the basic and some more complex functions
  • Suitable for cycling and other sports without added cost
  • Looks nice enough, and has a very readable display
  • Less than £80 on Amazon instead of pushing £200 for the next model
Cons - 
  • Can't export training data in .csv or .xls
  • No upgrade possibility for power measurement on the bike etc
  • Extra bike kits cost almost as much as the unit itself (for speed and cadence sensors)
  • The online trainer makes me feel guilty if I don't train often enough.

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