Cycling with a Heart-Rate Monitor

When you take up cycling, you might think to yourself you don’t want to take it too seriously. Perhaps you’ll just jump on a bike to get some fresh air, take in the scenery, lose a few pounds of weight in the process and get a bit fitter. Why, then, would you consider buying a heart-rate monitor? Aren’t they for serious athletes only?

Monitoring your Health

It’s a mistake to think that a heart-rate monitor is purely about measuring performance. Yes, it shows you how much effort you’re putting in while cycling, but it also helps you to understand your body better and recognise when things aren’t right. If you pair a heart-rate monitor with a head-unit (computer) on your bike, you can see your work rate as you pedal. After a while, you’ll get to know how fast your heart beats with different levels of exertion. So, how does this help your health?

When you’re ill or tired, your heart rate might be anything up to 10 beats per minute (bpm) faster than normal right from the off. If you see this, it’s sometimes a good idea to cut your ride short and not do as much as you’d intended. That way, you don’t worsen any health problems you may have or be developing.

If you see that your heart rate is higher than normal and exercise feels unusually tough, go home, get some rest, and arrange an appointment with a doctor on to be on the safe side. A heart rate monitor will also, in a worst-case scenario, help you to recognise a cardiac event while cycling, in which case the number you see will likely be far higher than any you’ve seen before. It’s useful to know what your maximum heart rate is, for instance when you ride up steep hills, so you’re aware of what is normal and what isn’t.

Buying and Using a Heart Rate Monitor

Heart rate monitors in the form of chest straps are the most accurate, and they’re generally cheaper than equivalent wrist watches. However, some people feel constricted by wearing a chest strap and prefer a sports watch.

Having purchased the means to measure your heart rate, you need to pair it with a phone or computer so you can access the readout. There are free GPS smartphone apps that can record the route you take on your bike ride to record and display your heart rate at the same time.

If you don’t want to use your phone to record bike rides, even the cheapest bike computers usually sync with a heart rate monitor by either a Bluetooth or an ANT+ connection.

There’s an outside chance you might get the cycling bug badly and decide to take the sport seriously, in which case a heart rate monitor is also a useful training tool.