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Best heart rate monitors for cycling in 2020

Best heart rate monitors
(Image credit: Getty Images)

The best heart rate monitors are those that you can easily forget you're wearing, but aid your training by providing consistent, accurate and insightful data. Until power meters became widespread, heart rate was the gold standard for measuring training effort and recovery. It's still an important metric used by athletes - professional or amateur - worldwide. The humble heart rate monitor can provide insight into training effort, exertion, fatigue and more. 

They have have been around for decades, with Finnish outfit Polar releasing the first wireless model back in the late 1970s, but technology is improving all the time. Here's our roundup of the best available right now.

Now we have lightweight chest straps and small optical wristbands that track your pulse, the latter is now being integrated into fitness trackers and smartwatches at all price points. Ranging from simple straps that will communicate with your cycling computer to advanced dual-band sensors, each option can map other metrics like heart rate viability, remember workout data, and even determine cadence.

Read on for Cyclingnews' pick of the best heart rate monitors available today, or if you're unsure what separates a good heart rate monitor from a bad one, skip down to our guide on what to look out for

The best heart rate monitors

Best heart rate monitors - Wahoo Tickr Tickr

(Image credit: Wahoo)

Wahoo Tickr

Wahoo updates their Tickr heart rate monitor to include more features

Connectivity:: Bluetooth and ANT+ | Battery type: Coin cell

Slim unobtrusive fit
Dual Band
Status LED

Wahoo's Ticker is a basic dual-band Bluetooth and ANT+ heart rate chest strap that has recently received a refresh with Wahoo releasing a revamped TICKR and TICKR X.

Wahoo has reduced the size of the unit for a better fit and increased the battery life by nearly 50 per cent, which gives a claimed 500 hours of use on a single battery. For ease of use, the Tickr range can remember three devices, which is handy if you have multiple hobbies or recording methods.  

Powered by a standard CR2032 battery that should last about a year, the sensor has a IPX7 water- and dust-resistance rating, and Wahoo says it will survive at a depth of 5ft. There is also a slightly more expensive 'X' version that can track up to 50 hours of HR data and measure your vertical oscillation while running as well as indoor cycling cadence when connected to the Wahoo Fitness app.

Best Heart Rate Monitor - Garmin HRM Dual

(Image credit: Garmin)

Garmin HRM Dual

Basic dual-band heart rate strap with a big battery life

Connectivity: Bluetooth and ANT+ | Battery type: Coin cell

3.5-year battery life
Dual band

Even though Garmin owns the ANT+ protocol, it has finally - read begrudgingly -opened its products up to transmitting via Bluetooth. The HRM dual is a stripped-down heart-rate monitor, it measures your heart rate, and that's it, no device memory, and no run or swim dynamics.

However, without all of these extra sensors and things to keep track of Garmin say the CR2032 battery will last about three years.

Best Heart Rate Monitor - Polar H10

(Image credit: Polar)

Polar H10

The most accurate HR strap you can buy

Connectivity: Bluetooth and ANT+ | Battery type: Coin cell

Third electrode and silicon gripper
New algorythm
Expensive

Polar invented the wireless heart-rate monitor and, when it launched the H10 strap a few years ago, it claimed it to be the most accurate on the market. By using a third electrode on the strap, silicone grippers to prevent it from sliding around and a new algorithm, the brand says the new strap is accurate to +/- 1-millisecond.

The H10 is entirely waterproof, an be worn while swimming and also record your heart-rate variability — though you'll need to use it in combination with one of the brand's smartwatches to take advantage. It broadcasts in both ANT+ and Bluetooth, and, unlike the Garmin and Wahoo straps, can connect to two concurrent devices with Bluetooth.

Best Heart Rate Monitor - Lazer LifeBEAM

(Image credit: LifeBEAM)

Lazer LifeBEAM

Optical heart rate designed for fighter pilots

Connectivity: Bluetooth and ANT+ | Battery type: Rechargeable

No HR strap
Rechargeable battery
Limited to select Lazer helmets

LifeBEAM is a forehead-mounted optical HR sensor that was initially designed to monitor the vital signs of fighter pilots and astronauts. The clever folks at Lazer have integrated this same tech into an aftermarket front-brow pad for the Lazer Z1, Genesis, Blade Magma and Wasp road bike helmets.

Unlike optical sensors built into your smartwatch, the LifeBEAM sensor is stuck to your forehead and doesn't move around which allows it to maintain consistent contact no matter how bumpy the road or the amount of headbanging you do on your ride. The rechargeable battery lasts about 15 hours and clips onto the back of your helmet for easy charging. The only real downside to LifeBEAM is that it's restricted to a small selection of Lazer helmets. 

Lifeline Heart Rate Monitor

(Image credit: Lifeline)

Lifeline Heart Rate transmitter

Bare bones HR strap

Connectivity: Bluetooth and ANT+ | Battery type: Rechargeable

Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity
Rechargeable battery
Connecting can be intermittant

Heart-rate monitors can get surprisingly expensive, and if you're trying to train on a budget, the Lifeline Heart Rate transmitter is worth a look.

It's a basic chest strap now supports both Bluetooth and ANT+ connection; the transmitter is removable with metal snaps, and the strap is machine washable. The antenna pod itself looks suspiciously similar to a few other heart-rate monitors on the market, and we wouldn't be surprised to find the exact same unit with a different logo printed on the front and a higher price tag. 

Best Heart Rate Monitor - Wahoo Tickr Fit Armband

(Image credit: Wahoo)

Wahoo Tickr Fit HR Armband

Easy to use optical HR band

Connectivity: Bluetooth and ANT+ | Battery type: Rechargeable

Allows you to get rid of the chest strap
Doesn't play well with sleeves
Not as accurate as a chest strap

The Tickr Fit is an optical heart rate sensor designed to be worn on your arm utilising green LEDs to read the blood flow beneath your skin. It's designed to be worn on the forearm and comes with two straps to fit all arm types.

The reason we like the Tickr Fit is the status light on the backside; flashing blue when all is well, or red when something isn't — like the sensor not being fit properly. Like the Tickr chest strap, it's dual-band and pairs seamlessly to a range of devices and has a built-in USB rechargeable battery. The downside comes when you add sleeves, as it's not slim enough to comfortably fit underneath arm warmers and the like. 

Best Heart Rate Monitor - Scosche Rhythm 24

(Image credit: Scosche)

Scosche Rhythm 24

Long lasting optical HR band

Connectivity: Bluetooth and ANT+ | Battery type: Rechargeable

Allows you to get rid of the chest strap
Battery life
Not as accurate as a chest strap

The Scosche Rhythm is an ANT+ and Bluetooth enabled optical heart-rate monitor that is almost universally compatible with apps and devices. The sensor has built-in memory and can record up to 16 hours of data and the battery will last 33 hours before it needs a top-up. 

Scosche also offers a heap of different band options so the sensor can be customised to match your kit. 

What to look for in a heart rate monitor?

1. ECG or LED

The classic heart-rate chest strap uses sensors pressed up against your skin to measure the electrical impulses that control the contraction and expansion of the muscles in your heart (ECG). In contrast, optical sensors shine light through your skin (LED) and measure the variance in blood flow.

Even with significant advances in technology, the classic ECG based chest strap still reigns supreme in terms of accuracy.

Optical sensors need to maintain consistent contact with your skin for an accurate reading, but bumps, jumps, and even muscle tension from gripping your handlebars can stymie the sensor. With the contact required, optical sensors come with precise fit instructions; constant shaking on your arm from road imperfections and sweaty sunscreen-covered skin can cause them to slide around enough to impede accuracy. 

In our experience, a chest strap offers far superior point-to-point accuracy, however, the optical sensors are still pretty good at determining trends in heart rate. 

Most of today's smartwatches have a built-in optical sensor, and some can even connect to your head unit to serve as a sensor. Head over to our round-up of the Best smartwatches for cycling.

2. Connectivity

As with speed/cadence sensors and power meters, heart-rate sensors can connect to devices with ANT+ or Bluetooth, with most options now doing both. Which is right for you largely depends on the devices you'll be connecting. 

Most GPS head units will support, at the very least, ANT+ or Bluetooth with the majority speaking both languages — if you're looking to save a few bucks pick a heart-rate strap that only does one (just make sure it's the right one).

If you're looking to use a cycling computer while riding outdoors and also take advantage of training apps such as Zwift, TrainerRoad or The Sufferfest on the turbo trainer, consider a dual-band sensor. With a dual-band heart-rate monitor, you can connect seamlessly to your ANT+ enabled computer and laptop, phone or tablet without needing an ANT+ dongle or a second sensor. 

Another consideration to make is that most Bluetooth devices can only communicate with one other device at a time, while ANT+ can broadcast to an unlimited amount. If you're one to ride on Zwift but record the ride on your head unit or watch, it's something to keep in mind. 

3. Other considerations

Are you a triathlete or do you incorporate running or swimming into your training? Some heart-rate sensors offer running metrics such as vertical oscillation and cadence, while others are waterproof and can be worn in the pool and only record some data.

If you're looking for a strap, it may also require a tiny bit of maintenance. Usually, the sensor clips onto the strap with a pair of metal straps which will be exposed to quite a lot of sweat over their lifecycle and, these do occasionally succumb to corrosion. You can prolong the life of your HR strap with regular washing (some are machine washable while others aren't, refer to the tag for instructions) and a small dab of dielectric grease can help if you're an extremely salty person.