The CS500 is Polar’s latest bike-specific offering. Most readers will be familiar with Polar’s heart rate monitor watches: Polar has been in the game since 1977 and was one of the first companies to make heart rate training computers accessible to the general public. Polar now has dozens of different heart rate monitor models, each suiting different training requirements and budgets. The CS500 is one of their higher-end models (RRP $399) and is targeted at serious cyclists.
The Low-Down on Heart Rate Monitors (HRMs)
Once the domain of serious performance athletes, HRMs have gone the way of carbon bikes and are much more accessible to all sorts of people, from those seeking to get active or improve their fitness, to people wanting to use them as performance maximising tools. What makes HRMs a useful training tool is their ability to guide you to train in the right ‘zone’ – that is, the right heart rate range to suit your objective for each training session. Whether your objective is to build an aerobic base, burn fat or improve your top-end race speed, you can get a better indication of how hard (or easy) you should push yourself by using heart rate feedback, than you can by feel alone. HRMs can also give you an early heads-up that you are overtraining, or getting sick, by measuring discrepancies in your resting heart rate. They won’t give you all the answers, but they are certainly a useful training tool.
With so many different HRM products on the market it can be hard choosing the right model. Polar HRMs start at under $100 and extend to $749 for their top-spec RS800CX, with GPS. The CS500 is geared toward the upper end of the market: the serious cyclist who wants to be able to download and analyse their data.
To find out whether the CS500 is for you, read on…
The Fat: What You Get
If you like Polar products, are willing to spend the cash and don’t need power or GPS data, it’s a good option. It’s easy to install, has excellent display features and you have the option to upgrade later with a Polar power meter. Polar’s reputation on heart rate monitors is sound, and the quality of the CS500 is excellent. But, at this price point, I’d have expected it to have GPS as well. On the plus side however, it is compatible with Polar’s new Look pedals power meter system, the Power Pedals.
The CS500 consists of the cycling computer, heart rate belt, bike mount bracket, and speed and cadence sensors. (Note that you can buy the CS500 with or without cadence – I’d recommend getting it.) All parts are wirelessly connected (big tick). It also comes with a USB transmitter that can transfer training data to your computer. The model we tested was a limited edition ‘Tour de France’ version, which means it has some attractive yellow parts but is otherwise identical to their regular CS500.
The CS500 measures all the essentials – speed, distance, heart rate and cadence – as well as altitude, temperature, lap counting and zone targeting. Polar have opted for an oversized display unit, which means that you can see four variables at once onscreen, and the numbers are large enough to read while you are cycling. You can preset different display options, which is handy if you want to switch menus between sessions. Rather than having buttons on the unit, you scroll through the menu options by pressing the edges of the computer, which feels odd at first but works fine. The CS500 works with multiple bikes, you can even switch between mountain bikes and road bikes, but you will need to purchase extra sensors.
The CS500 is downloadable (via the wireless USB transmitter), which means you can transfer training data from the unit to your personal file at polarpersonaltrainer.com. It makes tracking your training really easy, and the online software has a heap of fancy tools to analyse your every move. It can even help you create a personalised training plan based on your physiological capabilities and training goals. If you like graphs and geekery, you’ll love it. Purchasing a set of Power Pedals will allow you do this even further, with wattage and checking your different leg strengths.
What We Didn’t Like
The easy-to-read display comes at a cost: namely, the screen is enormous. It fits nicely on your stem, but looks out of place on your handlebars. If you have a very shot stem and use aero bars (or a TT bike), you may have trouble fitting it. While we’re talking about size, it’s worth considering that other units this size (and price) come with GPS, though admittedly they’re less slimline. The problem I have with the CS500 is that while you’re spending a lot for a top-of-the-line bike computer with heart rate monitoring, you are getting a heart rate monitor that you can use only on the bike (sorry runners and multisport athletes), and a bike computer that doesn’t have GPS. It’s not that the Polar CS500 isn’t a really nice unit, it’s just that times are changing and spending $400 on a bike computer should entitle you to GPS technology. You can get GPS on other Polar models, though, including the CS600X, which is Polar’s top cycling-specific computer.
Additionally, the ‘Tour de France’ decal is delightful but adds nothing to the product. It is also on the bottom of the unit, meaning you can’t see it unless you take the unit off and put it upside down.
What We Liked
The CS500 looks good, once you get over how huge the unit is. I loved being able to see heart rate, speed, distance and cadence all at once. I tested the CS500 in a TT and it passed with flying colours. If you don’t have the luxury of a power meter, knowing your cadence and heart rate is the next best thing, and having it on a screen in front of you, together with distance, is much better than on your wrist. Being able to download your data is great, and will suit people who like analysing their numbers and designing their own training program. The menu is straightforward and easy to operate. And being compatible with the Look Power Pedals is a bonus. Finally, Polar’s customer support is excellent. I’ve used a number of Polar products over the years and their support centre in Adelaide is helpful and efficient.
The CS500 is functional, easy to use and has loads of features. If I found it in my Christmas stocking I’d be rapt. You do pay for quality though, and the price tag might make it out of reach for some buyers, or leave others reaching for a Garmin Edge. However, if you like the Polar interface, and don’t particularly need GPS, you won’t be disappointed with the CS500.
Distributed by Pursuit Performance