Whatever happened to Polar? Once a dominant heart rate monitor brand in endurance sport and then a slip into relative obscurity for a while. Certainly from a cycling perspective. But that’s changing as the Finnish brand’s new cycling-specific devices begin to make an impact and claw back some market share.
Polar has always been at the forefront of heart rate measurement and analysis during exercise and sport, but power measurement and GPS tracking/mapping became important, especially to cyclists and mountain bikers, and Polar began to slip away as a brand of choice for many because it didn’t offer those.
But that is changing. Polar offers three bike-specific models, the M450, the V650 and the V800, which is more sports watch than bar-mount.
We spent some weeks using the basic model M450 to get a feel for the brand and it’s progress in the cycle-specific arena. We haven’t yet done any power measurement with the M450, but here are our initial impressions.
Size – we like the size. It’s a little longer than a Garmin Edge 500, but similar in width. From the side, the screen also slants slightly down towards the rider, making it easier to read the information.
Visibility – There’s very good contrast on the screen display making it probably the easiest to read gadget we’ve used, with the font/numbers a size that’s easy to see even for those that require prescription specs.
Colour – the white and black is clean and bold, a bit like an iPhone. Polar is developing colour options though, including black, yellow, pink and blue tones.
Mount – It uses a Polar-specific handlebar or stem mount, which, like most mounts, requires a quarter turn to secure it. We found that it was very secure between unit and mount, but that the rubber bands supplied to secure the mount to the handlebar weren’t as snug as we’d like. It wasn’t a major issue, only after a very rocky descent where we’d notice a bit of a shift. On bikes with short stems, we had to fit it to the handlebar, which is less stable than on the stem.
Set-up – We got our least tech-savvy tester to set the M450 up based on his user profile. He managed without encountering any kind of nervous breakdown, saying it was fairly straightforward and sequential once he got the hang of the button functions. You get to create multiple profiles so can choose road cycling, mountain biking or indoor cycling options for your session.
Polar Flow – this is Polar’s online interface where you can upload your sessions to for analysis and safekeeping. It’s easy to use and offers significant depth in terms of what you can analyse through graphs, maps etc. You can also upload your sessions to Strava. You can upload these via your laptop or your smartphone, which is very useful.
Smart phone sync – Polar Flow app is free to download and allows you to sync your workouts via Bluetooth from the 450 to your phone.
Heart-rate strap – This is Polar’s current strap, which is about as comfortable as a heart rate strap can be. It has a removable sensor so that you can wash the strap or swap it for a different one.
Power measurement – When it comes to power measurement reading between the Polar device and your choice of power unit, Polar works with Bluetooth Smart, not ANT+ like most others do. Polar has committed to Bluetooth Smart as it believes it’s more future-proof than ANT+. The fact that Garmin owns ANT+ is also said to be a key reason for this .
GPS – the M450 doesn’t have GPS navigation, but it does give you a map of your route after your ride. The Polar V650 model has GPS and mapping functions.
Fitness analysis – This is an area that Polar has always been strong in and the M450 is no different. You can manage targets, monitor recovery and get some in-depth analysis of your workouts, albeit still very much based on general fitness parameters on which Polar has based most of it’s product success in the past decade or so.
Battery – Polar claims up to 17 hours of battery life between charges. We never really measured this, but it’s a good chunk of time, especially for those that tackle long-distance events.
Capacity – Polar claims up to 35 hours of training data storage is possible on the M450.
Price – At R3 595, it’s an exceptionally high value-for-money cycle GPS device. The cheapest Garmin, the 520 Edge is R7400, with similar features.
Extras – There’s a small, but powerful LED that you can set to turn on when light becomes poor. It’s flashes bright and is designed to ensure you are seen when approaching, not for you to see. We really like this safety feature.
Contact – www.polar.com
With the M450, Polar makes a high quality cycling-specific GPS/heart-rate monitor/power monitor accessible to more mountain bikers. It may not have the same GPS mapping functions of some of its competitor brands, and may be a bit limited in terms of power-measurement device options, but what it does offer, it does very well. And it does offer functions that most mountain bikers desire as well as the exceptional after-sales service that Polar is so respected for.