Tech & Wearables

Technical FAQ: Alternative heart rate monitors

Lennard Zinn explains how a helmet-mounted heart rate monitor is his favorite option

You switch on the Genesis LifeBEAM helmet by holding down the diamond-shaped button visible just under the long, blue-tinted indicator light. If you push too hard on this button, you can dislodge it in its mount, but I always managed to flip it back in place again. The rubber cover above the indicator light covers the mini-USB charging port. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
You switch on the Genesis LifeBEAM helmet by holding down the diamond-shaped button visible just under the long, blue-tinted indicator light. If you push too hard on this button, you can dislodge it in its mount, but I always managed to flip it back in place again. The rubber cover above the indicator light covers the mini-USB charging port. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
USB charging cord plugged into the Genesis LifeBEAM helmet. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
USB charging cord plugged into the Genesis LifeBEAM helmet. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
The PulseOn wrist monitor can be read on the face, and it transmits to an ANT+ bike computer or via Bluetooth to a smart phone. I have no experience about how it works while exercising. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
The PulseOn wrist monitor can be read on the face, and it transmits to an ANT+ bike computer or via Bluetooth to a smart phone. I have no experience about how it works while exercising. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
The SMART Genesis LifeBEAM helmet’s contours are almost identical to this Lazer Helium helmet I’ve been wearing for a few years. They weigh almost the same, too. The Helium, which has no HRM in it, weighs more, at 395g, than the 388g Lazer Genesis with the LifeBEAM HRM built into it. That said, the Helium is an XL and fits great, and the Genesis is an L. Lazer’s advertised weight for the Genesis LifeBEAM helmet is 285g! I don’t know where they found one more than 100g lighter. I have a number of helmets that do fit my head and that are over 100 grams lighter than either of these Lazers, but I don’t notice the weight difference while riding. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
The SMART Genesis LifeBEAM helmet’s contours are almost identical to this Lazer Helium helmet I’ve been wearing for a few years. They weigh almost the same, too. The Helium, which has no HRM in it, weighs more, at 395g, than the 388g Lazer Genesis with the LifeBEAM HRM built into it. That said, the Helium is an XL and fits great, and the Genesis is an L. Lazer’s advertised weight for the Genesis LifeBEAM helmet is 285g! I don’t know where they found one more than 100g lighter. I have a number of helmets that do fit my head and that are over 100 grams lighter than either of these Lazers, but I don’t notice the weight difference while riding. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com

It is easy to install Lazer’s optional RollSys Taillight into the roller on the top rear of the helmet that you roll to pull in the RollSys retention system around the occipital bones. On the older Helium, I had to replace its original gold cap surrounding the roller with this black one, because the gold one was convex at the back and would have concealed the taillight. The Genesis already had a white cap that is concave at the back like the one visible in the package with the taillight, so all I needed to do was pull off the little clear cover on the back of the roller, shove in the batteries and the LED light, and put the clear cover back on. The RollSys Taillight comes with a couple of watch batteries that last a very long time (longer if used on the flashing mode). I really like having a helmet with which I don’t need to worry about forgetting either a heart monitor strap or a taillight. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
It is easy to install Lazer’s optional RollSys Taillight into the roller on the top rear of the helmet that you roll to pull in the RollSys retention system around the occipital bones. On the older Helium, I had to replace its original gold cap surrounding the roller with this black one, because the gold one was convex at the back and would have concealed the taillight. The Genesis already had a white cap that is concave at the back like the one visible in the package with the taillight, so all I needed to do was pull off the little clear cover on the back of the roller, shove in the batteries and the LED light, and put the clear cover back on. The RollSys Taillight comes with a couple of watch batteries that last a very long time (longer if used on the flashing mode). I really like having a helmet with which I don’t need to worry about forgetting either a heart monitor strap or a taillight. Photo: Lennard Zinn | VeloNews.com
Dear Lennard,
I read that you quit racing due to a heart arrhythmia. I was just diagnosed with SVT [Supraventricular Tachycardia] and told I should monitor my heart rate all of the time. I hate wearing the chest strap. Have you tried those wrist monitors?
— George

Dear George,
I wear the PulseOn wrist monitor on my wrist, but I have never exercised with it.

I do use what I think is a particularly excellent solution, though: a heart monitor built into my helmet! The LifeBEAM SMART cycling helmet has an HRM that transmits via ANT+ to my Garmin unit on my handlebar (or via Bluetooth to a smartphone). It has an on/off switch, an indicator light, and a 170mAh lithium polymer battery rechargeable via a mini-USB port built into a Lazer Genesis helmet.

Chest straps invariably are wrong (they read way too high) when leaving my house, which involves descending right away. The SMART helmet generally gives a believable heart rate reading straight from my house, but occasionally it also starts out way high and takes a good 20 minutes before it settles in and seems to be providing accurate numbers. I have no idea why this sometimes happens; I’ve tried to notice if I turned it and the Garmin on in reverse order or something, but it just seems random.

I always wear a helmet, so I never forget my heart monitor now. I often forgot the chest strap; I know that’s partly because I hated how clammy it felt once sweaty, especially on a cold day. It never was accurate when descending fast, either, even when using Buh-Bump cream, which definitely improved its accuracy during the period before I got good and sweaty on a climb.

The Genesis LifeBEAM helmet seems to give a much more consistent signal, whether I’m going up, down or flat; it’s the only heart rate monitor I’ve been able to believe when descending fast down a mountain.

Unlike a chest strap, it does need frequent recharging, and the battery-level indicator always seems to read full, even on days when it poops out early on the ride. It sells for $229 MSRP. LifeBEAM is a Tel Aviv-based manufacturer focused on measuring human performance with wearable bio-sensing technology.

I still wonder about potential long-term health effects of having a radio-wave generator attached to your body, whether it is strapped around your heart, your brain, or your wrist, but I have no idea if there are any studies on this, and I certainly have no evidence that it’s not healthy, after almost 30 years of using chest straps. In my case, the downside of not knowing what my heart rate is still outweighs any unfounded health concerns I might have about effects of the monitoring hardware. Letting my heart rate go too high (I strive to keep it under 134bpm) can lead to an occurrence of an arrhythmia that I would rather not have.
― Lennard