Being a scientist by training and temperament, part of the fun of cycling for me is the data that I can generate on the bike. That comes from years of doing experiments on myself and tracking bike performances in the lab, and also from doing field tests over familiar terrain like I did on my recent visit back to Vancouver. While it’s important to “unplug” regularly and not become a slave to the heart rate monitor or power meter, I love having lots of data to look back on.
Polar’s CS200cad brings a lot of data to a clean & functional package.
So, short of a full power meter, what kind of bike computer do I like to see on my bike? Beyond the standard fare such as speed and distance, the ingredients are pretty simple, but it’s only recently that the various manufacturers are starting to come out with the full menu for me:
• Heart Rate. It’s not as ideal as power for fully pegging your workouts. But when combined with awareness of its strengths and limitations along with good self-knowledge and, it remains an excellent means of quantifying work intensity.
• Cadence. Much more than power, heart rate, and perceived exertion, I find it more difficult to subjectively gauge or estimate my cadence. I tend to be a low-cadence type of rider, and I also find that I often underestimate my actual cadence. So I really like having cadence along on my computers so that I can remind myself to work on a higher spin.
• Wireless mounting. Besides the simple aesthetics of cluttering you your bike with wires, I can’t keep track of how many computer wires I have snapped by accident over the years. So absolute highest marks go to manufacturers who have both speed and cadence sensors with wireless transmitters. Of course, this means nothing if the transmitters or the computer are badly prone to interference.
• Download capability. To me, it’s pointless having all that data unless I can upload it all into my computer for analysis. The simpler the interface the better.
Everything you need is in the box – even batteries.
The CS200cad sits in the middle of Polar’s bike computer models, in between the CS100 and 400. And as such, it offers an intermediate range of features, and the CS200 is also available without cadence. Most importantly to me, it crosses off all my menu of desired features in a sleek and functional unit.
The cpu can be mounted to the bars or stem.
Polar has been around pretty much from day one of portable heart rate monitors, and they remain the head-of-the-class when it comes to the reliability of their units. I have used their HRMs for many years in the lab and have had no issues or problems with them, along with their s725x watch/bike computer as my standard non-power bike computer for 2+ years. However, somewhat surprisingly, it is only recently that Polar has expanded beyond its wristwatch-based units to bike-specific models.
Gotta love a nice clean setup. No tools installation (okay, you might want a set of cable snips to cut the zip ties…) and wireless technology means no wires to get tangled up or snagged, with setup taking 5 min without the need for any tools. The stem mount is becoming de rigeur nowadays to maximize cockpit space. The Polar mount does a great job in having the same small mount attach to either the stem or the handlebars without any adjustments required. Regardless or orientation, the computer snaps out by simply rotating it.
Heart of the Matter
True to its Polar pedigree, the heart rate functions of the Polar CS200cad is top-notch in design. The CS200 comes with the Wearlink transmitter and belt, which is simply the most comfortable heart rate transmitter belt imaginable. Rather than a wide swath of plastic, the Wearlink is a soft fabric belt that conforms much better on the torso and doesn’t slip like most other straps.
The Wearlink is also coded for less cross-talk and interference. Most of my riding is in pretty quiet farming areas with minimal urban buildup, so I very rarely have had any problems with random interference. However, during my recent trip to Victoria, there was one specific stretch of city road where both the CS200 and my s725x had my HR in the stratosphere. The same thing sometimes happened while riding in Vancouver next to the SkyTrain, the light rapid transit system. So as with any wireless system, no design can be considered foolproof in all settings. However, there was never any problem with either the speed or cadence wireless transmission in my use.
The setup of the computer and sensors really couldn’t be any simpler. I managed to do the entire installation in my hotel room without any tools in about 5 min, as the computer mount and speed and cadence sensors each attach with two cable ties each, while the cadence magnet comes with double-sided adhesive. The computer mount is especially nice, being a tiny mount that can attach to either the stem or handlebars without any adaptation. The computer snaps in and releases with a simple twist in either orientation.
Farewell to wires. Thanks to the wonder of wireless transmission, no more worrying about keeping computer wires in place or snapping them accidentally.
Wireless speed sensors are nothing new, but the newer technology is wireless cadence, enabling a really clean setup with the latest bike computers.
Ergonomics of Use
So, beyond being simple to set up and reliable, the major test for a bike computer is how simple it is to setup and also use on the road, as too much fiddling and staring at the computer while riding means lack of attention on the road. I’m biased in that I’m quite familiar with the typical settings of a Polar watch, such that my learning curve for setup was rapid. However, the user manual is clearly organized enough that most new users should have minimal problems, even after just going by the flow diagram at the front.
Overall, the CS200cad has pretty much every bike computer function you would commonly want, including laps, heart rate zones, settings for two bikes, and autostart option.
On the road itself, three displays are available. Standard is the heart rate on the lower left and the cadence on the lower right. Up top, a larger and smaller display is available, and which can revolve and scroll through various combinations including ride time and distance. One nice feature of the top small distance display is that it continuously rotates between lap and trip distance, removing the need to manually scroll between functions while riding. Personally, I simply kept it on the ride distance display and left it there along with speed while riding.
Speaking of scrolling, the computer has three red buttons on the top surface, with really the larger middle one (laps) and the smaller right one (scrolling between functions) being the only ones used while riding. The buttons are decently sized but a bit on the small side for ease of use. They also require a hard press to engage. I was still able to press them with light full-fingered gloves, but found it more difficult with thicker winter gloves.
Following the ride, another important criterion for me is the ease of data download. However, just because I like data doesn’t mean I’m obsessive about downloading. The CS200cad can nicely store up to seven rides in its memory and downloading is via Polar’s SonicLink technology. Rather than the infrared technology used in Polar’s higher-end watches and the CS400, SonicLink uses a microphone to transmit info to your computer. I initially thought it a bit redundant for Polar to design two separate upload technologies, but the SonicLink does have the advantage in not requiring an infrared port or separate $59.95 Polar infrared reader to upload data. I have been fine with uploading using both a laptop and a desktop computer so far.
We will review Polar’s training and analysis software another time, but data consolidation is limited to only interfacing with the free and more basic polarpersonaltrainer.com web-based software, and not the higher-end Polar ProTrainer 5 Software included with the CS400 and CS600 models or the older free Polar software. The SonicLink with the CS200cad also is not compatible with TrainingPeaks or CyclingPeaks WKO+, in my opinion greatly limiting its ultimate utility for the serious data buff.
As a bike computer, the CS200cad offers a comprehensive array of options and features, packaged into a sleekly-styled unit that is simple to install. I found it simple to set up both the bike hardware and the computer itself, and the displays were clearly visible and usable while riding. Downloading is simple and good for basic analysis of data, but its effectiveness could be greatly enhanced by making it transferable across more software platforms.
• Price: $189.95 Msrp
• Get more info at POLARUSA.com
Where to Get ‘Em
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