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Since I last used a heart rate monitor (about eight years ago), wrist-watch only monitors seem to have increased in popularity (based on the offerings at Amazon)

update apparently these watches come with a chest strap, although the chest-strap is not included in the product description..

In the 90's and early 00's, heart rate monitors never lasted me more than a year or two before the signal or the contacts started to fail.

My primary question is ... can you recommended an inexpensive (<$50) monitor?

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just to clarify you're looking for one that doesn't have a chest strap? – curtismchale Dec 11 '10 at 16:13
@Curtismchale - To clarify, I think this question has two parts, one asking for an inexpensive heart-rate monitor, the the other asking about wrist-vs-chest mount units. @David, is this correct? – Neil Fein Dec 11 '10 at 22:57
@neilfein, this is correct. – David LeBauer Dec 12 '10 at 22:41
@David - Ive updated your question. Also, if you don't get any answers soon, splitting this into two separate questions may help. (I'm not certain why a wrist mount would be less accurate -- it's the same circulatory system, yes? -- but a quick web search shows that a lot of people assume a chest mount would be more accurate.) – Neil Fein Dec 12 '10 at 23:30
@neilfein - Chest strap monitors basically work like an ECG, which reads electrical signals from your heart. Looks like most of the units with no chest-strap measure your pulse via your fingertips, requiring you to stop and touch the watch to get a reading. One's measuring the heart, the other's measuring the circulatory system. And very importantly: chest-strap allows for continuous monitoring. – freiheit Dec 13 '10 at 16:57
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I can't speak about HRM's that do not use a chest strap as that's the only type that I have used (other than to play with in the store). I find the ones with a chest strap to be completely hassle free, and I don't have to contort into a weird position to get a reading.

I've had great luck with HRM's from Timex and Nashbar in the $50 range, and like Polar but have never owned one.

If you do go with a chest strap type, the primary thing to watch out for in the lower-end range is the ability to change the strap battery. Some have a sealed chest strap, so you either have to tear it apart and super-glue it back together, or replace the strap entirely.

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Tip on the chest strap. Dry them after use - they turn on with conductivity, if you leave a layer of sweat they will keep transmitting. – mgb Mar 17 '11 at 6:28

If you look for a cheap chest-strap HRM I can testify in favor of the Sigma PC15, which I used personally.

See a review here.

As for completely wristwatch HRM I never used them directly for the reason freiheit states in his comment and I wouldn't recommend them for cycling use.

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