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polar-cs600x

If you’re looking for a powerful tool to help you with your mountain bike training, look no further than the CS600X from Polar. The CS600X tracks your every move on the bike, nags you like a coach when you’re slacking off, works well with others, and comes in one of the slickest handlebar packages around.

Training Functions On Board

In terms of cycling-specific data recording, no other device I’ve seen compares to the Polar CS600X. Basics like distance and speed are monitored by the included W.I.N.D. wireless speed sensor while the heart rate sensor tracks your vitals (wirelessly, natch). Some heart rate straps I’ve tested can be finicky when syncing but not this one clearly Polar knows heart rate and they know wireless (more on that later). The CS600X also includes a built-in thermometer and a barometric altimeter to track climbs and descents.

Unlike some cycling computers or even GPS units, the Polar doesn’t overwhelm you with data when you’re on the bike. Sure, you can view basic stats and even simple time-based graphs of heart rate or elevation, but overall the screen helps you focus more on riding, less on “fiddling.” With training plans and sport zones you can program the Polar CS600X to alert you when you reach certain levels or milestones but the great thing is you don’t have to look down during your ride except to start or stop the timer! (That is, unless you want to keep an eye on things.)

If you’re serious about your training the CS600X will help you take things to the next level, particularly if you’re working with a coach who can help you analyze things like heart rate and pace data. A coach can also help you create a training plan and define heart rate zones that can be downloaded to the CS600X kinda like having your coach with you on the bike 🙂 Even if you don’t have a coach the CS600X includes a fitness test function that measures your heart rate to estimate your overall fitness level. I’m not sure what the resulting number means (if anything) but it’s helpful for setting a fitness baseline and seeing how you improve over time.

Accessories

Beyond distance, speed, elevation, heart rate, and temperature sensors, you can also pair the Polar CS600X with optional accessories like a power meter and GPS sensor. Power meters are mostly for the road riders (though admittedly some of my MTB training does take place on skinny tires) but the GPS is definitely something I’m into.

polar-g3-gps-sensor

The Polar G3 GPS sensor is just a bit larger than the CS600X itself and can be attached to you or your bike within a few feet of the CS600X. I found it worked well snapped to my Camelbak but it also worked great tucked into a rear jersey pocket on the road. Signal acquisition is quick and pairing it with the CS600X is a snap (just be sure to read the included instructions). The G3 is water resistant and I certainly put this to the test riding in soggy spring conditions that included more than a few downpours no hitches.

Speed and distance data is transmitted wirelessly from the G3 GPS sensor to the CS600X which means you can keep the speed sensor permanently installed on your road bike or even ditch it altogether. The data seemed fairly accurate compared to other GPS units I’ve tested and is stored on the CS600X for later analysis. Unfortunately you can’t use the G3 GPS for real-time trail navigation since it doesn’t generate an on-screen map but unlike many cycling specific GPS devices, the G3 GPS sensor uses just a single AA battery that can be easily replaced on a super epic ride.

After the ride, GPS data can be accessed via the included Polar ProTrainer 5 software where you can see a map of your route and even export data to your favorite GPX software or Google Earth. I’ll talk more about the ProTrainer 5 software in an upcoming review there’s just way too much to cover in one post!

The Package

Ok, this is where Polar really hit it out of the park (dude – the CS600X won an International Forum Design award in 2008!). The CS600X is about half the size of any cycling-specific GPS unit I’ve seen and it weighs half as much. It’s aerodynamic, ergonomic, and despite it’s svelte package it gets incredible battery life. I’ve already put a few hundred miles on my CS600X and haven’t had to replace the batteries yet! Other GPS units would have been recharged half a dozen times already.

The included bike mounting system is rock solid, even over sketchy terrain. Use the included zip-ties to attach the mount to your bars and twist the CS600X to lock it in dead simple. Even if you (ahem) accidentally leave the CS600X on your bike for the drive back home, it will stay put at 70mph on your car roof (not that I recommend putting this claim to the test).

You may have noticed I’ve been using the word “wireless” a lot in this review and it turns out this is a big part of what makes the CS600X so freakin’ sexy. The CS600X doesn’t have a single data port or outlet on it which means it’s incredibly water resistant (and again, aerodynamic). But how, you may ask, do you get data from the CS600 to your computer? The answer: wirelessly.

Yep, just plug in the included Polar IrDA USB adapter into your computer and point your CS600X, remote control style. Bling, you’re done. No more futzing with cables Polar makes it easy to download and analyze your training data after EVERY workout. Genius.

Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a powerful way to take your training to the next level, let the Polar CS600X help you get you there. You won’t find a more complete solution for tracking every training variable you can imagine in such a tiny, user-friendly package!

Stay tuned for a review of the other half of the Polar CS600X equation ProTrainer 5 software (included with the Polar CS600X).

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