Each spring I get the bike tuned up thinking, “ this summer will be THE ONE! This summer I ride as much as I want. This summer I ride hard and get into incredible shape. This summer I will be a single-track shredding machine!”

But, then reality sets in and last summer was no different. With the pent up energy of a long, dark Canadian winter, I got the bike tuned to a taught readiness and hit the river valley trails with earnest. I knew it was going to be busy summer. I work for Northlands and my summers are busy with major events so I wanted to make the most of any riding days I had if I was going to get into any shape at all.

Heart rate monitors had always seemed like an unnecessary expense and complication to training. I figured if you wanted to get into shape, just ride hard and ride lots, “Ain’t nothin’ to it, but to do it.” Now that I have one though, I think differently.

Training for the Transrockies Challenge takes thought. Most human riders can’t just hop on and ride it out. It takes months of training, and more importantly, measured, marked improvement. This can be hard to achieve if you can’t track your progress with some sort of tool, like a heart rate monitor. Heart rate monitors make it so easy to measure your “effort”, which is really what it all comes down to. If you want to improve, you need to push yourself, properly. You need to be sure you’re riding at effort levels that maximize your gains, neither over stressing your body, nor under stressing it:

  • Over stress your muscles, you risk wasting time healing and missing scheduled training sessions
  • Under stress them, and you’ll never hit your full potential.

From most everything I’ve read, riding at 65%-85% of your maximum heart rate is ideal for the majority of your cross-country training. Without a heart rate monitor, maintaining a target zone like this is just left to your own subjectivity, and that’s going to be hit and miss in the best of situations.

The Suunto T3 comes with pretty much everything you need to track your training, and your performance:

  • Realtime Training Effect, levels 0 – 5
  • Current heart rate, average and maximum heart rate
  • Real-time calories burned, as you are exercising
  • Three-tier zone training system with alarms – these are used for “post exercise” analysis. The Suunto T3 will provide the user with: time below Z1, in Z1, in Z2, in Z3 and above Z3.
  • 1 x adjustable HR limits with alarms. This is used WHILE training to alert you when exercising too hard or too low
  • Speed and distance with optional Foot POD (Foot Pod technical data), Bike POD or GPS POD
  • It is possible to PAIR 3 different PODs to the T3. This can be a GPS POD, FOOT POD and BIKE POD, or FOOT POD and 2 x BIKE PODS (different bikes) or any combination of 3 PODS.
  • Provides either mph or kmh (speed) or min/m or min/km (pace)
  • Compatible with PC POD for PC download
  • Dual time, date and alarm
  • Log memory for 15 workouts including breakdown of laps, splits, distances, training effect, average and peak heart rate and calories.
  • Stopwatch with 50 split laps
  • Interval timer with 2 x segments, plus a warm up timer. For example, 5 mins warm up, then 2 x repeat timers of 6 mins and 2 mins.
  • User-replaceable battery
  • HR Belt with error-free ANT transmission technology
  • Water resistant to 30m (100 ft)
  • Interchangeable bands
  • Backlight
  • Transmitter belt (supplied): 
- Digital ANT signalling to avoid unwanted interference
- Weight 59 g (slimline design, similar to Polar T31)
- User replaceable battery CR2032 
- Water resistant to 20m/66ft (ISO 2281 standard)

Of all these things, the measurements that I pay most attention to are:

  • Duration of training session
  • Average heart rate
  • Maximum heart rate
  • Calories burned (intensity of workout)

With these training measurements, and combined with my stationary bike computer, which tells me resistance level, I get a detailed and consistent picture of my off season training rides, allowing me to track my progress, consistently and effectively.

Problems with the Suunto T3:

The control labels to the buttons are on the backing. This forces you to take the watch off your wrist whenever you forget which button does what. It also burns through batteries fairly regularly. This can happen abruptly, causing the screen to blank out mid-ride. Now, mine is a 2007 model, and I understand the 2008s have control labels on the face for all buttons. I can’t say though if they’ve improved the battery situation. A battery meter of some kind would be useful so you don’t have it conk out on you 2 hours into a 3 hour ride…