Today’s top cycling teams rely on mountains of data to help their pro riders deliver peak performances. This happens everywhere from the Tour de France to the mountain bike World Cup. But what about the rest of us? How can we tap into performance data and advanced analytics to become better riders?
After using the Polar Vantage V2 smartwatch for the last month, I can say that this device is a major step toward that pro-level data. But just like a real pro team, you need full commitment to make the most of its technology.
Polar positions the Vantage V2 as a multisport watch, and for good reason. You can choose from more than 130 sport profiles to record activities. There are a bevy of running performance tools, like training programs, a performance test, and even a VO2 Max estimator. There are strength workout guides. Plus, the Vantage V2 serves up swimming metrics, if you’d like to tri that. But this is The Pro’s Closet, I’m a cyclist, and that’ll be the perspective for this review.
So what is this device, actually? It’s a GPS head unit, an activity tracker, a heart rate monitor powered by Polar Precision Prime optical sensors at the wrist, a sleep tracker, and a tool to measure recovery and performance. Plus, the data it records ends up in the Polar Flow app which provides in-depth insights.
There's a lot of technology in this wristwatch.
That’s a pretty overwhelming slate of features, and honestly we probably forgot to mention a few like the guided breathing exercises. Perhaps it makes sense that this loaded device comes at a high price, $500.
That may seem like a lot, but the quality and finish of the Polar watch helps justify its price. The gorilla glass touchscreen is near iPhone-quality. The aluminum case and buttons have a flawless finish and feel, and the user interface is intuitive and welcoming.
Although Polar’s offering is expensive for a multisport watch, it offers competitive functionality. For instance, Garmin's Forerunner 745 is also $500 and has comparable features.
The Vantage V2 combines the functionality of multiple devices, specifically a GPS head unit and a sleep/recovery tracker, into a single unit. Consider a Whoop strap, which offers recovery and sleep tracking — that device requires a $288 annual membership, while the Vantage V2 is yours once you buy it. Plus, combining all of your activity, recovery, and sleep tracking into one device lets you harmonize all of the data for a holistic look at activity and recovery.
However, to make that $500 investment pay off, you have to wear the Vantage V2 consistently.
Optical heart rate sensors are key to the Vantage V2's sleep, recovery, and activity tracking.
When I wore my Polar day and night, and when I used it to record all of my rides, workouts, dog walks, and show shoveling, it provided a comprehensive picture of my physical activity and strain. It provided a graph of my cardio load in the Flow app and estimated whether I was detraining, maintaining fitness, or overreaching. All of this is presented in nice, color-coded graphs that are easy to comprehend. Plus, the system learns as it records more activities, making its recommendations more accurate.
If you’re training for a goal event or race (I know, I know, pending the end of the pandemic), this data can be tremendously useful. As you push through a hard training block, it can reassure you that you’re rested enough for one more hard day of riding. Or it can warn you against overtraining to ensure you aren’t cooked when it comes time to peak.
As for the “night” part of my day and night testing, the Polar system similarly gave me loads of insights on my sleep, starting with an overall “recharge status” along with in-depth info on REM cycles and sleep interruptions. Honestly, I don’t love having to wear a watch to bed, but if you’re serious about consistently tracking sleep data, you can get used to it. The Flow app then makes recommendations on how much activity you are capable of, depending on your sleep quality.
So far, I’ve only used one of the two recovery tracking features, Nightly Recharge. This relies on the watch’s optical heart rate sensors and is meant more for everyday activity, not intensive training. The second option, Recovery Pro, works off of regular orthostatic tests performed in the morning with a chest-mounted heart rate sensor to gauge your readiness for training. Both evaluate your heart rate variability and are backed up by Polar’s extensive scientific research.
Honestly, I don’t think I’m disciplined enough to take time for an orthostatic test every single morning. The insights gleaned from my Nightly Recharge metrics are interesting, but I’ve yet to really alter my habits based off of the graphs shown in my Flow app. I’m a pretty fickle, light sleeper, so I typically take what I can get and hope for the best. The Vantage V2’s data seems pretty coherent with my perception of sleep quality, but there are occasionally mornings when I think I slept better than it says I did, or vice-versa.
Polar's Flow app provides an extensive array of sleep tracking metrics.
The Vantage V2 also checks the box for conventional GPS head unit functions. It connects to other sensors like a power meter or heart rate monitor. It offers Strava Live Segments. You can load routes and navigate. (But you have to do your mapping with Komoot.) It also lets you program workouts and even analyses fuel usage after a given ride.
There is one slight catch to all of that, though. If you’re strictly wearing the Vantage V2 as a watch, it is not quite as easy to regularly check in on the next turn or how much time is remaining in an interval, compared to a typical bar-mounted head unit. And since I have to bundle up with long sleeves and gloves through the Colorado winter, a wrist-mounted device has its drawbacks.
On the other hand (er, wrist), I don’t like having a multi-hundred-dollar piece of electronics on the handlebars of my mountain bike, given the potential for catastrophe when a crash happens (not if). So a GPS watch is a great alternative that lets me keep an eye on the time, along with other metrics, versus a head unit that’s stowed away in a pack.
Naturally, Polar offers an accessory that lets you strap the Vantage V2 to your bars. But that means you’d lose the optical heart rate sensor option, necessitating a convention heart rate strap to sync with the watch. You also wouldn’t feel the vibration cues — as is the case with all of the activity display preferences, those can be configured in the Flow app. Combined with audible alerts, the vibrations could be another way to get more immediate feedback when the watch is on your wrist, rather than right in front of you on the bars.
Polar Flow's activity metrics are just as extensive as its sleep and recovery data.
Above all, like any new device, you just have to get accustomed to it and set it up to your preferences, which may even vary from ride to ride. With its litany of customizable options, surely most riders will get the Vantage V2 set to their likings with a bit of trial and error.
It’s a major challenge to ask a device to do literally everything, but that’s essentially what Polar’s trying to do with the Vantage V2. I’d say they got pretty darn close. If you love digging into the data that comes from your current power meter, heart rate monitor, or GPS head unit, the Vantage V2 will supercharge that obsession. Plus, it’ll give you those metrics in an easily digestible format. Provided you’re committed to wearing it consistently, Polar is the closest regular athletes will get to the pro-level analytics that live in secret black boxes on team buses.