Join Date: Dec 2005
Location: Simi Valley, CA, USA, Earth, Solar System, Milky Way
Bikes: 1996 GT Force, 1999 Cannondale R1000, 2006 Cannondale Synapse
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It depends on the unit. Some of the more sophisticated (and more expensive) units will record altitude, time, HR, speed and cadence. Then the data can be downloaded to a PC. Polar, for example, has software that comes with some of their HRMs that will provide a graph of your entire ride. I have the Polar S725x with does all this, although the unit will set you back $325.
The chest strap senses electrical impulses, which are more pronounced in the vicinity of your chest. I have not heard of an HRM that does this any other way. I find the chest strap is not uncomfortable. Polar has a soft pickup, instead of their previous hard rubber strap, and I hardly notice its there. You may want to check out Polar too.