An Expert Guide to Wahoo Bike ComputersPublished on 05/13/2023 · 8 min readIn need of a new bike computer? Cycling Expert Adam L. explains why Wahoo's offerings might fit you, and helps you find which option might best suit you.
Photo courtesy of Wahoo Fitness
Wahoo is an American brand known for its cycling computers and Kickr lineup of indoor trainers. Their first head unit was the Wahoo Elemnt Roam, and eventually, the Elemnt Bolt and Elemnt Rival smartwatch were also added to the lineup. What the Elemnt series may lack in vowels, it makes up for in unique features, including LED indicator lights and a powerful companion smartphone app that makes unit setup and customization easy.
Unlike offerings from Garmin and Hammerhead, which differentiate features based on price point, the Bolt and Roam have almost the same features and are instead differentiated by size. The Roam is larger and designed for riders who prioritize navigation, while the Bolt is smaller and more suited for riders who prioritize aerodynamics and weight savings.
This guide will cover the many features that the devices share before diving into what sets them apart. I’ll also explain the Elemnt Rival, Wahoo’s smartwatch, before wrapping up with a quick summary to help you pick the best option for yourself.
Why Buy a Bike Computer?
A cycling computer—or head unit in cycling parlance—provides several benefits to cyclists of all abilities. Their primary functions include ride tracking, workout recording, and navigation. Head units also integrate with apps like Strava for planning and sharing rides and workouts. Beginner riders might be interested in tracking their speed and distance, while more advanced cyclists can make use of their workout planning and heart rate and power meter connectivity. Head units can connect with all types of training sensors and indoor training devices, and are important tools for anyone getting serious about their cycling fitness.
Turn-by-turn navigation makes following planned routes a breeze and makes it easy to explore new areas. Head units also make it easy to stay in touch with friends and family, offering live GPS tracking as well as emergency alerts in a crash.
While smartphones or smartwatches can replicate some of these features, they aren’t ideal. Watches have small screens that aren’t easy to read while riding, and smartphones are not designed to constantly have the screen on and don’t have the most accurate GPS antennae. It’s also nice to put your phone away for a few hours and focus on riding! Wahoo makes feature-rich cycling computers for both racers and more casual riders.
Wahoo Elements’ Shared Features
The Elemnt Roam and Bolt are based on a color screen and button control and include a barometric altimeter for elevation ratings. The devices are rated as waterproof, but it’s probably best to stick to wet rides and not take one for a swim.
Both the Elemnt Bolt and Roam have LED light strips that serve as quick-look indicators that can show metrics including heart rate, power, and turn directions at a glance. A USB-C port provides charging. It's a nice upgrade to a modern standard from previous micro-USB connectors.
All the basic connection protocols you’d expect from a modern head unit include Bluetooth Low Energy, ANT+, ANT FE-C, and Wi-Fi. Bluetooth connects to iPhone and Android smartphones, while ANT+ and ANT FE-C read data from training sensors and can control smart trainers.
While Wahoo makes smart trainers, heart rate monitors, and power meter pedals, the standard connection protocols mean the Elemnts can connect to accessories from any brand. The Elemnts can display notifications from a connected phone and are also compatible with external radars, including the Garmin Varia. Finally, Wi-Fi uploads and download rides, routes, and workouts.
Data screens are customizable using the Wahoo Elemnt companion app. The Wahoo app is very intuitive. Setting up training screens and other preferences on a smartphone is much preferable to using the on-device buttons to navigate endless menus. Loads of metrics can be displayed, including the basics like time, speed, and distance, as well as power, heart rate, and other training statistics.
The Elemnt units are compatible with common training platforms including TrainingPeaks, TrainerRoad, and Wahoo’s own SYSTM platform. Workouts can be automatically synced to the head unit for you to follow outdoors or on the trainer. You can also generate custom training alerts, so instead of just saying “eat” every 10 minutes, you could program your Elemnt to remind you to “eat two gummy bears and three bites of stroopwafel'' if you were so inclined.
There’s also Perfect View Zoom, which can highlight specific metrics during a training session. This feature is nice when you want to focus on heart rate or power and aren’t concerned with other data fields. One surprising absence is the lack of custom ride profiles. While other companies offer specific profiles for different riding disciplines (Road, Gravel, MTB, etc.), the Elemnt units do not. Strava subscribers can also sync routes and segments and compete in live segments while riding.
Navigation is provided by a full-screen and full-color map. Wahoo devices can follow a predetermined route imported from the Wahoo app or Strava and also create routes on-device. Wahoo has a few special names for navigation features, including Get Me Started, Back on Track, and Take Me To. Still, the upshot is that the device can route to a route start point before following the route, recalculate routes after a missed turn, navigate to a specific point, and direct you back to the ride start. Trailforks and MTB Project are also able to sync for offroad navigation.
Turn-by-turn directions are standard for routes. Like Garmin’s ClimbPro, Summit Segments identifies climbs on routes and provides a specific data screen with gradient, climb profile, and other customizable statistics. Wahoo also has Route Sharing, which uses the Wahoo app to share routes with nearby riders easily. This unique feature is useful for a quick pre-ride route share before setting off.
Different Wahoo Elemnt Bike Computers
The Elemnt Roam is a touring-focused computer. It’s no slouch and has all the training features mentioned above. Here’s a list of the major differences compared to the Bolt:
- Larger screen - 2.7”
- Heavier weight - 93.5g.
- Bigger battery - up to 17 hours of battery life
- More storage - 32GB
- Two rows of Quicklook LED lights
- Dual-band GPS
The Bolt is a smaller and lighter racing-focused computer. Its aerodynamic design is designed to integrate with Wahoo’s mount and provide minimal drag in the wind. Here are the major differences compared to the Roam:
- Smaller screen - 2.2”
- Lighter weight - 68g
- Less battery life - up to 15 hours
- Single row of Quicklook LED lights
- Single-band GPS
The Rival is a GPS training watch built on the Wahoo ecosystem. It’s designed for multisport athletes, especially triathletes, but is good for anyone who likes to run, bike, and swim outside of organized competition. While the Rival is not a dedicated bike computer, it can record rides on its own or work in tandem with a dedicated cycling computer. The screen is smaller than the other Elemnt units so it better fits on a wrist.
Physical features include a Gorilla Glass screen and an optical heart rate monitor on the back of the device. In addition, it shares many features with the head units, including customizable training screens and phone connectivity.
One unique feature of the Rival is Touchless Transition, which automatically changes sport mode based on detected motion in a multisport activity. When a new sport is detected, the Rival changes data screens and records a split time. The user can edit this later if the Rival makes an error. Touchless Transition is extremely convenient for triathletes and duathletes who frequently do more than one sport in a training session.
How to Choose the Right Wahoo Bike Computer for You
Choosing between the two Wahoo units with similar features can be tough. After a thorough review, I think the Roam is the best choice for riders who frequently use navigation features. They’ll appreciate the bigger screen. It’s not much more expensive than the Bolt and is probably the best pick for most riders.
The Bolt is a good choice for riders who want a smaller computer, possibly for weight savings or a smaller form factor. In addition, the svelter unit is easier to keep out of harm’s way and transport, which is nice for frequent removal or off-road riding where you might want to keep the device protected.
The Rival is an interesting alternative either as a stand-alone or a supplement to a Wahoo head unit. The Rival is a nice option if you’re racing triathlons or cyclo-cross, or want a versatile smartwatch. With a smaller screen, I wouldn’t recommend it for cycling exclusive use, but it’s a good multi-tasker if you need one device for several sports.
Hopefully this article helped you get more clarity on which Wahoo trainer is best for you! To explore more Cycling articles as you pursue your journey in the sport, check out the Expert Journal here on Curated.