Garmin and Polar have been the defacto leaders of the cycling GPS world. Wahoo has slowly been encroaching on their turf with heart rate monitors and specific cycling gear, but has now has declared open war by releasing the Wahoo Elemnt GPS bike computer. Should Garmin and Polar be afraid of the new upstart?
Wahoo Elemnt GPS Bike Computer Review
Wahoo have created a GPS cycling computer. In the same way that Wahoo turned up with their turbo trainer The KICKR and ate the lunch of many of the other turbo trainer manufacturers, can Wahoo do the same to the GPS boys?
The Wahoo Elemnt comes lovingly packaged. The quality of the packaging feels much more akin to that of a high-end watch, or perfume, as is becoming the way with a lot of gadgets
Inside the box are three different mounts – an out front mount, bar mount and aerobat mount – Not using a TT bike that one too me a couple of goes to work out!
We’ve got chunky zip ties in the box – no rubber bands here holding the stem mount down – with Wahoo are following in the industrial design philosophy of the KICKR “Make it tough, and let the style look after itself”. Some people and companies prefer rubber bands for their stem mounts, but that does really work with larger computers in my mind. Plus have seen a LOT of GPS units and other bits and bobs going flying from handlebars and mounts during the RideLondon, I’m now VERY keen to ensure kit is fixed down securely!
The industrial design approach carries over to the actual Elemnt. I’m sure many people will agree, but I don’t think this an attractive unit in the conventional sense.
So much of road bike kit is aero or slim, or just design to look fast – Garmin Edge 1000 for example.,
The Wahoo Elemnt however looks much more…robust. I think it could look quite in keeping on a BMC frame for example, where there aesthetic is more angular, as opposed to fluid.
However, whilst not conventionally attractive, I do like the look of the Elemnt. Plus I’d happily take this on a mountain bike, the Garmin Edge 1000, perhaps less so.
Turning the Wahoo Elemnt over, there is a quarter turn mount on the back…
Which looks surprisingly like a Garmin mount… but twisted by 90deg, and with just enough changes to the edges/wing as to avoid infringement. You could file the wedges down slightly… but then the Wahoo Elemnt would still sit at 90deg, which would be difficult to look at, as the software doesn’t autorotate!!
Depending on if you are using an after market mount that might not be an issue however, for mounts such as the K-Edge XL, which I am a particular fan of,
Allow you to rotate the mounting plate, so still allowing the Wahoo Elemnt can to be used (An easier option might just be to buy the Elemnt mounting plate instead though!). Interesting Wahoo even sell the K-edge XL on their site in a fetching Wahoo blue, I’ll explain why that might not be a bad purchase shortly…
In terms of charging, we’re using a micro USB under a sky blue flap. I’m not entirely sure why this colour of flap was used, but I’m certainly very pro the contrasting colours
We have the power button on the top, which is also used to access the settings functions.
A double rocker switch on the RIGHT of the unit used to scroll through menus, and specifically control the number of size of the data fields when you are out on a ride
Then at the bottom, three sizeable rubber buttons, changing depending on the mode. The middle button normally being the action/select button, with the LEFT a history/option button and the RIGHT next page/option button.
The buttons need a bit of a prod sometimes to get them to respond, that’s not a problem with the buttons per say, more a comment of how used my fingers have become to using touchscreen devices, where you merely tap, rather than have a physical interaction.
The need to push down on the buttons with a small degree of force brings me back to the out front mount, and it’s deisgn. It feels like there is not enough resistance against torsional forces, and the mount twists slightly, when you press on a button, making the unit dip. Not a major issue, but a shame on a device which clear has so many great design features.
Speaking of design the screen is in the grand scheme of things a relatively simple affair, but you know what? it works!
Polar have in the past hit on this with the V800 and the M400. You don’t need a colourful display, what you need is readability. The Garmin 1000 screen has that, but the back light needs to be cranked up. With the Wahoo Elemnt, the screen is monochrome and displays clearly in most situations. Conversely it would be nice if the Wahoo back light was a little stronger, occasionally around dusk, or even inside when using Zwift I have found it a little dark.
However in many ways Wahoo over comes ANY screen limitations by using LEDs which run around the bezel of the device – suddenly we see why the device looks quite so chunky!
Without question the LED’s here are the Elemnt crowning glory. I’m actually surprised someone hasn’t come up with this before!
Using these LED’s to give you an idea of your performance is one of the best ways if getting riding data I have seen – VERY glancable! As far as I’ve concerned the use of LED’s in this way is the killer feature on the Wahoo Elemnt, and have a roll in both navigation and Strava segments.
You can customise the LEFT to displayed Speed, Power or HR averages, whilst the top flashes for notifications and pausing of workouts… in case you missed that you stopped riding, I’m sure that could be attached to more useful notification
Speaking of notifications, as the Wahoo Elemnt has ANT+ and Bluetooth, including Bluetooth smart, we get effective screen notifications whilst cycling. I always considered this to be a really useful function, and continue to be surprised when companies struggle to get this function, which is now used in a wide range of devices working for some sports devices.
You can see at the top here, the LEDs at the top flashing to indicate the incoming call, as they will for most smart notifications from your phone.
|Size||2.3” x 3.5” x 0.8” 57.5 x 90.5 x 21.2 mm|
|LCD Screen Type||High contrast. Display Size 2.7” 68.6 mm|
|Mount||3 mounts included: out-front, stem and aero|
|Compatibility||Works with Strava and more|
|Battery Life||Up to 17 hours|
Using the device
The Wahoo Elemnt needs a companion phone for setup with the Elemnt App. You can still use it without, adding sensors, but that is about it. Without the phone you are not really going to be able to customise the Wahoo Elemnt at all. Once you have actually connected to the phone, you are able to add WiFi networks to the Elemnt so that it can download firmware updates, and routes on it’s own.
Basically without a phone for setup, you loose all the fun stuff!
Thankfully pairing your phone is ridiculously easy
The initial connection to the phone is done with a QR code – it is practically INSTANTANEOUS, so fast it was a struggle to actually photograph it effectively!! Again, this is how bluetooth should work – other manufactures please pay attention!
At this point – STEP AWAY FROM THE DEVICE. Wahoo is prodigious at tweaking and playing with their firmware, so it’s quite likely you’ll have a lot of updates to do.
Thankfully pairing your devices to the Elemnt is also very straight forward. Merely putting the Wahoo Elemnt near the device. If you are pairing another Wahoo device, it does identify things straight away, and correctly names things
You can then view, and add further sensors from the main settings page
Once everything installed on the Wahoo Elemnt, you can tweak your data screens. I dont know why, but my brain just had difficulty working out which screen, and which data field I was editing when I was flicking through between the device and my phone
So instead, I just deleted the lot of default fields and pages and started again from scratch.
Apart from this hiccough, which I think was more due to my brain than Wahoo’s defaults, the page/field system is deliciously simple – especially if you start from scratch
Inside the custom pages are the default pages, however you can also create new pages, or rename existing ones
Then load the data fields you want – there are a LOT, but crucially the ORDER in which you’d put them onto the page matters, as this is how you give the data fields priority
Which ever metric is placed in the 1st slot, becomes the main focus of that page, with each page able to have 10 data fields. It will always be at the top of the Wahoo Elemnt display, and likely larger than the other fields also displayed. If you use the toggle keys on the device to “zoom in” so there is only one field displayed, this top field will be it
If you zoom out as far as you can see all 10 data fields, and is a very effective way of easily carrying many varied display options on the device which you can EASILY change on the fly.
As we’ve already discussed the Bluetooth notifications work beautifully, but Wifi connectivity is also vital in order to transmit your ride up into the cloud so everyone can see it. The Wahoo Elemnt isn’t proud, it seems to connect to everyone rather than just themselves and Strava, which is a more common approach. Ok, that’s not entirely correct, Polar, Suunto, TomTom etc are not supported, but it is very interesting to see Garmin included on the accounts the Wahoo Elemnt can link to.
In terms of further connectivity you can share ride with others, showing what you are doing at that particular time.
HOWEVR this is exactly as it says, a livetrack. if you go onto the same link at another point, it will not show you the data from that ride, but instead, exactly where you the device was last seen by GPS and communicated it’s position to Wahoo servers. The below picture was taken from the link I sent on the 29th of June, but now shows my location on the 19th of August, as I’m wrapping up this review. So think about who you are sending your live track information to
Navigation/Ride with GPS
On the above phot of “linked accounts” , you’ll see RideWithGPS – Wahoo currently doesn’t have an inhouse mapping/navigation setup, instead opting to use RideWithGPS. This has benefits and disadvantages.
You have a huge pool of riders and routes, as the platform is device agnostic, however, it does mean without a phone and internet connection, you are not going to be loading any new routes.
To reiterate the HUGE pool of riders and route, there are 98,005 routes and rides within 50KM of my location in Warwick… now that is massive!
Open the route, check it is one you want to try and sent it to Your Routes
Anything that is in your Routes section will then by copied to the Wahoo Elemnt when it next connects over WiFi
You also have the option to create your own routes if you want
Check that your route has uploaded to the device before you head off – go to the Routes Page,
Hit the Route button, to bring up your routes
My new route has not appeared, hit sync,and WITHIN 5 SECONDS, I couldnt actually get the syncing animation, the new route appears
The route you have selected on the map is not particularly clear at the start when viewed as an overview. Perhaps highlighting in black rather than just grey would be better, and might be an easy firmware tweak?
You get a better view actually when you zoom out and lose the detailed little roads
However, when you have set off, the routing becomes very clear.
When you approach a turn, the Wahoo Elemnt chimes, and the LEDs on the top flash green
Then the LED’s on the top of the device flash progressively to the LEFT or RIGHT of the Wahoo Elemnt, giving beautiful indications for you to turn left or right
There is also the option to view to cue sheet to tell you where to go
Note here the SIDE LEDs are referring to my average speed (i’m stopped) not navigaton LEDS – as they’d be pointing the wrong way! (Yes people have asked!)
I think it can be argued that the actual routing directions, are clearer than on the Edge 1000, which does direct you where to go, but lacks the instruction as well as the map
It should be noted, if you leave the course, you are largely on your own, just flashing red lights at the top
Strava Live Segments
Frankly the system using the LED features on the side of the Wahoo Elemnt works brilliantly. Plus the description on the Wahoo Elemnt firmware really demonstrates the functionality well.
But it is one thing to show nice photoshopped images of a function, but that doesn’t actually give an indication of how well the Strava segments works in reality – rest assured, Wahoo have also nailed the Strava Live Segments!
I think this photo also highlights the bit I have said about the screens. The Wahoo Elemnt back light doesnt really m when atter when in the sun, however the “adaptive” brightness on the Edge 1000 keeps things relatively dimm, so you end up running it on a higher brighteness, and draining the battery faster
Conversely though, inside the Wahoo Elemnt is just too dim, which is suprising given that there is dedicated Wahoo KICKR functionality!
Staying with the idea of the screen for a moment, the plastic on the Wahoo Elemnt screen seems to scratch moderately easily, just from having it in my bag, the from acquires a few very irritating marks on the bottom of the screen. Certainly one to use a screen protector on!
London Ride 100
I rode with both the Garmin Edge 1000 and the Wahoo Elemnt during the RideLondon 100 miles. I honestly found that the Wahoo Elemnt a more usable screen and display. When you are pushing along for a distance like that, having such an adaptable display was excellent, with the setup of the fields I wanted on the phone the night before proving very easy.
As said early, having the ability to set excess data screens on each page, and reveal them later on the ride as I changed what I wanted to display was really quite positive!
Plus as with most devices, you can have metric or imperial data, but as someone who is practically exclusively metric (when it comes to riding anyway) for the RideLondon where all the markers are in miles, I was very pleased to have the ability to use mixed units on the Wahoo Elemnt. Small thing, but I liked the attention to detail
I needed to update the firmware on the Wahoo Elemnt in order to get Strava Segments, however afterwards I did initially find the device became somewhat unstable afterwards, and have seen several crashes, one during a ride. However the Wahoo Elemnt is good at recovering a ride, but has been a bit of an irritation.
I tried several factory resets, initially without much change. However a new firmware update seems to have resolved that now. You can read the list of firmware changes, and there are plenty over time here
Should Garmin and Polar be afraid of the Wahoo as a new challenger? – Be in do doubt YES! Garmin Bluetooth implementation tends to be poor – I have actually switched off the Bluetooth on my Edge 1000, as it is simply a waste of time. Polar holds on to their position with their top of the line V650 GPS, however the instance that ANT+ doesn’t exist is a slight bug bear, and the V650 is looking long in the tooth compared to Wahoo’s LED’s and navigation.
Wahoo has come at the cycling GPS device from a different route, recognising that the most important thing, when you are doing 40kph down the road is not the highest pixel density colour screen, but glanceable information. The LEDs around the edge of the Wahoo Elemnt deal with this brilliantly.
Strava Live segment integration has come a little later, but Wahoo supports it now, and again is brilliant, the amount of information you get, I have found really helpful in stimulating you to push harder on the segment .
If there is any weak point currently on the Wahoo Elemnt it is the nature of their turn by turn navigation. Now on the device, the navigation is certainly looking like a contender for industry leader, but as we are limited to RideWithGPS, we can’t set up a new route, or navigate to a way point on the device. Similarly if you deviate from the route the Elemnt isnt going to help you get back on it. If Wahoo can make an easy, and elegant way of getting routes and navigation on to the Elemnt, to put it simply, Garmin and Polar had better be about to bring something very impressive to market.