So my current bike computer is close to giving up the goat. And the ghost.
I’ve been waiting for this moment for some time. Having been in new bike GPS purchase mode almost constantly for the past 4 years (who isn’t?), it’s time to thrust my short Yorkshire arms into those deep Yorkshire pockets and ‘level up’ my electronic bike bling.
What’s that? The Garmin Edge is not the only show in town, you say? (Shurely shome mishtake.)
But it is true, we have a new(-ish) biketech contender in town in the form of Wahoo Fitness, with what finally can be described as their ELEMNT range of bike computers (until recently they just had one model). And based on my research THEY ARE GOOD!
So, in this post I’m going to compare the Wahoo ELEMNT with the Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT in an effort to determine their relative merits. Then I’m going to buy one.
You’ll have to read, or at least go, to the end of this post to find out which (oooh, the suspenders…).
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Er… that would be:
Well, they’re a US firm. I think they started out making an iPhone case for use on your bike. Now they have a range of products, including bike computers and a heart rate monitor strap.
Their highest profile product is probably the KICKR indoor trainer (and its younger sibling, the KICKR SNAP), which is used by Team Sky primarily to delay the jersey presentation ceremony each day on the Tour de France (whilst Chris Froome warms down on it…).
(And their coolest product is the newly-announced CLIMB ‘incline simulator’…)
What’s In A Nme?
First things first. Both devices are missing an ‘E’ from their names. This may or may not be important to you.
This is a Wahoo ‘thing’. They miss letters out of names. Specifically they miss vowels. Sometimes it is the second vowel (‘KICKR’ is the name of their indoor trainer; ‘TICKR’ is a heart rate monitor, much to the delight of ’Allo ’Allo fans globally). Sometimes the third (see ‘ELEMNT’).
When it came to their range of on-bike sensors, they elected to use the full complement of vowels, thus avoiding the challenge of selling consumers on the merits of an ‘RPM SPED’ or an RPM ‘CADNCE’.
Let’s Get This Out Of The Way: I’d Be Happy To Own Either
Both the ELEMNT and the ELEMNT BOLT are what you would describe as ‘fully-featured GPS cycling computers’ (if you go around spouting marketingspeak).
I was also about to say that both are used by professional cyclists and therefore satisfy the ‘good enough for Montgomery and [insert your name here]’ test … BUT … I can’t actually find any pro cycling teams that use them. Maybe it’s because they’re too new.
Presumably it’ll only be a matter of time. As mentioned above, Wahoo already sponsors Team Sky, although only from an indoor trainer perspective.
Wahoo also sponsors Canyon-SRAM, the UCI Women’s World Tour team, but all the photos I can find show riders using Garmins. Maybe they’ll all be BOLTed up in 2018.
THAT ALL SAID… based on all the reviews I have read, and looking at the feature set, it’s safe to say that both the ELEMNT and ELEMNT BOLT will do everything (and more) that I require from a bike computer.
So What Are Those (Fully) Features?
The ELEMNT and BOLT do everything we’ve (now) come to expect from a GPS bike computer. They display and record rider speed and distance throughout the course of the ride, recording the route taken and then make it easy to upload this data to a data repository of your choice (e.g. Strava) when done.
They both offer a range of navigation features, including turn-by-turn instructions and on device maps.
Without going too far into the weeds, neither the ELEMNT nor the BOLT are ‘intelligent’ when it comes to mapping. You can’t create a route on the device itself; they won’t re-route if you go off course. However, they do work closely with your smartphone, via the Wahoo companion app, to get to a position where you can create and amend routes on the fly, and then sync them with the GPS device.
What Else Is The Same Between The ELEMNT and the BOLT?
I expect to go into greater detail in future posts about specific features and capabilities, whichever Wahoo I wa-buy.
For now I’ll just list the remaining features or characteristics that are essentially the same betwixt the two devices:
- Sensor compatibility – exactly the same for both – Bluetooth Smart can be used to connect with HR straps, cadence and speed sensors; ANT+ for HR, cadence and speed, as well as power meters, electronic gears and assorted ancillary ANT+ accessories (argh);
- Setup and control is primarily via the Wahoo companion app – a key area where Wahoo differs from Garmin, where more of the latter’s setup and fettling is done via diddling on the device itself;
- Call and text notifications – they pop up on screen (depending on how you configure it);
- Indoor trainer control – again exactly the same … and, until about a week ago, only limited to Wahoo’s own KICKR range of trainers. Since then, both the ELEMNT and BOLT have received a software update that enables them to use the ANT+ FE-C protocol used more generally amongst indoor trainer companies (i.e. they now work with most smart indoor trainers);
- Integration with cycling and training apps – you’ve got your Strava, your Training Peaks, your RIdeWithGPS, amongst others. In the case of Strava, both the ELEMNT and BOLT can handle Strava Live Segments.
So What Is Different?
Actually not much, to tell the truth.
The most obvious difference is that the original ELEMNT is larger than the BOLT. This means it has a larger screen size: 2.7 inches versus 2.2 inches on the BOLT.
Neither unit has a touchscreen (like the various Edge units that do have touchscreen). They both have greyscale displays rather than colour (or indeed color).
Screen size requirement is difficult to judge from afar. Given that the BOLT is roughly the same size as my Edge 510 and I’ve been happy enough with the size of the screen on that, I don’t feel a pressing urge to upsize to the ELEMNT.
If you have a preference for a larger screen… then you’ll probably want to consider buying the larger-screened ELEMNT…
Wait, Wait, Weight
The ELEMNT is a full 39.2 grammes heavier than the BOLT and as we all know every little helps when we’re slugging up the mountain side, pedal stroke by painful pedal stroke.
But what we also know is that 39.2g is less than the weight of a ‘grab bag’ of Real McCoys Salt and Vinegar crisps* (‘chips’ for those in the US).
(*Other flavours are available; other crisp manufacturers are available; this website does not condone the use of crisps.)
So the weight thing really doesn’t matter (or more correctly, there is more important weight to be lost elsewhere…).
In Search Of The Good (Battery) Life
Both the ELEMNT and BOLT have integrated rechargeable batteries (as opposed to the new ELEMNT Mini, which uses yer bog standard replaceable coin cell batteries). They do have slightly different stated battery lives – the ELEMNT says ‘up to 17 hours’ and the BOLT is ‘up to 15’ but for my purposes, that’s essentially the same (I am neither riding for 15 hours nor 17 hours in one go…).
But what about performance in the wind?
On its website, Wahoo describes the BOLT as being ‘the most aerodynamic design’ (implying presumably that the ELEMNT is… not).
This looks to be because the out-front mount that comes with the BOLT has a curved underside that sort of fits into the bottom of the device such that it becomes one streamlined whole.
Whilst I have no reason to doubt the claim, until I’ve gone to a wind tunnel in order to finesse my riding position to achieve a straight horizontal back like Bradley Wiggins in his hour world record ride, I’m not going to choose a bike computer based on aerodynamics.
Now if it looks more aero (#moreaero), that’s a good reason to choose one device over another. The BOLT, like it’s Jamaican namesake does look rather aero… (#ratheraero)
An interesting* feature of the ELEMNT is that it has a track of LEDs that runs across the top edge of the device, and another set of LEDs along the left hand side.
(* Interesting to me at least)
What they are for… and who put them there… nobody knows…
Not quite true.
The LEDs can be set to show either your heart rate, speed or power relative to the ride average for that metric (and power relies on you having a power meter connected). The second set of LEDs on the ELEMNT can indicate that you’ve received a notification or tell you that a workout is paused.
The BOLT eschews the left hand set of LEDs and just runs with the ones that go along the top edge.
I don’t think the number of LEDs is a deciding factor for me. I reckon I can live with just the one set.
As an aside on this important topic, since we’re talking about Wahoo, presumably ‘in house’ they’re known as LDs… (much hilarity ensues).
Now we’re getting to the heart of it. Certainly the heart of what makes Montgomery tick.
The RRP (think you US-ers call it MSRP) of the ELEMNT is £50 higher in the UK (£249 for the ELEMNT; £199 for the BOLT – in both cases not bundled with heart rate strap and speed/cadence sensors).
In the US, I think the price differential is $70 – $329 for the ELEMNT; $249 for BOLT. The reason I only think that is because the Wahoo site won’t allow me to view it. It keeps redirecting me to the UK version. I’m going on what the Google search result tells me (like most of the info on this site).
What is relatively interesting (only relatively) is that there isn’t much variation from this price on Amazon and online cycling retailers. In fact, it’s quite difficult to get hold of Wahoo bike computers on Amazon at all (I can’t find the BOLT on Amazon in the US … PROPER SHOCK HORROR). Wahoo seem to sell quite a few computers directly from their website, so maybe that’s it.
In any event, I’ve ended up paying the RRP for the ELEM… the device I bought…
So Which Are We Going With?
[Drumroll] … [Realises he has no drums] … [Attempts to replicate drum roll on lycra-clad stomach] … [Mont is thrown out of the coffee shop]
I’ve decided to buy the Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT. Wahoo indeed.
Ultimately, the BOLT does everything the ELEMNT does, just in a more compact package. I don’t need the larger screen; if I need to see a map in more detail, I always carry my iPhone whilst riding.
It costs £50/$70 less.
And whatever the claims of being more aero, it looks more aero. That seals the deal. My Wiggle order tracker tells me it should arrive on Thursday.
Wait, This Is Folly, Shouldn’t I Stick With Garmin?
It’s a big decision to leave the ‘Garmin family’ and shack up with a Wahoo (it’s not really). I’m used to my Garmin Edge 510 and I’ve written a lot about the other GPSs in the Edge range. Maybe I should just upgrade to a newer Garmin?
Funny you should say that (or did I say it)…. I’ve actually decided to buy an Edge 520 as well (wait, what?).
In an attempt to be more useful, my plan is to compare both devices properly (i.e. by using them) and then writing up my results (er, here, on this blog). By owning them long term, hopefully I can answer any questions about both units in the future.
Plus, I’ve got to spend my mahoosive website wealth somewhere…
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If you click and buy, I (might) make a small commission (so thank you!).