When I reviewed the Wahoo Elemnt, the conclusion I came to was, take a leap of faith. The product was good where it was, but I asked that you trust in it getting better over time. This is something I’ve thought about quite a bit since. I do my best to steer people in the right direction, and while I hope I have some insight, the truth is I can’t know the future anymore than the next person. Fortunately, I was right. Wahoo has continued to update their software and has addressed every issue I had with the Elemnt. This review isn’t about the Elemnt, though. It’s about the Elemnt Bolt.
The original Elemnt has to be mentioned because both units function in exactly the same way. There are no major features missing from the Bolt compared to the Elemnt. In fact, in some ways, the Bolt is an improvement on the original Elemnt. The two main differences between the Elemnt and the Bolt, both related to the larger form factor, are a bigger screen and a bigger battery. The Elemnt Bolt has a 2.2” screen size, compared to 2.5” for the Elemnt, and the Bolt loses 2 hours of battery life for a quoted time of 15 hours for the Bolt and 17 hours for the Elemnt.
There are other small differences, but for most people, the choice is really going to come down to one of screen size. You can fit an extra couple of data fields on the Elemnt compared to the Bolt, and everything on the screen is a bit larger. I think the battery is actually going to be less of a deciding factor because the times when you are squeezing every last bit of battery life are likely also going to be times when you have additional power with you. Still, if either of these are things you need, then choose the Elemnt. If not, save $80 and choose the Bolt. Whichever choice you make, the software and capabilities are going to be the same.
If you’ve never used a Wahoo computer the way it works is that you start by downloading the app for your smartphone. It works with Android and iOS, although I’ve only used it on Android, and it’s an app that feels polished and well thought out. Wahoo has done a good job of making sure the user interface feels complete, and everything works as it should. Once you’ve downloaded the app, you’ll turn on the unit and scan a barcode on the screen using the app. This will pair the two, and you’ll be free to set everything up using your smartphone.
Wahoo does have a rather unique way of handling available data fields, and this hasn’t changed over time. You don’t set what goes where but instead prioritize data from top to bottom then zoom in or out using the zoom buttons on the unit. More data fields visible means smaller data fields, and if you’d like to see things larger, you can zoom in so less is shown, but it’s all shown larger. I’ve used this setup for so long it feels like second nature, but if you are coming from a competitor, it might feel a bit strange initially. Mostly, you’ll find a zoom level you prefer then you can move things to the left or right of the screen by using the app on your phone to change its importance in the list of available fields. You can also set up additional screens to show different data or data in different orders.
I ride with three screens. My main screen shows three second power at the top, then speed, cadence, miles travelled, heart rate, the current time, active time, calories, and the visual display for what gear I am in. The second screen is for mapping which is a particularly strong point for Wahoo, and the last one is a climbing screen.
The climbing screen is something I only started using recently, but these days, I couldn’t live without it. It shows much of the same info as my main screen but drops things like speed off and instead shows a visual of the climbing I’m currently doing. If I am not following a route, then it only shows what the hill looks like behind your current point in space, but if you have a route loaded up, and this is where it really shines, it will show you the climbing to come.
If you are racing, you can see if it makes sense to launch an attack, and if you are on your own, you can use it to see how much climbing there still is. Just like the main screen, you can zoom in and out on the climbing screen, but in addition to showing more or less data fields, you can also zoom into and out of the climbing profile. If you are on a long climb, you can zoom out and get a rough idea of how much you’ve got left, or you can zoom in to show more of the small ups and downs. If you switch to the mapping screen, the zoom function allows you to see more details, or more area, of the map around you. As you might be noticing, the zoom function is a central focus of the UI design. Just about every interaction with the Wahoo units is designed around the concept of zooming in and out to show more or less information.
Calling out everything that’s changed since the last time I talked about a Wahoo product is somewhat difficult. Wahoo has released so many significant updates, it’s a bit hard to remember all the little details as they have changed over time. There are a couple of things that stand out, though. In the past, if you were using the unit on an indoor trainer, and you set that in the settings but forgot to change the unit back to outdoor before starting your next ride, you’d end up with an outdoor ride being recorded with no GPS data as if it was an indoor ride. Now each time you turn the unit back on, it’s automatically set to record an outdoor ride. This is hardly a huge issue, but it’s a good illustration of attention to detail by Wahoo. If you accidentally record an indoor ride as outdoor, you just have a bit of extra data recorded by a GPS sensor that will be slightly confused. On the other hand, if you do the opposite, you’ll lose quite a bit of data on an outdoor ride. It’s a nice touch.
A much bigger issue that Wahoo has addressed over time is how they handle the mapping. It used to be that routes could only be configured using a compatible web service — BestBikeSplit, Komoot, Strava, or RidewithGPS — then you’d have to sync to your Wahoo unit using the built in wifi. In the past, this left me trying to find free wifi while riding out of town. I had changed the route when I ended up staying somewhere different but forgotten to sync the change to my Elemnt. Now they’ve finally overcome those issues, and you can sync things through the connection to your phone. And creating a quick route to a particular place, say a coffee shop across town where you are meeting people, is a trivial affair that only requires a moment of time using the app on your phone.
The most recent couple of updates from Wahoo included a big change to the shareable tracking link as well as the ability to follow structured workouts through the head unit. The tracking link has always been a way for people to see where you are when you are riding. There are lots of options for how it’s shared, email and text being a couple of them, as well as options for how long it works, or if it gets sent automatically. What has changed is that now it includes far more data. In the past, those with the link would be presented with where you were on the map when they checked. Now anyone with the link is able to see things like my current speed as well as where I’ve come from. You could actually use it during a race to let people see how you are doing, and I have it set so that when I start a ride, it sends an email to my wife automatically. It’s something that helps us both feel a bit more safe when I’m gone for long hours on the bike.
Aside from the tracking link updates, Wahoo has most recently added the ability to use predesigned interval workouts through Today’s Plan or Trainingpeaks, as well as a small number of built in Team Sky workouts and have those workouts displayed on your Wahoo device. Because of the great integration with the trainers that Wahoo makes, you can, of course, use them while riding indoors, but it will work just as well when riding outdoors. No need for a second screen as everything you need to follow the intervals will be displayed on your Wahoo Elemnt or Elemnt Bolt.
The bottom line is that Wahoo has proven itself to be a company that continues to innovate and update their units on a continual basis. If you were someone that purchased the Elemnt when it came out, you aren’t now wishing you’d waited. All the changes since then have been sent to every unit ever sold, and they continue to improve. At the same time, even if the units were frozen as they currently are, they are really good. But they aren’t perfect, and there are a couple of small things I’d love to see fixed.
I’d like to be able to change settings on the head unit, through the companion app, without having the head unit currently connected. When the head unit is connected, the changes should be sent to it. Often, if I’m going to meet someone, I’ll add them to the list of people who get an automatic email when I start. I then typically forget to remove them, and they end up getting emails for a week or two. If I could just remove them in the settings whenever I think of it, and have that change sent to the unit when it next connected, that would be easier.
I’d also like a bit of control over the size of data fields. I love the zoom function, but depending on the zoom, you will have one or two data fields that show larger than the others. It would be great to have some, small, control over that.
Along the lines of additional control, I’d like some ability to exclude a sync of certain maps. I use ridewithgps.com to create my routes, and most of the time, I don’t need all the routes I have there to be on the head unit. The last thing I’d like to see better implemented is the ride history. Wahoo has always had rich integration with companion apps, and I love this approach, but they also have a detailed history of the rides you’ve done on the head unit. It would be great if I could log in on their site and see that same history.
None of these are big issues, but I’d love to see it addressed. Overall, though, the big question I think people need to ask themselves is which Wahoo unit makes the most sense.
I mentioned what I think are the big differences between Wahoo Elemnt and the Wahoo Bolt, but there are other differences. There is a lot of marketing talk from Wahoo about the aero benefits of the Bolt, but the truth is that’s not going to matter to most people. A very visual difference is going to be that the Elemnt has two rows of led lights, one vertically and one horizontally, along the edges of the unit while the Bolt only has one row across the top. This may matter to some people, but for me, I never really used more than one row anyway. I do like to have a visual indication of things like average speed, but the other notifications, which the Elemnt uses the horizontal strip to display, have never been particularly important to me.
Even more minor is that a TT mount is included in the box for the Elemnt while Wahoo doesn’t actually make one for the Bolt. This is easily remedied via third party companies, though.
One thing the Bolt offers that the Elemnt does not is what I would consider a better button design. I find the buttons on the Bolt to be easier to push, even though the resistance feels about the same, and a better design all around.
As I said above, though, the main differences are going to be the battery and the screen. If you have a hard time seeing a small screen, the Elemnt offers a slightly bigger one. It’s also fairly clear cut for the battery. Wahoo quotes a two hour longer battery expectancy for the Elemnt, and for some uses, that may be a consideration. But keep in mind that both units can be operated while plugged into a USB battery pack. My personal battery life test was a ride consisting of about 11hrs and 40 minutes elapsed time, 9 hours and 34 minutes moving time, with the only battery optimization being that I turned off the backlight completely, and I had 9% battery left when I was done. I had a backup battery with me that I could have used, so I can’t really see a need for a slightly longer run time. Longer battery life is always nice, I just don’t think a small bit of extra makes much difference.
The one thing I haven’t discussed, which the Wahoo ecosystem is lacking, is third party app integration directly on the unit. I didn’t cover it because right now it’s still an edge case unlikely to affect most people. I do want to mention it though as it’s recently come up for me and may come up more in the future. Right now Garmin units can use third party apps to actually change what data fields are available on the head unit and this is something that Wahoo lacks. Wahoo handles it by integrating with partner companies but that takes time and there’s no guarantee the company you have a relationship with will ever have a relationship with Wahoo. It’s something to think about but right now, I’d still choose a Wahoo unit.