Wahoo Elemnt Bolt bike computer - review

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Wahoo Elemnt Bolt GPS bike computer – review

Wahoo’s latest GPS computer is a genuine rival to Garmin, thanks to the smartphone-friendly interface and epic battery life - but the aero mount isn't without its faults

Wahoo have this year launched the Elemnt Bolt, an aerodynamic bike computer that takes aim directly at Garmin’s Edge 820 and Edge 520 units in the competition for supremacy on our handlebars. While the word ‘Garmin’ has become almost ubiquitous for ‘bike computer’, the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt is a genuine contender, offering a user-friendly design, superb battery life and good value for money.

Wahoo took the cycling world by storm with their Kickr turbo trainer – a product which kick-started the smart trainer trend – and entered the GPS bike computer market last year with the original Elemnt. It was a bulky but affordable unit whose selling point was its constantly developing software, paired with a user-friendly smartphone app. Now Wahoo have added the Elemnt Bolt to their arsenal, a CFD-tested aerodynamic device with integrated mount and updated functionality.

– Wahoo launch ELEMNT BOLT: a CFD-tested, aerodynamic GPS bike computer –

The software is not new, it inherits the interface from the Elemnt which is under perpetual development, but it is installed in a new body which promises to improve your performance as well as record it. Having first got to grips with the Elemnt Bolt at the launch in Majorca, I’ve now used it exclusively at home for six weeks, on routes long and short, and roads new and familiar.

The Elemnt Bolt is the latest GPS bike computer from Wahoo

Physical form

Right out of the smartly-designed box, the Elemnt Bolt looks just fine, showing off large buttons and an intriguing string of LEDs.

I was interested to see how the recessed function buttons would measure up while out on the road. The mixed spring weather of the past few weeks has afforded the opportunity to test the unit with and without gloves, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that the feedback from the buttons was more than adequate, whatever the weather.

The large fingertip-sized indentations beneath the screen control the main functions (from the ‘Workout’ page, the buttons are ‘Lap’, ‘Pause’ and ‘Page’) and are perfectly accessible, offering plenty of purchase even through gloves.

  • Specification

  • Price: £199.99 (or £259.99 with HRM and speed & cadence sensors)
  • Weight: 60g
  • Screen size: 2.2in
  • Battery life: up to 15 hours
  • Website: Wahoo Fitness

The ‘Quicklook’ LEDs are a unique feature of the Bolt which can be programmed to indicate real time heart rate, power or speed according to zones or average, while also keeping tabs on navigation. The aim of the LEDs, positioned above the screen, is to make it blindingly obvious how you are performing without having to blink through the fog of maximum exertion at the tiny numbers on the screen, and it really works.

As for the screen, though relatively small (measuring 2.2″ diagonally) and colourless, visibility is not compromised thanks to something Wahoo call ‘Perfect View Zoom’. Essentially, the buttons on the side of the unit allow you to quickly zoom in and out, to focus in on key data or route details.

The Wahoo team had raved about this feature at the launch last month, when my immediate reaction had been ‘what can be so exciting about a couple of zoom buttons?’. However, I soon found that the flexibility the functionality offers would become one of my favourite things about the Bolt.

The Elemnt Bolt (centre) is significantly smaller than the original Elemnt (right) and compares favourably with the Garmin Edge 520 (left)

Super-smart interface

Like the original Elemnt, the Bolt is a smartphone-controlled computer – one of the key differences between Wahoo’s offering and a Garmin. What that means is the Elemnt Bolt is essentially a monitor whereby the functions and data fields are controlled through the Wahoo app, rather than an interface manipulated awkwardly through countless menus on a tiny screen.

After scanning the unit’s QR code through the smartphone app, the customising of the interface could not be much simpler. Within the app and the customisable workout screens, there are more data fields than a whole army could shake a stick at, so you can easily tailor the screens to your own individual preferences. In fact, Wahoo claim up to 170 data fields.

One thing the software is missing at this point is workout tracking, a really valuable function available on Garmin devices which is used for planning and monitoring training sessions. However, Wahoo have been constantly adding to their software since launching the original Elemnt last year, and I have it from Wahoo’s director of product management that workout tracking is a feature at the top of their list.

Wireless connectivity is key to Wahoo’s computers and the Bolt offers WiFi, Bluetooth Smart and Ant+ connectivity. Compatibility with your smartphone and all your favourite apps is seamless and after completing each ride, my data has nearly always synced to Strava, RideWithGPS and Today’s Plan before I’ve even shut my gate. It will also display text, e-mail and other smartphone alerts from your smartphone, if you want it to.

The Elemnt Bolt’s greyscale screen is easy to see in any light

Navigation

Many have commented on the mapping of the Element Bolt, listing it as inferior to its Garmin counterpart, not least because of its complete lack of colour. As a long-time user of the Garmin Edge 520, I have experienced them both and although the Garmin’s coloured screen lends itself to positive feedback, I prefer the visuals offered by the Wahoo computer.

Its high contrast greyscale screen is easy to see in any light and the detail is greater than on the Garmin standard mapping. A major perk for me is the ease with which you can zoom when navigating. I rarely bothered with my 520 because it involved leaving the page and scrolling through menus. Again, this is where Wahoo’s zoom function comes into its own, with a simple press on the side of the device.

Only once has the mapping put me into a spot of bother and that was all down to an unexpected bike path hidden behind an ancient wall in historic Winchester. As a result, and being unfamiliar with Hampshire’s roads, I took the opportunity to test the ‘Take Me Anywhere’ feature, asking the app to find me a bike shop. In no time at all, I had a new route loaded on the Bolt screen and the unit took me confidently through the rabbit warren of Winchester’s one-way streets to exactly where I wanted to be.

Everlasting battery

I’m not a touring cyclist, but I am a forgetful one. Even a 50-mile ride would have had my Garmin Edge 520 battery symbol winking threateningly at me, but not the Bolt. Wahoo say the unit offers up to 15 hours of battery life, and that will be affected by the use of LEDs, navigation, live Strava segments etc, but even with all the features in action, this little unit will go several days on the trot without needing a recharge. Indeed, after an almost two-hour ride on familiar roads, using everything but navigation, I was surprised to find that I had only chewed through six per cent of the battery. That’s pretty good going.

The snag

I like a clean and all but silent bike and I was disappointed to find that the vibration on this occasion came from Wahoo’s integrated mount. In the development of the Elemnt Bolt, Wahoo wanted to make aerodynamic efficiency a key feature, and when the unit snaps into the integrated plastic mount, it removes any awkward edges, with the unit and mount instead adopting a sleek, smooth and united design.

Wahoo claim the integrated design is subject to 50 per cent less drag than competitors, with a saving of 12.6 seconds over a 40km TT at 21mph average speed. What happens then, if you are forced to apply electrical tape to muffle the vibration?

The Elemnt Bolt is available for £199.99, or £259.99 in a bundle with a heart rate monitor, and speed and cadence sensors

The problem, it seems, is that friction between the mount and unit (which are both plastic) has caused the former to wear just enough to cause a slight rattle. With any luck, this is an isolated case, and in any event, I don’t consider it a major issue personally as I never felt I wanted or needed that 12.6 second saving – but it does reduce the Bolt’s effectiveness as a CFD-tested aero computer if you’re forced to use tape or, as I have done at times, use the unit with a standard mount. On that note, the original, aluminium Elemnt mount from K-Edge works and looks great with the Bolt, albeit subject to greater drag.

In fairness, the Bolt’s integrated plastic mount does come with the unique addition of a tiny little screw in the underside which inserts into the base of the computer. This would more securely fasten the unit in place, but only if you’ve got a 1mm allen key which is not standard fare on multi-tools, and if you’re happy to have the computer and mount mated on a semi-permanent basis. Wahoo’s thinking is that pro riders can securely fasten the unit to the bike so it’s included as part of the 6.8kg UCI weight limit, and to keep the computer fastened over cobbles and the like, but it’s not particularly practical for everyday use if you want to charge the computer or manually upload files.

Wahoo Elemnt Bolt GPS bike computer review (Pic: Emma Nicholson/Factory Media)
Wahoo Elemnt Bolt GPS bike computer review (Pic: Emma Nicholson/Factory Media)
Wahoo Elemnt Bolt GPS bike computer review (Pic: Emma Nicholson/Factory Media)
Wahoo Elemnt Bolt GPS bike computer review (Pic: Emma Nicholson/Factory Media)

Conclusion

Wahoo designed the Elemnt Bolt to be a GPS unit with a ground-breaking, CFD-tested, aerodynamic profile. What they have produced is certainly a step in the right direction in their competition against Garmin, but it’s not the aerodynamics that excel here. Yes, the Bolt’s constantly-evolving software is the same as in its more cumbersome older brother, but that’s not to say that this more streamlined device isn’t an improvement. Setting aside the issues I had with the integrated mount, the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt has become my go-to GPS computer, thanks to its customisable features and brilliantly intuitive interface.

Pros

  • User- and smartphone-friendly
  • Perpetually developing software
  • Incredibly easy setup
  • Battery life
  • Value for money

Cons

  • Ill-fitting mount
  • Missing features like workout tracking (though the software is constantly evolving)
  • Dated aesthetics

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