Wahoo ELEMNT bike computer - review - Road Cycling UK

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Wahoo ELEMNT bike computer – review

Garmin rival packs a bulky punch to the premium bike computer market

Wahoo’s smartphone-driven ELEMNT bike computer is an impressive unit, very easy to use and packed with useful features.

Long has the question “what Garmin do you have?” rung out among club cyclists. So synonymous has the brand become with the definition of a do-it-all head unit, that even computers that aren’t from Garmin can be generally referred to as Garmins. A little bit like Hoovers, when talking about vacuum cleaners.

Now though, we have good reason to drop Garmin ubiquity, because what Wahoo have here is a genuine rival in many respects.

The Wahoo ELEMNT is the genuine rival to the ubiquitous Garmin

The ELEMNT is the company’s all-singing head unit, but where it strays from the Garmin mould is in its setup: it relies on pairing with your smartphone to function, rather than you having to potter about on multi-level menus and sub-menus on the unit itself.

  • Specification

  • Price: £249.99 (£299.99 for bundle)
  • Weight: 104g
  • Size: 57.5 x 90.5 x 21.2mm
  • Website: Wahoo Fitness

The change in setup takes a little getting used to – especially for a Garmin devotee like me – but the fact is it’s incredibly simple to set up and use once you have the companion app installed on your phone (an iPhone 4S or Android device running v4.3 or later), guiding you through account creation and so on efficiently.

It’s also at this early stage you can pair your Wahoo account with the likes of Strava and MapMyRide so synchronicity is taken care of, too. In fact, the setup’s only issue came when allowing permissions for the app to talk to Apple’s Health app, causing repeated app freezes on my iPhone SE. In the end, I simply disengaged the link and it worked first time. No doubt a bug fix will be in the works.

It’s also worth noting from the outset that Garmin themselves have stopped supporting uploads from non-Garmin devices, so linking the Wahoo App to Garmin Connect has become a thing of the past.

From there, with the ELEMNT unit switched on and Bluetooth pairing enabled, you’re faced with the app’s setup screen, along with tabs for your profile and your rides. The latter two function and display information as you might expect, but the setup screen is where the ‘fun’ begins.

The phone app becomes the settings menu for the ELEMNT, allowing to customise pages, add new ones, include Strava Live Segments (which, by the way, causes the ELEMNT to have a veritable party on your bars, offering encouragement and flashing its LEDs as you make progress through the segment), the built-in map and various pieces of workout data, including a nicely laid out climbing page.

Each page can take up to ten data sets, and are arranged in order of importance on the phone screen, which is then represented on the ELEMNT when you come to ride with it.

As a result, and thanks to dual Bluetooth and ANT+ technology, the ELEMNT unit is capable of pairing to all your cycling data collectors, including power meters, and is truly a rival in these stakes to Garmin’s flagship devices.

On the road, the monochrome screen is simple and easy to read – just as well with all the data you can have displayed at any one time – although the map is graphically a little simple. It can make following a trace line a little tricky because it doesn’t stand out very easily, but the device now offers turn-by-turn navigation when synced to routes created on mapping service Ride With GPS.

Setting this up is simple; like with other accounts, all you have to do is link your account and all routes you’ve created are easily visible following an automatic sync through the app. And, as long as you select a route sourced from Ride With GPS, you’ll get those turn-by-turn instructions, as well as pulsing LEDs to signify the alert and upcoming turn.

You can also load up GPX tracks from the likes of Strava no problem, you just won’t get the turn-by-turn navigation at this point and need to rely solely on paying attention to the chevroned markers displayed on the map.

Wahoo ELEMNT GPS bike computer (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)
Wahoo ELEMNT GPS bike computer (Pic: George Scott/Factory Media)

Operation on the go is performed using the buttons on the side of the unit, much like any bike computer that doesn’t rely on touchscreen interface. Flicking through the pages, starting and stopping a ride and ride history are all covered, although don’t expect on-the-go customisation of pages; you’ll still need to go to the phone for that.

But, you can use the ELEMNT without having an active pairing in operation while riding. Simply switch on and start, then ride. Then, you can sync it with the phone after a ride to upload the file, or indeed connect it via WiFi so it’ll do this automatically when you return.

If you do decide to actively pair it while riding, you’ll be able to take advantage of live tracking functionality with other Wahoo computer users, and see when you have missed calls and messages from your phone.

I tried this, and although happy with the functions themselves, such as they are, I did find maintaining a connection between the ELEMNT and phone in my back pocket difficult – with messages reporting the dropped signal on more than one occasion.

Still, it’s no issue for me as I like to escape that kind of thing while riding, so simply switched it off. But, for those who do want or rely upon that connectivity, pay heed.

You’ll also spot very well hidden LEDs (probably when they flash for the first time, to be honest), which are capable of indicating where you are in relation to your chosen pace or effort level, taking its cues from whatever data sources you have installed and working with the unit.

The various buttons on the ELEMNT are simple to use, though the majority of function comes through an paired smartphone

When back from a ride, the uploading is a doddle, whether you have it set up via WiFi or prefer to rely on the phone app connection. As a point of reference, Garmin’s phone upload system has always been slightly tricky in this respect, and sometimes takes time and a  further push to move the file along to other outlets, like Strava. As a result I’ve always relied upon plugging the unit into my Mac to avoid bothering with it.

However, borne out of necessity from its app-based function, the ELEMNT works a dream. In fact, on the first ride, just as I was sitting down in my sweaty cycling garb ready to work out how to upload the file, it had already done it via WiFi and it was sitting pretty on not only on the app, but on Strava as well. Bravo, Wahoo.

Is there anything else to consider? Here are some of the other key features of the ELEMNT.

  • Three easy-to-use quarter-turn mounts are included – handlebar, out-front and TT-style.
  • You can buy the ELEMNT with or without Wahoo Bluetooth heart rate and speed/cadence sensors (our test unit came without these sensors), although other ANT+ sensors will work too, including support for Shimano Di2 and SRAM eTap shifting.
  • The ELEMNT syncs sweetly with Wahoo’s own Kickr turbo trainers.
  • The unit is a big beast, standing proud off the bars if you prefer to mount it there, and weighing in at 104g.
  • Battery life is excellent – reaching nearly 16 hours before expiring on me (Wahoo claim 17 hours).
  • Same applies to build quality – the main buttons to switch pages etc. are easily usable with gloves, while the construction appears sturdy.
  • GPS signal is excellent, with no real instances of GPS drift to report.
Battery life is excellent and there’s a protected USB port on the rear to charge the computer

As a result, the Wahoo ELEMNT is a real player in the premium head unit market, covering all the bases within its app-driven modus operandi, excelling in many areas while coming up short in a few respects compared to their giant rivals with what we shall describe as teething troubles – small issues that we’re sure will be fixed as software is updated over time.

Conclusion

The bottom line is, we like the Wahoo ELEMNT. It’s very simple to setup and use, and offers a huge range of clear data-driven readouts. There are small issues that at this point would still drive us towards a latest generation Garmin if we had to buy a premium-priced unit today, but if you want to be able to answer the “which Garmin do you have?” question with an alternative answer, the ELEMNT is a very viable option.

Pros

  • Big, clear, 2.7″ screen with decent backlight
  • Super-easy to setup and customise
  • Huge range of data

Cons

  • Wahoo Live Tracking limited to use with other Wahoo computers
  • Still a couple of bug fixes and connectivity issues to iron out
  • £249.99 RRP is a touch on the pricey side

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