Why the Wahoo ELEMNT is the new Garmin Edge
Updated: Aug 2, 2019
I've been a long-time Garmin user and the Edge 500 was my poison for the longest time. Recently, after my 500 started gobbling up a couple rides of mine on big days, I decided it was time to move into the 21st century and try something new(-ish). But moving from a device that has defined a category without any peer for so long -- so much so that the brand name has become a synonym for a GPS bike computer itself -- had me doubting.
After trying out a couple of the latest options out there, I settled on the Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT for an upgrade, which is equivalent to the Garmin Edge 500/800-series. I then reached out to Ensign Sports -- who bring Wahoo into India -- and asked them for a unit to use, and they obliged.
Technology should exist to solve problems, and good technology becomes invisible while doing it's thing. A GPS bike computer is there to capture the data around your ride, and assist in improving the execution of a ride -- if you want it to. The BOLT delivers on that -- staying true to it's name of being elemental in executing it GPS bike computer duties, becoming invisible, and allowing me to enjoy my bike riding.
I've been impressed by how easily I took to the BOLT. It is evident from the get go that the hardware, the software, the supporting app, and everything else Wahoo makes, is by cyclists for cyclists. It doesn't feel like a company that's hostage to product refresh-cycle timelines to squeeze out the next device in the series or patching lumbering software ad infinitum. The BOLT has everything you expect from a bike computer and none of the stuff you don't need/use.
Here are 6 reasons why, I think, the Wahoo ELEMNT is the new Garmin Edge:
I like my bike computer to be as "simple as sliced bread" -- take out of packaging, toast, eat. The BOLT could not be easier to use out the box. You turn it on, and the first thing it asks you to do is pair with your phone. It off-loads all the rider profile setup (HR and power zones, connected apps like Strava and TrainingPeaks, etc.) and device settings (screen layouts, LED's, Live Segments) to the Wahoo ELEMNT Companion App on your phone. There's no fiddling around with 59 button presses and a rabbit-hole of nested menus on a small screen (looking at you, Garmin), or downloading client-side apps and plugins (sorry, not sorry, Garmin Express), or messing with lumbering web apps as part of a bloated eco-system (no apologies, Garmin Connect).
The BOLT eschews a big color touchscreen for physical buttons. A big usability upper hand of the BOLT is that the buttons that are most commonly used while riding, training, and racing -- i.e. Lap, Start/Pause, and Pages -- are lined-up on the bottom of the device, facing up. It seems obvious that buttons should be designed to be pushed/pressed, and yet I've had to awkwardly squeeze a button on the side or bottom edge of a bike computer for all these years. No more fumbling with trying to hit 'lap' in the middle of an interval set or the finish of a race.
The screen is incredibly crisp. The 240 x 320 pixel resolution is one of the highest for a device in this price category (compared to the 200 x 265p of the Edge 520, for example). The screen is a high contrast black and white LCD, with great day-time readability, and a beautifully clear font. This renders the back-light barely necessary (vs. it's absolute necessity for a color screen), which helps with getting the most out of battery life. The number of fields on each page can be "zoomed" in and out to add more or less data on each page, with the font scaling sublimely.
You name it, the BOLT has an antenna for it: ANT+ -- to pair all your sensors, ANT+ FE-C -- to control your smart trainer, Bluetooth -- to push notifications to your phone from messages, to Strava live segments, to turn-by-turn directions, WiFi -- for direct uploads of completed rides as soon as you hop on your home network/phone hotspot. Pairing and staying paired with sensors is snappy and strong. Bluetooth is what enables the strong suit of the ELEMNT, which is connecting to the Wahoo ELEMNT Companion App -- the most straightforward solution that I didn't know I needed. No more navigating cavernous menu systems and no dependency on a laptop, as everything can be done on your phone. The smart trainer control when paired with the Wahoo KICKR is kick-ass, but more on that another day.
The included out front aero mount allows the BOLT to sit snug and faux-integrated with your handlebar and stem. It looks seriously neat, and has the numbers to back up the visual speed of the design.
2500 kilometers in and the BOLT has been faultless so far. No lag in button presses, no hanging when moving in or out of the maps screen, no crashing mid-big rides and losing valuable training data. The battery life is strong, discharging at a rate of about 5-6% for every hour of being on, which extrapolates to about 13-15 hours of use. The GPS locks on quickly and stay locked.
If you're looking for the definitive BOLT review, you know where to go:
The Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT retails for 21,999 INR and is available from the good folks at Ensign Sports direct +91 9619679199, or any good local bike shop. Full disclosure: I will be supported by Wahoo's ecosystem of products this season, and my intent is to share my experiences using the products exhaustively, as I do.