Why I’m #INMYELEMNT

Wahoo Elemnt Bolt Review.

12 months ago I upgraded my old-school Garmin Edge 500 to a shiny, new, Bluetooth-friendly Garmin Edge 520. The main reason for the upgrade was to eliminate the need for cables and computers for basic tasks like putting a route on the unit.

It transpired not to be quite that revolutionary. Despite being a decent device for general cycling purposes like tracking how far and fast you go, how fast your heart is beating and how hard your legs are working (via the appropriate external sensors), it was still massively limited.

The main reason it drove me insane was that every time I wanted to ride somewhere new, eg on holiday/anywhere that wasn’t SE England, I needed to manually download a new OSM map file and transfer it to the device. You’d think that given it’s 2017 you’d be able to do this within Garmin’s own app and seamlessly make it appear on the device.

The reality is that you have to log onto this website, which looks like it was built in 1998, manually select which map tiles you would like to download up to a max of 50mb and then join a queue (which took 24hrs last time) whilst the site prepares and emails you the file. You then have to download it, plug the unit in to a computer via a cable and transfer it across to the Garmin, after having deleted and renamed various files. Basically a massive faff. A similar process is needed for getting routes from Strava on to the unit. Using Garmin Connect can make this process a bit easier, but their route mapping lacks the functionality of Strava (heatmaps etc) and is massively limited. It’s also a horrendous site on mobile and tablet.

screenshot-garmin.openstreetmap.nl 2017-04-17 18-11-40
This is not the future.

I was bored of this.

I’d started to see the Wahoo ELEMNT out and about recently and thought it looked pretty smart, but didn’t think much of it. The ELEMNT Bolt then launched a few weeks ago, and I assumed it was a bit of a gimmick given that the marketing was all about how aerodynamic it was rather than if it was any good as a bike computer.

Anyway, I did a bit more reading and discovered the Bolt sounded ideal, and would be the end of the cable/map/route scenario that was driving me mad. I also realised that a Garmin 520 + HR Strap (I have a spare) should fetch around £185 on eBay which coincidentally is the exact price of a new Bolt. So I bought one.

And it’s awesome. I won’t do a full DC Rainmaker style review, but I’ll quickly sum up my experience of using it over a weekend of riding and racing and why I’d recommend everyone else makes the same switch.

  1. All the set up is via the phone app. This makes sorting out data screens, selecting routes etc miles easier than on a Garmin.

    Screenshot_20170417-182050
    This is easy. Adding and tweaking Garmin data fields takes forever.
  2. Everything syncs straight from Strava. Particularly routes. Make route on Strava, turn on Bolt, connect to phone with Bluetooth and BAM the route you made is now on the device, ready to go. No cables, no ‘NEWFILES’ Garmin folder, no faff.
  3. It has maps for the WHOLE WORLD built into the device. No more silly OSM tile downloads.

    Screenshot_20170417-180254
    Yep, Svalbard and Jan Mayen maps, pre-loaded and ready to go along with the rest of the world.
  4. The navigation is simple and much easier to follow than the 520. The colour map on the Garmin actually confuses things, with rivers, small roads, bigger roads, footpaths etc all appearing on screen and making a confusing mess of multicoloured lines. The ELEMENT just puts a big line of chevrons across the map with where you need to go. In the video below I’d created a route on Ride With GPS which enables all the turn-by-turn navigation, so you get the LEDs lighting up showing you which way to turn at each junction, and a loud beep to remind you. It works 
  5. You can zoom in and out on the map using the buttons on the side. You can’t do this on the Garmin, which is silly.
  6. The Strava live segments work better on the ELEMNT Bolt. I turned them off on the Garmin, having never found it very useful. On the ELEMNT I used it up 3 of Dartmoor’s biggest climbs and found it really useful for pacing and progress tracking. You can also switch live between pacing vs KOM or vs your own PB which you can’t do on Garmin. It also gives you more data afterwards about how you got on which you can analyse during the ride.
  7. The LEDs are handy. There’s a row of LEDs across the top of the Bolt which you can use for either directions, power or  heart rate. I’ve only used for power so far, but basically they work like the video below, with more lights in different colours lighting up the higher you go into power zones. When you’re deep in the red zone, literally, this is a useful and practical way of showing how much effort you’re putting in rather than worrying about looking at the screen.
  8. Zooming in/out of the data fields is also easy and handy. Most people have one key screen with 8/9 data fields for 90% of riding, the Bolt allows you to zoom in/out on this as needed. For example if you’re about to attack a segment, you can zoom in so only power, speed and distance are on show, nice and big so you can see them clearly.
  9. The battery life is miles better than the 520. I did a 100 mile loop on Dartmoor last June with the 520. It took around 6 hours and I had to take a spare battery pack to keep the Garmin topped up. I did the same loop on Friday and the Bolt came back with 70% battery left. Both had the navigation on from start to finish, and no backlight.
  10. Apparently it’s really aerodynamic. This seems a bit like selling milk due to the shape of the carton. Nobody cares. I assume this is a way to catch the eye of pro-teams trying to make pointless marginal gains. If they marketed it as being miles better, and cheaper than the Garmin 520 then I suspect they would sell out overnight.

Get one. They’re good.

Test Ride: https://www.strava.com/activities/941906743

Test Race: https://www.strava.com/activities/944634249

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