First Ride Review: Wahoo Elemnt Bolt

The Wahoo Elemnt Bolt packs the long list of features found in the Wahoo Elemnt into a smaller, aerodynamic package at a more attainable price point. We only had use of the Elemnt for a week, so here is what I could gain from my short time with the device.

At launch, Wahoo punted the Elemnt Bolt bike computer as the world's most aerodynamic bicycle computer, with an easy to read screen, wide range of connectivity, and a flashy LED indicator strip. While these features are all great, the Elemnt Bolt's best selling point, however, is its ability to perform as a reliable hassle-free everyday bike computer.

 

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Set up


Getting started with the Elemnt Bolt is a breeze. Simply connect the device to your smartphone using the Elemnt App (which can be downloaded from your operating system's app store) to access an easy interface to configure all options and features on the Elemnt Bolt. Performing the initial set through a smartphone is refreshingly simple and time-efficient. For example, trying to arrange the metrics that I want to display on my Edge 520 can be a trying task: using only a limited number of buttons with a small screen and reminiscent of changing the time and date on an 80s digital watch.

 

Pairing the Elemnt Bolt to your sensors is just as easy. Simply navigate to the sensor settings on the device or phone app and search for any new sensors in range. In my case, the Elemnt Bolt paired happily with my Garmin heart rate monitor, cadence sensor, and speed sensor.

 

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Mounting to the bike


The Elemnt Bolt arrived with two mounting options in the box. The mount Wahoo hope you will use is their out-front mount which is designed to complement the Bolt’s aerodynamic shape. There is also an on the bike mount that makes use of cable-ties to attach to your stem or handlebar. For those with a number of bikes, it might be annoying removing and installing the out-front mount for each bike, likewise, having to use a new pair of cable-ties each time you moved the on bar mount is not very sustainable. Garmin's o-ring mounting system is far more convenient should you regularly change bikes.

 

I tested the Elemnt Bolt exclusively with the out-front mount. With a familiar twist the Elemnt Bolt clicks firmly into place, hiding all sharp edges from the oncoming air.

 

The Device


The look of the Elemnt Bolt is not as polished as it’s closest competitor, the Garmin Edge 520, but I did find that the design made the Elemnt Bolt more intuitive to use. The three large buttons are the base of the screen were easy to paw at with gloves on during a ride, as were the two zoom buttons on the right hand side.

 

Side by side, the Elemnt Bolt and Garmin Edge 520 are roughly the same size with the Bolt appearing a millimeter or two bulkier in places.

 

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The 2.2” screen was easy to read with a sharp graphic presentation. The black and white display reminded me of a sharp E Ink display (think Kindle) and the lack of colour was only a concern when looking at maps (more on navigation below). Admittedly, those with below average eyesight might struggle with the size of all nine metrics displayed on a screen at once but that can be reduced or “zoomed” to show a smaller selection of metrics at a much larger size. These zoomed screens provided excellent readability and it is very easy to flip through the screens to view additional data fields using the front facing "Page" button.

 


LED Lights


The seven colour LED lights at the top of the device are used as a quick graphical reference for additional information. I used them to indicate my heart rate but it can also be used for other metrics like speed and power, or even navigation warnings. With heart rate, the seven LEDs slowly fill up as your heart rate climbs, a full display being max heart rate. They also changes colour from blue/green to red/orange. Probably more of an endurance or training tool, but when I raced with the Elemnt Bolt in a provincial XCO, the lights were in the red throughout. That said, I would say it is a useful feature, but something I could easily live without. It might be worth turning this function off during racing when your opponent may be able to use it to keep an eye on your effort levels.

 

Connectivity


The Elemnt Bolt can communicate with all the relevant cycling sensors to display metrics like speed, distance, cadence, power, heart rate, temperature, and the list goes on. Of course, with Bluetooth Smart, smart device connectivity is supported along with WiFi and electronic groupsets such as eTap. The Elemnt Bolt also speaks nicely to the Wahoo range of smart trainers.

 

The Elemnt Bolt can also display incoming messages and phone calls from your phone. I had no reason to doubt that it worked so I turned this (distracting) feature off.

 

Mobile App


Since Wahoo's early beginnings as a smart device accessory manufacturer, they considered the mobile phone as a powerful tool to store and manage your training data. The Elemnt and Elemnt Bolt are prime examples of this philosophy. The Wahoo Elemnt App does away with any need to ever connect to a computer. In fact, Wahoo does not even have a desktop application. Between the direct WiFi connectivity and the Elemnt app, you can perform every task necessary on the device or through the app. Yes, this even includes processes like updating maps or upgrading the device firmware.

 


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From left to right: The Elemnt App home screen ready to start a ride; a list of previously recorded rides; the settings page; and the notifications settings page.
That said, the Elemnt Bolt does rely on the user having a smart device (Android or iOS) to fully exploit all its functionality. While some might find this annoying, the saving grace is that the app is actually a pleasure to use. Pairing the Elemnt Bolt with my One Plus One Android phone was seamless, something my Garmin Edge 520 still refuses to do.

 


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From left to right: The list of routes with possible route import options; a map showing a Strava imported route; and the sensor set up page on the Elemnt App.

Pairing with 3rd party services


Wahoo have never been shy to make full use of third party services to supplement their device offerings. Unlike Garmin, where most tasks need to go through their Express app or Connect service, Wahoo connects directly to the services you actually use (like Strava and TrainingPeaks) to offer the most comprehensive and effortless feature offering they can. It means one less link in the chain with an the smoothest user experience I've experienced.

 

Having WiFi built into the device is a big bonus for me. I prefer not to have my phone constantly tethered to devices, so being able to make changes to third party services (like adding a route or Live Segment in Strava) knowing that as soon as I fire up the Elment Bolt it will connect to my home WiFi network and download my changes, is a serious convenience.

 

Aerodynamics


Wahoo have been celebrating the aerodynamics of the Elemnt Bolt and the out-front mount in their marketing materials and, as mentioned earlier, I can’t help feel that this device has many more tangible benefits worth promoting. The few seconds you will gain on long rides will only make a meaningful difference to racers (or serious Strava challengers). Even then, it is only in time trials that a real difference will be noticed (unless you're constantly finding yourself in solo breakaways). It’s also very likely that on a time trial bike, the rider won’t use the out-front mount anyway. My ramblings aside, DC Rainmaker has done some comparative wind tunnel testing in a video here.

 

Navigation


Navigation has quickly become a necessary feature for any mid-range bike GPS. My experience is that the Elemnt Bolt ticks the necessary boxes but there is some room for improvement.

 

The Elemnt Bolt excels at getting routes onto the device. No more copying of files onto the device. With the Wahoo you simply connect to your preferred online routing service and download the maps from there. In the time I had the Elemnt Bolt, I used Strava and Google Maps. Strava is simple, you just mark a route or activity as a favourite and it pops up as selectable route on the device. The downside with Strava is that it does not yet support turn-by-turn navigation. Instead, you will need to use other services like Ride With GPS (another service the Elemnt Bolt is happy to share data with) to add turn by turn data.

 

I was very impressed with the integration of Google Maps into the Elemnt app. Just load Google Maps from within the Elemnt app, type in where you want to go, and the route gets sent to your phone. With Google Maps there is added benefit of the map data receiving regular and accurate updates. Routes made through Google Maps do come with turn-by-turn notifications.

 

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A major downside is that the Elemnt Bolt does not auto-reroute should you go astray, instead you need to navigate yourself back to the route marking which is easily visible on the map. Should you get it very wrong, zooming in and out of the map is a straightforward task using the buttons on the side.

 

During navigation was the only time I missed not having a colour screen. Where Garmin use a well defined red line to mark the route, Wahoo has to make use of a black dotted line which can get drowned out by the many other lines symbolizing roads and other features. Of course, this is probably less of a problem when riding off road. On the plus side, it was pointed out to me that for colourblind riders, the Elemnt Bolt may be easier to follow than the red line on the Garmin Edge 520.

 

Wahoo also offers a simple live tracking service with the pairing of the Elemnt Bolt and the Elemnt App. You can broadcast your position to those you share the link to your journey with. Admittedly, I did not get to test this feature properly (partly due to not having anyone immediately receptive to the idea of watching my 5 am morning ride). My own hacked testing revealed that it simply displays your position on the map. There are no metrics from your device, a trail of your journey, or where your route may be directing you. Nonetheless, a useful safety feature that might give you and your loved ones some peace of mind.

 

Battery life


I simply did not have the Elemnt Bolt long enough to comment on the claimed 15-hour battery life. While I did manage to squeeze in around 15 hours of use, I was so busy playing with settings and features that it would be unfair to call it normal use. As a rough indication, the longest ride I did with the Elemnt Bolt had an elapsed time of 5 hours 40 minutes. After which I had 63% battery remaining. Read what you like into that but I did get the impression that the Elemnt Bolt has a very useful amount of juice in the tank.

 

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Pricing


The Wahoo Elment Bolt comes with a recommend retail price of R4,999, which makes it R2,000 less than the Garmin Edge 520's listed retail price. It is worth noting that the basic Elemnt Bolt package does not come bundled with any sensors. This means that you will have to either buy sensors or use your existing sensors.

 

Conclusion


The Wahoo Elemnt Bolt is a full feature bike computer at a size and price that will fit with many riders. It is a reliable bike computer and boasts an excellent mobile app with hassle free integration with third party applications. With little to fault the Elment Bolt, it is only the lack of a colour screen for navigation that could reasonably be considered a significant flaw. Even after just a week, I was sad to see the Elemnt Bolt go and, probably most significantly, I would happily make the switch from my Garmin device if choosing again.

 




2 Comments

Loose cog, May 11 2017 07:32

Nice Nick. Haha, this must be a hard read for all the diehard Garmin followers. I still use my FLKR+ and iPhone which I find serves me well but I will look at upgrading to Bolt as soon as funds permit.

LeoKnight, Aug 18 2017 09:42

I see that internationally that Garmin has dropped the recommended price for the 520 to better compete with the Bolt

https://www.dcrainma...wahoo-bolt.html