Bike computers continue to progress in leaps and bounds, and Mike Blewitt says there's plenty of things to like about the Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt.
Words: Mike Blewitt
Photos: Gerard Lagana
The humble bicycle computer has come a long way in a couple of decades. Back when wireless computers were a pretty major upgrade over a wired model, the thought of having navigation and mapping all jammed in there wouldn't even have been considered. Fast forward 20 years and our wireless bike computers are tiny but powerful GPS units. They track our speed, our altitude, the temperture, location, gradient – and much more if you have any extra sensors like a heart rate monitor or power meter. Away from those training devices, your bike computer may even let you scroll through your text messages, or alert you to an upcoming Strava segment. And don't worry, it can still deliver your maximum speed, and of course, the time.
Wahoo are the market leader in the virtual world, with the range of Kickr smart trainers being the go-to for riders, racers, and those who have thrown themselves into e-sports via virtual racing. In 2016 the Wahoo ELEMNT was the first full-service bike GPS that was produced. It used a simple, customisable display and much of the setup was done via your phone. The unit gained a GPS single very quickly, and the sync with your phone or home wifi for data upload was typically seamless. A couple of years later they trimmed some of the tech down and released the ELEMNT Bolt, and then in 2019 the ELEMNT Roam was released, with a colour screen and turn by turn navigation. Earlier this year a new Bolt was released, with a full colour screen, much more memory and host of useful features.
A closer look – what's changed?
I have been using Wahoo computers since April 2016, after using Garmin for the past five years. In a sense it's like being an iPhone or Android user. I like the simpler displays of the Wahoo and the faster fire up times, and the short time to find GPS reception and to get moving.
The ELEMNT Bolt is the smallest of their GPS units, although this new one is a few grams heavier and a little bit thicker than the original Bolt. While externally it still looks very similar, the buttons are now protruding a little, and they are much easier to use with gloves, or with cold hands as well. There's four times as much memory in the unit, with 16GB instead of 4GB – making it the highest storage in their line up. It also means more maps come preloaded, although you can add any country or region you like for free, via the Wahoo App. The Bolt now has a USB-C charge port, which has higher waterproofing and can allow for faster charging as well. Battery life still sits at 15 hours, like the original Bolt.
Like the Roam, the Bolt now has an ambient light sensor. This means the back light comes on if there's not much light. If you use a GPS as a training aid or navigation tool in the early or late hours, this is really helpful!
With changes like having a 64 colour screen and turn by turn navigation, the updated Bolt really is a mini ELEMNT Roam – although the Roam actually only had a few colours. The ELEMNT and original Bolt had maps, and you could be guided on them, but they lacked turn by turn navigation. So if you went off course, you couldn't be guided back to it. The LED sensors remain, and you can choose them to alert you to upcoming turns, or if you exit a heart rate or power training zone.
Similarly, you can colour code your heart rate and power zones, so a quick glance lets you know if you're doing your work out in the right way. While Wahoo computers let you easily choose how much or how little data you have on your screen, this is a very easy visual guide to use when you're heart rate is through the roof when training.
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If you choose to, you can have the Bolt connected to your phone while riding. This means you can get text messages and WhatsApp messages (amongst other platforms) and an update to the fonts used means more of a text will fit on the screen. You can also turn this off via the App if your ride time is about disconnecting (but still recording the ride). The ride tracker option remains as well, which is a handy function when riding solo, as you can share the link to family, friends or your partner. Live Strava segments remain as well, so if you have that enabled, you'll get a heads up when a segment is approaching, along with what your current PR is.
This device is driven by your phone and the Wahoo App. So I paired it with my phone and set my data screens to what I want to see, which is a mix of data screens for power and heart rate, plus a clear mapping screen, and one related to gradient, temperature and total ascent and descent. I already had my approximated heart rate and power zones in my profile on the app, so they paired and populated the numbers for the zones. Pairing any devices is quick, in my case my Tickr heart rate monitor and a Stages power meter on one of my bikes.
I don't often use route guidance with a GPS, but quite often use the map to take a look around. I did wonder whether the smaller screen of the Bolt compared to the Roam would have a negative impact, but it didn't. I especially liked how different sized trails are marked (ie fire road compared to singletrack) and how bike paths or bike routes are also their own colour.
While I like to tune out when I ride, I also hate to hear my phone get a message and not know what it is. So while I can't reply from the Bolt, having a different font to quickly read a whole text (or just dismiss it) is useful. Although I did feel the need to disconnect this function as my family WhatsApp group was discussing lockdown recipes while I was out on a long ride one Saturday. I keep the live tracking on and I sent my wife the link years ago – it is part of my Wahoo profile so went straight to this unit when I received the test model. It can be a bit start and stop, as I was told when I was out on a day that was wet and with low visibility. Apparently it looked like I'd gone to a cafe near the trails and never left – until I rolled through the gate.
Setting a route is easy enough, and same for moving it to your device. I use Strava on a premium subscription to create routes, then save them. I Airdrop it to my phone, which then gives me an option where to save it. With it saved in the Wahoo App, I can then load it up and sync it with the Wahoo Bolt when it's switched on. From there, it's ready to guide you to the start.
The Bolt can be designed to be quiet or with sounds, and I have it set so green LEDs flash when a turn is approaching, with a pop up saying how far away and what the trail or road name is. Lights will flash red if you've gone the wrong way.
Like when I tested the Roam, this is more useful to follow when riding backcountry forest roads or at lower speeds. I tested the Roam following a World Championship marathon mountain bike route in the steep valleys below Zermatt. They're littered with insanely good trails scything through forests and carved out of cliffs. And sometimes, I just didn't really see the screen. The combination of audible and visual cues is about as good as you'll get without some sort of heads up display, and I found using the turn by turn navigation for a route near my place, it was easy to follow and accurate. Although feedback from my wife was would I please turn that noise off and to stop telling her in how many metres we would be making a turn.
I did have a couple of drop outs on that ride, with the guidance dropping out briefly and the device not recording accurately. Looking at the uploaded file after the ride, I can see that the Bolt missed a few hundred metres of climbing, and straight-lined a couple of sections. I wasn't sure if this is because it was using the route off my phone and I lost coverage in those spots, or some other bug. So I asked Wahoo Australia. They suggested I update the firmware and the Wahoo App. So I did both, and I didn't have any further problems.
If you already have a Wahoo ELEMNT model, do a firmware update and update your Wahoo App, as you will gain some of the new features like the greater options for message notifications. But if you're looking for a new GPS that has navigation and a very crisp display, I'd be hard-pressed to recommend anything else. I don't think this will suit the bikepackers or multi-day backcountry riders, who will want more battery life. But for those who want to record their rides, try suggested routes, and easily find their way home when lost, this is a great unit. The coloured zones and backlight make a huge difference for those making a training plan work in the dark hours, and I think the general ease of use makes it easy to get along with for anyone, with more features there if you want to play with them.
- Like a Wahoo Roam but better and cheaper
- Compact and packed with features
- Crisp, easy to read display
- Some may prefer a bigger screen