I recently borrowed a WAHOO ELEMNT Bolt from a mate to test whether this is a legitimate challenger to the quarter-turn throne that Garmin sits atop
Words and Images - James Raison
As a caveat, I’m not DC Rainmaker so if you want the internet’s most thorough review then check his out (I've put that link all the way down the bottom though so you'll have to read this first). I’m a fairly average young punter: techy and definitely nerdy, but also lazy. Now, I refer constantly to my Garmin Edge 520 in this review because it is the behemoth in this segment and the most similar to the ELEMNT Bolt. So consider this a review and Bolt V 520 showdown.
Setup was an absolute dawdle. Fire up the unit, install the Wahoo phone app, scan a QR code on the unit’s screen and follow the prompts to pair the device. You’re then presented with a list of third party apps to connect and within a couple of minutes Strava and Training Peaks were connected.
My Garmin Edge 520’s setup is properly infuriating because of the rabbit warren menus and constant button pressing. Outsourcing setup to a smartphone is so much more intuitive and speedy. I set up all the data screens I wanted in a couple of minutes.
Sensors paired quickly, again using the phone app as the controller. So easy I don’t feel the need to talk about it. It just works.
Next up is the Wahoo screen setup. Before long I’d created several pages for all the activities that I like to do. It was lovely. Happily tapping away on a big touch screen rather than awkwardly mangling my fingers into claws like I do with the Garmin.
The beauty of the Wahoo interface is being able to create, edit, and switch screens on and off in a few seconds. I like to adjust screens for what my ride purpose, bike choice, or sensors. It’s easy to switch out your heart rate monitor field if you left it home. No more empty data fields.
The ELEMNT Bolt will fit Garmin quarter turn mount - sort of. The mount tabs are top and bottom compared to the Garmin’s side tabs. I suspect there’s some patent skirting at work here. Unfortunately, many of my out-front mounts are useless for the Bolt. Some mounts with a rotating internal plate can be spun around, and the standard Garmin quarter-turn mount held on by rubber rings can easily be rotated but it’s not a clean interface with the Bolt so you’ll be wrestling it in and out. It’s a massive bummer, especially for those of us who have invested in a lot of mounts.
Luckily the Bolt’s out-front mount is nice and slickly attaches to the unit. The arm that connects the mount to the bar clamp is designed to mount below the bar, rather than Garmin’s above-bar system that ships with the 520 and 820. That can make it tricky depending on your cable situation but it’s much more aesthetically pleasing than the Garmin system.
The ELEMNT Bolt avoids the touchscreen malarky in favour of 3 chunky buttons along the bottom edge of the unit face, a power button on the left edge, and up-and-down arrow buttons on the right side. It’s similar-ish to the Edge 520 layout except much better. On-bike page and data control is done by with the big three on the unit face. They’re easy to reach with your index finger when riding on the handlebar flats and their size makes them easy to use with gloves.
The ELEMNT Bolt wins the screen clarity award by a country mile. There’s more contrast, blockier text, and it doesn’t try to do colour. It’s much easier to read while riding and in all light. For the same reason it’s great at night. The backlight is excellent and anecdotally appears to draw less power than the Garmin. My only gripe is that the unit occasionally tries to jam a lot of information onto the screen, particularly when live segments are involved.
I spent some time with the Bolt and my Edge 520 mounted at the same time. Both units appeared to display data similarly but with one exception.
The Bolt is much better at showing gradient changes. The Edge 520 can be laughably slow at noticing you’ve rolled from a descent into a pinchy climb. The earth’s topography changes faster than the gradient display on my Edge 520. So the end of my 44.4 km ride had the Garmin show 694 vertical metres and the Wahoo showing 761 vertical metres. That’s a substantial difference over such a short ride. Now, it’s hard to know exactly how accurate the altimeter is but the 520’s lethargic gradient sensing is worse than every other Garmin I’ve used. I like my data to be accurate because I earned those metres dammit!
Wahoo excels at Strava live segment usability. There’s a dedicated screen that lists all of your starred segments within 1.5 km. You can scroll through and choose which one you’re chasing on-the-fly, with the added bonus of choosing whether you’ll chase your PR, the KOM, or the next fastest rider on your Strava following list. It’s a pure joy to have this system! I have multiple starred segments in my favourite riding spots and dynamically choosing which one I target is a fabulous.
It can take months to get to the bottom of all the features but I don't have that long with the unit. So far I can summarise the Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt by saying it's like a Garmin but with a better screen, better buttons, better user interface, better battery life, and even a better noise when it does stuff - a pleasant chirp rather than the Garmin shriek.
That mounting business is a bummer though.
If you have a functional Edge 520 or 820 there's not much point in buying a ELEMNT Bolt. Anyone looking to upgrade from an older unit and is deciding between Garmin and Wahoo is faced with an interesting decision. IF you're not too deep into the Garmin ecosystem then you should buy the Wahoo. I would.
Now you can check out the DC Rainmaker review.