WAHOO ELEMNT BOLT GPS COMPUTER REVIEW
BOLT INTO THE UNKNOWN WITH CONFIDENCE
Review by Robert Johnston
A smartphone can do just about anything these days, and thanks to the increasing number of apps tailored to ride navigation and logging, they can be quite handy for guiding you on a mountain bike ride and recording your route. But the accuracy is often poor, and the constant stopping to pull a phone out of your pocket is a nuisance, so a purpose-built GPS bike computer can offer a much-improved user experience. Wahoo have been producing such devices since 2016 with their Elemnt line, the latest of which is termed the Bolt and features some key features and upgrades that may make it the ticket to accompany your rides.
Wahoo’s main design ethos is to produce accessories that can offer performance improvements to an athlete while remaining simplistic by nature. Although the basic operation of the Elemnt Bolt computer is generally simple, the number of features and functions it offers is far from minimal, with just about every need of a cyclist covered to offer the most useful tool they could make.
Beginning with the structure, the £264.99 /$299.99 Elemnt Bolt integrates with the supplied bolt-on 31.8mm handlebar mounting arm to produce an out-front computer that is aerodynamically optimized (by my former boss, a legend in the Road cycling world!). It attaches using the Garmin-style twist-to-lock mount, and there’s a “stem mount” included too in the box to zip-tie onto a stem that has adequate space, which will also work on a handlebar. The 2.2” screen with 64 color display is covered with Gorilla Glass to stand up to abuse out on the trail and features an ambient light sensor to tailor the brightness to the conditions and deliver the best compromise of battery, visibility and glare. Three convex buttons on the face allow for the majority of functions to be controlled in a tactile manner, whilst the power button and scroll buttons on the side add further input. A rubber cover seals the USB-C charging port on the bottom face of the screen, keeping the elements out to earn it an IPX7 rating (waterproof up to 5ft) or allowing for an external charger to be used on the move. A row of LED indicators across the top can be customized to show various quick-glance instructions for workout and navigation functions.
The Elemnt Bolt has a range of different connectivity options built in to send and receive data from various sources and get the most from your ride. The Elemnt Bolt operates fully wirelessly through WiFi, Bluetooth and ANT+, removing the need for any physical connections apart from charging through the USB-C. This includes the loading of routes and maps, syncing of ride data and updating the software, which can all be done from a phone or laptop. The Wahoo Elemnt companion app makes this all possible, connecting seamlessly with most 3rd Party navigation and training apps to quickly and effortlessly share your ride data or load a route. For Strava, there’s the ability to see segment information in real time, so you can tell exactly how hard to push to get the KOM on a section of trail, if that’s your thing. A 16GB internal memory can store a huge amount of data to ensure you always have the correct maps and ride plans to hand. The inbuilt GPS tracks your position for navigation and logging, and further data can be input from ANT+ and Bluetooth enabled sensors for various functions from cadence and heart rate, through to DI2/AXS gearing, ANT+LEV e-bike systems and even SRAM’s Tyrewiz. When connected to your smartphone nearby, the Elemnt bolt will display notifications on the screen if selected, but the device doesn’t require any external connectivity to perform logging or navigation functions, so you can theoretically leave your phone at home. Within the unit are an accelerometer and barometric altimeter to increase the accuracy of the data being logged. Rounding out the extensive features list are the Live Track function to allow loved ones to see where you are (requires smartphone connection), and integration with Specialized’s ANGI crash detection system.
Pulling the Elemnt Bolt out of the high-quality packaging, the finish quality is excellent, and it feels solid in the hand for its small size and low weight. The supplied aerodynamic bar mount for the Elemnt Bolt is sturdy and well made, but only fits a 31.8mm bar with no option to run it at 35mm. This made things tricky with the majority of my cockpit setups running a 35mm clamp for the testing duration – I attempted to fit it on the taper which worked to an extent but opted to run an alternative bar mount for most of the test, made easy thanks to the commonly used mounting standard. Once the mount is in place, installing and removing the computer is simple, with a 90-degree twist locking it in, but I found the interface to fit ever-so-slightly too shallow in some mounts to the point that it was difficult to get it to go in initially. Once bedded in this was less of an issue, with the benefit of it sitting extra low profile on a mount. The buttons are suitably tactile for gloved use, and the functions are intuitive and self-explanatory, limiting the learning period for the device. The Quicklook LEDs are effective even in bright light but did take a bit of learning to know what you were looking at, so for the beginning of the test I was mainly focused on the screen, which is excellent by the way.
Setting up the Wahoo is simple as can be – you download the Elemnt companion app to your smartphone, scan a QR code on the screen and within seconds the two are paired. From here you can tweak the setup to your preferences with ease, with countless options for the data shown. Using the scroll buttons on the side allows for the data screens to be customized on the move as well – scrolling down will effectively zoom out of the data page and include more parameters to indicate what’s happening on your ride, and you can go from having just the time and distance traveled through to a densely packed screen of figures. Once a logged ride is finished, it’ll automatically sync the data to a connected phone and share it with any linked apps like Strava if you have adequate signal. As is often the case, it’s hard to know exactly what to believe when it comes to the accuracy of a logged ride in the countryside, but it certainly felt as if the Elemnt Bolt was consistent in its data and produced comparable numbers to a fellow rider’s Garmin unit. Downloading a route onto the device is simple once you’ve obtained a GPX file – simply open the GPX in the app, click on it and initiate the transfer. Once it’s loaded on your device, you can forget about the phone and go ride. It seemed to be essential that you have an internet reception for this transfer, which varied in speed depending on the quality of the connection, but even the most remote locations allowed me to get loaded and ready to roll without much issue. Using the navigation for an mtb ride gives you limited direction other than following the map arrows and alerting you when you go off course. It heavily depends on the resolution of the selected GPX file to give you points close enough together to keep you on the trail without issue, but it did a pretty damn good job on some remote Scottish trails so should fare equally well in the majority of other ride locations. This navigation is an insanely useful and effective tool for exploring a new area and I could imagine it being reason enough for someone to buy the device.
There were a few quirks with the unit that are worth mentioning – nothing of great concern, but annoyances all the same. For starters, the temperature gauge on my unit was wrong. Granted, I was using it in the late Scottish Fall, but it seldom went above 2 or 3 degrees, even when the forecast suggested we were in double figures. Wind chill wasn’t to blame either, but I can live without knowing the temperature anyway. When turning on the Elemnt Bolt, it would occasionally fail to connect to a GPS, which turned out to be caused by the companion app crashing on the phone and was fixed by a quick reboot. The map ceases to update your orientation once you stop moving, which can lead you to momentarily lose your bearings in unfamiliar territory but will quickly rectify the situation once you begin moving again. Densely forested areas could occasionally block the GPS signal and confuse the Elemnt Bolt into thinking you’d gone off route, giving you a notification to say so. This leads me onto another gripe I have with the device – the notification “bleep”. For whatever reason, the only options you have for this sound are On or Off, with no ability to change the volume or tone. This meant Wahoo had to select a volume and noise that would be loud enough for a road rider hitting 40mph on a windy day, meaning that your peaceful climb up a forest path is violently interrupted by the alert. There are various reasons that the Elemnt Bolt will make a sound so it’s certainly not infrequent, meaning this noise – which was enough to make me jump on a couple of tranquil occasions – sounds often. Turning the noise off means you’re no longer alerted when you go the wrong way down a descent unless you’re looking at the screen, so you’re forced to keep it on and deal with the obnoxious noise. Of course, there are times when you are thankful it is as loud as it is – wearing a full face on a windy descent for example – but otherwise it’s unwelcome.
Battery life has been impressive, racking up in excess of 16 hours of logged ride time in mild conditions before running out of charge. Riding in the cold and using the navigation does cut into this a good amount, but it’ll survive most “regular” rides without even the slightest concern, and the option to plug a power pack into the USB port while using it means longer epic rides should be no issue either. With a phone connected and tucked away in your pocket, the message previews are extremely handy to save you going through the process of taking your phone out to be greeted by a waste of time message. I’ve had a couple of tumbles and tangles with trees and shrubs over the test period, and once flipped the bike for trailside maintenance which accidentally rested the screen directly onto some relatively solid mud, and it shrugged it all off without a scar. The buttons do fill with mud, which dries into the textured surface and is difficult to clean off, but it’s a small price to pay for the tactility that they offer. All in all, the Elemnt Bolt is no small investment (though comparable to the competition) but certainly packs the functionality to somewhat justify its price tag for the avid cyclist.
The Wolf’s Last Word
The Wahoo Elemnt bolt isn’t perfect but offers a damn good option for those looking to add some useful tech into their riding kit to navigate new trails, assess their performance during a ride and log the data for a summary afterwards. Once you learn the minor bugs there’s limited reason not to love the Bolt, so long as you don’t jump scare too easily.
Price: £264.99 /$299.99
Weight: 69g (computer body only)
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