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Video Review: Wahoo ELEMNT Computer
October 13, 2016
Andy from Competitive Cyclist reviews the Wahoo Fitness ELEMNT Computer. With a customizable interface, a highly visible screen, and intuitive GPS navigation, it’s fast becoming one of our favorite cycle computers.
If you’ve been riding as long as I have, you probably have not-so-fond memories of early cycling computers: They were small, displayed very little data, they were difficult to read, and even harder to set up. And, then a certain GPS company ushered in a revolution in how we tracked and recorded our rides.
I was a fan. I used mine on every bike and on just about every ride for 7 years, and until recently it always gave me exactly what I wanted. But, in the past year or so another sea-change has occurred, and it’s called Strava. And, as hard as I tried to stay away from it, once I downloaded the app and started tracking my rides, the little bike racer inside me couldn’t stop obsessing. And, that’s where that first generation GPS device started to fall short. So, I started looking at other options.
As luck would have it that’s when the guys at Wahoo sent me an ELEMNT. If you haven’t heard of Wahoo yet, here’s the scoop: Wahoo was founded by an engineer who discovered he couldn’t easily bring together, view, and analyze all the data from his training devices. This happened right around the time the first iPhone came out, so he wrote an app and invented the ANT+ key to pull all the data into the computer in the palm of his hand.
But he wanted to take it a step further and do the same thing with a cycling computer, so Wahoo released the first generation of that idea, the RFLKT, in 2012 and after three years of constant updating and iterating (and a ton of input from Team Sky), the ELEMNT emerged.
The design goals of the ELEMNT were simple: create a user-friendly cycling computer that aggregates input from just about any Bluetooth device, and give the user control of everything via a smartphone app. And, they nailed it. The free ELEMNT app makes the initial setup and pairing process is about as easy as sending a text message, and once you’re ready you can manage and create pages, the data fields on those pages, pair your devices, and even automatically upload your rides to Strava, which means you don’t have to run the Strava app in tandem and burn up your phone’s battery.
And, while we’re on the subject of STRAVA—a few weeks after I got my ELEMNT, Wahoo upgraded the firmware to show live segments, and segments within segments. Now, if you’ve never used these before, let me tell you—it’s incredibly addictive, and Wahoo makes it easy to sync your favorite segments with the ELEMNT: just hop on your home wifi network, open the Strava app, pick your segments and tap the star displayed on the map. Then scroll to the SEGMENTS screen on your ELEMNT and hit SYNC. Boom. Done. Let the pain ensue. Because, trust me, when that live segment timer pops up and starts ticking right next to your PR you’re gonna go for it, no matter how tired your legs are. And, if you hit the VS button at the bottom to see the KOM, you’re gonna pedal even harder, especially when the “final push” mode kicks in about 500 feet from the end of the segment!
And, while we’re on the subject of buttons: I really REALLY like the way 5 of the 6 buttons are at the bottom of the unit, and here’s why: (1) the ‘zoom’ feature lets me keep just about everything I want to see on one screen and access it in one or two taps and (2) when I’m deep in the middle of chasing a PR or KOM, the ergonomics of pushing DOWN on the bottom buttons with my thumb are about a hundred times easier than letting go of the bars to squeeze a side button. And, you wouldn’t think it a first, but the little raised nubs on the bottom buttons are, for me, a surprising highlight of the ELEMNT’s user experience. They give you that extra layer of grip that you need when you’re on the rivet or riding with full-fingered gloves.
There’s a lot more you can do with the ELEMNT, and honestly I feel like I barely scratched the surface. I used it to control resistance and upload routes with the KICKR trainer—which was awesome, but you can also read data from muscle oxygen sensors, or enable real-time mapping of your buddies to see who’s running late or how far ahead you are on the climb. You can do turn by turn navigation, and there’s even a gear indicator for SRAM eTap and Di2. Oh, and last but not least: you can receive text and email notifications.
Now, let’s pause and talk about that one for a second, because at first, I was skeptical about using it because in my head it was like texting and driving—a huge faux pas. But, I turned it on anyway, and enabled both work and personal emails to hit the screen—along with text messages. And, I’m not ever gonna turn it off. For one, it let’s me set my phone to DND mode, which preserves the battery, big time. Because of that, it puts only the most important stuff—emails and texts—right in front of me. No more reaching in my pocket and looking at my phone every time it buzzes or chirps—I just look down at the ELEMNT for half a second, evaluate the message, and mash the center button to dismiss the notification. Unless it’s the boss. Or my wife. And then, I can choose to stop and respond … or … well, you get the idea.
I’ve loved using the ELEMNT. I was long overdue for an upgrade, and honestly I feel like I’ve gone from a flip phone to an iPhone. I know that’s an over-used analogy, but it’s the closest comparison I can think of that makes sense of the massive overhaul in technology and user experience that Wahoo has accomplished here. They’ve made a bike computer that’s easy to use and a delight to own, especially if you have a low threshold for painful technology experiences.