THESE are interesting times for the cycle GPS market. Whereas once the segment was dominated by a single omnipresent entity, complacency has opened the door to a whole stream of contenders for the crown.
Out of those, one brand stands out, thanks to a cheery demeanour and sheer simplicity of use.
Wahoo has breezed in with a skip and a jump and a grand plan to make “Wahooligans” of the lot of us. It has quite literally put a new spin on exercise and those devices we use to measure our progress. This US company made its name with the Kickr turbo trainer, which was so good that it was snapped up by Team Sky for warm ups around races.
The key to the brand’s success has been smartphone compatibility although it actually goes further than that. Wahoo has created a symbiotic relationship with smartphones, and in particular iPhones. There is an app for every Wahoo product which must be paired with the device for you to use it. This app is essentially your control panel - in the case of the Elemnt it is where your ride will upload to a third party tracking site such as Strava, and it is where you will customise your screen.
The device itself cannot be configured without the iPhone and if you want to receive emails and texts on it while you’re on the road you will need to have it while you ride. But otherwise you can leave the phone at home. Just pair it up when you get back and your ride data will shuffle over to the phone automatically, and from there to Strava.
You can also configure the screens of the Elemnt to mimic those of another device with the option to have up to ten fields on a screen and three screens to flick between.
The lack of a touch screen and mono LCD might annoy some, but they should be placated by the far more useful LED indicators that surround the screen and indicate your effort according to the parameters you set. If you just leave it, the lights will indicate your performance according to your average speed, which becomes a highly addictive measure to monitor. If you load a route up, the LEDs act as indicators to tell you when to turn.
Those who aren’t keen on multiple fields and would prefer instead to focus on a couple of readings such as speed and heart rate can zoom in on the screen using the little toggle buttons to the right of the screen.
Available features more or less match rival devices and often exceed them depending on the brand you are comparing to. We set our screen up to display heart rate, cadence, power, elevation, heading, elapsed time, speed, average speed, and calories burned. That is as per our previous device.
An alternative screen has a basic map that should you decide to clear off one day you will find will take you to most parts of the globe. There is no colour, which if you are actually using the map to navigate over any distance could prove something of an issue, more so if you happen to be lost in Spain, for instance. But it will suffice and everybody knows that coloured screens equal battery drain anyway.
You get a backlight and thanks to that mono LCD, a whopping 17 hours of claimed battery life. We can confirm this is more or less the case, having taken it out on at least that many hours of combined rides while forgetting to recharge in between.
All of this technology is housed in a very sturdy casing. The buttons are nice and chunky and there being only a few of them makes operation a cinch.
We love that the Elemnt will detect and pair effortlessly with third party sensors although we can recommend Wahoo’s Tickr which takes heart rate monitoring to another level and acts more as a strap-on Fitbit.
In all, this has proven a delightful device to use and over the few months we have been testing it we have become quite attached to the little thing. The LED indicators become addictive to keep track of, especially when they are indicating your speed in relation to your average. We haven’t noticed much in the way of performance enhancement but you can’t blame a computer for that.
There are one or two niggles, however. The main one being a sporadic automatic upload feature. We have set the device to upload to Strava as soon as it comes within wi-fi range following the end of the ride, which it does, sometimes. Other times it seems to upload only to the iPhone and then requires a push through to Strava, and others it just sits on the unit until you sync it up. This could have a lot to do with the wi-fi strength at the point of the ride finishing but is nevertheless mildly annoying.
Also, despite the mount looking identical to a Garmin mount, it doesn’t actually fit one. This is a little unusual for Wahoo, who have gone out of their way to make their devices compatible with all others. It does mean though that you’ll end up having to change out all your mounts. Wahoo supply two in the box and you can buy extra ones.
Summary: Somehow, and we don’t know how, Wahoo have a knack of producing loveable gadgets. The Elemnt is no exception. It’s not sleek and it’s not even particularly pretty but those little LEDs are quite endearing and there’s no faulting the gubbins inside. This device is simple to use and you’re set up and ready to ride within minutes. If you’re looking for a new bike computer this needs to be on your radar.
4.5 / 5