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First ride review: Wahoo Elemnt Bolt - highly functional and 50% less drag

15 Mar 2018
Verdict:

Excellent usability and aero gains make the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt a disruptive force in the bicycle computer market

The Wahoo Elemnt Bolt is an evolution of the American brand's now year old Elemnt bicycle computer, and the new incarnation is thoroughly performance focused. Wahoo is best known for its Kickr turbo trainer, seen in a row outside the Team Sky bus before and after every race as the British team warms up and cools down, and Wahoo is diversifying further with this new head unit.

Both the original Wahoo Elemnt and this new Elemnt Bolt are programmed and controlled using a dynamic and very easy-to-use smartphone app, which communicates with the device over Bluetooth.

Displayed metrics, from power to speed, and cadence to ride time, can be added, removed and reordered with the swipe of a finger on the app.

50% less drag with the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt

The routing and mapping features, discussed below, are more at home on the original Wahoo Elemnt with its larger high resolution display. But for the professional market, the door of which Wahoo has cracked open with its exisiting relationship with Team Sky, there are some clear changes from the Elemnt to the Elemnt Bolt.

The new unit is smaller and comes with a specially designed integrated unit and mount combination. It is the interface between these two parts that is responsible for the 50% reduction in drag compared to other units, which gives a claimed saving of 12.6 seconds over a 40km time trial when travelling at 33.8kmh (21mph).

'When tested against leading competitors using computational fluid dynamics (CFD), the Elemnt Bolt system reduced air resistance by over 50 percent,' Wahoo reported.

Wahoo has made this improvement, the brand says, to 'address the unique needs of the performance-driven rider.'

To test and develop the Elemnt Bolt, Wahoo collaborated with Dimitris Katsanis, the world-renowned cycling aerodynamics expert who played a crucial role in designs used by British Cycling and the winning Team Sky road bikes and TT bikes ridden in the Tour de France in 2015 and 2016.

The Wahoo Elemnt Bolt can be a permanent feature on your race bike

A smaller, but no less important part of the new unit and mount combo is the bolt that sits in the bottom back corner of the mount. Leave the bolt where it is and the head unit can be added and removed by hand, like most other bike computers.

But wind the screw into the unit when its in situ and the computer becomes a fixed part of the bike.

What's the significance of this, you might wonder...

Anything that isn't screwed on to a bike is removed when the bike is weighed by the UCI before a race; screw the computer on and its weight counts towards the regulation minimum and so can be saved elsewhere.

A couple of turns with an Allen key and the unit becomes a permanent feature of the bike 

Wahoo Elemnt Bolt: Upload, sync and follow pre-set routes with ease

Routes can be synced in advance or chosen on the fly, should you need to get home in a hurry.

Whilst visiting Mallorca for a pre-launch ride of the new Wahoo Elemnt Bolt we were sent a Ride With GPS link in advance, which was swiftly synced to the device and followed for 130km around the Balearic Island.

Following the route was faultless (well, overlooking user error when I turned left after 10 metres after seeing an instruction to turn after 200), and the instructions appear as a banner below your metrics on any screen.

The LEDs on the head unit flash in the direction of the turn, or flash red should you miss the turn.

Train to power and heart zones using the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt's ‘Quicklook’ LED Indicators

Those same red lights that indicated a missed turn also featured during the press ride's only climb in reaction to my pre-set heart rate zones, which I was able to edit on the app before the ride.

When my heart neared its maximum in my quest to catch riders already on the upper slopes of the dead-end ascent the flashing could have been described as 'frenzied'.

The heart rate zones - for a much younger rider - as seen on the app

Try out the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt's go anywhere capability

Away from pre-set routes sent to the device in advance the app can also be used as a 'just get me home' panic option.

Find yourself on unfamiliar roads, miles from home, with nothing but used gel wrappers in your pockets you can take out your smartphone, search for your home address and let the app find the best route.

Search for where you need to get to, sync the route, off you go 

You then send that route to the head unit and it'll guide you home with turn-by-turn ease.

Only once, in the tight streets of Pollenca's old town, did the computer get slightly confused as to where I was but zooming in on the map screen and following the moving arrowhead soon got me back on course.

Wireless pairing and compatibility on the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt

As well as Bluetooth, the unit is also wifi compatible and ANT+ enabled. Using ANT+, fitness accessories such as speed and cadence sensors, heart rate monitors and power meters can all be used with both Wahoo computers.

During the press ride I rode with a heart rate strap - the disco light display already mentioned above, as well as the speed and cadence sensors. All were easy to pair by holding the sensors close to the unit and then agreeing to the pairing on the smartphone app, and each worked well when riding.

Text and call alerts

In an ever-connected world, cycling can offer an escape from the continuous barrage of emails, messages and news about political upheaval.

But sometimes we really do need to be contactable and know what's going on outside of the bubble we can happily exist in when turning the pedals.

The Wahoo Elemnt computers, when connected to a carried smartphone, can alert the rider to incoming texts and calls.

The first line of the text appears on the bottom of the unit's screen, along with the sender's name, allowing the rider to decide whether it's necessary to stop and respond.

There's little more annoying than stopping an interval due to a ringing phone thinking it might be important, only to discover it's some mindless PPI sales call, so knowing it can be ignored allows you to keep riding without having to stop and extract the phone from a jacket pocket.

Problems to report

I've had very few problems with either of the Wahoo Elemnt computers so far.

My only gripe would be the battery life. This is a healthy 13 hours at its maximum, but that relies on few of the features being enabled.

For my own riding using three connected sensors, some mapping to find places of interest and the occasional Strava live segment, I was conscious of having to charge the unit regularly throughout a big week of riding.

Wahoo Elemnt Bolt: Now available

The Wahoo Elemnt Bolt has been under strict embargo and so for the week following its press launch I opted to use the original unit. The larger, first generation Elemnt came out last spring and I can barely fault its performance over the 400+km I've used it for so far.

Now the Bolt is out in the public domain it will be a permanent feature on my bike for hours of riding before it appears in print in Cyclist. A full review will appear online as more of its features are tried and tested.

The Wahoo Elemnt Bolt is now on sale for £199.99 and can be purchased directly from uk.wahoofitness.com, or leading bike dealers.

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