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Wahoo Elemnt Bolt II review: colour screen, bigger memory, better computer

14 Jul 2021
Verdict:

Wahoo takes another leap forward with the addition of a colour screen and other improvements to the Bolt

Cyclist Rating: 
For 
Excellent colour screen • Much improved buttons • Still aero-optimised • Carries over the mapping and training features of the original
Against 
The beep alert is pretty annoying, but the unit is hard to fault

The new Wahoo Elemnt Bolt II GPS bike computer is the latest release from the American brand as it continues its march from upstart newcomer knocking on the door of Garmin’s market fortress to innovator and market leader.

Reliance on technology makes us more vulnerable to a societal collapse than at any time in the last millenium, or so it feels at times. The film Die Hard 4, although not a masterpiece, showed what can happen when the tapping of a keyboard causes anything from traffic chaos to gas explosions.

On a more individual level, why bother checking where you need to go in advance of setting out when you can use a smartphone to check while en route?

This is fed by products that work so well we wonder why we ever tried getting on without them. You can do everything, arguably too much, on a smartphone to the point that we lose or never learn skills such as navigation or indeed remembering arrangements we’d made for just the next day.

Taking that into a cycling context, many of us – myself definitely included – no longer just ride, especially in an unfamiliar area, but instead pre-plot a route and are effectively clueless about where we are or how to get back if it goes wrong without electronic help.

Without the need to remember a route or carry a proper map, I simply don’t even try anymore and this is in part due to a reliance on following routes on Wahoo’s bike computers, a dependency that would not have come about had each unit I’ve used not been at least satisfactory.

 

From good to better

Going far beyond being merely passable, however, the new Wahoo Elemnt Bolt II is excellent. The first generation unit was all about riding fast with its proprietary aero mount, as proven by its presence on many bikes at the ongoing Tour de France.

Attached to a stem-top mount rather than the aero out-front, I've used the new Wahoo Elemnt Bolt II a few times now, including as a mirror display from the Wahoo Elemnt Rival sports watch during a triathlon.

I was already familiar with Wahoo's products having used the original Bolt, the Roam and a number of accessories such as the Tickr heart rate monitor, so reviewing the new Elemnt Bolt II wasn't an introduction to either the brand or the product.

However, it was an introduction to the improvements it has on board, and it’s the small changes on the new Wahoo Elemnt Bolt II GPS bike computer that make big differences.

 

Colour screen

Still coming with its own out-front mount (although not compatible with my TT bike’s handlebar arrangement), the Bolt II is in the same compact and aerodynamically optimised package as the original. In terms of difference, the changes go from the obvious to the subtle, but all have an impact.

Starting with the obvious, the new Wahoo Elemnt Bolt II has a colour screen. This is something the brand had avoided until the launch of the larger Roam unit, but the Bolt II's screen is also a step on from its bigger cousin's display.

Wahoo says the introduction of colour screens had to come at a time when the technology was up to the task, which is a position the brand believes it has reached with the launch of the new unit.

Whereas the Roam will give you blue blobs for bodies of water and mark main roads in yellow, the new Bolt II has gone full technicolour with its 64-colour, high-contrast screen.

On the Data Fields page, metrics such as heart rate and power appear in the colour that corresponds to their training zones, a much simpler way to see how you're getting on when you glance down at the unit – particularly in a race situation.

  • Wahoo launched its first power meter pedals, Powrlink Zero in 2022, which can connect to the Bolt to provide +/-1% accurate power data while you're on the bike. Read the full story for all the details.

As Wahoo puts it, 'An updated user interface offers customisable, colour-highlighted fields to make it simple to focus on specific data metrics. An ambient light sensor automatically adjusts the backlight to make sure that the screen is always easy to see, even on dawn commutes or dusky rides.'

Buy the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt II now

The colour screen sits behind scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass and even the font of some of the on-screen notifications has been improved, making the words easier to read.

The colour screen is a leap on from the original Bolt and even from the more recent Roam. The latter brings some colour and tone while the new Bolt II is like a kaleidoscope of welcome colour.

The maps are clearer and much improved by the 64-colour display and the colour coding of metrics on the data fields screen, letting you know your current output from a paired power meter or heart rate monitor, makes it much easier to gauge your effort from a quick glance down at the Bolt II.

 

Glove-friendly buttons

The most welcome change from the previous version of the Bolt is the improvement of the buttons, which are now easy to push with gloves or cold fingers, making it much simpler to toggle between screens on the unit.

The original Bolt, and the Roam for that matter, has concave buttons on the front of the unit that sometimes require a bit of convincing when pushed – especially with winter gloves on.

On the new Bolt II the buttons are convex, standing slightly above the unit's fascia. When wearing full-finger gloves, the improvement in the buttons is immediately noticeable and welcome.

Much easier to push and a lot more responsive as a result, this is an improvement that couldn't have been thought of sat at a desk but must have become quickly obvious to Wahoo during ride-testing of the new Bolt II.

 

Smart navigation

The Wahoo Elemnt Bolt II also steals Smart Navigation from the Roam, meaning it automatically re-routes if you stray from any planned course – see my earlier point about reliance on technology in a way our ancestors would have baulked at.

The new Bolt II also allows you to change destinations, route back to the start and retrace your rides right from the computer – importantly, without having to use the smartphone app. Which is good as I’ve had far less luck with fruit-related smartphones that I have with Wahoo’s products recently.

 

LED light display and longer battery life

Common to all Wahoo units, the 'Quick View LEDs' on the top of the screen can serve to provide turn-by-turn directions, alert you to an approaching Strava Live segment, provide notifications and indicate heart rate or power zones.

The new Wahoo Elemnt Bolt II comes with a 15-hour runtime and also boasts an increased onboard memory of 16GB. All features point towards a vastly improved unit that’s benefited from being used in the field rather than only analysed in a lab.

Buy the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt II now

Bolt II vs Roam

'The Bolt is designed to make exploring simple with millions of miles of roads and trails already preloaded,' says Wahoo. 'When paired with the Wahoo Elemnt app, riders can easily customise their data screens, sync routes and analyse data.'

This all sounds great and is what anyone would want from a GPS bike computer. However, this opens up a debate similar to that of the Specialized Tarmac vs the Specialized Venge.

That argument was settled quite recently when the middle of the Venn diagram became large enough for the Venge to be discontinued. Could the Roam go the same way if the Bolt II encroaches far enough onto its navigation turf?

When asked, Wahoo was dismissive of the idea, contesting that the larger screen on the Roam meant it held appeal for tourers and adventurer riders in a way that the smaller package of the Bolt simply doesn't.

I'm looking forward to the next generation Roam, whenever that might appear, if it brings the improvements to the colour screen and navigation that this new Bolt II has.

Price: 
£249.99

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