Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT: Setup, interface, and (indoor) user experience

Previously I introduced you to my Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT bike computer and its hardware. Today I’ll go over the user interface and experience, at least from an indoor cycling perspective.

SETUP AND PAIRING

The Cat Eye Padrone Digital made use of the Cat Eye Cycling app as an alternate method of setting up the computer and pairing its sensors. As welcome as it was, giving respite to pushing tiny hard plastic buttons on the underside of the unit, Wahoo’s implementation blows it out of the water.

On initial startup, the ELEMNT BOLT displays a datamatrix QR code, which you can then use to pair Wahoo’s ELEMNT app with. It then leverages your smartphone to do the heavy lifting of setup and sensor pairing. It’s much simpler and more straightforward than Cat Eye’s implementation.

Part of this is due to much more solid Bluetooth connectivity. On the Padrone Digital, my Stages Cycling heart rate chest strap had a nasty habit of dropping out and generally being finicky with its connectivity; I thought this was down to bad batteries. Not so with the ELEMNT BOLT. Let’s just say the heart rate strap will keep its batteries for much longer.

DISPLAY, UI, AND CONTROLS

The ELEMNT BOLT has a 2.2-inch screen, flanked by a power button on the left, a up and down scroll button on the right, and three context-sensitive face buttons on the bottom edge. Having had sweat drip onto my phone’s screen while on many an RGT Cycling session, I prefer this chunky physical buttons approach. Wayward drops of sweat can do some funny things to a touch screen – like, say, end your indoor training workout way too early.

Note the “outdoor” value on the middle button. This is Wahoo suggesting to push it to change the “location” value, which is currently selected.
“Location” will automatically change to “KICKR” when the ELEMNT BOLT connects to it.

Aside from the obvious function of turning the ELEMNT BOLT on and off, pressing the power button opens a menu that handles hardware-related functionality. This covers things such as checking current battery life, switching screen backlight on and off, connecting to sensors and checking their signal strengths, toggling between “indoor” and “outdoor” mode (it defaults to “outdoor” on startup), selecting preloaded workouts, and controlling the behavior of the top-mounted row of LEDs.

Wahoo split the ELEMNT BOLT user interface (UI) into pages. By default, there is a ride data page, a climbing page, and a map/navigation page. An optional lap data page can be accessed if you press the “lap” button while riding, but otherwise it’s very similar to the ride data page. Finally, with the ELEMNT BOLT in indoor mode, the map/navigation page goes away, switching to an indoor training page.

Most pages can display a maximum of 9 data fields, the first one getting the lion’s share of the display’s real estate. This is handy, as most times while riding, I want to focus on one metric above all else. You can add more pages, select their contents, and their display priority, using the ELEMNT app. On the main ride data page, pressing the up scroll button acts like a zoom function, enlarging the data fields set first in order, while hiding away the lower priority ones. The down scroll button reverses this effect. It’s pretty neat, and it improves the already good readability of the ELEMNT BOLT’s black and white screen.

The climbing page shows a real-time elevation profile of what you’re currently riding, laid on the bottom half of the screen. Pretty neat. If you’re training indoors, the elevation profile section can show your intervals instead, with either target power or heart rate for each. I found this useful for conducting FTP tests.

Controlling the KICKR SNAP in ERG mode.

Lastly, when hooked up to a smart trainer (such as my KICKR SNAP), the indoor training page is pretty much a small-screen version of the Wahoo Fitness smartphone app’s indoor training mode. Like that app, you can tell the smart trainer to:

  • set resistance in steps from 0-9, with 9 supposedly emulating a climb with ~5% gradient
  • set resistance from 0 to 100%, in 5% increments
  • go into ERG mode with resistance based on a target power figure and your cadence
  • mimic resistance based on a saved route
  • go into passive mode, with resistance being set by another external app (e.g. RGT Cycling)
No Zwift or RGT Cycling? With some setup, the ELEMNT BOLT can still instruct your smart trainer to mimic the resistance of a real-life route.

A curious design decision on Wahoo’s part was to have only one button to scroll through pages. You can’t scroll backward, only forwards. This seems like a deliberate effort to discourage users from adding too many pages to the point of distraction. After having seen way too many display pages on the Cat Eye Velo Wireless+, some of them of questionable utility and none of them able to be hidden away, I can understand Wahoo’s logic.

LEDs set to display heart rate zones, hence the reverse color.
LEDs set to display power zones. Power is not reverse colored here, perhaps because it’s already set as the first-priority data field.

Unique to the ELEMNT bike computers is their row of LEDs. On the BOLT, there is only the top row due to its smaller size, but it’s very smartly used here. Once you’ve gone into your profile settings on the ELEMNT app and set your heart rate and power zones, you can instruct the BOLT to use the LEDs to use either heart rate or power, and light up according to which zone you are in. This metric is then displayed on screen in reverse color. It’s a minimalist, but effective way of adding display information without visual overload or extra button presses.

(I’m skipping the maps/navigation page for another time, as I feel that deserves its own section.)

After you’ve ended your ride on the ELEMNT BOLT, a data analysis screen is displayed, where you can display various metrics for your just-ended ride such as heart rate and power. This also ties into a ride history section where you can see metrics of previous rides, as well as your cumulative ride data totals for the week, such as distance and time. Again, this is a miniaturized version of a similar screen that comes with Wahoo’s smartphone apps. While those get the job done, Wahoo also realize that most people use other websites for their ride data collection and analysis, such as Strava and TrainingPeaks, so the company makes it a quick, easy, and seamless process to automatically upload ride data to such sites via WiFi.

In a future installment of this series, we’ll go look at how the ELEMNT BOLT handles outdoor rides, maps, and navigation. With COVID19 lockdowns being what they are, though, this plan may have to get postponed.

Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT cycle computer: Intro and first look

(L-R) Micro Wireless, Velo Wireless+, Padrone Digital.

For many years, I managed to resist the charms of GPS-enabled bike computers. I soldiered on with various Cat Eye units of ever increasing capability – the Commuter, the Velo Wireless+, the Micro Wireless, and the Padrone Digital – while watching the development of various Garmin Edge units. While impressively feature-packed, they were all a little too rich for my blood. A big part of it was its first-mover advantage and monopoly on the premium bike computer market.

As time went by, more players – Lezyne, Xplova, Bryton, even Garmin’s car GPS rival Magellan – threw their hats into the ring with their own offerings, and I had my fingers crossed that this added competition would drive prices down. While each competitor introduced variety, none of them offered a complete enough package to rival Garmin at this particular game.

That was when Wahoo Fitness came along and started exposing the chinks in Garmin’s armor. Granted, they did not get this right first time around; they certainly took their time and a couple device generations to get to competitive parity. By 2017, Wahoo seemed to have gotten it right with their ELEMNT BOLT, a smaller, more refined version of their ELEMNT bike computer, and I knew I wanted one at some point.

Four years later…

Yes, I am thoroughly late to this particular party, with the ELEMNT BOLT having gone on discount and eventually out of stock from local retailers (I had to source mine from Amazon). Four years is a long time for consumer electronics. Indeed, Wahoo has had the newer, bigger, more expensive ELEMNT ROAM unit for some time now, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they announced a true BOLT successor soon.

There are dozens upon dozens of reviews online, in print or in video, about this particular bike computer, so you can seek those out if you want a more comprehensive look. Instead, I’ll be approaching this from the perspective of someone upgrading from Cat Eye units.

The Padrone Digital served me well, hooking up with speed, cadence, and heart rate sensors via Bluetooth to display all this data in one place. I did think it was the upper limit of what a bike computer could do without resorting to smart features or GPS. What does the extra outlay for the ELEMNT BOLT get you, then?

Inside the box are the ELEMNT BOLT itself, a quick start guide, an out-front mount, a stem mount, four zip ties, and a USB-type-A-to-micro-USB charging cable. The box photo makes a big deal about the ELEMNT BOLT being the “world’s most aerodynamic bike computer” because of how flush it clicks into the out-front mount. While it’s nice, I doubt it makes a big enough aero dent.

On to the other box, which has the sensor bits and pieces needed to make the ELEMNT BOLT work. Wahoo’s speed and cadence sensors are cute, oval tabs of plastic about 4 mm thick that connect via Bluetooth. Unlike the Cat Eye sensors I’ve been using, neither of these requires an external magnet to work, and they wake up with a flashing LED when moved. The box has them with the quick start guides and a selection of mounting hardware.

The speed sensor comes in a rubber band caddy which is meant to wrap around one of your wheels’ hub shells before hooking onto itself. The cadence sensor, on the other hand, can mount in a variety of ways. Wahoo throws in a 3M VHB adhesive patch, as well as a silicone caddy with holes for zip ties – both for mounting on the crank arm. The final mounting method is a hard plastic brace, meant to install the cadence sensor on your shoe. Wild, but that’ll work, I guess.

The Wahoo cadence sensor just about fits.
And yes, that’s the old Cat Eye ISC-12 speed and cadence sensor on the chainstay – along with the cadence magnet.

Unfortunately, on Hyro, my Giant TCX, space between chainstay and crank arm is at a premium and just too tight for the zip-tie method. I decided to just stick the naked cadence sensor on the crank arm instead, where it sneaks in with the smallest of tolerances.

I actually got a second, different mount, because having different mounting options is good for adaptability.

Unintentional Engrish: Where have you seen an “align” key before?

Unlike the stock mount, KOM Cycling’s “aero” computer mount for Wahoo devices is a blockier affair. It’s not even a flush fit, with a yawning big gap between the quarter-turn mounting tabs and the forward edge of the computer.

KOM Cycling mount: Not flush at all
Supplied mount: Very flush

What it does is relocate the arm and provide a little more space between handlebar and computer. I find this is enough to allow potential mid-ride charging of the ELEMNT BOLT from a power bank, which would be convenient on long-distance audax rides, for example.

The KOM Cycling unit even has plastic reducer shims so you can fit it to a narrower 22.2 mm or 25.4 mm diameter handlebar.

I guess part of the “aero” claims for the ELEMNT BOLT’s mount came from how close it sat to your handlebars.
The KOM Cycling mount puts the ELEMNT BOLT forward about 2 cm.
Enough room to jimmy a micro-USB cable into the charging jack at the bottom.

Stay tuned for the next installment of my look into the Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT, where I will talk more about how to use and live with it.

Bar tape revisit: LizardSkins DSP v2

If you’ve been a cyclist for a while, chances are you’ve heard of LizardSkins and their handlebar grips and bar tape. Before other players like Supacaz and Fizik came onto the scene, LizardSkins was the company most prominent for introducing bar tape that was tackier and thicker than the cork-based stuff that Cinelli popularized.

Curiosity got the better of me and I decided to try it on Hyro five years ago. It didn’t go so well.

For some reason, the white roll of DSP (DuraSoft Polymer) 2.5 mm bar tape I got back then disintegrated shortly after I had wrapped it around my handlebars. It came apart in layers, the textured top layer tending to say “goodbye” after just a month. To add insult to injury, the supplied bar end plugs simply refused to stay put, and kept ejecting themselves out of place. Since then, LizardSkins has left a bad taste in my mouth, and I thought it was simply down to the product not being compatible with tropical conditions. I reverted to my old reliable – Fizik’s leathery but thick 3 mm bar tape.

Five years later, I decided to give LizardSkins another chance.

LizardSkins call this stuff their “DSP v2” bar tape. The compact box certainly looks different from the large figure-eight plastic blister pack of the original.

As before, the company explicitly states not to stretch these bar tapes while installing. As I found out, this is actually rather misleading. Like most bar tape, the DSP v2 bar tape needs a fair bit of tension put into it for best results, as it helps keep it wrapped around the handlebar without unraveling. LizardSkins missed a trick here by not updating the inside of the bar tape with a silicone adhesive, too. All you get is a strip of double-sided tape half the width of my finger.

I usually forego the supplied clamp cover strips and wrap bar tape around my STI levers in the figure-eight style instead. This was easy to do with the DSP v2 tape. One drawback of the figure-eight wrapping style is the potential for bulk around the STI lever clamp band area, but the 2.5 mm thickness is a good middle ground for ease of wrapping and comfort.

The screwed-in bar end plugs are a welcome improvement over the old push-fit jobs. These have started to become a staple among many bar tape manufacturers, and for good reason. They just work.

I’ve spent a lot of time on the DSP v2 bar tape, and I can say my experience has been as good as the original DSP bar tape was terrible. I ride with gloves, even when training indoors, so the tackiness of the tape has mainly been felt via my fingertips, and it’s certainly grippier than the old Fizik 3 mm bar tape I liked. It passed muster on my outdoor rides, too. Whether grinding away in the pain cave, or out and about under the hot summer sun, the v2 bar tape has held up very well without shedding away its layers.

This has led me to wonder about that roll of DSP bar tape from 2016. Could it be that I had simply bought some very old stock of the stuff back then? I’ll never know for sure, but I guess it doesn’t matter as the v2 tape rectifies all its wrongs.

And yes, LizardSkins’ finishing strips are still a minor work of genius. On most other bar tape, they are merely glorified electrical tape. Here, they act as a usable extension of the bar tape and increase its effective area, as it’s made of the same cover material.

Perhaps the only stumbling block is its value offering relative to its competition. I’m not aware of local shops that sell LizardSkins bar tape currently (at least not this DSP v2 variant), and this tangerine orange roll set me back about US$35 (PhP1,700) on Amazon. At that price point, its most obvious competition is Supacaz, which is a much newer player that has carved out a premium niche for itself and retails for roughly the same price. I haven’t tried Supacaz bar tape myself, but I’ve heard nothing but great things. Other competitors are my budget pick Fabric; Fizik, which has since blown its bar tape lineup into frankly ridiculous levels of variety; and the Taiwan-based outfit Ciclovation, whose popular pointillism-color-fade bar tape offers similarly cushy feel for slightly less money.