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.
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.
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)
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.
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.