Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT: Navigation and final thoughts

In a mildly amusing turn of events, while I was still in the middle of reviewing my own unit, Wahoo finally realized their ELEMNT BOLT was getting long in the tooth, and finally released its spiffy full-color second-generation successor in May 2021. That perhaps should render any further progress I make on the original ELEMNT BOLT obsolete…but I might as well finish up with one final summary for completeness’ sake.

A relatively zoomed-out map view. Note the routing chevrons.

As mentioned in an earlier post, route calculation and creation isn’t done on the ELEMNT BOLT itself; instead you use your mapping app or service of choice (Ride With GPS, in my case) and upload your maps onto the device. To use that route for actual navigation, you select it on the device and it will illustrate the route with a trail of chevrons. The scroll buttons on the side can be used to zoom the map display in and out. The top row of LEDs also works as a turn indicator, flowing left or right in tandem with the turn prompts on the display.

Alternatively you can press the “Route” face button and it will display the route as a dynamic list of cue cards instead. Very audax-like.

As easy and straightforward as it is to use the ELEMNT BOLT for navigation, it has some limitations and downsides. As nice as the display is, the monochrome nature won’t help much in highlighting additional information you might want to know, and without using the zoom-in feature some map detail can get overshadowed or lost in the shuffle. It doesn’t support on-the-fly route recalculation; if you stray from the cues it gives you, it won’t be much help. The device also has a memory cap of around 2.5 GB, so map and route storage may be restrictive. Most of these weaknesses have been addressed in its successor.


In conclusion – would I still recommend the first-generation Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT?

I would, yes.

Wahoo have done a great job in the functional design of the original ELEMNT BOLT and making it cater to the peculiar needs of cycling. By leveraging a smartphone for most of the setup, that step is incredibly easy to do and leaves the ELEMNT BOLT to focus on what it needs to do. To this day, I do not understand Garmin’s folly in using capacitive touch screens for its competing Edge devices; a single wayward drop of sweat on a cellphone screen is all that’s needed to illustrate just how easy it is to confuse such an interface. Sticking with physical buttons is a must in my opinion, and Wahoo have nailed the basic layout and UI so well that they stuck with it for generation two.

Garmin perhaps still has a leg up in ultimate navigational capability if we compare devices like-for-like. Then again, the ELEMNT BOLT is no slouch and what it does have is sufficient. It’s impressive how Wahoo can extract so much functionality from such a small unit (the LEDs in particular are a favorite) and make it not-atrocious to use. It just works, and does so reliably. That alone is enough for me to forego spiffier, fancier features.

If you can rustle up the extra cash for the second-generation ELEMNT BOLT, you’re getting a refined version of the same concept. Wahoo have demonstrated they know how to use new features (such as the color screen) smartly without cluttering the interface or confusing the user, and the new model basically addresses the few chinks in the original’s armor.

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.


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.


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.