Wahoo Elemnt Bolt GPS Cycling Computer: At The Finish- by MG
For more than seven months, I’ve been using the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt GPS cycling computer as my primary on-the-bike device. In the nearly 3,000 miles I’ve ridden since then, I’ve been able to get a good feel for its strengths and weaknesses relative to other GPS computers I’ve used.
The Hit List
- Ease of use/App integration – Wahoo did an excellent job with the Bolt’s user interface and app integration. Yes, it requires a smartphone to take full advantage of the Bolt’s features, and integrations with apps such as Strava or MapMyRide, but for most folks that won’t be an issue. The setup is seamless and easy to use, and this is an advantage relative to other competitive GPS cycling computers I’ve used. I’ve also spoken to several other recent Bolt converts, each expressing similar sentiments with respect to overall ease of use.
- Automatic updates – When Wahoo Fitness releases updates to the Bolt’s operating system, updates are uploaded automatically when connected to a smartphone. Considering the fact that operating systems are always evolving and improving, the auto-update feature is a valuable convenience and time saver.
- Screen – While I initially thought the Bolt’s 2.2-inch black and white screen looked a little retro, over time I’ve come to appreciate its clarity and contrast, which makes it easy to read, even for my aging eyes. Some may lament the lack of touch screen, but for me the button-based menus are just fine and the ability to quickly zoom in and out of data fields is a cool feature I used more than I initially expected.
- Form factor – Simply put, the Bolt’s sleek integrated mount and compact, angular design is easy on the eyes. Function is top notch as well, with positive-feeling buttons and a tough, durable, IPX7-rated waterproof case. Despite the miles, our test Bolt looks as good today as it did seven months ago, and the head unit still clicks positively into the handlebar mounts.
- Navigation – For a compact GPS computer, the Bolt is easy to use as a navigation device for most gravel routes or events. While I wouldn’t choose the Bolt as my primary navigation for a major multi-day event like Tour Divide, I used to navigate a number of events of 100-350 miles in length, and provided I had the right map uploaded, it worked seamlessly. From my experience, the most significant shortcoming of the Bolt’s navigation is that the small screen often forces you to choose between detail (zoomed-in) and perspective (zoomed-out). You can’t have both on a 2.2-inch screen. If that’s a problem for you, Wahoo Fitness offers the Elemnt with a larger 2.7-inch screen, which should offer a wider field of view.
- Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity – The Bolt’s dual-band capability enables it to connect with a wide variety of wireless accessories, from heart rate monitor straps, to power meters or indoor training devices such as Wahoo’s own Kickr bike trainers.
- Battery life – With up to 15 hours of battery life between charges, the Bolt gives you enough battery to get through most gravel rides and races without charging. For longer events, the Bolt can be charged in-use with its included micro USB cable and a suitable charging device. I used a Mophie PowerStation XL to charge the Bolt during the 350-mile Dirty Kanza XL earlier this summer, and the combination took me through the finish 34 hours later with juice to spare.
- Reliability – Bottom line, a cycling computer is useless if it doesn’t reliably do its job, and the Bolt is excellent in that respect. On one occasion, the Bolt froze up, most likely due to the fact that I’d downloaded the incorrect map for an event (and was trying to run navigation despite that fact). Aside from that hiccup, the Bolt has been completely reliable in use. This is a big advantage relative to other GPS cycling computers I’ve used, which have been hit or miss at best with respect to reliability.
My Less Favorite Things & Opportunities for Improvement
- Back light – I wish the Bolt offered the ability to dim the back light on the screen. As it is, the light is either 100-percent on, or off, but I’d prefer the ability to run the back light at 10-percent constant at night, so my night vision is less affected by the screen’s brightness.
- Data fluctuations – While this wasn’t as much a factor on most gravel rides, when using the Bolt on my mountain bike in densely-wooded areas, I noticed my indicated speed didn’t always match my actual speed on the trail. Several times, I’d look down to see “0.0” for my speed when I was moving at more than 10mph down a wooded trail. Later, when I’d review my GPS track from the rides, the data looked consistent with data coming from other devices, so I’m not sure exactly what to make of it. Ultimately, it’s more of an observation, and is in no way a deal killer for my experience with the Bolt.
Wahoo Fitness has done an excellent job with the Bolt. It’s easy to use and packs a ton of features into a compact, stylish package. I had high hopes for the Bolt when I began this review more than seven months ago, and on almost every level it’s exceeded my expectations. No, it’s not perfect, but it’s hands down the best, easiest to use and most reliable GPS cycling computer I’ve used, and I’ve heard from dozens of other Bolt users who have shared a similar positive experience. While it’s true there are more options than ever for $250 GPS cycling computers, our experience with the Bolt has earned it our full recommendation. Kudos Wahoo Fitness!
NOTE: Wahoo Fitness sent the Elemnt Bolt for test and review at no charge. We were not paid nor bribed for this review. We always give our honest perspective and opinion based on our actual experience with the product.