I started cycling without tracking my ride. I just wanted to be outside on my bike and cycle to places I’d never been before. Then I found out about the Strava phone app and my cycling experience changed. I started cycling faster and further and wanted to get better results after each ride. I started comparing my rides to other Strava users and eventually, checking my data at the end of my ride just wasn’t enough anymore. I felt like I was riding blind and decided to buy a cycling computer, so I could check my progress while I was riding. Then came the hard part. Which model did I need? There are so many options available and their prices vary anywhere from 15 to 700 euro. So it did a little investigating.
Cycle Data Basics
I found there are roughly three levels of cycling data collection, which starts with the tracking distance, speed, and time. A simple 20 euro cycling computer will get this information from a speed sensor attached to the front fork as it records a passing magnet attached to the spoke on the front wheel. It doesn’t have GPS and won’t transfer any data, so you still need a phone to record your ride, but you can see how fast and how far you are going, as well as your average and what time it is.
GPS and Your Ride
Cycling computers with GPS can track your ride like your phone does with the Strava app. The difference being your phone battery will not last as long as most cycling computers, and Strava is not as advanced as most cycling computers with GPS. Plus most phones are not as suitable for mounting on your handlebar. The more advanced GPS units will act as an on board navigator and can guide you along a route if you’ve selected one. All GPS computers will enable you to upload your ride to Strava or other social platforms.
Then there’s what I call level three data collecting, for cyclists who are serious about improving their cycling performance. To gather the information needed to analyze performance you need more sensors. The most interesting, and the most widely used, is the heart rate monitor, but you can also add a cadence meter and a power meter. With all three (preferably) data collectors you can make sure you’re doing the right type of training to maximize your performance on the bike. There are even training programs you can download onto your cycling computer and you can set cycling goals to follow your progress with one of a wide range of apps.
Most cyclists will start with the basic model, providing Level One information.
My first cycling computer was the very capable Sigma BC 8.12 ATS, 22 euro at Decathlon. This model is water-resistant, wireless and will keep track of your current speed, average speed, distance cycled and the local time. Super easy to install, and it does exactly what it promises. But, after a while you will want more.
I skipped level two, and hit level three with the Wahoo ELEMNT, that was sent to me to test. To be honest, I just wanted a computer that I could program rides in, but I quickly found out it’s fun to be able to do more than that.
The Wahoo ELEMNT doesn’t try to be too fancy, it just wants to be friendly and reliable. Installing is a breeze, as the logic applied is human, not computer. You can manage the display while riding, customize the warning lights and exchange data from one device to the other by simply enabling Bluetooth, or connecting with Wifi. Brilliant! But let’s start at the beginning: what makes a Wahoo different to other cycling computers?
The Wahoo What?
Wahoo ELEMNT is Wahoo’s first GPS bike computer and its design and functionality easily competes with the Garmin Edge range, but Wahoo certainly has its own style. The chunky, but not oversized box reminds me of my brothers indestructible phone case, (he can throw his phone from the tenth storey and take it swimming and it won’t be hurt) with its large rubber buttons and wide rim. The ELEMNT uses a monochrome display, which enables a longer battery life and increases readability.
As for functions, the Wahoo has a pretty complete set. You can customize your display, and maximize or minimize the data shown while riding. Little LED lights on the side and along the top of the unit are incorporated to warn you of a number of things. The side ones are customizable and can keep you informed about a number of things. For example, they can let you know if you are under or overachieving within the current Strava segment. The top ones are reserved for notifications. They will blink (along with a bleep) if you are off route or if you received a (mail/phone) message.
These and many more options are at your disposable and can be employed as you see fit. I am sure there are functionalities I don’t even know about (yet), but so far the Wahoo can provide all the data I ask for. However, I should note that I don’t follow training programs or structured workouts. For these the ELEMNT is not the computer to get, yet. However, since the introduction of the Wahoo ELEMNT in May 2016 there have been a few updates: Strava Live Segments
and Turn by Turn navigation. So more updates are not unthinkable.
WAHOO! I got a Wahoo!
I am a sucker for packaging and get really excited when I am opening a present or a well-designed cereal box. Opening my Wahoo fitness package full of goodies really hit the spot. My Wahoo cycle bundle box contained the ELEMNT (in an attractive designed box), TICKRx (heart rate monitor), an RPM meter, sports bag, towel and Wahoo stickers.
I got straight into it and added the Wahoo app to my phone and paired it to the ELEMNT. Setting up (done on your phone which automatically sync’s with your ELEMNT once it’s paired) was pretty self-explanatory, and because the computer uses Bluetooth or ANT+ (like Bluetooth but with lower battery consumption) and Wi-Fi, it’s a wireless process. The only cable you need is for charging the ELEMNT’s battery.
The default settings are a perfect start. You just pair your phone and connect to Wi-Fi and off you go. If you are a Strava user, you will also want to link your account to the Wahoo or you can add more accounts like Komoot, Garmin Connect, RideWithGPS or MapMyFitness too. After your ride, the data will automatically (if you’ve enable this option in your setup, which I recommend) transfer to these platforms over Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. In my case, Strava takes about 1-1.5 minute to collect the data from my ride.
At this point I have tested the Wahoo while riding in the hills and mountains of the Eifel, Pyrenees and Basque Country, Spain. I’ve used it on short rides, long rides, flat rides and hard rides and on two different bikes. One bike is my own, with the cadence meter mounted and my heart rate monitor (the TICKRx) on, except for when I forgot, which is often, so Wahoo, how about developing a sensor telling me my sensor isn’t on? The other bike I rode had a power meter, which I could connect to easily, but I don’t know enough to make sense of the data the ELEMNT collected. Although it’s good to know that connecting new sensors to the cycling computer is an intuitive process.
After each ride I learn more about the ELEMNTs options. I am now at the stage that I roughly monitor my heart rate, and found that I’ll only last a few minutes with a BPM over 170, but staying around 160 is putting in the effort and allows me to last a lot longer. I love being able to see how steep I’m climbing or descending, and on planned routes, how much climbing I have done and how many kilometres are left.
I always map my rides in Strava (it also supports RideWithGPS routes) and save them to my routes. When my phone and Wahoo sync (over Wi-fi), the routes automatically appear in my list so I can select one when I’m ready to ride. The same can be done with routes made by other Strava users. Unfortunately, you need a desktop to make routes in Strava or RideWithGPS, which can be a problem when you are away from home and want to plan a ride over unfamiliar roads. I found a way around this by planning my route in Googlemaps (on my phone), exporting the route and converting it through this website. Note that for this transfer you can’t used Bluetooth and need a Wi-Fi connection with a strong internet signal to transfer the route to your phone.
A cycling computer with GPS helps you navigate while riding without having to use your phone or sense of direction. This makes exploring new roads a lot more attractive and will prevent situations where you might be caught in the dark or stuck somewhere far from home while cold and hungry. Add a heart monitor and you will become more aware of your body’s condition. I find I am now more conscious of my breathing and rhythm, because I can see the direct effect on my heart rate. A big plus is being able to see the vertical metres you make. I bet I’m not the only one who gets a real kick out of making lots of climbing metres or getting through a 16% bit without dying.
In the range of GPS computers for cyclists the Wahoo ELEMNT stands out as being super user friendly. Its programming is intuitive and simple, and there is a lot you can customize. The set-up and tweaking is done on your phone using the incredibly logical Wahoo app. If you are interested in cycling data, but don’t want things to get too complicated, the ELEMNT is perfect. It can grow with you, as you discover more options, but it won’t tell you what to do. The ELEMNT keeps it simple and clean, but competes with the most advanced computers, and I love the little guy on his trainer pedaling away in the setup screen. He reminds me of Larry the Loungeroom Lizard, remember him? Or am I just giving away my age…
Like the sound of the Wahoo? You can order your own Wahoo box here.