(Pocket-lint) - When Wahoo first released its Elemnt Bolt cycling computer there was much talk about how it could offer a competitive edge to professional cycling teams. Its aerodynamic styling, designed to shave seconds off of race times, and the ability to screw the computer into its mount - which meant it became an integral part of the bike and so saved a precious few grams at weigh-in time - was all important to the likes of Team Sky.
This may not mean much to many of us when we are considering whether to buy a Bolt, but it does point to this being a pedigree product, designed to be used by some of the very best cyclists in the world. At the time of its release Wahoo was still a relative newcomer but, after a few firmware updates, the Bolt provides genuine competition to market leaders Garmin.
The question is, now that it's a few years old, is the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt still worth your cash?
Design and display
- Dimensions: 74.6 x 47.3 x 22.1mm / Weight: 62.4 grams
- Display: 2.2-inch panel (diagonal measure)
- IPX7 waterproofing
- GPS, altimeter
The Elemnt Bolt has a contoured black plastic body and a monochrome LCD screen and, in spite of its aero credentials, has a rugged feel; we feel confident it would shrug off being occasionally dropped onto a hard floor and anything the weather and road can throw at it. The Bolt has an IPX7 protection rating, which means it doesn't mind getting soaked.
There are out-front aero and stem mounting options. On the left of the casing is the on/off button, while to the right are two buttons: one to magnify your screen, by zooming in on your map or reducing the data fields on show; the other to zoom back out. At the bottom of the screen are three further buttons that give you the menu options.
Tucked away at the bottom, underneath a neat rubber cover, is the Micro-USB charging port. Like we say, it's a few years old, so no USB-C here - although even Garmin's latest devices don't offer such a connection.
The 2.2-inch display is easily visible in all conditions, and you can choose to either have the backlight illuminate the display constantly, for use at night, or just to come on for a few seconds when you press a button or are receiving an instruction using turn-by-turn navigation.
With a simple press of the Page button you can switch to see the elevation profile of your route, or the route map. The Bolt has a built-in altimeter to track your climbing and descending, rather than having to draw on GPS data for this. On that note, we have always found GPS acquisition to be quick and reliable, accurately recording our routes both on the road and off it.
Setup, companion app and customisation
- Compatible with Android and iPhone
- Works with a range of sensors
To customise screen displays, and link the Bolt to sensors and third-party apps, you first need to download the Wahoo Elemnt companion app to your phone and pair it to the Bolt (using a QR code). Once this Bluetooth connection is established you're good to go and can start to personalise the Bolt.
You can link to Wahoo's own sensors - there's heart-rate monitors, cadence and speed sensors, but that's as far as it goes - or to other manufacturers' wider ranges - such as power meters, rear radar to warn you of approaching vehicles, and many more - plus hardware such as Di2 or eTap electronic gear shifters.
The companion app itself is functional, easy to use, and records ride information as well - but not in as much detail or as well presented as the slicker Garmin Connect app. For us though, it's not a deal-breaker as most of the time we look at our rides in Strava (although you now have to upgrade to a premium account if you want to see a greater level of analysis on that platform.) When linked to apps like Strava, the Bolt will automatically upload completed rides and sync routes that you've created to those sites.
The Bolt comes pre-set with commonly used data fields displayed on its pages, so you can get riding straight away. If you want to customise the screens it is a simple enough job from the app, though there myriad options depending on what sensors you link, or what data you are particularly interested in. On the bike, if you know your route, just press Start and the Bolt will begin recording your ride.
While cycling you'll be able to glance down and see your ride information on the display, and we found we could comfortably read seven data fields on the screen while on the move. Others may prefer to have a larger font with just four data fields, or a smaller one with nine - and it's easily changed using those side buttons.
Mapping and navigation
- Breadcrumb or turn-by-turn navigation
- Relies on third-party mapping applications
One of the things we all want a cycling computer to do well is to plan a route, allowing you to investigate new roads without having to faff around with a map or your phone. The Bolt offers two different ways of doing this: either by following a breadcrumb route (a set of directional arrows on a map); or turn-by-turn directions (specific instructions such as 'Left Turn: Brentford High Street').
This is where the Bolt's older tech lags behind Wahoo's new flagship offering - the Elemnt Roam - as well as Garmin's offerings, and other more recent devices. Basically the Bolt doesn't do any of the mapping itself, instead you do the mapping through Strava, Ride With GPS, or similar, then send the mapping information to the Wahoo companion app, which in turn syncs with the Bolt.
What this means in practice is that if you have to divert off of a planned route the Bolt is unable to guide you back on track. Instead, you have to try and zoom out on your map and take a best guess as to which roads will lead you back to the breadcrumb trail on the screen. We've found that this is nearly always possible, unless there is a very major detour, so although it is not ideal, it is still workable.
Other devices will automatically bring you back to your route, just as a car satnav would. To compensate in part for this, the Bolt does offer a 'Take me to' option in the companion app, which allows you to enter a place or postcode and the Bolt can then navigate there, assuming you have a data connection for your phone to do this - but you could come unstuck in a data dead zone or if you travel abroad and have no connection.
Training functions, indoors and out
- Strava Live Segment support
- Compatible turbo trainer control
Beyond the basics of recording rides and mapping routes, the Bolt is a powerful training support tool. It can identify your starred Strava Live Segments and show you whether you are on target for a PR, or even a QOM/KOM.
There are LED lights that go across the top of the Bolt, which will indicate your heart rate, power zone, or whether you are travelling faster or slower than your average pace at any given time. So keeping you paced at the optimal level for your training or race at a glance, rather than having to squint at the screen or change your position during maximal efforts, works really well. It's a simple task to turn this off through the app if you don't require it.
The Bolt will also allow you to import training plans from the likes of Training Peaks and Trainer Road so you can take these workouts outside, assuming you have a power meter and a clear enough road. For inside riding you can use the Bolt to control your turbo, like the Wahoo Kickr or other ANT+ trainers, either adjusting the resistance, riding one of the handful of pre-loaded workouts available, or by getting it to recreate a route you have completed outdoors by controlling the resistance to simulate the ride's inclines.
A couple of neat additional functions that we found helpful while riding are the call and text notifications, allowing you to see straight away if someone was trying to contact you. We found this very useful when planning to meet up with others for a social ride if they were late or wanted to change the rendezvous point.
On a similar note, the live tracking feature shows the name of other Wahoo computer users on the Bolt's map screen, meaning you can track them down and won't miss them if you happen to be hidden in a group as you pass one another on the road. It'll also let you share your ride with other people, making it easy for family to keep track of where you are.
The Elemnt Bolt is approaching 5-years-old now - and this shows through its smaller monochrome screen and mapping limitations. However, it is still well supported by Wahoo with regular firmware updates and, as far as any bike computer can, it just works incredibly well.
Its prodigious battery life (around 15 hours), sleek look and reliability are the reason that users have praised it so highly over the last few years, and we're sure they still will be in years to come. It's fairly priced, too.
Alternatives to consider
Garmin Edge 130 Plus
Garmin's small, monochrome display bike computer offers much, but not all, the same functionality as the Bolt.
Garmin Edge 520 Plus
Released a little later than the Bolt, the Edge 520 Plus offers a colour screen, turn-by-turn mapping and automatic re-routing if you deviate from your planned route.
Lezyne Mega XL
This chunky head unit may not look the sleekest, but it is a strong offering and provides nearly twice the battery life of the competition.
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