(The Gear Loop) - The bike computer market seems to create huddles of devotees that are as precious about their devices as Arsenal and Spurs fans are of their teams on derby day.
Mention Wahoo and it’s not long before big-hitters Garmin enter the fray, while someone is bound to throw Hammerhead and Lezyne into the ring as left-field options, or just to be deliberately difficult.
Let’s face it, the Wahoo Elemnt Roam is up there with the best, only really bettered by the Garmin Edge 1040 Solar in terms of features, reliability and ease of use. Considering the latter is much larger and costs almost twice the price, the compact, sub-£300 Wahoo could be a no-brainer.
Alas, there is plenty to dive into when it comes to the features and technology a GPS bike computer like the Elemnt Roam offers, with plenty of comparison naturally drawn to the likes of Garmin and fellow rivals in this sense.
With that in mind, we spent a good few months playing with and testing the Roam, attaching it to road, gravel and mountain bikes to see exactly what it brings to the bike computer table.
With its chunky buttons, high contrast colour screen and extremely simple operating system, the Wahoo Elemnt Roam seems to have been created for colder climates, gloved hands and muddy adventures. It is robust, light and reliable on the move, although it lacks some of the in-depth features of Garmin rivals and some of its positives points have trade-offs.
Wahoo Elemnt Roam Review: a great companion for off-beat adventures
- Easy to operate
- Great smartphone interface
- Plenty of data
- Reliable GPS
- Browsing maps hard with buttons
- No ride profiles
- Difficult to customise things on device
In the Loop
Everything you need to know about the Wahoo Elemnt Roam in a nutshell:
- Clear 2.7" Gorilla Glass display
- Customisable LED lights
- Claimed 17-hour battery life
- Smart navigation with Back-on-Track re-routing
- Notifications from smartphones
- Detailed and effortless Companion App
- Supports ANT+ and Bluetooth external sensors and kit
- Pre-loaded with North America, Europe, Asia, Oceania, and South America maps
- Integrates with lots of third party apps and services
Styling and features
Straight out of the box, the Elemnt Roam feels very familiar. It’s a small (ish) black lozenge of a thing with black rubber buttons and a slightly raised bezel around the screen that helps protect the already tough Gorilla Glass from drops and falls.
Fire it up via a rubbery button on the left flank and one of the small LEDs that surrounds the screen lights up to indicate things are warming up. Then, a little man on a turbo trainer spins his legs in fury to suggest further loading times. Cute.
Initial start-up takes around 10-15 seconds, but then the colour screen comes to life and users are presented with fairly generic data screens, pre-populated with things like speed, meters climbed, time of day and so on.
Of course, this is all highly customisable, which we will get on to later, but users can then flick through five different pages of data and route mapping screens, all indicated by a little LED at the top.
Cleverly, the LEDs that run down the left hand side can also be customised in the Companion App to display things like power output, should you have power meters attached to your bike, as well as speed and heart rate.
You’ll find Wahoo’s own bar mount in the box, which is incredibly sleek and sets things up so it cut through the air with ease. There are also options to purchase TT-bar mounts, stem mounts and a multitude of variations for all handlebars. Annoyingly though, Wahoo uses a slightly different quarter-mount set-up to those found on Garmin and other products. But you can buy an adaptor if you so wish.
The set-up is arguably the longest process for any keen cyclist, as the data shown on-screen will differ wildly depending on requirements. Some merely want the most basic speed and distance data, as well as a spot of turn-by-turn navigation, while others will want three-second average power, functional threshold power and even split times and whatnot. It depends how seriously you take this riding malarkey.
This is all carried out in the Companion App and it’s about as simple as things get, with a variety of drop down menus featuring pretty much every data screen known to man. From here, it’s just a case of dropping it into a chosen page - these are scrolled through via the big rubber buttons at the base of the screen.
The process updates in real time on the Elemnt Roam, which is cool, but it’s very difficult to adjust data screens via the device - when out on a ride, for example. So best to get it all locked in from the comfort of home.
However, we did like Wahoo’s addition of Perfect View Zoom, which was a feature we also praised on the Elemnt Rival GPS smart watch when we spent some time with it. Essentially, it allows the chosen data screen to be as busy or as clean as you want, by simply hitting the up/down buttons on the side.
We found it located external sensors with ease too, quickly connecting to an external heart rate monitor, power pedals and cadence sensors, even if they were "off brand". Better still, it played very nicely with Wahoo’s range of turbo trainers, should you want to control them or record data via the computer.
Performance on the move
As with many bike computers now, it’s possible to plan routes within the accompanying smartphone app, either by pulling data from third party providers, such as Komoot or MTB Project, by plotting points on a map, or with old school GPX files.
Things aren’t quite as easy to use when out no the bike, so like the data screens mentioned above, it’s best to plan a route in advance. There is an option to navigate to a point on the map, but the routing is taken care of by the computer and it’s often not the best. Plus, you can’t add multiple stops.
We also found the unit took a while to pick up a GPS signal, especially in built up areas, but the overall navigational experience was generally good. The high contrast screen meant things were clear to see, even if zoomed-in maps felt very busy.
Wahoo has been pretty sparing with the colours, considering this is is a colour screen, but it actually makes following the route simpler. We enjoyed the use of different coloured chevron lines to indicate sections of a route that might crossover or loop… unlike Garmin, which is just a big pink blob that often gets confusing.
However, Garmin’s touchscreen on the Edge 1030 Plus and Edge 830 (to an extent) is far better when exploring local surroundings. We found it awkward to keep pressing the buttons on the Roam to shift the map around when mountain-biking out in the middle of Wales. It's possible to oeprate with gloved hands, but it certainly isn't the easiest.
Aside from that, it’s really easy to read the data screens and Wahoo’s display does a good job of deflecting glare. The use of high contrast black over white means the numbers are simple to glance at, while that Zoom function on the data screen is a fantastic way of quickly pulling up more or less stats and read-outs with minimal fuss.
A neat feature set
All this talk of Garmin and other rivals might seem a little unfair, but most cyclists will likely consider these brands when buying. So it only seems just to point out some features bespoke to Wahoo and those it misses out on.
The lights up the side of the Roam are a nice bespoke touch, as they give a quick visual indicator of heart rate, speed or power output. We found ourselves settling on the latter, as it was nice to have a visual representation of an achievable power output over longer rides, partiucarly when on a road bike.
It’s also possible to control a Wahoo turbo trainer via the computer, whether that’s a Kickr, Kickr Core or Kickr Snap, which can be done on some Garmin products, but the level of control here was much better.
The navigational features are also good, with the Back-on-Track feature doing a great job of re-routing riders back to the desired path. Better still, the chevrons will light up blue as it directs you back on to a course, turning black when back on it.
The only downside is the inability to plan an interesting ride directly from the device, something that the various Garmin devices mentioned do very well. The Wahoo is missing that ability to create a quick cycling route from current location, for example. It also lacks the various riding profiles of Garmin's computers, which sets up data screens and functionality according to the activity (indoor, mountain, road, for example).
The Wahoo Elemnt Roam lives up to its name and proves an excellent bike computer for simple to follow navigation, but it can also handle the really technical side of cycling performance analysis and data, making a great all-round option for a multitude of cycling disciplines. It might not go as in-depth as rivals from Garmin, which arguably deliver more data than any cyclist will ever need, but the Roam tackles the basics well. The more in-depth stuff is always there if you need it, it’s just not delivered in myriad fancy graphs and charts. The design is also neat, although we found that mud collects in the oversized rubber buttons really easily and the lack of touchscreen is a tad annoying, especially when interacting with the map function. But clear, concise and very reliable, it’s a great companion to take on those more adventurous rides. One that also happily doubles-up as a performance cycling computer when the mood takes.