The Gear Loop is supported by its readers. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more

(The Gear Loop) - One of the accusations levelled at the modern fitness tracker or smart watch is that the sheer magnitude of data they are now capable of recording and displaying can take away from the activity being performed. It’s all too easy when out on a bike ride or when jogging a favoured route to be caught up in split times, cadence read-outs, heart rate levels and VO2 Max stats rather than focussing on the job in hand.

In a canny move, Wahoo has pared-back the features in its latest Elemnt Rival Multisport GPS watch and declutters the experience to focus in on the data that matters to those who take their sport seriously. Let’s face it, the last thing you want to do when pounding a marathon or competing in a punishing triathlon is interact with fiddly buttons or swap between data screens. 

-

The Gear LoopWahoo Elemnt Rival review photo 3

With this in mind, Wahoo has gone big on the swim/bike/run community with a USP it dubs "Touchless Transition", which effectively negates the need to interact with the watch at all when transitioning between activities during triathlons. It’s a little niche, admittedly, but there are also a couple of functions that will excite those "Wahooligans" already invested in the Wahoo-niverse. 

For starters, a clever multi-sport handover functions means the watch seamlessly hooks up with Elemnt bike computers to relay accumulated data captured by the watch from a previous run or swim, so you can focus on metrics and split times required to excel in race situations.

The Gear LoopWahoo Elemnt Rival review photo 2

But slightly less intense but equally interesting features include the ability to control your Wahoo Kickr turbo trainer or make the most of the 12 Wahoo sports science-designed workout sessions to improve skills on the bike, on the pavement or when lapping the local pool. 

Our quick take

If you’re already ingrained in the Wahoo universe, this proves a solid fitness tracker and smartwatch with a long battery life, an enticing array of sports-tracking features and "Touchless Transition" for those regularly competing in triathlon.

It’s a more pared-back experience for those who like to concentrate on competing, rather than the tech and data in front of them, but in the same breath, it can’t quite match the features offered by numerous, sometimes cheaper, rivals.

Clearly designed with triathletes in mind, the Wahoo Elemnt Rival will likely get rave reviews from those who use it purely from a swim, bike, run performance perspective, but will draw a few moans from those who perhaps want a smart watch that can do a bit more.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: a fitness tracker for hardcore swim, bike, run fans

Wahoo Elemnt Rival

3.5 stars
For
  • Lightweight and comfortable
  • Simple set-up process
  • Easy-to-read data screens
Against
  • Lacks more adventurous features
  • Looks and feels a bit cheap
  • Custom set-up can be fiddly

squirrel_widget_6238327

In the Loop

Here's what you can expect from the Wahoo Elemnt Rival:

  • Up to 14 day battery life
  • Bespoke triathlon mode that seamlessly switches between swim, bike and run
  • Waterproof for swimming
  • Simple menu layout for uncluttered data screens
  • Works well with Wahoo turbo trainers, external sensors and general ecosystem
  • Optical heart rate sensor, altimeter, built-in compass, gyroscope, accelerometer and thermometer
  •  Seamless handover of data between watch and Wahoo bike computers

Design and fit

Available in either Stealth Grey (let’s call it black) and Kona White, there’s not exactly a huge amount of choice when it comes to how the watch looks on your wrist. In fact, it’s not particularly stylish and doesn’t pack the same ruggedness as a Polar Grit X Pro, a Garmin Marq Adventurer or the latest and equally sleek Suunto 5 models.

The Gear LoopWahoo Elemnt Rival review photo 8

But then, this is designed with performance in mind, so goes for a fairly basic approach that sees a 1.2inch (30.4mm) 64-bit colour Gorilla Glass display sit inside a ceramic bezel with engraved hourly. We found the Stealth Grey model to feel a little more understated and premium-looking, with the Kona White just a looking a little cheaper with its bright blue markings.

The silicone strap is plenty comfortable enough and there is loads of adjustability to find the right fit and, like many of its previously mentioned rivals, it’s possible to swap the strap out easily with the sliding of a small button. However, there’s not a great deal in terms of choice when it comes personalising your watch with a fancy new strap.

The Gear LoopWahoo Elemnt Rival review photo 11

Above all else, it’s comfortable to wear all day and doesn’t move about during an activity. However, we did find the metal clasp on the strap could dig into the wrist, especially when riding a bike. Although the fact it tips the scales at just 53g means the buttons or bezel don’t rub on the back of the hand like they do on larger, chunkier and heavier watches.

Features and fitness tracking

Designed predominantly for tracking sporty pursuits, rather than general fitness or lifestyle goals, the Elemnt Rival lacks a lot of the features that even the more entry level Garmin Forerunner 245 packs, for example. This is predominantly a deliberate decision on Wahoo’s part, as it wants to "de-clutter" the smartwatch experience and make it easy for runners, swimmers and cyclists to see that stats they care about.

The Gear LoopWahoo Elemnt Rival review photo 1

Predictably for a watch of this calibre, there is constant heart rate monitoring thanks to an optical sensor, while an altimeter, built-in compass, gyroscope, accelerometer and thermometer combine to take care of pretty much every stat you could possibly want to digest after a workout or competition.

It does a bunch of classic smart watch things too, like vibrate and audio alert from the wrist when you receive a message or call from a paired smartphone, while users can also customise the watch face a little with a variety of colours and a few different designs. Again, it’s not as extensive as Garmin’s ecosystem offering but it’s enough.

The Gear LoopWahoo Elemnt Rival review photo 7

On top of this, it plays extremely nicely with ANT+ and Bluetooth sensors, as well the rest of the Wahoo ecosystem, so if you have a Kickr turbo trainer, Elemnt bike computers or Tickr heart rate monitors, the watch automatically detects these things and collates data from everything into its own Elemnt app.

In terms of built-in activities, there is enough to keep most people entertained for a long time, with classic profiles covering lap swimming, open water swimming, cycling, turbo trainer sessions, strength and a number of cycling activities. That said, they aren’t as detailed as rivals, with things like surfing, trail running, mountain biking stand-up paddleboarding, diving and much more missing. This is very much a traditional swim, bike, run sports tracker, rather than a watch that tells you the best way to climb a mountain or offers tips on your running cadence.

The Gear LoopWahoo Elemnt Rival review photo 13

Perhaps the most pertinent feature is the bespoke Triathlon setting, which is where "Touchless Transition" comes in to play. Here, it will automatically switch between the three activities once the user has set the running order in the watch or app first, negating the need to press any buttons or even look at the watch when performing the all-important transition between disciplines. Time lost here can be costly for those at the peak of their game. 

Performance in the pool and out in the wild

Let’s get a few gripes out of the way first, because we found the Wahoo Elemnt Rival incredibly slow to connect to our smartphone, which happens to be an iPhone 12 - so not exactly and old Nokia 3210.

The Gear LoopWahoo Elemnt Rival review photo 10

The Bluetooth pairing sometimes took an absolute age to find the watch in question every time the app was closed and opened again, which became really irritating. What’s more, it’s wasn't particularly easy to set-up the various workout profiles to show the data you really want or need. Fancy seeing calories burnt on your lap swimming profile? You’ll first have to dive into that activity, add a custom page, rename it and then select the data fields you want. It feels like there could be a simpler, drag-and-drop solution.  

Aside from that, the Wahoo app proves easy to navigate and shows data and stats in a very easy to digest and basic way. There are graphs and data aplenty to pore over but it’s no way near as detailed as some of its rivals from Coros and Garmin. It seems to focus more on performance metrics, like interval splits and cadence, rather than deeply sports science-rooted stats like you’ll find on a Garmin. But then, do you really need these?

The screen is very easy to see during an activity and the key stats are displayed in a way that only requires very quick glance. Wahoo clearly understands its highly competitive audience and has stripped back any superfluous junk in favour of the most important figures.

The Gear LoopWahoo Elemnt Rival review photo 9

As with many other smart watches that use an optical sensor for heart rate, the wrist-based heart rate monitor isn’t the most accurate out there and can vary wildly depending on the activity in question. Strength training, which requires a lot of contraction of the wrist, is arguably one of the least reliable, while swimming can also be tricky to properly track. If you want a true reflection of how hard your heart is working, purchase the accompanying Wahoo Tickr chest strap instead.

Battery life proved very good, with official numbers pegged at 14 days when GPS is disabled. It easily lasts a week of mixed use, although it will only run for a full 24 hours when constantly in GPS mode. On this subject, we found it picked up satellites fairly quickly, although it can dip in and out when riding through densely wooded areas.

But let’s get back to simplicity, because when deep into an activity, Wahoo offers a Perfect View Zoom function that allows data screens to be cleaned up at the press of a button. A click of a hot key combination can zoom into essential stats, like distance covered or heart rate, meaning users don’t necessarily have to cycle through myriad displays to get to the essential data they might need for a particular activity.

The Gear LoopWahoo Elemnt Rival review photo 12

Furthermore, the app allows every activity to be customised within the smartphone app itself, but as previously mentioned, this can be a bit fiddly.

squirrel_widget_6238327

To recap

Priced to sit somewhere between Garmin’s higher end Fenix range or the Polar Grit X and the slightly cheaper Coros Pace 2 or the Suunto 5, the Elemnt Rival makes a lot of sense if you are already heavily invested in the Wahoo ecosystem.   However, there are better general fitness watches out there for people who want to count daily steps, the quality of sleep and floors climbed, but the Wahoo Elemnt Rival is arguably for those who are perhaps beyond tracking base levels of fitness. Even if that’s a fairly niche group. 

Writing by Leon Poultney.