Sometimes, I don’t quite know how to start a product review. And unfortunately, today is one of those days.
See, the thing is, when I review products – price is an important piece of the equation. Just as it is for any number of decisions you make daily any time you open your wallet. You’re constantly balancing the value prop for a given thing you’re contemplating purchasing. Be it deciding whether that stale bagel at Starbucks is worth the apparent premium for being convenient to where you picked up your coffee, or as complex as deciding on a new bike computer. And if there’s any overarching theme of today, it’s going to be a complete misunderstanding of that value prop. Unfortunately, it’s also far deeper than that.
It’s been a shade over two years since Wahoo released the black and white screen BOLT (officially known as the Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT), and in that time the product has received numerous firmware updates adding a pile of new features. While both the BOLT and the earlier ELEMNT did contain maps, they weren’t fully routable maps. Meaning that you had to pre-load courses for any sorts of navigation tasks. Additionally, it couldn’t re-route on streets if you got off-track. It just gave you an arrow in the general direction of your track and said ‘good luck’.
And to be fair, that works fine for lots of people – even including myself from time to time.
But the competition has stepped up. In those two years there’s new entrants from the highly vibrant display and deep navigational features of the Hammerhead Karoo at $399. Garmin released their Edge 520 Plus with full routing at $279, and Sigma topped out the higher end with their ROX 12. And that’s before we even consider last week’s Edge 530 ($299), and Edge 830 ($399) units from Garmin. Today, people expect at the $299 price point to have routing and on-device navigation. And at $379 for the ROAM, it better be fantastic. Like, rainbow farting pony fantastic.
Though you know what, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. First off, as usual, I was sent a media/PR loaner of the new Wahoo ROAM back in mid-March, and have been using it (and providing feedback) since. Once I’m done with it here in the next few days it goes back to Wahoo like everything else. Simple as that. If you find this review useful, and want to support this site, hit up the links at the end of the post.
Looking for the complete run-down of what’s new in the Wahoo ROAM, alongside a full hands-on walk through? Then scroll no further than the below video. I start off with the core 8 new things, and then transition to about 8 or so minutes of showing all the features in one big user interface extravaganza:
It’s best to start out with what’s new in the unit. For this I’m using the existing BOLT/ELEMNT as the reference point. Both units share the same firmware, with the only differences being the extra LED strip and screen size. So feature-wise, everything from those past units is there, and it retains the LED’s of the larger format ELEMNT (side and top). Thus everything below assumes that as the baseline.
– New color 2.7” (68.6mm) screen, flush with top of unit, not reflective
– Added ambient light sensor (adjusts display settings automatically)
– Added ‘Get me started’, which gets you to the starting point of your ride (used pre-ride)
– Added saved locations
– Added ability to get back to route (aka ‘Back on Track’)
– Added ability to retrace a route back to the starting point
– Added ‘Route to Start’ using shortest possible route back to start of ride (used when you want to be done)
– Added new additional map zoom levels
– Added elevation graph on the map page
– Added new app integration with MTB Project and Singletracks for pulling routes (requires phone)
– Redesigned out-front mount to support larger size of units
In addition, there are two features that will not be present at launch, but will arrive down the road.
– Strava Turn by Turn Navigation – This will automatically give turn by turn guidance for Strava downloaded routes (Late May 2019)
– On-Device Elevation – This will give elevation information for routes created on the app/unit (Mid-Late June 2019)
These last two bullets are frankly the most important points out of everything here. As they are fundamental to what should be on any bike computer over $250, since that’s the baseline set today with the older Edge 520 Plus at $279. Right now, Wahoo BOLT/ELEMNT users don’t get road-specific turn by turn directions. They just get details that a turn is upcoming. That’s because Wahoo actually depends on the routing provider to give the exact turn information. Kinda like getting the answers for a test.
In the days prior to ROAM, that made sense – as BOLT/ELEMNT didn’t have a routable base map. It has what was akin to a napkin drawing of roads without names. Just like Stages has on their units, and others as well. But in the ROAM era, that wouldn’t do. The whole point of navigation is to get directions, and there’s no bigger fish in the pond than Strava when it comes to route holders. Thankfully, the feature is coming – just not at launch.
The second one is also critical, as Wahoo doesn’t have any elevation data on the unit itself. It depended on 3rd party providers including that data in the routes. So without the elevation data, Wahoo couldn’t provide you with an upcoming elevation profile. The good thing is that this feature is coming in June.
With that, let’s dive into the box.
I’ll give Wahoo credit – their box designs are always beautiful and well thought out [*Ironic update: See end of this section]. As a connoisseur of product boxes, very few in the industry can match what Wahoo does for their bike computer boxes. And the ROAM box is no exception. It screams ‘Buy Me’ on a store shelf, whereas a Garmin box screams ‘Hi, I’m gray’.
The tray holding the ROAM slides out all silky smooth – complete with the fabric tab to pull it gently. Or something like that.
After de-plasticing everything, here’s what you’ve got:
There’s the specially designed out-front mount, as well as the smaller ziptied rubber mount. I will say that it’s a bit annoying Wahoo couldn’t have gone with a rubber-banded mount. Zipties? What is this – the 1970’s?
And similarly, the charging cable remains, like Garmin, firmly in the early 2000’s, micro-USB. C’mon guys, if GoPro can go USB-C, then surely you can. GoPro folks, GoPro!
Oh, and here’s the paper stuff you won’t read.
With that, it’s unboxed and ready to start using. Well, after you download the Wahoo ELEMNT companion app that is.
[*Update May 2nd, 2019: Note, it’s been pointed out that Wahoo has significantly mislead on the box and marketing imagery of the ROAM, specific to the bezel. And sure enough, if you look at the upper bezel area, as well as side bezels, you’ll see that they are much larger in the real product than the imagery on the box. It’s funny, I hadn’t noticed that, but did notice the screen colors. Like most companies, Wahoo was a bit optimistic in screen brightness on their imagery. However, a false image of the unit with respect to bezel dimensions is an entirely different ballgame. It’s disappointing to see them use fake and non-representative images which make the ROAM look sexier than in real life. It’s like Tinder, for product boxes. See the comments section for far more discussion about bezelgate.
Update May 6th, 2019: Wahoo CEO Chip Hawkins has noted this was an unintentional mistake, and made a comment as such in the comments section down below. Wahoo has since updated all product imagery with the correct renderings.]
Size & Weight Comparisons:
Before we dive into all the details (or even the basics), let’s just do a quick size check. Here’s a disastrously big lineup of mostly current bike computers, all aligned on their base to a chunk of wood:
From left to right: Garmin Edge 130, Garmin Edge 520/520Plus/820 (identical case size), Polar M460, Wahoo BOLT, Garmin 530/830 (identical case size), Wahoo ELEMNT, Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM, Hammerhead Karoo, Garmin Edge 1030, Sigma ROX 12
The same order is below as well:
And then, just to zoom in on some of the more applicable units close up. Left to right: ELEMNT BOLT, Edge 530/830, ELEMNT, ELEMNT ROAM, and Hammerhead Karoo.
What’s that? You want weights too?!? Ok, out with the trusty scale:
Ok, your Brady Bunch moment is over. Now for realz, let’s get onto using it.
Like the Wahoo BOLT before it, the ROAM includes an aero-ish out-front mount. While they’ve seemingly backed away from some of the aero claims with the ROAM (likely because it’s just a bigger boat), the mount is designed to fully embrace the ROAM’s curves, making it appear as one cohesive situation from more than a few feet away.
On one hand, it really is a beautiful mount. The other hand, there’s no place to mount a GoPro or lights or what-not from the bottom.
The ROAM does maintain the neat locking feature of the BOLT out-front mount, which means you can use a small included screw to lock it to the mount. While that’s a handy anti-theft option, the actual basis is much more simple: pro teams.
You see, by having the unit attached via screw, it becomes part of the permanent weight used for bike weigh-ins (applicable at UCI sanctioned events such as the Tour de France), as opposed to having to remove the unit for the weigh-in. Since the goal of most weigh-ins is actually to meet the minimum weight threshold, this enables them to do so without ‘adding’ weight afterwards (installing a bike computer after the weigh-in). Thus, this actually saves them weight.
Finally note that you can use 3rd party mounts, as long as they are Wahoo compatible. Wahoo’s quarter-turn mount is slightly different than Garmin’s – most notably it’s oriented 90° (which means that if you tried to use Garmin out-front mounts, your unit would be sideways). However, if you have the small rubber-banded Garmin mounts, you can use those but it may increase risk of tab breakage. I used those on some of my bikes during this test period, simply because I was travelling and often had rental bikes and didn’t want to deal with zip ties or screws.
With everything all set, let’s talk basic operation. First up is the unit itself, which has a single button on the left side, two on the right side (up/down), and three along the base of it. The left button is used for power and accessing the settings. The right buttons are used for going up/down menus, and increasing/decreasing data fields. And the lower buttons allow changing of data pages and confirmations within various prompts. All of this matches previous Wahoo units exactly. No changes here.
To access the settings menu, you’ll simply tap the left button once. It’s here that you can pair sensors (though, you can also use the smartphone app for that), as well as configure the backlight (default is ‘Auto’), and specify if you’re indoors or outdoors.
Of course, the most famed part of the Wahoo bike computers is that virtually everything can be set up from your smartphone, using the Wahoo ELEMNT companion phone app. In fact, it’s essentially required to set up and otherwise maintain the ROAM. Fear not, it makes it super easy to get things all set up.
When it comes to ROAM data pages, you’ve got a starter pack of default pages, plus custom ones you can add. By default, you’ll get a lap page, a workout data page, a climbing page, and the map page. Additionally, if in a Strava Segment you’ll get that page, when doing a planned workout that page, and then finally a trainer control page if controlling a trainer (any ANT+ FE-C trainer or any KICKR trainer). Here’s a quick gallery of them.
You can also add custom data pages as well. However, data pages (custom or default) are a bit different on Wahoo bike computers. While you customize data pages with the metrics you want like any other bike computer, the number of fields and specific fields that you’ve displayed will vary. Specifically, they’re ordered based on your prioritization, which allows you to increase/decrease the number of fields shown by just pressing the up/down buttons. So when creating custom data pages, you’ll need/want to order which fields are most important to you, so those have higher priority. By default it does this for you, and then you can adjust the ordering.
As an example of the scaling, here you can see how below I’m showing a single configured custom data field, but at different levels:
There are boatloads of data metrics to choose from – far more than when Wahoo first started off. Here’s a screenshot of some of them. Like any competitive battle, there’s some fields that Garmin has that Wahoo doesn’t, and some fields that Wahoo has that Garmin doesn’t. For example, Wahoo has more power averaging fields (i.e., more options for stuff like 1-minute power), whereas Garmin has more sensor-driven fields to choose from (like radar, or Di2 battery status).
Back on the unit itself, when you’re ready to ride you simply hit the start button and it’ll start recording as you’d expect. It’ll show your data in real-time, and then allow you to increase/decrease data fields as you see fit in real-time. Same goes for changing data pages. Basically, everything you’d expect from a bike computer.
For me, all the basics of the ROAM have worked fine – just as they did on the BOLT and ELEMNT. Note that the ROAM includes both the side and top LED strips on the unit. The top LED’s are used to notify you of things like turns or notifications, while the side LED’s can be configured to show speed/power/HR levels, via the app.
Speaking of notifications, during the ride you’ll see notifications from texts display on the screen (if you’ve configured as such). They’ll even properly show at least some emoji. You know, the most important ones:
You can also configure a temporary ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode, should you be in the middle of something important (like an interval).
The backlight of the unit is by default triggered via an ambient light sensor – an update from the BOLT which lacked one. This means if you go through a tunnel or it just simply gets dark out, the backlight will come on You can see this setting above. In that same region is the ability to configure auto shutdown.
Once completed with a ride, it’ll sync to the app where you can dive into it in more detail. Lots of detail, looks really nice and clean.
Now unlike Garmin, Polar, Pioneer, or others – there’s no Wahoo specific website to look at your rides on. Instead, you’ll need to use a 3rd party site. The good news is that Wahoo makes this easy, with plenty of connection options (including even Dropbox, my favorite). You’ll use the app to configure these accounts, signing in with credentials as required. Then anytime your unit syncs via Bluetooth or WiFi, it’ll automatically upload to all these servers.
You can also just plug-in the ROAM using micro-USB and grab the .FIT file directly. That’s a pretty common file type standard that most devices use these days for recording fitness data.
Speaking of WiFi and such, the unit uses WiFi to download updates (including maps for other regions), as well as make any 3rd party site connections. Note that like most wearables, the ROAM doesn’t work with Starbucks/hotel or similar hotspots, and needs more of a home/office setup with a specific set password. Not a big deal, just something to be aware of while travelling.
Finally, for lack of anywhere else to plop it, let’s talk battery life stats. The unit is spec’d at 17 hours, which is a 2-hour increase from the ELEMNT BOLT, but matches the ELEMNT.
Sensors & Data:
Back a number of years ago when Wahoo first introduced the ELEMNT series, one of the biggest strengths was the dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart sensor support. It was one of the first (if not the first) to support sensors of both kinds. These days of course, that’s considered standard practice. All of Garmin’s most recent units have dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart support, as do those from Hammerhead, Lezyne, Bryton, and more. In other words, you don’t get brownie points for it anymore – it’s considered the baseline.
At present, the ROAM supports the following types of sensors:
ANT+ FE-C Smart Trainers
ANT+ Heart Rate sensor
ANT+ Speed-only sensor
ANT+ Cadence-only Sensor
ANT+ Gear Shifting Profile (SRAM eTAP & Campagnolo EPS)
ANT+ Speed/Cadence Combo Sensor
ANT+ Power Meter
ANT+ Tire Pressure (Quarq TyreWiz)
Bluetooth Smart Heart Rate sensor
Bluetooth Smart Speed-only sensor
Bluetooth Smart Cadence-only Sensor
Bluetooth Smart Speed/Cadence Combo Sensor
Bluetooth Smart Power Meter
Pioneer Power Advanced Cycling Metrics
Shimano Di2 System (via private-ANT)
BSX & Moxy Muscle Oxygenation sensors (via ANT+ Muscle Oxygen Profile)
Wahoo KICKR/CORE/SNAP Trainers
Note that last fall introduced advanced cycling metrics for Pioneer power meter owners, which might be considered a precursor to supporting the ANT+ Cycling Dynamics standard that was ratified last year, for which Favero is said to be soon releasing Assioma firmware support for (and Garmin already supports).
However, the reality is that aside from Pioneer, there hasn’t been a lot of additional sensor types supported – and one that’s been constantly asked for is the ANT+ Bike Radar (aka Garmin Varia sensors). This sensor type is a public/standard sensor type that any company can implement. And the impact on it being a blocker for folks seems to be growing, one can look at the comments section of the Bolt review to see that.
And this point was cemented further while I was at the Sea Otter cycling event a few weeks ago in the Wahoo booth getting some photos. A husband/wife came in and had almost been sold on the BOLT, when the husband asked the wife ‘Oh wait, what about your Garmin radar?’, and then turning to the Wahoo rep said ‘Does it work with that?’. The answer? No. And sale lost.
What has repeatedly talked about looking into support for it (it’s been out many years now), but nothing ever materializes. While the argument can be said that Wahoo doesn’t want to support their competitor. For people with Varia Radar – it’s a hard-stop. So either Wahoo can choose to win the device sale but not get radar money. Or they can choose to lose both device and radar unit sale. Seems like an obvious choice to me – since these are people that are actively looking to leave the Garmin ecosystem.
With all of that out of the way, let’s talk about pairing. With the ROAM you’ll go into the settings menu and immediately see the sensors listed below. You can see the signal strength (and thus status) of the sensor right on the display.
You can select a given sensor to get more information about it. For example, on a power meter, you can select to calibrate it, or even see the left/right sensor status for a unit like the Stages LR Power Meter:
Towards the bottom is the ability to add new sensors. This will search for the nearest sensor first and offer the ability to confirm/pair it:
Alternatively, you can go into the list of sensors nearby and add/select them manually. They are sorted first by sensor type, and then if multiple sensors exist nearby, it’ll show you the individual sensors. This is useful for myself personally, as I have approximately 438 sensors on my bike.
Like most units on the market, you can assign names to the sensors. However, unlike most units, you can do so via your phone with the Wahoo ELEMNT companion app. Again – having the phone companion app has always been Wahoo’s strong point. Also – you can pair from this same menu too, if you have unpaired sensors nearby:
Finally, a brief mention on trainer control. Like Garmin, Wahoo supports the ability to control your trainer via the bike computer. The main use cases for this is to re-ride outside rides indoors on the trainer, and then to execute structured training workouts. Though, you can also just control your trainer manually. I’ve talked extensively about the structured training workouts (and trainer control) in the past, and everything remains the same here. You’ll pair your trainer just like before, this can be a Wahoo trainer or a 3rd party trainer using ANT+ FE-C.
At which point you’ve got several options for how you control your trainer:
Erg Mode (Target Watts): Allows you to specify a given wattage level – i.e., 150w, 237w, 350w, etc….
% Resistance Mode: In this you specify in % a given resistance level – i.e., 10%, 25%, etc… Note that this isn’t grade though, just total resistance available.
Route Mode: Here you specify a saved route (from one of the ones you’ve downloaded to your unit).
Passive Mode: In this case you’ve got another app controlling the KICKR (i.e., Zwift), where the BOLT just chills out and records the data.
Level Mode: Simply set a resistance level, i.e., ‘Level 3’.
Workout Mode: Open a structured workout from the structured training menu
And of course, the last two are ones that allow riding files or structured workouts found on your ROAM. In fact, Wahoo even bundles a few planned workouts on the ROAM from Team INEOS:
While I’ve spent all of my time outdoors with the ROAM, Wahoo says nothing has changed here from the BOLT/ELEMNT – so everything’s same-same in this area (and that’s perfectly fine).
There’s approximately a 100.00% chance that if you’re looking at the Wahoo ROAM, it’s because of the new navigation/mapping features. So I’m going to spend this entire section diving into all those. First though, it’s probably key to understand the difference between what the ROAM has and the BOLT/ELEMNT has. Here, let me sum it up for you:
ROAM: Fully routable mapset, complete with street/trail names (and elevation coming later in June). It can map/route on its own without any other service/platform
BOLT/ELEMNT: Effectively just a penciled picture of map, no street names in the data, nor any routable data – it fully depends on the course turn/street name info from the file/course that you give it
Think of the difference being with ROAM it legit knows all the streets you’re on. It actually knows that you’re on Maple street. Whereas with the BOLT/ELEMNT, it knows your GPS coordinates, and there happens to be a black line representing a street there. But it doesn’t know anything about that street – not even the name or which way the street really is. Instead, it ‘cheats’ by getting that information from your course file. Where that whole system breaks down (previously on BOLT/ELEMNT) is with Strava Routes, as you don’t get detailed turn by turn information with street names. It’s basically just a breadcrumb trail. Whereas when it was used with RideWithGPS, you got turn by turn street details because RideWithGPS included them in the message. In other words – Strava sent Wahoo an empty FedEx box, whereas the RideWithGPS’s box was full of toys. Ironically, just like real life.
In any case, now with ROAM it can – in certain scenarios – self route. And it’s the ‘in certain scenarios’ part where things get a bit…disappointing. Though, some of it is slated to change. First, let’s talk about what it can do. Here are the main ways you can navigate:
Free ride: No route, just ride wherever the heck you want using your brain, you can still see the maps page
Courses: Follow courses breadcrumb style from any number of providers, such as Strava or Komoot
Courses with Turn by Turn directions: Right now this is for one-way routes from the companion app, RideWithGPS, and then later with Strava Routes
Routing to saved locations: You can save a location and get directions to that (such as saving your home)
Routes from a file: Using the app you can route from .FIT, .GPX, .TCX, by opening the file and selecting the Wahoo ELEMNT app
Routing to start of course: This is called ‘Get me started’ and gets you to the start of your route/course
Route to a point on the map: You can use the curser on the device’s map, and then get full turn by turn routing to that point
Route to an address: Using the smartphone app (required), you can specify any address and route to it
Route from history: Using the smartphone app, you can re-ride a past activity
As noted, some of these are done on the unit itself (Route to course, Route to point on map, Route to saved location), whereas others are done/started from the smartphone companion app:
Then there are a few routing options that are used mid-ride:
Route back to start: This gets you back to the start of a ride, using the most direct method possible
Retrace route: This follows the exact route you went out, back to start (note: it won’t account for one-way roads, so you might have to freestyle a bit
Back on track: This gets you back to your route, in the event your free-styling went askew
While these options all sound like a lot, they can roughly be boiled down to: Get me somewhere, get me home, and get me back on track. Which isn’t to sound negative, but just a bit of a reality check. Where the gaps exist between this and other competitive solutions is things like on-device address routing or points of interest routing – which the ROAM lacks. Meaning, you can’t route to a specific address or find nearby cafe’s using the device itself. Now, whether or not you find value in that is a different question. I don’t tend to do either from my head unit often, but generally speaking, if a head unit lacks those functions it’s around the $299 price point, not the ~$399 price point. It’s a core distinction in today’s cycling head unit market.
Still, there are cool things that Wahoo does. For example, let’s take routing providers. In the case of Wahoo, all your routes end up in one bucket on the unit itself, automatically syncing from the cloud service providers. So when I do that, it goes off and grabs my routes from Strava, RideWithGPS, Komoot, etc… So I don’t really have to worry about where those routes came from (it shows the provider name next to it):
Contrast this with Garmin, where I have to open up an often finicky Connect IQ app for each 3rd party routing provider and update/download them manually and individually. Of course, there are more nuanced pros and cons to that approach. With Garmin’s approach we don’t have to wait for Wahoo to integrate with new providers/companies, since that company can just create their own app and you’re good to go.
In any case, once you select a route from the list you’ll get a cue sheet of directions, depending on the provider. As of today, you won’t get those instructions for Strava. Wahoo says they’ll have that integration completed by the end of May, but I have my reservations on that timeline (I have beta access today to it). For me, I almost exclusively use/store my routes in Strava, as it allows me to have them act like the Switzerland of routing – every device supports it.
While routing, you can stay on the map/cue sheet, or you can stay on your regular pages. For routes that support turn by turn navigation, you’ll get a pop-up message that the turn is coming up (though, not yet today with Strava). I’ve found it rather variable whether I’ll get actual street names, or just turn left/right. It seems like the ROAM isn’t terribly sure where it is (exactly, in terms of streets) a lot of the time.
And if the route provider has elevation data included, then you’ll see the upcoming elevation shown on the unit as well. Note, there’s a lot of if/then statements on which route options/providers include them and which don’t.
If you go off route, it’ll try and recalculate the route for you. I’ve had varying results with what it attempts to do next – specifically around how strict it is to getting you back on course. There’s roughly two ways it can do this. First is to get you back to the exact point you left the course, or the second is to get you on course somewhere down the road as it makes sense. In general it appears that (for at least my roads/routes) Wahoo is more strict in trying to get you back closer to where you left the route. Whereas Garmin appears to take the approach of ‘we’ll catch-up somewhere down the road’. Obviously a bit of personal preference is applied to which you prefer. If the shortest distance is your goal, then Garmin usually does that better. Whereas if sticking to your exact route is more important, Wahoo appears to do that better.
No matter how you found yourself off-route, when in the midst of re-routing, you’ll note how the route chevron color is blue:
The recalculation speed seems fast enough for me, on par with competitors. As for the route selection, the options it selected varied between being good and less than ideal. Part of the challenge Wahoo has is that while they’re using the same OSM base mapping data as Garmin, they don’t have the gigantic vault of heatmap data that Garmin has (which Garmin calls ‘trendline popularity routing’). That means that Garmin is able to leverage the millions or so activities probably uploaded every day to figure out where people are actually riding/working out – which improves picking better roads. Again, it’s hardly a deal breaker, but I’d love to see Wahoo find some way to partner with Strava to get access to that kind of data to overlay and improve routing.
If you want to retrace a route back to the start, or route home – then select either option from the routes menu:
Speaking of blue chevrons, this is as good a time to talk about that ‘color’ display. Yes, I know Wahoo advertises it as a color display, but so is my toddler’s box of 8 crayons sitting next to me. See, the ROAM display only appears to have 7 core colors, including black and white – one color less than my daughter’s box of crayons. I’m not saying you need to constantly use additional colors, but it also doesn’t hurt either. The colors are mainly used as follows:
#1: Red: On power-off, edges on bridges
#2: Green: Text message notifications
#3: Yellow: Main roads on the map
#4: Blue: Water on the map, re-routing chevrons, live tracking labels
#5: Orange: Strava integration
#6: Black: Text/roads/lines/etc
#7: White: Everything else
Now, it’s now quite as simple as that. As Wahoo does blend some colors a bit here and there. For example, in the photo slightly below you see teal. And in the picture of the text message you see purple. My guess is that it’s actually a 32 or 64 color screen, even though they don’t use most of them.
In addition, during structured workouts, you get all the colors of the rainbow.
And while the display is clear, the colors are hardly bright. Again, I’m not sure I need super bright colors – but let’s be honest, these ones are pretty dim. I was kinda hoping for a more vibrant display. There’s undoubtedly a trade-off between display and battery life, but the Edge 530/830 and Hammerhead Karoo displays are far more brilliant than the ROAM. And the battery life on the Edge 530/830 is equal or double, depending on the configuration. And the speed of the basic user interface bits (how fast it reacts) is far slower than competitors. Way slower.
Speaking of that map, let’s talk about how to route from the device itself. First, to note is that there’s only a single routing related option, which is to define your surface type. That’s located under Routes > Routing Options on the device (Road/Cross/Hybrid/Mountain):
It’s here in the routes area that you can select the ‘Take me to’ option. That then allows you to route to saved locations or a location on the map. Saved locations appear in the list just by the street name. You can’t define a list of saved locations ahead of time, or adjust the names for them. You can only save your current location on the map.
If you selected ‘Location on Map’, this then pulls up the map with a crosshair that you can select where to route to:
You can zoom in/out, as well as pan and scroll using the bottom three buttons. The ‘…’ changes between pan/scroll/zoom, as well as gets you to the option to navigate to that point. You can see an example here of it not exactly knowing what the roads are a lot of the time.
Once you select a point it’ll automatically create the route to that point, including turn by turn directions:
Note that at this point the ROAM doesn’t have any baked in elevation data, so you won’t get any upcoming elevation profile for any routes created on the companion app or on the device itself. Wahoo says this is planned by the end of June (a timeline I think is reasonable).
For any other point to point routing you want to do, you’ll need to use Wahoo’s companion app, which allows you to create a route to a single point. You can’t create looped routes this way, though you can use the free 3rd party Easy Route app to do so. And funny enough, the developer of that app now works for Wahoo. It’s the routing app I use for creating quick one-off routes on both my Wahoo and Garmin devices. In any case, here’s the default routing app. Note that it presumes you’re starting from your current GPS location.
It’ll then create a route and you simply choose ‘select route’ from the list, after which it loads the route on the ROAM:
At that point you’re routing/navigating just like any of the other routing options. It’ll give you turn by turn routes, but no elevation at this point. Only 3rd party providers include elevation data (ironically enough, Strava includes elevation data).
I’ll point out that this is probably the cleanest/best part of the Wahoo experience- creating the route on the phone is super quick and efficient, and transfers near-instantly to the head unit.
Finally, the ROAM will automatically pull in any starred Strava segments that you have in your account. You’ll then see these listed on the device itself:
And then when navigating you’ll see that nearby segments show up as well. As you enter a segment you’ll get Wahoo’s Strava Segment overlay, which is one of my favorites because you can compete on multiple overlapping segments at the same time. You can toggle who you’re competing against at the bottom (KOM or PR), as well as change the segment by pressing that button:
You can always get back to other data pages by pressing the ‘Page’ button. Also, you can always use/race Strava Segments, even while on a course. Garmin has a weird limitation that if you’re actively navigating a Garmin Connect/other course, you can’t concurrently see/race Strava Segments. You can only concurrently navigate and get Strava Segments on a Garmin device if you’re navigating a Strava Route, because then the Segments are baked into that route. So this is an advantage over that if you’re into Strava Segments and other routing providers than Strava.
Oh, and you’ll get elevation on Strava segments too, assuming your geography supports that. Here’s a shot when I was riding down in Spain:
In any case, as for Wahoo’s overall navigational capabilities – it’s not bad, at least once they get Strava turn by turn added, and elevation data added for routes. Once that happens it’ll be good, but not $379 good.
And that’s sorta at the core (no, not KICKR CORE, just regular core), of my issue with the ROAM: It’s just not priced right. The features/functionality on this unit are equal to a $279-$299 price point. That’s what the market shows, and Wahoo isn’t doing enough other special things to justify an additional $100-$120. Atop that, if we look at the navigational options of their competitors, they’ve got way more rich features. Points of interest are shown on the maps automatically, as are more details about streets. For example, street names aren’t shown on the Wahoo ROAM – and while I don’t always need to know the street name, there are countless scenarios where that’s useful.
I will note however that one super solid point of Wahoo is that they include the maps for all regions. By default the maps will come loaded for your region, and then you can tap to download maps for other regions if you travel. This matches Sigma and Hammerhead, whereas Garmin requires you pay for additional maps – or download them for free from 3rd party sites (which is cumbersome and annoying at best). So props to Wahoo for continuing to make it easy.
GPS & Elevation Accuracy:
There’s likely no topic that stirs as much discussion and passion as GPS accuracy. A watch could fall apart and give you dire electrical shocks while doing so, but if it shows you on the wrong side of the road? Oh hell no, bring on the fury of the internet!
GPS accuracy can be looked at in a number of different ways, but I prefer to look at it using a number of devices in real-world scenarios across a vast number of activities. I use 2-6 other devices at once, trying to get a clear picture of how a given set of devices handles conditions on a certain day. Conditions include everything from tree/building cover to weather.
Over the years I’ve continued to tweak my GPS testing methodology. For example, for watches I try to not place two units next to each other on my wrists, as that can impact signal. For cycling units, I arrange them on my handlebars using standard mounts – usually one on either side of the stem, often a bit separated from each other.
Next, as noted, I use just my daily training routes. Using a single route over and over again isn’t really indicative of real-world conditions, it’s just indicative of one trail. The workouts you see here are just my normal daily workouts. I’ve had a fair bit of variety of terrain within the time period of testing ROAM. This has included workouts in: Amsterdam (city, countryside) and Mallorca (mountains, ocean, countryside), California (off-road, hills, forests, seaside).
We’re gonna look at a few different rides in different parts of the world. First, we’ll start with the famed Sa Calobra in Mallorca. I rode this nearly a month ago, so while this firmware was slightly older, it still shows pretty solid GPS performance. In this case it’s compared against a Garmin Edge 530 and Edge 830 unit (like the ROAM, technically beta firmware at the time), as well as a Garmin MARQ. I had a Samsung Galaxy Active GPS watch on there too as well, but frankly nobody wants to see that GPS track hosing up this otherwise beautiful route. Here’s that data set:
Now, basically everyone in this picture was on some form of beta at the time, but that’s OK, they all did pretty well. Don’t worry, we’ll get to final firmware in a moment. In particular, let’s zoom in to one of the toughest sections on this ride – this bit here as I’m up against cliffs and mountains. Heck, even a bridge overpass:
Everything here from the ROAM is spot-on. Like I said in yesterday’s reviews – its boringly perfect. No NASCAR crashes here.
Even when some of the other beta units struggled on a turn, the ROAM nailed it:
Now altitude was a bit of a funny one. It seems everyone made mistakes here. The one thing ROAM got most correct was me getting close to the sea. My turnaround point was basically a fishing village, elevated perhaps 5-8 meters above sea level. But we see drift from both. See, that low-point there I stopped and ate lunch. Yet we see the ROAM’s elevation slowly climbing up.
Of course, at the same time, we also see the Garmin units having trouble too. The MARQ is drifting (again, beta as well), while the two Edge units were simply off-set from the start (bad elevation fix where I started apparently). I haven’t seen any of those elevation issues again as I’ll show. So in some ways the chart is more of a curiosity than anything.
Next, let’s switch to another route that’s also pretty difficult GPS-wise, this one at the tip of the island. In this case the route is compared against a Garmin Edge 520 Plus and Edge 1030, along with a beat Garmin MARQ. I had a Samsung Galaxy Active GPS watch on there too again, but we’ll skip it as well like last time. Here’s the data set:
Let’s zoom into one of the more challenging sections – this part right here. It’s in this area that the road has cliffs on both sides, along with some decent tree cover. Here’s the route:
As you can see, the ROAM is perfectly spot-on the road the entire time, even if I zoom way the heck in:
Next, let’s look at the famed tunnel. When it comes to tunnels (or large bridges), I’m looking for the unit to not freak out. In other words, it should correctly pass in through the tunnel without any GPS wonkiness, and then come out clean the other side. Basically, it shouldn’t do what the Edge 520 Plus did below. Of course, I made life difficult here on all the units because I actually stopped just after I went through the tunnel (coming back), still below a cliff edge. So while it’s pretty rare for me to see what the Edge 520 Plus did (I’ve never seen that before on it), I’m glad to see the ROAM nailed it.
And no issues at the end of the turnaround either. Funny tidbit: You can see where I left the units on my bike and then walked closer to the edge with the MARQ still on my wrist.
So what about elevation on this ride? Ask and you shall receive. Now, remember that in this ride the MARQ was on beta (just like the ROAM), and there was a bug they’ve already dug into since then (35 days ago) hopefully addressing that issue. You can see how it got a bad fix to begin with, and it just stayed bad.
The remainder of the units nailed it though. In fact, since I started across the street from the beach, and it’s nice to see the remainder of the units perfectly got my starting elevation at about 1 meter. Nice!
Next, let’s fast forward a few weeks and a few thousand miles away to California, where I’ve got a sea-side route that then gains some elevation while going through some gigantic forests. Here’s the data set:
Starting off with an easy section – along the coastline, things look quite nice:
Now for some portions of this ride I had the units in/out of my pockets, as I was shooting/filming other things. So in those cases we saw slightly degraded GPS performance in those scenarios (totally logical). So let’s look at a clean section, where they were on the handlebars:
Here we were next to a highway, but actually we were also under some pretty significant trees on the trail and a substantial hill next to that. Super clean track through here. Same is true in town, even getting the correct side of the road properly:
And lastly, a ride last Friday through the tulip fields. In this case, it’s compared against an Edge 830 (on production firmware), and a Forerunner 945 (also production firmware), and a FR245 (also production). Production all around! Here’s the data set:
Frankly, it’s pretty boring:
Nobody ever messes up:
Like I said…boring:
The elevation might appear crazy at first, but then carefully look at the scale. Welcome to the Netherlands. Sure, the FR245 is all wonky, but that doesn’t have a barometric altimeter, so that is what it is. The ROAM and Edge 830 are only 5 meters apart. It just looks jaggy because it’s simply oscillating ~1 meter, which is all it takes here. And that’s probably logical given the natural ups and downs. Though it’s clear Wahoo smooths things a little bit better than Garmin.
Ultimately – it should be pretty clear here I’m seeing absolutely zero GPS issues. It’s perfectly nailed from everything I’ve seen, even in the trees or next to mountains. And from an altimeter standpoint, I’m not seeing anything to worry about. Though I lack the geography to continue to test altitude related goodness going forward. So I kinda have to do that when I travel.
(Note: All of the charts in these accuracy portions were created using the DCR Analyzer tool. It allows you to compare power meters/trainers, heart rate, cadence, speed/pace, GPS tracks and plenty more. You can use it as well for your own gadget comparisons, more details here.)
I’ve added the Wahoo ROAM into the product comparison calculator so you can see how it compares to other units on the market. To keep things simple for below, I’ve compared it against the Wahoo BOLT, Edge 530, Edge 830, and Hammerhead Karoo. Of course, there are plenty more units in the product comparison calculator, so you can make your own charts here as well. In the meantime, here’s how things line-up below:
|Function/Feature||Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM||Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT||Garmin Edge 530||Garmin Edge 830||Hammerhead Karoo|
|Copyright DC Rainmaker - Updated August 30th, 2019 @ 5:54 amNew Window|
|Product Announcement Date||May 1st, 2019||Mar 14th, 2017||Apr 24th, 2019||Apr 24th, 2019||May 2nd, 2017|
|Actual Availability/Shipping Date||May 8th, 2019||Mar 14th, 2017||Early May 2019||Early May 2019||Feb 9th, 2018|
|GPS Recording Functionality||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Data Transfer||Bluetooth Smart, WiFi, USB||Bluetooth Smart, WiFi, USB||USB, Bluetooth Smart, WiFi||USB, Bluetooth Smart, WiFi||WiFi|
|Battery Life (GPS)||17 hours||15 hours||20 Hours (40 in battery Saver Mode)||20 Hours (40 in battery Saver Mode)||10-15hrs|
|Recording Interval||1-second||1-second||1-Second or Smart||1-Second or Smart||1-second|
|Satellite Pre-Loading via Computer||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Quick Satellite Reception||Yes||Yes||YEs||YEs||Yes|
|Alerts||AUDIO/VISUAL + LED's||AUDIO/VISUAL + LED's||Audio/Visual||Audio/Visual||Visual|
|Ability to download custom apps to unit/device||No||No||Yes||Yes||In future|
|Acts as daily activity monitor (steps, etc...)||N/A||N/A||No||No||N/A||Music||Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM||Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT||Garmin Edge 530||Garmin Edge 830||Hammerhead Karoo|
|Can control phone music||No||No||No||No||No|
|Has music storage and playback||No||No||No||No||No|
|Streaming Services||No||No||No||No||Payments||Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM||Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT||Garmin Edge 530||Garmin Edge 830||Hammerhead Karoo|
|Contactless-NFC Payments||No||No||Connectivity||Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM||Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT||Garmin Edge 530||Garmin Edge 830||Hammerhead Karoo|
|Bluetooth Legacy (pre-4.0) to Phone||No||No||No||No||No|
|Bluetooth Smart (4.0+) to Phone Uploading||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Phone Notifications to unit (i.e. texts/calls/etc...)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Live Tracking (streaming location to website)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Emergency/SOS Message Notification (from watch to contacts)||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Built-in cellular chip (no phone required)||No||No||No||No||Yes (with SIM card added)||Cycling||Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM||Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT||Garmin Edge 530||Garmin Edge 830||Hammerhead Karoo|
|Designed for cycling||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Power Meter Capable||Yes||Yes||YEs||YEs||Yes|
|Power Meter Configuration/Calibration Options||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Power Meter TSS/NP/IF||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Speed/Cadence Sensor Capable||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Strava segments live on device||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Crash detection||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||Running||Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM||Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT||Garmin Edge 530||Garmin Edge 830||Hammerhead Karoo|
|Designed for running||N/A||N/A||N/A||N/A||No|
|VO2Max Estimation||N/A||N/A||(CYCLING YES THOUGH)||(CYCLING YES THOUGH)||(No for cycling too)|
|Recovery Advisor||N/A||N/A||(CYCLING YES THOUGH)||(CYCLING YES THOUGH)||(No for cycling too)||Triathlon||Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM||Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT||Garmin Edge 530||Garmin Edge 830||Hammerhead Karoo|
|Designed for triathlon||N/A||N/A||Sorta||Sorta||No||Workouts||Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM||Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT||Garmin Edge 530||Garmin Edge 830||Hammerhead Karoo|
|Create/Follow custom workouts||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Planned|
|On-unit interval Feature||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Training Calendar Functionality||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||Functions||Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM||Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT||Garmin Edge 530||Garmin Edge 830||Hammerhead Karoo|
|Auto Start/Stop||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Auto-pause/restart (but not Auto-Start)|
|Virtual Partner Feature||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Virtual Racer Feature||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Records PR's - Personal Records (diff than history)||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|Day to day watch ability||Shows time/date||Shows time/date||N/A||N/A||No|
|Weather Display (live data)||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||Navigate||Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM||Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT||Garmin Edge 530||Garmin Edge 830||Hammerhead Karoo|
|Follow GPS Track (Courses/Waypoints)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Routable/Visual Maps (like car GPS)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Back to start||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|Impromptu Round Trip Route Creation||No (But can create one-way routes from phone app)||No (But can create one-way routes from phone app)||No||Yes||No (But can create one-way routes on device)|
|Download courses/routes from phone to unit||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No (only via WiFi from site)||Sensors||Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM||Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT||Garmin Edge 530||Garmin Edge 830||Hammerhead Karoo|
|Optical Heart Rate Sensor internally||N/A||N/A||No||No||N/A|
|Heart Rate Strap Compatible||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|ANT+ Heart Rate Strap Capable||Yes||Yes||YEs||YEs||Yes|
|ANT+ Speed/Cadence Capable||Yes||Yes||YEs||YEs||Yes|
|ANT+ Footpod Capable||No||No||No||No||No|
|ANT+ Power Meter Capable||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|ANT+ Weight Scale Capable||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|ANT+ Fitness Equipment (Gym)||No||No||No||No||No|
|ANT+ Lighting Control||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|ANT+ Bike Radar Integration||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|ANT+ Trainer Control (FE-C)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No|
|ANT+ Remote Control||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|ANT+ eBike Compatibility||No||No||Yes||Yes||No|
|ANT+ Muscle Oxygen (i.e. Moxy/BSX)||Yes||Yes||With apps||With apps||Planned Future|
|ANT+ Gear Shifting (i.e. SRAM ETAP)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Planned Future|
|Shimano Di2 Shifting||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Planned Future|
|Bluetooth Smart HR Strap Capable||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Bluetooth Smart Speed/Cadence Capable||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Bluetooth Smart Footpod Capable||YEs||YEs||No||No||No|
|Bluetooth Smart Power Meter Capable||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Temp Recording (internal sensor)||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Planned Future|
|Temp Recording (external sensor)||No||No||No||No||No|
|Compatible with Firstbeat HR tools||-||-||Yes||Yes||No||Software||Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM||Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT||Garmin Edge 530||Garmin Edge 830||Hammerhead Karoo|
|PC Application||N/A||N/A||Garmin Express||Garmin Express||No|
|Web Application||N/A||N/A||Garmin Connect||Garmin Connect||Yes|
|Phone App||iOS/Android||iOS/Android||iOS/Android/Windows Phone||iOS/Android/Windows Phone||No|
|Ability to Export Settings||No||No||No||No||No||Purchase||Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM||Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT||Garmin Edge 530||Garmin Edge 830||Hammerhead Karoo|
|Clever Training - Save with the VIP program||Link||Link||Link||Link||N/A|
|Clever Training Europe (Save 10% with DCR10BTF)||Link||Link||Link||Link||N/A||DCRainmaker||Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM||Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT||Garmin Edge 530||Garmin Edge 830||Hammerhead Karoo|
And again, remember you can mix and match and make your own product comparison charts over in the product comparison calculator.
There’s no doubt a lot of people have been waiting for a color display Wahoo bike computer, and even more for one that has full navigation features. And within those parameters, it technically unlocks both achievements. And it does so with a very cohesive smartphone companion app to boot – something that’s rightfully often praised about Wahoo’s computers. And in fact, that app in the last few weeks got a solid user interface refresh.
The challenge is, I think too much attention was paid to that app – and not enough to the unit itself. But more deeply, I don’t think Wahoo really understands how quick their competitors are moving. When Wahoo entered the market years ago, and in particular with the BOLT 2 years ago, it provided a breath of fresh air. Something different, cleaner, and more cohesive. But now – it just feels out of date. The display and slowness of the unit simply doesn’t match 2019, nor do the feature sets.
When I talk with (numerous) Wahoo employees – I get the impression they haven’t actually tried their competitors units for any length of time. At least not in the last few years. Every discussion I have they talk of slow/laggy cumbersome units of 3-4 years ago (the same time they originally developed the BOLT). But the reality is, their competitors of today are fast and clean (and now the ROAM is slow). Be it Hammerhead, Sigma, or Garmin – the 2018/2019 units just aren’t like your Dad’s units, they’re fast, clean and efficient. And for Wahoo to essentially roll out what amounts to a handful of routing options for a new unit begs the question: What have they been doing for two years?
Of course, the reality is that true mapping navigation is hard. Really, really, really hard. It’s like developing a power meter. It sounds easy in theory, but is super difficult in practice. There’s so much nuance to maps and navigation – be it conflicting data sets, differences in regions, etc… It’s incredibly difficult. So I get that – totally. Which is why I’m astounded Wahoo didn’t add *any* non-navigation new features to ROAM. Something that would have distracted from the fact that the navigation on the ROAM is mostly half-baked still.
While Wahoo has committed to two navigation features for ROAM by June (Strava turn by turn, and on-device elevation data), I really want to see a longer range calendar of features – just like they had back in BOLT/ELEMNT day. They aren’t giving up anything competitive at this point, as Garmin just released their competitors last week. Further, Wahoo is now firmly in the ‘playing catchup’ camp, so they need to figure out a way to convince prospective buyers that there’s goodness coming with future updates.
Hopefully they can do that, and while they’re at it – reduce the price to a feature appropriate $299.
With that, thanks for reading!
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Thanks for reading!