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Heads Up: Wahoo ELEMNT Devices To Require Wahoo Accounts From July 1st

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Starting July 1st, Wahoo bike computer and watch users will need a Wahoo account in order to continue using their devices with Wahoo’s app, which is used for configuration/customization of the device (including sync to platforms like Strava). The account is free, and only needs an e-mail address (not even your name). It’s likely you already set this up on your device at some point over the last few years.

I’ve gotten a few comments recently about this, and even noticed the reminder on something or other I was configuring in the last month or so. So I figured I’d round up the most common questions I’ve seen to get clarity on them.

As background, when Wahoo first started on the ELEMNT bike computers six years ago, it was just your phone and the ELEMNT. But over time that’s grown, to support new features. Things like structured workout sync from 3rd parties (like TrainingPeaks), which didn’t exist when the initial ELEMNT was introduced. Same goes for live tracking, which was added a few years later. These started to depend more and more on backend Wahoo cloud infrastructure. In fact, those geeks in the crowd probably noticed the occasional reference to a Wahoo cloud platform that kept things functional.

In the case of most bike computers/watches, it’s not actually the device itself that uploads to Strava (or another site). Rather, it’s an authenticated connection made on that company’s website (e.g. Wahoo’s website) on behalf of your device. But in Wahoo’s case, it started off as your actual device – not your phone. Sure, your phone was aware of that connection, but ultimately, it didn’t much care to be involved. That worked great most of the time, but not always. So Wahoo has started to make redundancies in the system. Now your phone can also upload workouts on it, just like the device can. And going forward, so can Wahoo’s own backend cloud.

WahooRegistration

In fact, that gets to some of the core reasons Wahoo says they’re doing it: Trying to keep people’s data safe in the event of loss of a phone, or just across the slowly expanding ecosystem of Wahoo apps. Right now if you don’t set up an account, if you lose your phone (and don’t have a backup of it), you lose your Wahoo workouts.

Of course, for some people – that’s what they want. They want a fully offline GPS bike computer that doesn’t push their workouts to any platform. That privacy-focused stance says that any workout file outside your direct control is more prone to being exposed/sold/etc to 3rd parties. And yes, there’s some truth to that (though realistically, most companies are better at protecting your data than most individuals are). However, most device companies I know of *rarely, if ever* actually give away or sell your workout data. Whereas fitness platforms that don’t have their own hardware tend to sell off your data like lemonade on a hot summer day, after all, that’s their currency.

Finally, for the heck of it, Wahoo even has job openings for their cloud platform (plus ones for the Sufferfest side of the house too):

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Slightly notable in that is the ‘millions of athletes’, though, I suspect it’s the KICKR numbers that push them over the line there (rather than ELEMNT series devices). Those devices also leverage Wahoo’s backend cloud platform too, via the Wahoo app. Still, millions is millions, no matter how ya get it!

Quick Question List:

In any event, here are some quick Q&A style questions on the change I’ve whipped up:

How much does a Wahoo account cost? Nothing, it’s free.

What personal info do I provide? Wahoo says only an e-mail address is required, to act as the ‘glue’. In fact, they say they’re totally fine with that being a burner e-mail address. They don’t care. They just need something to link all the pieces together.

What happens if I don’t create a Wahoo account? Puppies die. Well, no, actually, Wahoo says your ELEMNT series device “is still fully functional but the workouts will not sync to the app, however, a user can plug the device into their computer and pull the workout files that way”. Meaning, you can (like a Garmin, Stages, Hammerhead, and a few others), simply plug it into a computer and grab the .FIT workout file, old-school style. That’s the *EXACT SAME* workout file that gets uploaded to apps like Strava or TrainingPeaks. Except, it won’t do that automatically. Nor will you be able to configure most of the settings on the device, since those settings require the app to configure, which from July 1st won’t talk to the ELEMNT without a Wahoo account.

Technically speaking, what’s using that Wahoo account? Currently, they use it for saving partner sites (e.g. Strava account) between devices, saving your workout history, and retrying uploads.

Will my device still work if Wahoo’s web goes down? Wahoo’s CEO Chip Hawkins says “I do want to make absolutely sure if the cloud is down or you have no internet, things still work. But keeping all the capabilities we have in-app and cloud for the few who don’t want to login has become really complex.”, noting that all of the features using the cloud aren’t tied to mid-ride type features, but rather things like a copy of your workout history, retrying Strava uploads behind the scenes, and syncing profile data.

What’s their privacy policy say officially about what they do? Glad you asked, I read through it tonight. Honestly, like most companies, it’s full of loopholes (even if entirely boilerplate unintentional). According to their policy, they can technically do just about anything they want. It’s one of the funny aspects of the GDPR driven world. While companies are being held to stricter terms, they’ve basically made their privacy policies as generic and useless as possible, essentially giving themselves wiggle room to do anything they want and saying ‘we told you so’ later, and giving you no legal recourse. So while GDPR gives us more rights on access to our data, and sometimes control of that data, it’s also taught most companies to just say ‘eff it’ up-front and ask to do anything they want. And all of us have no realistic option except saying ‘I agree’.

What does Wahoo say they’ll actually do with your data? I asked that too, Wahoo’s Chip Hawkins says in an e-mail that “For privacy we don’t sell or share any data with 3rd parties or use it for anything other than making the users experience better with our devices.” – That second part is in specific reference to a clause within their privacy agreement that says they’ll use consolidated metrics data from an engineering standpoint to improve the platform/service/device. For example, collecting device crash data and causes (which many, but not all companies do today).

Final Thoughts:

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Ultimately, it’s not 1995 anymore (or 2005). The reason we as consumers expect things like firmware updates with new features every few months is due to this type of data. It’s companies’ abilities to see what percentage of their userbase is hitting certain issues and bugs, and apply engineering resources to fix the biggest issues fastest. Or, for companies to figure out which features people actually use, and which ones they never use. The engineering-focused reporting data gathered by companies these days can be incredibly impressive, and incredibly useful. I remember looking at this type of data from my Microsoft days with some enterprise products and being able to see “Oh, this feature is used by millions of people. And this feature is used by hundreds of thousands of people. And this feature here…it’s used by 3 people….globally…ever.”

While we’d like to think all hardware and software is perfect, the simple reality is that it isn’t. It never will be. And certainly, anonymous reporting gets us some of the way there, but not all the way.

A great example of that is that in fact Wahoo’s own recent BOLT V2. Anonymous crash reporting wouldn’t have helped Wahoo fix my crash issues, which were driven specifically due to the density of Amsterdam’s road/bike networks (and some other cities). After all, they needed my exact routes to replicate it. That data automatically being transmitted back to Wahoo – in that they had my crash data before I could even e-mail them.

Of course, it’s also valid to be concerned about privacy, or dependencies on online platforms. I just wrote less than an hour ago about how Shimano has basically killed Pioneer bike computers, all due to shutting off the connection to their platform. Or back in January, when a Sony GPS pre-cache effectively broke GPS across all newer Garmin, Suunto, Polar, COROS, and yes…even some Wahoo GPS devices. Or last summer, when Garmin Connect was down due to ransomware, which for some people with nearly full devices meant that a small task triggered by Garmin Connect to clean off older workout files to make way for newer files didn’t go – meaning peoples devices wouldn’t record anymore. Ensuring that there aren’t dependencies is trickier than it seems.

Undoubtedly, in Garmin’s case, prior to that week – I suspect every person at Garmin and every consumer worldwide would have said “No, there’s no direct dependency on Garmin Connect staying online”. Which, was true best anyone knew about it. Except when you finally got to workout #198 without talking to Garmin Connect, it wouldn’t let you save #198 (seriously).

Still, I think these exceptionally rare examples are far outweighed by the huge benefits that responsible companies can bring with cloud-connected devices, from fixes to simply making our lives easier. It’s ensuring that the responsible companies are held accountable for their promises, and the irresponsible companies are called out.

With that – thanks for reading!

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33 Comments

  1. tjdunnigan

    Somewhat off topic, but related to one of your comments, one set of device makers that do sell personal information is the LED, OLED, etc television panel companies. My wife, an internet researcher, recently saw a demonstration of user metric collection from one of these companies that are sold to a variety of external corporations. It was extremely detailed, including when in a show user x changed channels or muted the display, and demographic and geographic details on user x.

    It is believed that were it not for the sales of this information, these panels would cost far more, probably out of the financial reach of many consumers.

    • Yup, streaming media platforms have long used this type of data to ‘optimize’ things. Here’s an article way back from 8 years ago at the start of House of Cards about how Netflix did it: link to salon.com

      As with anything, the line between engineering and marketing is tricky. From a tech/engineering side, this type of data is invaluable, and when blended with real-world people asking real-world users what they actually want, to create great products. It’s useful in meetings to decide which features actually make the cut – when you can say “Look, why are we expanding or supporting this feature when 0.2% of users actually use it?” – of course, the answer may be “Because 0.2% of users represents a specific accessibility feature that’s critical”, or could be (if an enterprise space) “Because 0.2% represents X organization that pays us $150M/year”.

      And, sometimes, as was in the case when Microsoft significantly overhauled the Office UI years ago to the ribbon, used to figure out *why* people weren’t using features. Was it because perhaps…they couldn’t find them?

  2. Kyle

    GDPR is a red herring since it’s not what people think it is but doesn’t this run into consumer contract (rights) problems for existing owners?

    This is why Facebook/Oculus doesn’t require a Facebook account for two years for existing owners of the Rift, Quest 1, etc and after that point they will be out of warranty and you don’t have any consumer rights remaining unless you want to lawyer up and fight it as a breach of contract. With the Quest 2 it’s not a problem since a Facebook account was always required and should have been known before purchasing it.

    tl;dr I think you’d be able to ask for a refund on any Elemnt purchased in at least the last year. Two years is possible but I don’t know who would be on the hook for it.

  3. Bob

    Wahoo –> we use 10 yr old web technology to build our platform.

    • Jamie

      This website uses WordPress (19 years old), which is built on PHP (27 years old). Is that also a bad thing? Using RoR doesn’t inherently make it bad because it’s 10 years old. I write a lot of apps using Python which is 30 years old.

      I’ll agree though, RoR was definitely a fad which has since passed, but plenty still use it.

  4. larry danziger

    First off
    Shimano did not kill off pioneer
    As of June 18 u needed to firmware update your cs600 by then. Shimanos new web service will be online june 30. IT WILL SYNC WITH PIONEER WAHOO AND GARMINZ
    so relax ray
    There will be a firmware update by shimano. They will give screen shots on what DMT do to reprogram the cs600 to sync with their new service
    Did u not get the 2nd email ?? Pioneer sent it stating all of the above
    If u did nit follow their first email and firmware update by june 18 then yes your pioneer is dead
    If u did then your good. Their new web service will only work with the latest firmware update from pioneer before june 18

    • Sorry Larry, but I disagree. If you live in the countries I mentioned, then no, your unit no longer does what it used to. It no longer uploads wirelessly, it no longer gets map updates, and it no longer upload your Pioneer power meter data to anything that can read it (which, the only people who would have bought a Pioneer head unit are those with Pioneer power meters).

      And that entirely ignores the far larger group of people with the 500 series devices.

      Finally, a single one-week notice simply isn’t acceptable to have to get your firmware update. It’s just not. The 2nd e-mail came out barely over a week prior. Many people, including myself, never received the first e-mail.

      So yes, Shimano killed off Pioneer units for a lot of people. And for those left, we have no idea what functionality Shimano will have in their new site.

  5. David

    Does this mean that we might get cloud backups for page layouts etc?

  6. Jimmy

    I’m looking into getting a bike computer. I’m looking at either getting the Garmin 530 or Elemnt Bolt V2. I’ve looked at both reviews you did on both devices. Which you say would be the comparison +’s and -‘s for both devices?

  7. andre

    “(though realistically, most companies are better at protecting your data than most individuals are).”

    Not sure if that is correct. The times that my email/phone/password have been compromised was always by companies: Linkedin, Adobe, eBay and allekabels.nl (biggest dataleak in the Netherlands).

    Other big databreaches: myfitnesspal, Adult Friend Finder, Marriot, Yahoo, Sony, Myspace and Facebook with the data of over 500 million people.

    • In this context I was mostly talking about the actual data content itself (as in, backups of data).

      Of course, it’s true that companies have data leaks (mostly username/password/credit card/PII type data), fairly rarely is it actual content data (e.g. your files). But there’s also plenty of companies not on the list.

  8. Adam

    Hey Ray, speaking of Wahoo crashes… Are you getting better reliability with latest firmwares (even betas)? I am not getting any crashes mid-ride, but some routes take awfully long time to load and the unit is completely frozen. Last time I tried to follow a straightforward 50k Strava route, and I actually hard reset my Bolt twice after it was taking minutes to load the route and the map page turned empty (suspect some kind of out of memory issue). The Bolt didn’t even respond to the power button, I had to press it 10 seconds to get it reset.

    Eventually I chose starting the ride without the route loaded and started loading the route while riding. The Bolt was still unresponsive to button touches, but sensor values / leds were updating, and the route eventually loaded after 3+ minutes. Surprisingly the whole ride was captured, even the period when the Bolt struggled loading the route. Really hoping this would improve because it’s not very confidence inspiring at this point; and I didn’t even try loading >100k long routes.

    • It’s getting better. I’m no longer getting crashes on the beta builds I’m on. I honestly don’t know how far ‘ahead’ of production I am at this point, but, it’s better.

      However, I still am getting frequent data dropouts from ANT+ sensors. Enough that I wouldn’t really consider it acceptable if it were my daily unit (and I certainly couldn’t/can’t use it as a reference device for testing).

    • Adam

      Thanks Ray. The dropouts are concerning too, especially given that the Bolt/Roam never had significant issues with sensors. Let’s hope Wahoo can fix these issues with firmware updates, it has been a rocky launch to say the least, and the legendary “it just works” reliability of Wahoo Elemnt is taking a big hit.

      The current beta 12072 (IIRC) has been the same for almost a week now, it should be released any day now.

      Will we get an updated review once the bugs are sorted out, or are you giving up trying to chase bugs down, and only come back to the Bolt2 after a few firmware releases when it’s supposedly all fixed?

  9. John

    Of course, the dicey parts aren’t what the company says or does today (I *do* take Chip at his word), but what happens after a company gets swallowed up by one of the more egregious tech behemoths (cf. Google buying out Fitbit).

  10. Jakob

    I hope they keep their android app functional withoit an account. that app is great, big text, easy to use, and allows ANT connection directly to the phone.

    perfect supplement when biking with a wrist watch, or as a backup, just in case

  11. Stu

    I can see a scenario where I can’t send a route to my elemnt because the app’s cookie / token (?) has expired and the authentication backend is down. What does chip say about that?

    • My guess is he’d say that’s already the case today. It’s just shifted the goalpost. Today that can (and actually has happened) to me with Strava to Wahoo, where it stopped working (sending routes over) and I had to re-authenticate the connection to get it to happen.

  12. peter

    Also somewhat off topic, because more related to your reports about the stability issues you reported with the bolt V2. I am a long time user of the Bolt V1, unfortunately I am having more and more serious stability issues with core functions of the BOLT. Getting routes loaded onto the BOLT is – to say the least – VERY unstable, and it is often impossible to get a route onto the BOLT. I am patiently dealing with the Wahoo Helpdesk, and I can only say that their level of support is absolutely shocking. Not only do they not have a clue of what they are doing, they are unable to read an email correctly. They are specialised in providing answers completely unrelated to the question. After about 2 months of email exchanges, I still haven’t received any proper answer, and they still don’t seem to understand anything. It can only be one of 2 things: they are in very deep shit with their software and their helpdesk is just instructed to not bother the programmers, or they have outsourced their helpdesk to a bunch of complete morons. Either way, I am stuck with an unusable piece of equipment. Which is a pity, because Wahoo once produced a very refreshing, clever, original and device. Way more usefull on a bike than any Garmin GPS.

    • William O'hara

      Several others can’t sync their maps from Strava. Starred routes don’t load onto their Bolts.

      I looked at my phone’s log. The program transferred 4.5gb during one month. This was for 1000 miles of riding. What is wahoo receiving ? I’m going to tally the fit files for the month but those are compressed. What did they get in 4.5?

      It seems that they are receiving more than my telemetry.

    • Rick Tan

      Bluetooth sync is busted. No way to upload a route if you are in the middle of a ride away from WiFi.

    • Adam

      I agree on the customer support problems. You have to be really dedicated and work the support agent over multiple back and forth interactions, otherwise they just respond with a canned message explaining how you’re holding it wrong.

  13. Brian Brackemyre

    How do I verify I have an account with Wahoo? It is not obvious (at least to me.)

    • If you tap the ‘Profile’ tab in the Wahoo app, then you should see your e-mail address towards the atop below ‘About you’, or, the option to ‘Log out’, at the very top of the profile tab. At least, that’s what I see on mine.

  14. Rick Tan

    Seems that Wahoo is killing/has killed Bluetooth route syncing from app to gps unit.
    This was a key feature as it lets you upload routes mid-ride. I have used this feature from the beginning and recently discovered this feature is not working.
    Boo!

  15. Rick Tan

    Someone has been drinking too much of the cloud computing Kool-aid.
    How is it beneficial to the customer to require a WiFi/LTE connection merely to customize the pages on the device? Or to upload an existing route saved off as a .fit file and uploaded to the app? Bluetooth networking is perfectly fine for this.

    Device-to-Phone, use Bluetooth since both devices are fully capable of that connection
    Phone-to-Strava-etc, use WiFi/LTE since you need a WiFi router/Cell tower and Strava servers to make that connection.

    I can see this device being useless if Wahoo keeps screwing around with features that had been there for a long while and they are not thinking of the use-cases that are impossible when they change something.

    Why is anything cloud-related (WiFi/LTE) needed to do customization? It’s not like the custom pages are being stored in the cloud.

    • Hi Rick-

      I think you’ve misunderstood. There’s zero dependencies on WiFi/LTE to customize data pages or such. Never has been, and there are no changes there.

      This is all about having an account tied to that app, so it can manage things across their platform/devices. But there’s no requirement to actually be online for day to day stuffs (routing from Strava or such, obviously there would be).

      Cheers

  16. Magic

    Hi DCRainmaker,

    I’m like lurker. Reading time to time your posts. Quality is on very high level. I appreciate you do what you do. Awesome help for people and very levelled and straight forward comments.

    I decided to comment on my side as well – hope you don’t mind.

    As much sport and features are important – I would add one more part to all your review. This part will be called privacy.

    It’s all about how much your data can be exploited or sold to their parties. I think world is changing and it will be one of important points in choosing to gear. There will be people who likes it (as they can get better insights and recommendations eg. from big grocery store what they need to buy / eat based on their lates results of the run) and those people who are afraid of it (as they don’t want to get insurance to tell them that based on latest run their insurance will go up) and lastly those who don’t appreciate sharing any / all details.

    Not sure it still resonate with a lot of people, but… just saying. It will be something which can differentiate your blogs and also help people who chose one or other way in sharing data about themselves.

    Regards,
    -M.

    • Thanks M for the comment/lurking!

      One of the reasons I rarely mention it in reviews is that honestly, it actually rarely impacts most of the platforms/devices I talk about.

      Companies like Garmin/Polar/Suunto/Apple/Wahoo simply aren’t in the business of selling your data. And their privacy policies and actions have shown that very well.

      Where it gets messier is platforms like Strava, UnderArmour (MapMyEverything), etc… which are more variable. Strava sells it to cities for route planning purposes, as well as to a lesser extent these days for challenges too. Whereas the others tend to sell data more widely. Either way, I’ve talked about those implications in the past.

      Cheers!

  17. Alexey

    When you say the account only needs email address does this mean that the app won’t upload your workouts to the “cloud” unless you explicitly ask it to? Because that’s in my opinion the most important privacy-related question here.

  18. John everyman

    I feel like this write-up underplays the serious negatives of this change. They remotely disabled a device people paid hundreds of dollars for unless you agree to their nebulous privacy policy.

    It doesn’t matter that they’re not selling the data right now or that you can use a burner email. Remotely disabling products should never be acceptable, and we’ve seen many companies previously use this type of trick as step-1, and then quietly update their privacy policy or data usage later, or slowly require real names or slowly lock down more features to force users to upgrade devices or upgrade to premium services.

    There is no excuse for preventing a user from continuing to use the phone app and device as they were using it previously. It should be an option- upgrade to version X with an account to keep getting updates, or stay with the product as you purchased it.

    • Sunny

      I agree with John Everyman. I do not want a since scrap of my ride data uploaded onto the internet, EVER. I do not want information about my riding habits turned into commercial data that’s sold to unknown third parties EVER! I want to turn on the device, log my rides, then transfer the data to my computer or mobile phone… end of story.

  19. Brad

    My Garmin 520’s battery life is the pits. I had been on the fence about a Wahoo vs a Garmin, but this does it. I won’t buy from a company that changes the policies of their software so you can no longer use the device the way you purchased it. New devices? Sure. Maybe I would be okay. This, not so much.