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.
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):
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 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).
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!