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Thursday, July 05, 2018

Longer Term Review: Wahoo Elemnt Bolt

Last year’s experience with the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt convinced me that Icould tour with just the Wahoo Bolt as a navigation unit. This was a mistake. The Wahoo Element Bolt does not itself handle navigation duties. You have to create a route before hand, either by using RideWithGPS on a phone, which is a horrible experience and prone to error, or using an app like Komoot, or depending on Google Maps bicycle routing, which may or may not work in certain countries like Italy.

This is not a problem 80 percent of the time, but the rest of the time it causes major grief. For instance, on our first day I made a route selection error by using Komoot’s “Road Bike” setting instead of “Touring Setting”, which put us on some very busy roads. Well, changing that required stopping, and rerunning Komoot, and then waiing ten minutes while the Elemnt App sync’d to the cloud to acquire the new route. This is unacceptable much of the time.

In Trentino, Komoot screwed up and directed us to the wrong place. It was hot and we were both in distress, so rather than wait for the stupid machine to sync, I resorted to giving Bowen my smart phone and having him navigate us to the hotel. In the mountains, I know the roads well enough that I would basically never get lost, but in big cities with dense road networks, it just doesn’t work. Komoot most of the time is pretty good at finding bike paths that I myself might not have found on a map, but its address accuracy is in question. Google has the opposite problem: it would find an address just fine, but it has a tendency to find “bike paths” where none exist, or where the connection is obviously a walking trail.

Now, the problem with using Google as the navigation device for the Wahoo is that Wahoo will not allow you to preload a route from Google! That means if the night before you found an ideal route, you can’t sync it to your Wahoo. You have to wait until the morning when you can leave the device on after designating the route in the app. Not only can Google’s routing change dramatically  between times of day, even worse, what you see in Google Maps is rarely what you see in the Wahoo Elemnt App, even though it’s “powered by Google.” This sort of inconsistency will drive you nuts, and I see no reason to put up with it when my Garmin units in the past have always been rock solid reliable and work even without an internet connection.

There are other functionality issues with the Bolt as well. For instance, unless you have the Elemnt app on your smartphone in the foreground when you power up the Wahoo, the device will not pair with your phone. All through the tour, not once did my Wahoo ever sync the ride with any of the services I’d designated the sync. Fortunately, the one service I care about, which is Strava, syncs only through my Garmin Vivoactive HR, which has stayed reliable over the entire trip.

Between the routing and navigation problems, and the lack of support for major safety acccessories such as the Varia Bike Radar, the next time I tour I will buy a Garmin bike navigation unit that’s smart enough to route without the internet being an issue. The Wahoo unit just doesn’t cut it for anyone exploring new territory. Not only is offline navigation a serious necessity when touring, the price you pay for peace of mind in case your phone breaks in the middle of nowhere is well worth the Garmin premium.

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