Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt Long-Term Review - The Apple of Bicycle Computers

Written by Alvin Holbrook, on November 17, 2021

The Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt V2 is an update to the original Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt GPS unit. It features a whole list of updates to benefit road cyclists, mountain bikers, gravel cyclists, and commuters alike. While it lacks a touchscreen and the ultimate customization of Garmin computers, the ELEMNT Bolt has a number of positives that set this computer apart from the competition.

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Those familiar with cycling computers really know of two names: Garmin and Wahoo. Garmin is a Goliath in the outdoor industry, offering the default computer choice for those looking for GPS tracking, riding statistics, and more recently, GPS navigation. Wahoo, starting with its ELEMNT line of computers, has brought the fight to Garmin by being easier to use and thinking outside of the box.

I’ve found myself over the years using the most recent Garmin computers as well as the original Wahoo Bolt. How does the new Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt V2 stack up?

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An Expanded Feature Set

The Bolt V2 isn’t a giant leap forward in cycling computer technology, at least not in the same way that the original Wahoo ELEMNT computers felt. Most of the updates bring the Bolt up to the same capabilities as the larger Wahoo ELEMNT Roam computer. That’s no bad thing, as there are still a number of changes under the hood.

Perhaps most important to the Bolt is the new screen, which at 2.2” diagonally and with a 240 x 320-pixel resolution, is the same as before but now uses a 64-color display. That display itself is covered in Gorilla Glass, like your smartphone. That color screen isn’t utilized everywhere, but Wahoo selectively uses color to increase the contrast between data, or to provide color-coding on mapping. Interestingly, this new screen actually makes it a more colorful screen than the larger Roam.

The Bolt is the first Wahoo computer to use USB-C charging, much to the delight of techies out there. Switching to USB-C meant Wahoo can beef up water resistance to an IPX7 rating, theoretically allowing for accidental submersion in 3 feet of water for up to half an hour without issue. Quoted battery life is 15 hours of run time.

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A hallmark of Wahoo computers is the use of colored LEDs, which the Bolt has just above the screen. These LEDs are configurable to provide a graphical representation of power, heart rate, speed, or to indicate an upcoming turn. When paired to radar sensors like the Garmin Varia, it can also indicate a car approaching behind you. And if you dig Strava Live Segments, the LED bar will tell you how well you’re doing compared to your personal best along a chosen segment.

The form factor of the Bolt has changed a bit compared to before. Importantly, the buttons are revised to make them easier to access when wearing gloves, while still retaining the satisfying clickiness of the previous buttons. While the basic aerodynamic silhouette is preserved from the previous Bolt, the new model is actually a little bit thicker, more squared off, and about 9 grams heavier than before.

Like the previous Bolt (and other Wahoo ELEMNT computer models), the ELEMNT Bolt V2 neatly integrates with the Wahoo KICKR line of indoor training elements. The computer neatly controls your Wahoo indoor training setup through in-ride changes to ERG modes, passive resistance, or through pre-installed training sessions.

The Bolt comes with 16 GB memory (up from 4 GB before) and a claimed 15-hour battery life. Like other Wahoo computers, the new Bolt can control all of Wahoo’s indoor training accessories without needing a smartphone.

wahoo elemnt bolt review at contender bicycles mapping and rerouting

Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt In Use

I should clarify that while I have used the range of Garmin cycling computers as well as a few from Bryton and Stages, the original Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt was my computer of choice. Everything that I liked - and disliked as well - about the original Bolt largely applies here, just with a few changes. 

The screen is a huge upgrade. Not only does the selective use of color make it easier to view, but the screen is also physically closer to the Gorilla Glass outer layer, cutting out of shadowing and potential discoloration. The additional colors make data more legible; when you’re riding you would rather know what zone your heart rate or power is than the exact number, which Wahoo uses to call out specific zones. Coloring data zones seems minimal, but at a glance is something I’ve really come to appreciate. 

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Then there are the buttons. I might be in the minority, but I got along well with the previous Bolt. But these new buttons are easier to push due to their raised profile. The buttons on the front and side have a positive clickiness that seems to be lost on other brands. And as before, the two right-side buttons offer a zoom function, allowing quick adjustment of the number of data fields one might want. Press the up button for more data, and the down button for less data; simple and intuitive.

While I use my computer to keep an eye on heart rate or power on occasion, I use a cycling computer largely for at-a-glance navigation, and the Wahoo Bolt is a bit hit-or-miss here. The new Bolt features on-device navigation that the old one didn’t, with built-in mapping and rerouting that seems a bit faster than what Google Maps spits out for bike navigation. Further, the on-screen prompts, in conjunction with the LED row up top, do a fine job of notifying the rider of turns without being distracting.

There are some missing pieces here. A lack of an input method on the Bolt means that there’s no way to enter an address on the phone; rather, you just scroll until you find approximately where you want to go. You could route to an already-saved home address, or route to start, but there is no way to input specific addresses just by using the computer. There is also no way to build a specific route on the phone app. You choose your destination, Wahoo builds the route, and that's all that you can do. It has never put me on busy high-speed roads unless that was only way to the destination, fortunately.

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However, once you have a location entered, the Bolt does a decent job of building a bike-friendly route, one that is often better than what Google Maps spits out. It also seems to be a bit faster at creating a new route should you find yourself off-course. 

Of course, this is rectified in Wahoo’s ELEMNT phone app, which I think is how Wahoo intends for people to take care of complicated tasks. There, you can input addresses, names, and other things, and use routes synced from the likes of MTB Project, Strava, or other places. This, to my eyes, is what sets Wahoo computers apart from the competition: the Wahoo ELEMNT companion app.

Without the Wahoo ELEMNT app, the Bolt is severely limited in functionality compared to the competition. But the app makes light work of otherwise boring or oft-frustrating tasks. Pairing sensors - like a heart rate monitor or smart trainer - is much more intuitive on the app. And setting up data pages - a task liable for frustration and discomfort on a Garmin - is a drag-and-drop process on the smartphone app. Just about any setting can be adjusted through the app, leaving only the simplest settings as adjustable through the Bolt computer. Not pairing your phone to your computer means you lose out on Wahoo’s auto-track feature, which sends designated contacts information about where you’re going. None of these features make your riding any better, but it brings peace of mind and simplicity to a ride.

wahoo elemnt bolt 2021 review final ride statistics

Wahoo’s quoted battery life of 15 hours is the same as the previous generation Bolt. As an owner of both models, I believe that figure to be fairly accurate, with actions like constant GPS not changing battery life all that much. Charging from dead to 100% charge takes about one hour and forty-five minutes. 

If there is a flaw I’ve seen in the months of use of the Bolt it is somewhat spotty GPS tracking. Wahoo claims the Bolt uses GPS, Galileo, and GLONASS satellite tracking. This should offer strong location tracking, but that hasn’t always been the case. The auto-pause feature doesn’t always stop and start as quickly as preferred, and things like thick tree cover can sometimes flummox the computer into thinking it isn’t moving. 

Recent firmware updates seem to have fixed the issues with location tracking. It is something that I rarely notice if I am commuting, or riding road or gravel. But on mountain bike trails that consist of loads of low-speed maneuvering - and often under tree cover - the stop-start could still be improved. If you want to maximize your distance ridden on a mountain bike trail with the Bolt, a dedicated speed sensor will make sure the stop-start functions to a tee.

wahoo elemnt bolt power setup for kickr trainer

Conclusion

As said at the beginning, the second generation Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt GPS bike computer isn’t a giant leap forward when compared to the previous Bolt. Rather, it is a refinement of their winning formula and arguably their best computer to date. The price has gone up, but the overall product feels much more premium than before in both looks and functionality. A color screen, particularly how Wahoo uses it, is a step forward in legibility. The inclusion of on-device navigation and built-in maps functions quickly and makes riding in unfamiliar areas far simpler. Add in the inclusion of a USB-C port, and just about every qualm people had with the Bolt has been addressed.

If you have come here to decide between this and a Garmin computer, the best way to consider the two is when considering an iPhone or an Android device. An equivalent Garmin Edge 530 has more features, but there is a steeper learning curve, more bugs to deal with, and most of the customization must be done through the device itself. With the Bolt, just about all serious customization is done through the ELEMNT app, resulting in a cleaner, albeit simpler, computer interface. Both are great options, but people will surely prefer one over the other with use.

Is the Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt a better computer than a Garmin Edge 530? Hard to say. But what is clear is that Wahoo fans will be happy with the latest from the Georgia-based fitness company.

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