If you have ever relied upon a GPS to guide you through the wilds, you’ll know they can be frustrating. The display may be too small, or too busy, and some computers are so hard to use that you spend more time swiping through screens than actually riding. Wahoo turned the market upside down when they first released the ELEMNT in 2016. The device just worked and was a doddle to setup and use thanks to the accompanying mobile phone app.
The new Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM is an evolution rather than a revolution of the original ELEMNT. Designed to bring the GPS device bang up to date and keep it level with the competition. Is it a case of if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it or have Wahoo improved upon perfection?
Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM bike computer
As this is ADVNTR, we’re going to test the ELEMNT ROAM from the view of a gravel/adventure cyclist. You’ll find in-depth unboxing reviews and integration with power meters elsewhere on the web. With the ROAM, Wahoo have set out to solve real rider problems.
The ROAM features a colour 2.7-inch screen utilising 7 core colours. If you’ve ever picked up a GameBoy, you’ll feel a familiar sense of nostalgia. Wahoo haven’t gone crazy with the colours either. Most of the data screens are monochrome, only dipping into technicolour on the map view and alerts.
The Bike Computer Simplified
Like all Wahoo bike computers, ROAM setup and navigation are managed by the Mobile Companion App. It’s simple, user friendly and only takes a few minutes to become accustomed to. You don’t need to be a computer nerd to pair the devices. Turn on the ROAM for the first time and a QR code appears. Hold your smartphone camera over it, and they pair automatically.
The ROAM pairs with routes in many popular cycling apps like Komoot and MapMyRide. Select or create routes in those apps, and you can download and ride them on the ROAM. I’ve always uploaded or created routes via the Wahoo app. It’s by far the slickest feature of the whole Wahoo experience. Creating routes on the phone is quick and easy, and zaps over to the device in seconds. Once out riding, you can put your phone away and operate the device directly through the various menus.
It’s easy to zoom in and out of the map while you’re moving. But as the screen isn’t of the touch variety, you can’t simply scroll around the map and explore the area further afield. This inability to explore the map was cause for frustration when finding myself in unfamiliar corners of the country. Sure, you can pan around the map when using the ‘navigate me to’ function, but in the standard map view, you can only zoom in and out. A software update to rectify this would save ROAM users from cursing and stopping to pull out their phones!
On the flip side, the lack of touch screen means the ROAM works faultlessly in the real world of cycling. The buttons respond to gloved hands, they work in the rain and they work in mud. Users familiar with touchscreens will be accustomed to furious swiping gestures on their screens and not getting the response they desired.
Wahoo are very proud that ROAM can direct you back to your planned route if you go off-course. Garmin users will probably chuckle, but this is A Big Thing in Wahoo World. As simple as it sounds, it’s a real improvement over the ELEMNT. The re-routing works effectively too – go off route and a blue bread-crumb trail will guide you effortlessly back on to the course. Route re-calculation is about as quick as the ROAM’s competitors and it’s never done anything stupid to date, such as route me down a motorway.
ROAM will also navigate you to the start of your route if you are riding in from somewhere else to the start-point. When you’ve finished a ride, or you need to bail-out and get home the shortest way possible, ROAM directs you. It also lets you retrace your route back to the start.
Where are we?
As with all Wahoo GPS devices, ROAM uses Open Street Maps for its base maps. The detail of these maps varies from country to country. For the UK at least, they are OK. It’s often confusing when studying the map whether a trail is a permissive right of way or private. There is also little consistency for differentiating between footpaths, bridleways and byways. Sometimes a trail is marked as a blue dotted line, sometimes a black one. Comparing with Ordnance Survey makes Wahoo’s trail mapping look rather random.
To overcome the limits of the display, more map detail is lost the further you zoom out. There have been times where the map on my screen has been completely devoid of features. If you are heading out into the great unknown, take a backup map with you!
Battery life and build
If you’re planning a big ride, Wahoo claim that the device has a 17 hour battery life. In my not so stringent lab tests, with the ROAM set to map display and the ambient light on auto, while connected to a HR monitor, I got closer to 10 hours. The ROAM has a Micro-USB port, so it is easy to recharge the device on-the-fly from a battery-pack or dynamo. I’m disappointed they didn’t add a USB-C connector to make plugging-in less of a fumble. To keep tabs on battery consumption, Wahoo have fitted the ROAM with an energy-saving ambient light sensor. This automatically adjusts screen brightness and turns the backlight on or off in changing light conditions.
From a design perspective, the ROAM’s blocky but functional styling certainly looks robust and we’ve had no issues with build quality. The buttons have a rubberised finish to them to ensure the ROAM can withstand whatever the weather throws at it. The three main buttons on the face of the device are slightly recessed and are not the most responsive – it can take a few firm prods before finding the microswitch and making the device respond.
Along with a ziptie secured stem mount (whats wrong with rubber bands?), Wahoo include a ROAM-specific out-front mount. It’s great for road riding, but puts the computer in a vulnerable position for off-road use. The sleek lines of the mount are meant to give the appearance of an integrated look, but it does get in the way of bar bags. It also has a UCI-approved security screw to prevent removal of the device from the mount… You can leave that feature in the box.
Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM Updates
One thing Wahoo have always been great with is their continued support for their product. The Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM is no different and I have seen a steady stream of updates install on the device during the 3 month test period. Most of these have been functionality improvements and enhancements to the map display.
Often, Wahoo will listen to rider feedback and add new features. One cool update added compatibility with the Garmin Varia radar light. This rear light can alert you to cars coming up behind you by displaying an alert on the GPS screen. The way Wahoo have integrated this with their system works even better than Garmin’s own interpretation. Both alerting you with an audible bleep, flashing red LEDs and the position of the car behind you. This update was backwards compatible, meaning ELEMNT and BOLT users can both benefit.
For many, the Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT ticks all the boxes for a simple but effective GPS computer. The original ELEMNT fulfilled the needs of those who wanted a larger screen for navigation. With the new ROAM, Wahoo have wisely kept all the features we have come to love of their devices. The key one for me is the ease of use. It just works, with no messing.
In 2016 the original ELEMNT was a game changer. It kicked Garmin where it hurt by offering a robust, user friendly device at a competitive price. However, a basic colour display and navigation re-routing doesn’t drop jaws in 2019 and it is not enough to draw Garmin users over to the Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM.
Last modified: 30th November 2019