Long Term Review: Wahoo ELEMNT Roam

by Jeff Whitfield on | 2 Comments

Reviews

My Wahoo ELEMNT Roam
My Wahoo ELEMNT Roam

I’ve been using my Wahoo ELEMENT Roam for nearly a year so I figure now is as good a time as any to report on how I feel about the Roam, both the good and the bad.

Now, this isn’t going to be a highly detailed review of the Roam. If you’re looking for that, I highly recommend reading the DC Rainmaker review which, as always, is done with excruciating detail...but in a good way! :)

After riding with a Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt and then a Garmin Edge 830 for a brief period, my experience with bike computers has led me to certain expectations. So, for this review, I’ll focus on the five things I look for in a bike computer:

  1. Battery Life
  2. In-Ride Reliability
  3. Decent Navigation
  4. Sync Reliability
  5. Data Backups

If the past couple years have taught me anything, it’s that these are the core issues that matter the most when it comes to a decent bike computer. You can have all the bells and whistles but, at the end of the day, none of it matters unless your bike computer can cover the basics...and in spades for that matter.

With that, let’s dive in and talk about the first item on the list.

Battery Life

When it comes to battery life, my expectation is that my bike computer is capable of lasting a full day of cycling. For past rides, that meant lasting from 8am to about 4pm; a good 8 hours. My first bike computer, an ELEMNT Bolt, had no problems meeting that expectation, nor did the Garmin Edge 830.

The new challenge though is having a bike computer that can last for the duration of a century ride. For me, that could end up being a good 10-12 hours, if not longer. The Roam is said to have a battery life of up to 17 hours, which technically means it should be more than capable of meeting that expectation.

So then, how well does the Roam do with battery life? Does it meet my expectation? Well, yes...then no...then yes again.

Upon getting the Roam, I started out with just four sensors attached: a power meter, cadence sensor, speed sensor, and heart rate monitor. Later, I added a Garmin Varia and upgraded my power meter to a Stages crank-based power meter, which included an integrated cadence sensor.

I pretty much keep all the settings set to their defaults, which includes the defaults for backlighting and LEDs. I also allow Bluetooth connectivity with my phone so that I can receive messages on my Roam while riding. These are all things that can cause a bit of drain on the battery but, honestly, I never noticed it being a problem so I just leave them on.

Initially, battery life was absolutely fantastic with the Roam. Longer multi-hour rides never appeared to cause any serious battery drain. That is, until about two months ago.

I started noticing that on long rides my Roam would shut down unexpectedly. The first time it happened, I thought it was just because I failed to plug-in my Roam to charge after a prior ride. Nope! As time went by, I noticed that battery life was getting worse and worse to the point where the Roam would shutdown after just a couple of hours. Something was askew!

After a series of experiments, I narrowed down the problem. It seems that my Roam was malfunctioning whenever it used Bluetooth to connect with my phone. Even just sitting there with no sensors attached, having my phone connected to the Roam would cause it to suck it dry within just an hour or two. However, even without a phone connection, battery life was reduced to just 3-4 hours. No bueno!

The good news is that Wahoo took care of it. I contacted Wahoo support and, after working through and verifying the problem, Wahoo sent me a new Roam! Have to say, my experience with Wahoo support has been stellar. Not only did they take care of the problem in an expedient manner, but they reassured me in the process. I was told that the battery issue would be resolved regardless of whether I was within the warranty period or not. That was definitely reassuring. Now, I don’t know if that’s a sign of Wahoo being aware of any ongoing battery issues with the Roam. Being that I haven’t read of any ongoing issues, I just buck it up to Wahoo having a solid customer satisfaction policy. Issues like this shouldn’t be contingent on any warranty so, yeah, way to go Wahoo! Thumbs up!

After receiving my new Roam, battery life is now back to normal. A one-hour ride with all sensors attached and settings set to their defaults resulted in just a 4% decrease in battery life. Stellar! Hopefully this will last and my new Roam won’t have the same issue as the prior one. Suffice to say, battery life is fantastic...err...when the Roam is functioning properly that is.

In-Ride Reliability

My first bike computer was a Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt, which was incredibly reliable and set the benchmark for what a bike computer should be for me. The Garmin Edge 830 that replaced it turned out to be a bit of a dud. I’ve talked about this experience while comparing the Roam with the Edge 830. These two bike computers showed me two ends of the spectrum when it comes to reliability.

Fortunately, the Roam ended up being closer to my experience with the Bolt. In-ride reliability ended up being really good. There are times when the Roam will lag a bit but nothing I feel is a sheer showstopper. Functionally, the Roam does what it is supposed to do for each ride. Basically, it just works.

The Roam is not without its problems though. I will say that I had a few times when my Roam locked up. It only happened a couple of times and required a forced restart of my Roam. I buck this up to being something that is perhaps linked to the battery problems I was having. Still, being that it only happened those few times I’ll take it. Compared to the reliability issues of the Edge 830 over just a few months, having a few lockups over the course of an entire year is way better.

Like with most things, I don’t expect perfection...just a decent level of reliability. Like website hosting companies with their 99.9% uptime guarantees. Even that’s a bit much. With the Roam, I think it ended up being close to a 97-98% uptime, which is just fine. The newly replaced one will likely beat that uptime so I’m totally satisfied.

Decent Navigation

Some of the most common questions I get asked about the Roam are related to its navigation capabilities. Many folks want to know how well it stacks up compared to the latest Garmin devices as well as the Bolt. The short answer is that the navigation capabilities are a nice upgrade from the Bolt but not quite as good as what Garmin offers.

However, some context is necessary since much of it depends on how you use your bike computer. If you like to change your route on the fly mid-ride then the Roam might not be to your liking. I’ll talk about that in a second. But for solid navigation with a predetermined route, the Roam does a good job and you’ll likely be satisfied.

But I do have some likes and dislikes with navigation.

One thing I really like is the quality of the maps on the Roam. Compared to the bitmap quality of the Bolt, the mapping on the Roam feels more like real maps with sharper lines and color that relay information more effectively. However, there are aspects that make Garmin’s better.

First, street names don’t appear on maps with the Roam, whereas on an Edge 830 they do. Most of the time, this isn’t a problem but I will honestly say that I kind of miss it after using the Edge 830 for a time. I think this is one feature that Wahoo would do well to improve upon.

Second, the full color quality of maps on the Edge 830 are better. The extra color simply adds more information and helps differentiate the environment better. The Edge 530/830 series does have better processors so that probably explains why Wahoo chose to keep colors at a minimum.

But where the Roam has an edge is a screen that is just a little bit bigger and sharper. While color is used appropriately and works well, I do think Wahoo should take more advantage of the capabilities of the screen. Then again, it’s possible that Wahoo is being minimalist on purpose in an effort to keep processing down. After all, do you really want your bike computer lagging just so you can have extra color and street names? Probably not.

The navigation features that are perhaps the most useful on the Roam are things like Back On Track, Route To Start, and Retrace Your Route. The Back On Track feature is perhaps the most useful. If you find yourself having to take a detour, diverge from your route, or simply get lost, the Back On Track feature will help you find the shortest way back to your normal route. The Roam does a pretty good job of giving you a solid route but it’s not perfect. On occasion, you might find that the route it gives you isn’t ideal. Sometimes you have to just use your best judgement and realize that your bike computer is just a tool and can be wrong at times.

I personally had a few instances where the Roam would choose a less than ideal way to get back on my route. Granted, it was certain “a way” and it would work...but being there in the moment told me there was a better way. Once I started on a different path, the Roam would catch-up and would reroute to show the improved path. So, yeah, not perfect but at least adaptive.

For those looking for on-the-fly routing, this is the one area that is lacking pretty much with any Wahoo device. While you can create a route on the fly with the Roam, compared to Garmin devices, it’s really basic. It amounts to moving a crosshair on the map view to set a new destination. There’s no way to search for specific places or use an address to set a destination. In order to do that, you have to use the ELEMNT Companion app.

Honestly, it’s pretty rare I have to set a destination on the fly. Most of my routes are predetermined and synced from Strava, RideWithGPS, and the like. I carry my phone with me on every rides so, if I do need to lookup and set a destination, I honestly do not mind pulling out my phone. I see it as a plus really. It reduces the complexity of the Roam leading to more stability. One less thing that can go wrong, right?

Syncing routes from Strava, RideWithGPS, and other sources is a straight-forward affair. You do have to fire up the ELEMNT Companion app though and sync the route to your Roam. Once it’s synced, it’s always there and available for selection within the Roam itself.

Once a route is started, the turn-by-turn directions kick in. I tend to flip-flop between the map view and the main workout screen. Most of the time, the navigation works smoothly with notifications happening in ample time before turns. Sometimes this lags and the notification for a turn will happen literally right when I’m supposed to turn. It doesn’t happen very often...just every once in a while. Again, navigation is just a tool so if I’m not familiar with the route I’ll keep it in map view so I know what to expect. Otherwise, I’ll keep it on the workout screen and use the notifications more as a reminder.

My needs are fairly minimal for navigation. I honestly don’t need a bunch of bells and whistles. I prefer a bike computer with simple, effective navigation. To me, that simplicity equates to more reliability. Fortunately, the Roam fits the bill. Heck, even the Bolt meets that criteria...but the Roam fits my needs better, especially for gravel rides when navigating off the beaten path is needed.

Sync Reliability

Syncing your rides to third-party services is pretty much a standard feature with just about any bike computer. The ability to sync to Strava, RideWithGPS, and other services can make or break any device. However, the way each bike computer does this is a bit different.

With both the Bolt and Roam, syncing is primarily done through the ELEMNT Companion app. Fortunately, the services available are pretty thorough and include all of the most popular platforms. I have mine set to sync with Strava, RideWithGPS, Relive, Dropbox, and a few others.

Once you’ve authorized each source, most rides are synced automatically as long as your Roam is either near your phone or connected to a WiFi network. Most of the time, the automatic sync happens almost immediately after I stop a ride. However, every now and then, I have to fire up the ELEMNT Companion app and force it to sync. Doesn’t happen very often though so no biggie. Connection issues happen so I don’t fret when it occurs.

By comparison, syncing with the Garmin Edge 830 was a mixed bag. It primarily wants to sync with Garmin Connect first before it syncs with anything else. Even then, some services aren’t built-in and require a plugin to sync rides to them.

There’s also an over-reliance with Garmin Connect. We learned this when Garmin Connect went down. If it’s down, no syncing at all can occur. Personally, I think Garmin should allow syncing to any service without requiring a connection to Garmin Connect, which is precisely how Wahoo does it.

While Wahoo does sync rides to their own server, syncing to third-parties is entirely done in the ELEMNT Companion app. The benefit of this is that it handles the authentication with third-parties, leaving their servers out of the equation. Basically, what that means is that if Wahoo’s servers go down then, technically, you should still be able to sync your rides to third-parties through the app. That’s a really good thing in my opinion.

Data Backups

Along with syncing, there’s also the issue with keeping a running backup of your ride data. While Wahoo’s servers appear to be pretty reliable, it’s not a good idea to rely on just one service to store all your ride data. For the most part, as long as you have rides synced with Wahoo and at least one other third-party service then you should be set.

Rule of thumb is to keep your ride data saved in three places. Remember: backup, backup, backup.

I have a total of about four places a ride could potentially be stored. The sync made to Wahoo is one. Syncs made to Strava act as a second backup. While it’s not one of the primary services I use, I also add RideWithGPS which I do use now and then for routing purposes. That’s the third.

But the last one is the most important one: Dropbox. The ELEMNT Companion app will drop a FIT file to Dropbox, which contains all the data associated with a given ride, including route data. Compared to any other source, this one is by far the most important one of all of them. Not only are those FIT files saved to Dropbox’s servers, they’re also synced to my main computer at home which, in turn, is backed up to two other places: an external hard drive and Backblaze. Pretty redundant, right?

So, between all these sources, keeping a running backup of all my rides is a piece of cake. But keep in mind that your backups won’t happen if third-party syncs aren’t happening reliably. That’s why the ability to have a reliable way to sync to third-party sources is so important. Without it, you won’t have a reliable way to have backups as well. Fortunately, the Roam provides that with a highly reliable way to sync with third-party services.

Conclusion

So, after a year, my Roam kind of crapped out on me. But, thanks to the splendid support from Wahoo, I got a replacement under warranty. Does that mean that the Roam is as unreliable as the Garmin Edge 830 that replaced it? Nope. Far from it. That’s primarily due to the fact that, aside from the battery issues and the few times it locked up, the Roam still ran like a champ. It still worked even with these issues. That’s pretty amazing when you think about it. Says a lot about the design of Wahoo’s bike computers.

I was pleasantly surprised with the Bolt and I continue to be surprised with the Roam. Wahoo’s products continue to get better and better. And, while they might not be quite as fancy as Garmin bike computers, I do believe they’re better in many ways, certainly more reliable. I’ve also looked at the rest of the competition and feel that the Roam has a leading edge over other bike computers as well. Perhaps after reading this review, you’ll buy a Wahoo ELEMNT Roam and, after a year, you’ll come to the same conclusion as I did.

Happy pedaling! :D



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Comments
on

Hello there. I saw the good explanation in you. And as someone caught between garmin 830 and roam, I think I'll buy roam (: my only doubt was on navigation

on

Hi Ersin! Thanks for the comment! So glad I was able to help! :D