Posted on November 17th, 2019 by Jeff Whitfield | Comments

Commentary Reviews

Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM and BOLT Side-by-Side Comparison

Recently, a reader wrote me asking about which Wahoo ELEMNT bike computer I recommend purchasing: the ROAM or the BOLT?Having owned a Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT before and now currently on a ROAM for a bit, it’s probably high time that I talk about the differences between the two as well as my opinion on which one I prefer and why.

Buying My First Bike Computer

When I started getting super serious about cycling, I was still riding a hybrid bike, a Marin Larkspur to be exact. I was tracking my rides primarily with Cyclemeter using my iPhone. It worked but I didn’t like the idea of mounting my phone to my bike and liked the idea of a dedicated device for tracking my rides.

I had been reading about the concept of training with power rather than heart rate. Doing this requires a power meter and, while it can be done with Cyclemeter, a dedicated bike computer is a more solid way of doing it.

So, in May 2018, after a bit of research, I decided on a Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT. The reviews painted it as a very solid, stable bike computer that was super simple and easy to use. Just a few months later, I added on a Velocomp PowerPod power meter and started a more serious cycling training routine. Just a few months with this setup told me that I had made a very wise choice.

The BOLT definitely spoiled me. Out of all the cycling devices I’ve used, that little bike computer just never let me down. Super easy to use, highly legible display, and paired up with all my sensors 99% of the time with no problems.

It was also one of the few cycling devices that I grew to really love. It’s not as slick as a Garmin Edge device. Nor is it really all that fast. It’s kind of slow really and take a bit of time to even boot up. But it’s super reliable. It’s the one device that I knew I could rely on.

Plus, with Wahoo’s ELEMNT companion app, it’s one of the easiest cycling devices I’ve ever used. Even Cyclemeter wasn’t as easy to use. Nor is the PowerPod power meter I use. Seems clear that Wahoo did a great job in designing the ELEMNT BOLT.

So the question is: What would make me switch away from it?

The Announcement of the Garmin Edge 530/830

When I heard the announcement of the Garmin Edge 530 and 830 earlier this year, I was immediately intrigued. I was already getting into gravel riding and found routing to be a bit of an issue.

The problem is that, while basic routing on roads with the BOLT works well, routes that are off the beaten path totally suck. The map screens just weren’t designed for it. You can see roads and such but at times you can’t see any trails. Plus, if you want to change your route, back track, and/or retrace your steps, you have to stop and dig out your phone to change your route. Not fun to say the least...especially if you’re out in the middle of nowhere!

The Garmin Edge 530/830 series seemed to take care of this problem. Not only was the mapping way better than the BOLT but it also provided quick and easy routing right off the device.

Right around the time I was about the order a Garmin Edge 830, Wahoo announces the new ELEMNT ROAM. I damn near jumped on it but, after reading a bit about it, I felt a little underwhelmed by it. It just looked a bit overpriced for what seemed like a minor upgrade to an ELEMNT BOLT. As such, I went with a Garmin Edge 830 instead. Suffice to say, it proved to be a device that was too good to be true.

The Switch to an ELEMNT ROAM

It took only three months of using a Garmin Edge 830 before I got totally sick of it. I’ve written about this in the second part of my Wahoo ELEMNT ROAM vs Garmin Edge 830 post. The short of it is that I had multiple sensor failures that were so bad that I boxed it up and took it back to my bike shop for an exchange. Fortunately, my bike shop was gracious in letting me make the exchange even after three months of use.

So, now I’m on an ELEMNT Roam and, after a good four months or so of use, what do I think of it? The short answer is that I love it. It’s like a BOLT but better.

Differences between the ELEMNT ROAM and BOLT

I’m not going to lie. On the surface, the differences between these two devices are quite subtle. Looking at the features of each of them on Wahoo’s website you’d think the ROAM was just a bigger version of the BOLT. It’s not. The same DNA is there but there’s some features under the surface that definitely separate the ROAM from the BOLT.

Larger, More Durable Colorized Screen

The BOLT has a 2.2” screen which I found to be a decent size. It’s easy to read even when displaying 7 different metrics. However, once you go over 7 and try to display any more that’s when it starts to become a bit too hard to read.

By comparison, the ROAM has a bit larger 2.7” screen, which might not seem like much but does make a difference. Put it up next to a BOLT and you can instantly tell just how much bigger it really is.

Not only are metrics a bit easier to read but the addition of a colorized screen helps a bit too. I say “colorized” because the screen isn’t actually a full color screen in the same vein as a Garmin Edge device. Wahoo chose to just add splashes of color here and there to help communicate information in a better way. This is most obvious on the map page where color is used to help separate roads, water, and other features from each other. Aside from color being used on certain metrics like heart zones, the maps is the most noticeable feature that uses color. But that’s not the only differences in the screens.

On top of the size and use of color, Wahoo uses Gorilla Glass on the ROAM to help give it more durability and scratch resistance. Being that the ROAM is designed to allow for off-road use the addition of a Gorilla Glass screen is a welcomed addition.

The other thing I noticed about the ROAM screen is that it feels closer to the surface than the BOLT. Combined with the matte finish of the screen, this makes everything much easier to read at virtually any angle with even less glare than the BOLT. Backlighting seems better too, and with an improved ambient light sensor to boot.

Greatly Improved Navigation Features

With the BOLT, you can sync routes to it with turn-by-turn directions and, for the most part, it works just fine. However, that functionality is largely reliant on what service is being used to generate the route. The problem is that the BOLT is not a self-contained navigation device. Anything outside of basic routes requires that you use the ELEMNT companion app to change any routing.

Unlike the BOLT, the ROAM is a much more capable routing device. It has the ability to do routing directly on the device. This comes into play with a few features that allow you to get back on your route (Back on Track), retrace your route, route to start, and other quick navigation features. You can even pinpoint a spot and the ROAM will calculate what it thinks is the best route to that spot, all without the need of the companion app.

And, thanks to the colorized screen, views of the map and directions on the ROAM feel much easier to use than the basic black screens of the BOLT. The maps on the ROAM just feel more refined when compared to the BOLT.

Granted, the mapping on the ROAM isn’t as good as a Garmin Edge but, honestly, it doesn’t need to be. After using it a while, I found the navigation capabilities of the ROAM to be adequate. There have been a few instances where I needed to stop and whip out my phone but those were situations that kind of called for it.

Quicklook LED Indicators

The top LED indicators from the BOLT are retained but Wahoo added the side LED indicators from the original ELEMNT as well. Now, to be honest, I didn’t find the top LED indicator to be particularly useful from the BOLT. Still don’t. On occasion, it helped with things like turn indicators and heart rate monitoring...but on a bright, sunny day they’re more or less useless. You just can’t see them.

The same can be said on the ROAM as well. The addition of side LED indicators is nice but the usefulness is still somewhat limited.

The main use I have found with the side indicators is when I’m doing an outdoor workout. The side LED indicators are just good enough to give me an indication on whether I’m within range of my power targets. I found this to be a bit easier to follow than staring at the target power metric. Changes in color along with the centering of LED lights help me know if I’m staying on target. It’s probably the most practical use with the new LED indicators.

Which One Should You Choose?

Like I said, the differences between these two devices is subtle but they’re important differences nonetheless. Basically, it boils down to the kind of riding you’re after.

If you’re primarily a road cyclist and your routes are pre-planned then a Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT might be the perfect bike computer for you. For those who are concerned about weight, it’s a bit lighter than a ROAM (2.2oz vs 3.3oz). You’ll be making some sacrifices with a smaller screen but, unless your routes change frequently, it’s not likely you’ll miss the more advanced navigation features of the ROAM. The bigger color screen is nice but for most road cyclists it’s simply not needed. Compared to the ROAM, the BOLT is simply a bit more conservative.

If you’re someone looking to ride longer routes or even off-road then the ROAM might be a much better choice. Gravel riders, touring/adventure cyclists, and even some mountain bike riders will especially like the newer navigation features of the ROAM. Adding an extra ounce of weight isn’t likely to be an issue so having a bigger, more legible screen is a plus. Overall, it’s a device that is just dying to be added to a more adventurous bike.

My Choice: The ROAM

For me, the ROAM is a better fit. I only have one bike and that bike takes me on road, on gravel, and everywhere in-between. I also need the navigation features that the ROAM provides. My bike computer needs to be somewhat robust but also super reliable. It’s in a sense my lifeline. While it tells me how I’m performing and where I’m going, it also tells me how I’m doing.

The Garmin Edge 830 failed me in the worst possible way. I was in the middle of a big 57-mile ride on a hot summer day when my heart rate monitor decided to start dropping out. I had no idea what my heart rate was for the last half of the day when it was at its hottest. Was I over exerting myself? Was my heart rate too high? Was I red lining? No idea. All the fancy maps and features of the Edge didn’t mean shit at that point. The only thing that mattered was that it failed in the one job that meant the most to me at that given time.

The ROAM isn’t like that. It’s not a Garmin Edge. It’s not the fastest bike computer nor is it the fanciest. There’s a simplicity to it that Garmin units simply don’t have. While Garmin aims for having the most cutting-edge features, Wahoo aims for stability and ease of use. I think this is why I love the ROAM so much: It just @$%#ing works!