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!
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Thanks for the great writing, all of the garmin issues you mentioned happened to me too, so you just helped me to decide and buy the wahoo device. Hoping to get good results as you did. Thanks
Thanks for the compliment! And good timing for a new ELEMNT. Wahoo just released an updated version of the Bolt that has some of the same features as the Roam. :D
Insightful and to the point. Thank you!
Thanks Garrett! Much appreciated! :D
Great review, nice blog, I'll come back once in a while
Navigation features are a plus, but you can't you also do that with a Bolt (smartphone app, komoot smartphone, ... => sync to bolt) ?
Well, yes and no. Yes, the Bolt does have navigation features and it works...it's just that the Roam works better.
Some of the navigation features of the Roam would be missed if I switched back to a Bolt. I'd miss the way maps look on the screen vs the Bolt. I would miss the "Back on Track", "Route to Start", route retrace, and other similar features. I would also miss the automatic rerouting when I decide to go a different route.
Don't get me wrong, I owned a Bolt and it's a fantastic bike computer. In fact, many people will be just fine with the navigation capabilities of the Bolt. For me though I appreciate the features of the Roam better.
There are a number of other differences and, if you really want to dive into that, checkout DC Rainmaker's rather thorough review of the Roam:
Very nice review thanks!
In the 3 months you used the 830 were the only issues the sensors? Because that's not a big issue for me. I don't want the device to stop working, GPS signal lost, zooming in/out buggy, ...
I also had issues with Garmin Connect as well as some of the plugins causing lockups of the unit while riding. Pretty much ended up riding without any plugins installed. Not a fan of Garmin Connect either. Just too buggy and frustrating to use. I wrote about it here: https://velonut.com/blog/garmin-connect-vs-wahoo-elemnt-companion
Hello from another software architect who also cycles for health reasons and enjoys gravel. I've had a Bolt for almost 2 years and really like it. I just got the Roam and took it on a short ride with my fat bike and agree with your comparisons but I noticed the bottom buttons require a much firmer press than my Bolt. With my Bolt I just needed an easy finger press and could feel the click but the Roam needs a firm press and I sometimes feel the click. Have you noticed the same thing? I only used the Bolt with the stem mount on my fat bike and haven't tried it with the out front mount on my gravel bike yet.
Now that you mention it, yeah, I do find the buttons can be hard to press. I thought it was due to the rubberized case I have around it but it might not be. I'm thinking of taking the case off so...think I'll try that and see if it changes anything. Case kind of gets in the way anyways...especially with the side buttons.
Thanks for the quick reply and let me know what you find with your case off. Comparing my Bolt and Roam side-by-side there was a noticeable difference. I did contact Wahoo and here was their response.
Thank you for reaching out. The buttons on the ROAM do indeed have a more recessed feel when compared to the Bolt and are designed so that a firm press is required (preventing inadvertent input on rough roads for example), this is normal and not a cause for concern. Our mounts are designed and tested with this in mind and this should not be cause for concern.
Honestly, what Wahoo says does make sense. I personally wouldn’t want any of the buttons to be too sensitive. So, yeah, if it does require a bit more of a firm press then I’m ok with that. Will take off the case and try it. Honestly don’t think I really need it. :P
I mounted mine to my gravel bike and while it does take a firmer press than the Bolt it works just fine.
I found an iPhone app called EasyRoute which makes creating routes fast and easy and you can send it directly to the ELEMNT app. With the ELEMNT app you can route to a location but can't change the points in-between but can with EasyRoute.
Interesting. I've tried the EasyRoute app in the past. Like the fact that you can alter the route pretty easily. I use Footpath https://footpathapp.com most of the time. Just like the way it works. However, it doesn't have the ability to export to RideWithGPS so there's that.
I'll have to check out that Footpath.
Did find something with my Roam over the weekend where it was late giving turn alerts. Several times I would make the turn and the screen would show "Turn in 137'". Have you seen this with your Roam?
I've had hiccups with my Roam here and there. Had it lock up on me mid ride one time. I probably have had times when it acts the way you describe. If I had to guess, the problem is likely due to the processor. Pretty much all the ELEMNT's are a bit underpowered. But, honestly, between the Garmin Edge 830 that I used before and the Roam, I think the Roam is more stable. I'll take stable with a few hiccups over fast and buggy any day of the week. The Roam isn't perfect but it's still very good at what it does.
Greet review on the Wahoo Bolt / Roam / Edge 830. I’m considiring an Bolt or Roam myself. What i’m missing in the review is the battery life of the devices. Currently using an Edge 820 and the battery last max 100km (after 3 years). How is you experience on the battery life of these devices?
I had a Bolt before upgrading to the Roam and was very satisfied with the battery life. Wahoo claims that the Roam gets 17 hours of battery life, which will definitely cover you for a 100km ride. Strangely enough, the battery life for a Bolt is a 15 hours, a couple hours less. That actually makes sense when you consider that the screen size is smaller and thus the battery inside is likely smaller as well. If battery life is the determining factor then I think a Roam would be a better choice. The more I ride with it the more I favor it over the Bolt.
Thank you for your reply. Went to my local bike store today and had a quick look. Will check out the Sigma Sports Rox 12 this weekend and then make up my mind.
I need to read up on that one. Sigma seems to be stepping up their game a bit. DC Rainmaker wrote a review for that one. Seems they're going after Garmin.
Hi. Read your review thanks for it . I’m considering a computer been riding 20 years without one but if I can find a nice, simple reliable module I might take the leap soon. These 2 have been out awhile now anyone have any idea if wahoo is due for an update soon?
My pleasure! Glad you liked it! Good question about updates to the ELEMNT's.
What's missing from their lineup is the original one that was simply called the Wahoo ELEMNT. It was more or less a bigger version of the Bolt, about the same size as the Roam. They nixed it in favor of the Roam since they were so similar.
My guess is that they might reintroduce the ELEMNT but go a bit further than the Roam by adding a more efficient, faster processor and a bigger full color screen. Those two things alone would allow them to compete more closely with Garmin, whose Edge 530/830 and 1030 series computers are what everyone compares with the ELEMNT's. Wahoo really needs at least one really snappy, full featured computer to appease those looking for more advanced features. The ELEMNT's are fantastic computers but just not as fast or as full featured as the Edge computers...but they're more stable, which is why Wahoo does so well with them.
I'm totally satisfied with the Roam but I would love to see a faster one with a full color screen. I think Wahoo would be wise to release an ELEMNT like that. :D
Thanks for the reply! Yeah I saw Garmin came out w new and improved hardware recently so maybe spring 2021 wahoo matches it? I like their simpler style and interface as I live in nyc and riding is basically repetitive so don’t need all the route info etc it’s a big rat maze but I like the ride data etc I’d love to see a fast, updated slim and trim computer with some interface customization
Great review and I’m now settled on the Roam after your review. But after reading all your reply’s I’m not buying one till the larger screen and faster processor comes out. I’ll buy it then!
Ha! Yeah, i admit thats an edge that Garmin has. That said, speed is less a factor really. I haven't noticed many times that my Roam stuttters on the map screen, whish is where it would likely show the most. My guess is that new Wahoo computers are imminent. Bet they'll reveal a more powerful ELEMNT with full color soon.