Wahoo ELEMENT ROAM Cycling GPS In-Depth Review

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Sometimes, I don’t quite know how to start a product review. And unfortunately, today is one of those days.

See, the thing is, when I review products – price is an important piece of the equation. Just as it is for any number of decisions you make daily any time you open your wallet. Your constantly balancing the value prop for a given thing you’re contemplating purchasing. Be it deciding whether that stale bagel at Starbucks is worth the apparent premium for being convenient to where you picked up your coffee, or as complex as deciding on a new bike computer.  And if there’s any overarching theme of today, it’s going to be a complete misunderstanding of that value prop. Unfortunately, it’s also far deeper than that.

It’s been a shade over two years since Wahoo released the black and white screen BOLT (officially known as the Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT), and in that time the product has received numerous firmware updates adding a pile of new features. While both the BOLT and the earlier ELEMENT did contains maps, they weren’t fully routable maps. Meaning that you had to pre-load courses for any sorts of navigation tasks. Additionally, it couldn’t re-route on streets if you got off-track. It just gave you an arrow in the general direction of your track and said ‘good luck’.

And to be fair, that works fine for lots of people – even including myself from time to time.

But the competition has stepped up. In those two years there’s new entrants from the highly vibrant display and deep navigational features of the Hammerhead Karoo at $ 399. Garmin released their Edge 520 Plus with full routing at $ 279, and Sigma topped out the higher end with their ROX 12. And that’s before we even consider last weeks Edge 530 ($ 299), and Edge 830 ($ 399) units from Garmin. Today, people expect at the $ 299 price point to have routing and on-device navigation. And at $ 399, it better be fantastic. Like, rainbow farting pony fantastic.

Though you know what, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself a bit. First off, as usual I was sent a media/PR loaner of the new Wahoo ROAM back in mid-March, and have been using it (and providing feedback) since. Once I’m done with it here in the next few days it goes back to Wahoo like everything else. Simple as that. If you find this review useful, and want to support this site, hit up the links at the end of the post.

What’s new:

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It’s best to start out with what’s new in the unit.  For this I’m using the existing BOLT/ELEMNT as the reference point. Both units share the same firmware, with the only differences being the extra LED strip and screen size.  So feature-wise, everything from those past units is there, and it retains the LED’s of the larger format ELEMENT (side and top).  Thus everything below assumes that as the baseline.

– New color 2.7” (68.6mm) screen, flush with top of unit, not reflective
– Added ambient light sensor (adjusts display settings automatically)
– Added ‘Get me started’, which gets you to the starting point of your ride (used pre-ride)
– Added saved locations
– Added ability to get back to route (aka ‘Back on Track’)
– Added ability to retrace a route back to the starting pint
– Added ‘Route to Start’ using shortest possible route back to start of ride (used when you want to be done)
– Added new additional map zoom levels
– Added elevation graph on the map page
– Added new app integration with MTB Project and Singletracks for pulling routes (requires phone)
– Redesigned out-front mount to support larger size of units

In addition, there are two features that will not be present at launch, but will arrive down the road

– Strava Turn by Turn Navigation – This will automatically give turn by turn guidance for Strava downloaded routes (Late May 2019)
– On-Device Elevation – This will give elevation information for routes created on the app/unit (Mid-Late June 2019)

These last two bullets are frankly the most important points out of everything here. As they are fundamental to what should be on any bike computer over $ 250, since that’s the baseline set today with the older Edge 520 Plus at $ 279.  Right now, Wahoo BOLT/ELEMENT users don’t get road-specific turn by turn directions. They just get details that a turn is upcoming. That’s because Wahoo actually depends on the routing provider to give the exact turn information. Kinda like getting the answers for a test.

In the days prior to ROAM, that made sense – as ROAM didn’t have a routable base map. It has what was akin to a napkin drawing of roads without names. Just like Stages has on their units, and others as well.  But in the ROAM era, that wouldn’t do. The whole point of navigation is to get directions, and there’s no bigger fish in the pond than Strava when it comes to route holders. Thankfully, the feature is coming – just not at launch.

The second one is also critical, as Wahoo doesn’t have any elevation data on the unit itself. It depended on 3rd party providers included that data in the routes. So without the elevation data, Wahoo couldn’t provide you with an upcoming elevation profile. The good thing is that this feature is coming in June.

With that, let’s dive into the box.

Unboxing:

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I’ll give Wahoo credit – their box designs are always beautiful and well thought out. As a connoisseur of product boxes, very few in the industry can match what Wahoo does for their bike computer boxes. And the ROAM box is no exception. It screams ‘Buy Me’ on a store shelf, whereas a Garmin box screams ‘Hi, I’m gray’.

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The tray holding the ROAM slides out all silky smooth – complete with the fabric tab to pull it gently. Or something like that.

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After de-plasticing everything, here’s what you’ve got:

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There’s the specially designed out-front mount, as well as the smaller ziptied rubber mount. I will say that it’s a bit annoying Wahoo couldn’t have gone with a rubber banded mount. Zipties? What is this – the 1970’s?

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And similarly, the charging cable remains like Garmin firmly in the early 2000’s, micros-USB. C’mon guys, if GoPro can go USB-C, than surely you can. GoPro folks, GoPro!

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Oh, and here’s the paper stuff you won’t read.

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With that, it’s unboxed and ready to start using. Well, after you download the Wahoo ELEMNT companion app that is.

The Basics:

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Like the Wahoo BOLT before it, the ROAM includes an aero-ish out-front mount. While they’ve seemingly backed away from some of the aero claims with the ROAM (likely because it’s just a bigger boat), the mount is designed to fully embrace the ROAM’s curves, making it appear as one cohesive situation from more than a few feet away.

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On one hand, it really is a beautiful mount. The other hand, there’s no place to mount a GoPro or lights or what-not from the bottom.

The ROAM does maintain the neat locking feature of the BOLT out-front mount, which means you can use a small included screw to lock it to the mount. While that’s a handy anti-theft option, the actual basis is much more simple: pro teams.

You see, by having the unit attached via screw, it becomes part of the permanent weight used for bike weigh-ins (applicable at UCI sanctioned events such as the Tour de France), as opposed to having to remove the unit for the weigh-in.  Since the goal of most weigh-ins is actually to meet the minimum weight threshold, this enables them to do so without ‘adding’ weight afterwards (installing a bike computer after the weigh-in). Thus, this actually saves them weight.

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Finally note that you can use 3rd party mounts, as long as they are Wahoo compatible. Wahoo’s quarter-turn mount is slightly different than Garmin’s – most notably it’s oriented 90* (which means that if you tried to use Garmin out-front mounts, your unit would be sideways). However, if you have the small rubber-banded Garmin mounts, you can use those but it may increase risk of tab breakage. I used those on some of my bikes during this test period, simply because I was travelling and often had rental bikes and didn’t want to deal with zip ties or screws.

With everything all set, let’s talk basic operation.  First up is the unit itself, which has a single button on the left side, two on the right side (up/down), and three along the base of it.  The left button is used for power and accessing the settings.  The right buttons are used for going up/down menus, and increasing/decreasing data fields.  And the lower buttons allow changing of data pages and confirmations within various prompts. All of this matches previous Wahoo units exactly. No changes here.

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To access the settings menu, you’ll simply tap the left button once. It’s here that you can pair sensors (though, you can also use the smartphone app for that), as well as configure the backlight (default is ‘Auto’), and specify if you’re indoors or outdoors.

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Of course, the most famed part of the Wahoo bike computers is that virtually everything can be setup from your smartphone, using the Wahoo ELEMNT companion phone app. In fact, it’s essentially required to setup and otherwise maintain the ROAM. Fear not, it makes it super easy to get things all setup.

When it comes to ROAM data pages, you’ve got a starter pack of default pages, plus custom ones you can add. By default you’ll get a lap page, a workout data page, a climbing page, and the map page. Additionally, if in a Strava Segment you’ll get that page, when doing a planned workout that page, and then finally a trainer control page if controlling a trainer (any ANT+ FE-C trainer or any KICKR trainer). Here’s a quick gallery of them.

You can also add custom data pages as well. However, data pages (custom or default) are a bit different on Wahoo bike computers. While you customize data pages with the metrics you want like any other bike computer, the number of fields and specific fields that you’ve displayed will vary.  Specifically, they’re ordered based on your prioritization, which allows you to increase/decrease the number of fields shown by just pressing the up/down buttons. So when creating custom data pages, you’ll need/want to order which fields are most important to you, so those have higher priority.  By default it does this for you, and then you can adjust the ordering.

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As an example of the scaling, here you can see how below I’m showing a single configured custom data field, but at different levels:

There are boatloads of data metrics to choose from – far more than when Wahoo first started off. Here’s a screenshot of some of them. Like any competitive battle, there’s some fields that Garmin has that Wahoo doesn’t, and some fields that Wahoo has that Garmin doesn’t. For example, Wahoo has more power averaging fields (I.e. more options for stuff like 1-minute power), whereas Garmin has more sensor-driven fields to choose from (like radar, or Di2 battery status).

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Back on the unit itself, when you’re ready to ride you simply hit the start button and it’ll start recording as you’d expect.  It’ll show your data in real-time, and then allow you to increase/decrease data fields as you see fit in real-time. Same goes for changing data pages.  Basically, everything you’d expect from a bike computer.

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For me, all the basics of the ROAM have worked fine – just as they did on the BOLT and ELEMNT. Note that the ROAM includes both the side and top LED strips on the unit. The top LED’s are used to notify you of things like turns or notifications, while the side LED’s can be configured to show speed/power/HR levels, via the app.

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Speaking of notifications, during the ride you’ll see notifications from texts display on the screen (if you’ve configured as such).  They’ll even properly show at least some emoji. You know, the most important ones:

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You can also configure a temporary ‘Do Not Disturb’ mode, should you be in the middle of something important (like an interval).

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The backlight of the unit is by default triggered via an ambient light sensor – an update from the BOLT which lacked one. This means if you go through a tunnel or it just simply gets dark out, the backlight will come on  You can see this setting above. In that same region is the ability to configure auto shutdown.

Once completed with a ride, it’ll sync to the app where you can dive into it in more detail. Lots of detail, looks really nice and clean.

Now unlike Garmin, Polar, Pioneer, or others – there’s no Wahoo specific website to look at your rides on. Instead, you’ll need to use a 3rd party site. The good news is that Wahoo makes this easy, with plenty of connection options (including even Dropbox, my favorite). You’ll use the app to configure these accounts, signing in with credentials as required. Then anytime your unit syncs via Bluetooth or WiFi, it’ll automatically upload to all these servers.

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You can also just plug-in the ROAM using micro-USB and grab the .FIT file directly.  That’s a pretty common file type standard that most devices use these days for recording fitness data.

Speaking of WiFi and such, the unit uses WiFi to download updates (including maps for other regions), as well as make any 3rd party site connections. Note that like most wearables, the ROAM doesn’t work with Starbucks/hotel or similar hotspots, and needs more of a home/office setup with a specific set password. Not a big deal, just something to be aware of while travelling.

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Finally, for lack of anywhere else to plop it, let’s talk battery life stats. The unit is spec’d at 17 hours, which is a 2 hour increase from the ELEMNT BOLT, but matches the ELEMNT.

Sensors & Data:

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Back a number of years ago when Wahoo first introduced the ELEMENT series, one of the biggest strengths was the dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart sensor support. It was one of the first (if not the first) to support sensors of both kinds. These days of course, that’s considered standard practice. All of Garmin’s most recent units have dual ANT+/Bluetooth Smart support, as to those from Hammerhead, Lezyne, Bryton and more. In other words, you don’t get brownie points for it anymore – it’s considered the baseline.

At present, the ROAM supports for the following types of sensors:

ANT+ FE-C Smart Trainers
ANT+ Heart Rate sensor
ANT+ Speed-only sensor
ANT+ Cadence-only Sensor
ANT+ Gear Shifting Profile (SRAM eTAP & Campagnolo EPS)
ANT+ Speed/Cadence Combo Sensor
ANT+ Power Meter
ANT+ Tire Pressure (Quarq TyreWiz)
Bluetooth Smart Heart Rate sensor
Bluetooth Smart Speed-only sensor
Bluetooth Smart Cadence-only Sensor
Bluetooth Smart Speed/Cadence Combo Sensor
Bluetooth Smart Power Meter
Pioneer Power Advanced Cycling Metrics
Shimano Di2 System (via private-ANT)
BSX & Moxy Muscle Oxygenation sensors (via ANT+ Muscle Oxygen Profile)
Wahoo KICKR/CORE/SNAP Trainers

Note that last fall introduced advanced cycling metrics for Pioneer power meter owners, which might be considered a precursor to supporting the ANT+ Cycling Dynamics standard that was ratified last year, for which Favero is said to be soon releasing Assioma firmware support for (and Garmin already supports).

However, the reality is that aside from Pioneer, there hasn’t been a lot of additional sensor types supported – and one that’s been constantly asked for is the ANT+ Bike Radar (aka Garmin Varia sensors). This sensor type is a public/standard sensor type that any company can implement. And the impact on it being a blocker for folks seems to be growing, one can look at the comments section to see that.

And this point was cemented further while I was at the Sea Otter cycling event a few weeks ago in the Wahoo booth getting some photos. A husband/wife came in and had almost been sold on the BOLT, when the husband asked the wife ‘Oh wait, what about your Garmin radar?’, and then turning to the Wahoo rep said ‘Does it work with that?’. The answer? No. And sale lost.

What has repeatedly talked about looking into support for it (it’s been out many years now), but nothing ever materializes.  While the argument can be said that Wahoo doesn’t want to support their competitor.  For people with Varia Radar – it’s a hard-stop. So either Wahoo can choose to win the device sale but not get radar money. Or they can choose to lose both device and radar unit sale. Seems like an obvious choice to me – since these are people that are actively looking to leave the Garmin ecosystem.

With all that out of the way, let’s talk about pairing.  With the ROAM you’ll go into the settings menu and immediately see the sensors listed below.  You can see the signal strength (and thus status) of the sensor right on the display.

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You can select a given sensor to get more information about it. For example, on a power meter, you can select to calibrate it, or even see the left/right sensor status for a unit like the Stages LR Power Meter:

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Towards the bottom is the ability to add new sensors.  This will search for the nearest sensor first and offer the ability to confirm/pair it:

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Alternatively, you can go into the list of sensors nearby and add/select them manually.  They are sorted first by sensor type, and then if multiple sensors exist nearby, it’ll show you the individual sensors. This is useful for myself personally, as I have approximately 438 sensors on my bike.

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Like most units on the market, you can assign names to the sensors.  However, unlike most units, you can do so via your phone with the Wahoo ELEMNT companion app.  Again – having the phone companion app has always been Wahoo’s strong point. Also – you can pair from this same menu too, if you have unpaired sensors nearby:

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Finally, a brief mention on trainer control. Like Garmin, Wahoo supports the ability to control your trainer via the bike computer. The main use cases for this is to re-ride outside rides indoors on the trainer, and then to execute structured training workouts. Though, you can also just control your trainer manually.  I’ve talked extensively about the structured training workouts (and trainer control) in the past, and everything remains the same here. You’ll pair your trainer just like before, this can be a Wahoo trainer or a 3rd party trainer using ANT+ FE-C.

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At which point you’ve got several options for how you control trainer:

Erg Mode (Target Watts): Allows you to specify a given wattage level – I.e. 150w, 237w, 350w, etc….
% Resistance Mode: In this you specify in % a given resistance level – I.e. 10%, 25%, etc… Note that this isn’t grade though, just total resistance available.
Route Mode: Here you specify a saved route (from one of the ones you’ve downloaded to your unit).
Passive Mode: In this case you’ve got another app controlling the KICKR (I.e. Zwift), where the BOLT  just chills out and records the data.
Level Mode: Simply set a resistance level, I.e. ‘Level 3’.
Workout Mode: Open a structured workout from the structured training menu

And of course, the last two are ones that allow riding files or structured workouts found on your ROAM. In fact, Wahoo even bundles a few planned workouts on the ROAM from Team INEOS:

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While I’ve spent all of my time outdoors with the ROAM, Wahoo says nothing has changed here from the BOLT/ELEMNT – so everything’s same-same in this area (and that’s perfectly fine).

Navigation:

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There’s approximately a 100.00% chance that if you’re looking at the Wahoo ROAM, it’s because of the new navigation/mapping features. So I’m going to spend this entire section diving into all those.  First though, it’s probably key to understand the difference between what the ROAM has and the BOLT/ELEMNT has. Here, let me sum it up for you:

ROAM: Fully routable mapset, complete with street/trail names (and elevation coming later in June). It can map/route on it’s own without any other service/platform
BOLT/ELEMENT: Effectively just a penciled picture of map, no street names in the data, nor any routable data – it fully depends on the course turn/street name info from the file/course that you give it

Think of the difference being with ROAM it legit knows all the streets you’re on. It actually knows that you’re on Maple street. Whereas with the BOLT/ELEMENT, it knows your GPS coordinates, and there happens to be a black line representing a street there. But it doesn’t know anything about that street – not even the name or which way the street really is. Instead, it ‘cheats’ by getting that information from your course file. Where that whole system breaks down (previously on BOLT/ELEMNT) is with Strava Routes, as you don’t get detailed turn by turn information with street names. It’s basically just a breadcrumb trail. Whereas when it was used with RideWithGPS, you got turn by turn street details because RideWithGPS included them in the message. In other words – Strava sent Wahoo an empty FedEx box, whereas RideWithGPS’s box was full of toys. Ironically, just like real life.

In any case, now with ROAM it can – in certain scenarios – self route. And it’s the ‘in certain scenarios’ part where things get a bit…disappointing. Though, some of it is slated to change. First, let’s talk about what it can do. Here are the main ways you can navigate:

Free ride: No route, just ride wherever the heck you want using your brain, you can still see the maps page
Courses: Follow courses breadcrumb style from any number of providers, such as Strava or Komoot
Courses with Turn by Turn directions: Right now this is for one-way routes from the companion app, RideWithGPS, and then later with Strava Routes
Routing to saved locations: You can save a location and get directions to that (such as saving your home)
Routes from a file: Using the app you can route from .FIT, .GPX, .TCX, by opening the file and selecting the Wahoo ELEMNT app
Routing to start of course: This is called ‘Get me started’ and gets you to the start of your route/course
Route to a point on the map: You can use the curser on the device’s map, and then get full turn by turn routing to that point
Route to an address: Using the smartphone app (required), you can specify any address and route to it
Route from history: Using the smartphone app, you can re-ride a past activity

As noted, some of these are done on the unit itself (Route to course, Route to point on map, Route to saved location), whereas others are done/started from the smartphone companion app:

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Then there are a few routing options that are used mid-ride:

Route back to start: This gets you back to the start of a ride, using the most direct method possible
Retrace route: This follows the exact route you went out, back to start (note: it won’t account for one-way roads, so you might have to freestyle a bit
Back on track: This gets you back to your route, in the event your freestyling went askew

While these options all sound like a lot, they can roughly be boiled down to: Get me somewhere, get me home, and get me back on track. Which isn’t to sound negative, but just a bit of a reality check. Where the gaps exist between this and competitive solutions it things like on-device address routing or points of interest routing – which the ROAM lacks. Meaning, you can’t route to a specific address or find nearby cafe’s using the device itself.  Now, whether or not you find value in that is a different question. I don’t tend to do either from my head unit often, but generally speaking if a head unit lacks those functions it’s around the $ 299 price point, not the $ 399 price point. It’s a core distinction in today’s cycling head unit market.

Still, there are cool things that Wahoo does. For example, let’s take routing providers. In the case of Wahoo all your routes end up in one bucket on the unit itself, automatically syncing from the cloud service providers. So when I do that, it goes off and grabs my routes from Strava, RideWithGPS, Komoot, etc… So I don’t really have to worry about where those routes came from (it shows the provider name next to it):

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Contrast this with Garmin, where I have to open up an often finicky Connect IQ app for each 3rd party routing provider and update/download them manually and individually. Of course, there are more nuanced pros and cons to that approach. With Garmin’s approach we don’t have to wait for Wahoo to integrate new providers/companies, since that company can just create their own app and you’re good to go.

In any case, once you select a route from the list you’ll get a cue sheet of directions, depending on the provider. As of today, you won’t get those instructions for Strava. Wahoo says they’ll have that integration completed by the end of May, but I have my reservations on that timeline (I have beta access today to it). For me, I almost exclusively use/store my routes in Strava, as it allows me to have them act like the Switzerland of routing – every device supports it.

While routing you can stay on the map/cue sheet, or you can stay on your regular pages. For routes that support turn by turn navigation, you’ll get a pop-up message that the turn is coming up (though, not yet today with Strava). I’ve found it rather variable whether I’ll get actual street names, or just turn left/right. It seems like the ROAM isn’t terribly sure where it is (exactly, in terms of streets) a lot of the time.

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If you go off route, it’ll try and recalculate the route for you. I’ve had varying results with what it attempts to do next – specifically around how strict it is to getting you back on course.  There’s roughly two ways it can do this. First is to get you back to the exact point you left the course, or the second is to get you on course somewhere down the road as it makes sense.  In general it appears that (for at least my roads/routes) that Wahoo is more strict in trying to get you back closer to where you left the route. Whereas Garmin appears to take the approach of ‘we’ll catch-up somewhere down the road’. Obviously a bit of personal preference is applied to which you prefer. If the shortest distance is your goal, then Garmin usually does that better. Whereas if sticking to your exact route is more important, Wahoo appears to do that better.

No matter how you found yourself off-route, when in the midst of re-routing, you’ll note how the route chevron color is blue:

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The recalculation speed seems fast enough for me, on par with competitors. As for the route selection, the options it selected varied between being good and less than ideal. Part of the challenge Wahoo has is that while they’re using the same OSM base mapping data as Garmin, the don’t have the gigantic vault of heatmap data that Garmin has (which Garmin calls ‘trendline popularity routing’). That means that Garmin is able to leverage the millions or so activities probably uploaded every day to figure out where people are actually riding/working out – which improves picking better roads.  Again, it’s hardly a deal breaker, but I’d love to see Wahoo find some way to partner with Strava to get access to that kind of data to overlay and improve routing.

If you want retrace a route back to the start, or route home – then select either option from the routes menu:

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Speaking of blue chevrons, this is as good a time to talk about that ‘color’ display. Yes, I know Wahoo advertises it as a color display, but so is my toddler’s box of 8 crayons sitting next to me.  See, the ROAM display only appears to have 7 specific colors, including black and white – one color less than my daughters box of crayons. I’m not saying you need additional colors, but it’s important to point that out. The colors are mainly used as follows:

#1: Red: On power-off, edges on bridges
#2: Green: Text message notifications
#3: Yellow: Main roads on the map
#4: Blue: Water on the map, re-routing chevrons, live tracking labels
#5: Orange: Strava integration
#6: Black: Text/roads/lines/etc
#7: White: Everything else

In addition, during structured workouts, you get all the colors of the rainbow.

And while the display is clear, the colors are hardly bright. Again, I’m not sure I need super bright colors – but let’s be honest, these ones are pretty dim. I was kinda hoping for a more vibrant display. There’s undoubtedly a trade-off between display and battery life, but the Edge 530/830 and Hammerhead Karoo displays are far more brilliant than the ROAM. And the battery life on the Edge 530/830 is equal or double, depending on the configuration. And the speed of the basic user interface bits (how fast it reacts) is far slower than competitors. Way slower.

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Speaking of that map, let’s talk about how to route from the device itself. First, to note is that there’s only a single routing related option, which is to define your surface type. That’s located under Routes > Routing Options on the device (Road/Cross/Hybrid/Mountain):

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It’s here in the routes area that you can select the ‘Take me to’ option. That then allows you to route to saved locations or a location on the map. Saved locations appear in the list just by the street name. You can’t define a list of saved locations ahead of time, or adjust the names for them. You can only save your current location on the map.

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If you selected ‘Location on Map’, this then pulls up the map with a crosshair that you can select where to route to:

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You can zoom in/out, as well as pan and scroll using the bottom three buttons. The ‘…’ changes between pan/scroll/zoom, as well as gets you to the option to navigate to that point. You can see an example here of it not exactly knowing what the roads are a lot of the time.

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Once you select a point it’ll automatically create the route to that point, including turn by turn directions:

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Note that at this point the ROAM doesn’t have any baked in elevation data, so you won’t get any upcoming elevation profile for any routes created on the companion app or on the device itself. Wahoo says this is planned by the end of June (a timeline I think is reasonable).

For any other point to point routing you want to do, you’ll need to use Wahoo’s companion app, which allows you to create a route to a single point. You can’t create looped routes this way, though you can use the free 3rd party Easy Route app to do so. And funnily enough, the developer of that app now works for Wahoo. It’s the routing app I use for creating quick one-off routes on both my Wahoo and Garmin devices. In any case, here’s the default routing app. Note that it presumes you’re starting from your current GPS location.

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It’ll then create a route and you simply choose ‘select route’ from the list, after which it loads the route on the ROAM:

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At that point you’re routing/navigating just like any of the other routing options. It’ll give you turn by turn routes, but no elevation at this point. Only 3rd party providers include elevation data (ironically enough, Strava includes elevation data).

I’ll point out that this is probably the cleanest/best part of the Wahoo experience- creating the route on the phone is super quick and efficient, and transfers near-instantly to the head unit.

Finally, the ROAM will automatically pull in any starred Strava segments that you have in your account. You’ll then see these listed on the device itself:

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And then when navigating you’ll see that nearby segments show up as well. As you enter a segment you’ll get Wahoo’s Strava Segment overlay, which is one of my favorites because you can compete on multiple overlapping segments at the same time. You can toggle who you’re competing against at the bottom (KOM or PR), as well as change the segment by pressing that button:

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You can always get back to other data pages by pressing the ‘Page’ button.  Also, you can always use/race Strava Segments, even while on a course. Garmin has a weird limitation that if you’re actively navigating a Garmin Connect/other course, you can’t concurrently see/race Strava Segments. You can only concurrently navigate and get Strava Segments on a Garmin device if you’re navigating a Strava Route, because then the Segments are baked into that route. So this is an advantage over that if you’re into Strava Segments and other routing providers than Strava.

In any case, as for Wahoo’s overall navigational capabilities – it’s not bad, at least once they get Strava turn by turn added, and elevation data added for routes. Once that happens it’ll be good, but not $ 399 good.

And that’s sorta at the core (no, not KICKR CORE, just regular core), of my issue with the ROAM: It’s just not priced right. The features/functionality on this unit are equal to a $ 279-$ 299 price point. That’s what the market shows, and Wahoo isn’t doing enough other special things to justify an additional $ 100-$ 120.  Atop that, if we look at the navigational options of their competitors, they’ve got way more rich features. Points of interest are shown on the maps automatically, as are more details about streets. For example, street names aren’t shown on the Wahoo ROAM – and while I don’t always need to know the street name, there are countless scenarios where that’s useful.

I will note however that one super solid point of Wahoo is that they include the maps for all regions. By default the maps will come loaded for your region, and then you can tap to download maps for other regions if you travel. This matches Sigma and Hammerhead, whereas Garmin requires you pay for additional maps – or download them for free from 3rd party sites (which is cumbersome and annoying at best). So props to Wahoo for continuing to make it easy.

Summary:

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There’s no doubt a lot of people have been waiting for a color display Wahoo bike computer, and even more for one that has full navigation features. And within those parameters, it technically unlocks both achievements. And it does so with a very cohesive smartphone companion app to boot – something that’s rightfully often praised about Wahoo’s computers. And in fact, that app in the last few weeks got a solid user interface refresh.

The challenge is, I think too much attention was paid to that app – and not enough to the unit itself. But more deeply, I don’t think Wahoo really understands how quick their competitors are moving. When Wahoo entered the market years ago, and in particular with the BOLT 2 years ago, it provided a breadth of fresh air. Something different, cleaner, and more cohesive. But now – it just feels out of date. The display and slowness of the unit simply doesn’t match 2019, nor do the feature sets.

When I talk with (numerous) Wahoo employees – I get the impression they haven’t actually tried their competitors units for any length of time. At least not in the last few years. Every discussion I have they talk of slow/laggy cumbersome units of 3-4 years ago (the same time they originally developed the BOLT). But the reality is, their competitors of today are fast and clean (and now the ROAM is slow). Be it Hammerhead, Sigma, or Garmin – the 2018/2019 units just aren’t like your Dad’s units, they’re fast, clean and efficient. And for Wahoo to essentially roll out what amounts to a handful of routing options for a new unit begs the question: What have they been doing for two years?

Of course, the reality is that true mapping navigation is hard. Really, really, really hard. It’s like developing a power meter. It sounds easy in theory, but is super difficult in practice. There’s so much nuance to maps and navigation – bit it conflicting data sets, differences in regions, etc… It’s incredibly difficult. So I get that – totally. Which is why I’m astounded Wahoo didn’t add *any* non-navigation new features to ROAM. Something that would have distracted from the fact that the navigation on the ROAM is mostly half-baked still.

While Wahoo has committed to two navigation features for ROAM by June (Strava turn by turn, and on-device elevation data), I really want to see a longer range calendar of features – just like they had back in BOLT/ELEMNT day. They aren’t giving up anything competitive at this point, as Wahoo just released their competitors last week. Further, Wahoo is now firmly in the ‘playing catchup’ camp, so they need to figure out a way to convince prospective buyers that there’s goodness coming with future updates.

Hopefully they can do that, and while they’re at it – reduce the price to a feature appropriate $ 299.

With that, thanks for reading!

[Note: You’ll see the accuracy section and product comparison database sections displayed in this review in the next 30 minutes. Though, I’ve seen no data accuracy issues to worry about for either GPS or elevation, nor any sensor data issues.]

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Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (a labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take the time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

I’ve partnered with Clever Training to offer all DC Rainmaker readers exclusive benefits on all products purchased.  By joining the Clever Training VIP Program, you will earn 10% points on this item and 10% off (instantly) on thousands of other fitness products and accessories.  Points can be used on your very next purchase at Clever Training for anything site-wide.  You can read more about the details here.  By joining, you not only support the site (and all the work I do here) – but you also get to enjoy the significant partnership benefits that are just for DC Rainmaker readers.  And, since this item is more than $ 49, you get free 3-day (or less) US shipping as well.

Wahoo ELEMENT ROAM (US)
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Thanks for reading!

Product Reviews – DC Rainmaker

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