Wahoo ELEMNT Roam – A Worthy Alternative to Garmin

Wahoo ELEMNT Roam Review: For many years Garmin has set the benchmark for on-board GPS bike computers. These days there are many to choose from depending on what you want/need to know during your ride, and after. The new ELEMNT Roam by Wahoo does just about everything you could dream of; our man Chuck Peña got his hands on a Wahoo ELEMNT for a good Roam.

Multi-function Wahoo ELEMNT Roam

The backstory
I’d been a Garmin user since June 2016. But my Garmin Edge 520 recently gave up the ghost with a weird “USB device drawing too much power” error message that wouldn’t allow me to charge or otherwise connect my Edge to my computer (it also wouldn’t charge when connected to a USB outlet). Several different USB cables, a Google search, and an SMC reset on my Mac didn’t solve the problem. Called Garmin and they didn’t have a solution either. Since my 520 was out of warranty, I was basically SOL. So I was thrilled when PEZ asked if I’d like to review the Wahoo ELEMNT Roam.

That’s not a knock on Garmin. My Edge 520 basically worked perfectly, i.e., did what I wanted it to do, until it went belly up on me. And I understand that electronic devices can fail catastrophically – often in strange and unexplainable ways (can you say gremlins?) I also know that a lot of times it’s a rare occurrence. I can’t confirm, but Garmin has probably sold several million Edge units. Some of them are bound to fail. I just happen to have had one of them. How rare or common my problem is, I have no idea.

Garmin may currently own the market on wireless GPS bike computers, but competition is always a good thing – both for manufacturers (to improve their products and innovate) and consumers (to create choices and, often times, lower prices). Wahoo has been making a go as an alternative to Garmin with their ELEMNT, ELEMNT Bolt and ELEMNT Mini bike computers. If my Strava feed is any indication, more than a few people are using some variant of the Wahoo ELEMNT bike computer. In many cases, it’s the Bolt, which is more or less the equivalent (at least in form factor) of the Garmin Edge 530.

The latest and greatest ELEMNT is the Roam.

ELEMNT Lineage
For PEZ readers unfamiliar with the Wahoo ELEMNT line of computers, a brief history lesson is probably helpful. PEZ first reported on their new GPS bike computer – the ELEMNT back in 2015. It’s a semi-large unit with a fairly big screen with only black-and-white display. For those wanting something smaller, the Bolt (note that the Bolt is an ELEMNT model but I’m eliminating the ELEMNT part for convenience and to avoid confusing it with the ELEMNT) was released about a year after the ELEMNT. Although an oversimplification, it was essentially a smaller version of the ELEMNT. Not long after the Bolt, Wahoo released the Mini. An even smaller form factor than the Bolt, but also with less features (for example, no mapping or turn-by-turn directions).

The Wahoo ELEMNT Roam (far right) is definitely bigger than its sibling Bolt (middle) and the similarly sized Garmin Edge 520 (which is about the same size as the current 530 and 830)

A Slight Hiccup
The Roam was released this May. However, the first-generation out-front mounts (different from both the ELEMNT and Bolt) were below standard (reports of breakage and the computer rattling in the mount), so the Wahoo team changed the mount to make it stronger and hold the Roam tighter without compromising the integrated aesthetic of the original design. Customers who were early adopters of the Roam were sent an ELEMNT out-front mount as an interim solution. In the meantime, there was a pause in shipping the Roam to retailers and consumers until mid-July. But all is right with the world now. Replacement Roam mounts were sent to previous buyers and the new mount is now part of retail packaging.

PEZ readers might be asking what the difference is between the ELEMNT and the Roam out-front mounts. After all, they can both accommodate both computers. In a word: aero. The ELEMNT out-front mount is a pretty “standard” mount – much like what you get with a Garmin.

The standard ELEMNT mount (left) is generic and will work with the ELEMNT, Bolt, or Roam. The Roam mount (right) is specific for the Roam only.

The Roam mount, however, is an integrated mount that “blends” with Roam form factor to make it look sleeker and – in a world of marginal gains – more slippery in the wind (according to Wahoo).

The Roam mount integrates with the Roam – sleek and aero when every watt counts

And if anyone is planning on doing any UCI-sanctioned racing, the Roam can be screwed in place on the mount to make it a “permanent” part of the bike for weigh-in purposes. And the screw-in feature also doubles as an anti-theft feature. Personally, I wish there was an optional lanyard – which would afford an element (no pun intended) of security but still make it relatively easy to get the computer on and off.

A tiny hole for a screw to securely connect the Roam to the mount

That said, I actually ride with the Roam on a BarFly mount (a previous iteration of their current 4 MAX out front mount). Not because I don’t like the Roam mount or think it’s not any good – it is. But because I live and ride in an urban environment (and often ride in low light conditions, as well as at night) and my Bar Fly mount has a nifty universal light accessory mount that I prefer rather than cluttering up my handlebars with a light.

A better way IMHO to mount a front light

Note to former Garmin users who make the switch to Wahoo: Both use a quarter-turn mount, but they’re different from each other. The Wahoo mount is oriented differently and the tabs are slightly different. You can still use your existing out-front mount if the manufacturer makes a Wahoo “puck” to replace the Garmin one (that’s what I had to do with my BarFly out-front mount).

If you attach your computer to your stem, the Roam comes with such a mount but it attaches with zip ties. If you find this inelegant or otherwise offensive, you can use a Garmin mount that attaches with thick rubber bands by modifying the mount. I’m sure neither Wahoo nor Garmin endorse this, but it’s what I did to use the Roam on my #steelisreal Hollands because it’s an old school bike with a 90s era 25.4mm ITM Super Italia Pro 260 handlebars.

The Basics
If you’re used to a smaller size bike computer, the Roam is larger. For example, the Wahoo Bolt measures 2.9″ tall x 1.8″ wide x 0.87″ thick. By comparison, the Roam is 3.5″ tall x 2.3″ wide x 0.7” thick. For PEZ readers familiar with the Garmin line, that’s in between the Edge 830 and Edge 1030 size-wise. Being bigger, the Roam weighs more than the Bolt – 3.3 oz versus 2.2 oz.

For the weight weenies, on my scale the Roam weighed 95 grams (or 3.35 ounces, so pretty close to spec)

And the Roam mount weighed in at 44 grams

But the real benefit of the larger form factor of the Roam is the screen: 2.7” compared to 2.2” for the Bolt. I have to admit that, at first, I wasn’t sure if I’d like the aesthetic of a larger bike computer. I mean, I didn’t want the look of an iPhone in front of my bars/stem. But my past middle age eyes that now need reading glasses appreciated the larger screen real estate and I’ve decided that the larger size isn’t too large.

The screen itself is Gorilla Glass, which is made by Corning and used in most smartphones. It is thin, light, and damage resistant. And – as you would expect for a product used in the Apple iPhone and Samsung Galaxy– it’s crystal clear and easy to read.

Another nice feature of the screen is that it has an ambient light sensor. That means the backlight (that you don’t really need during the day) will automatically turn on when it’s dark. Since I often ride as the sun is setting (and enough times afterwards), I really appreciate this feature.

With the ambient light sensor, the screen lights up fairly brightly at night

There’s a single button on the left side for power on/off, which also toggles to and from the settings screen. There are two buttons of the right side to change (zoom in and out) the number of fields displayed (more about that later) – as well as to scroll on the settings screen. And three larger what Wahoo calls “smart buttons” on the bottom that control functions displayed on the screen above them.

There’s a series of LEDs along the left side. These can be set for performance metrics (speed, heart rate, or power). And there’s a series of LEDs across the top that can be set for directions and notifications. This is a cool feature but it’s worth noting that the LEDs are difficult to see in bright sunlight.

Live And In Living Color
One of the reasons there’s been a buzz about the Roam is because Wahoo decided to give it a color screen (both the ELEMNT and Bolt are black and white). Where this makes a difference is looking at maps (the only riding screen that uses color).

I had a chance to ride with the Bolt for a little bit before the Roam and – especially coming from a Garmin – found the black and white maps not so easy to read. They’re basically black lines against a white background. It’s also worth noting that – unlike Garmin – the maps on Wahoo don’t have street names displayed. But the good news is that Wahoo preloads maps for your region and you can easily download (via the app – more about the app in a bit) maps for other regions.  This is easy-peasy compared to my experience with my Garmin 520 (admittedly a unit not necessarily designed for mapping but where you could “force fit” mapping).

But just because the Roam has color for mapping, don’t expect Google Maps or even a Garmin-level color map. Instead, Wahoo uses color to help distinguish key features to help make the map more readable:

    1. • Black – for “regular” streets
      • Yellow – for “main” roads
      • Blue – for water

The colors are more subtle than vibrant, but are enough for your eye to easily and quickly tell the differences (the arrows are showing my route)

Wahoo also uses color to display post-ride data, such as time spent in power zones

It’s All About The App
Where the Roam (as well as the Bolt and ELEMNT) is very different from Garmin is the Wahoo companion phone app. You need to download the app (Android or iOS) and pair your Roam to the app (which can be done by simply scanning the QR code on the Roam with the camera on your phone). And then use the app to configure the Roam.

You can pair sensors (both ANT+ and Bluetooth sensors) on the Roam unit, but using the app is way easier. On the Settings page, select Set up sensors and the app will find whatever sensor(s) are awake. Then just Save the sensors you want. And you have the option to rename sensors if you don’t like their default names. I have these paired:

There are three “standard” pages you can configure with the app: Workout, Climbing, and Map.

The workout data page can display up to 11 fields. With the app, you prioritize the order of the fields and what data you want displayed. For me (in order):

    1. Speed
      Percent grade
      Feet climbed
      Time of day
      Battery level
      Power (5 second average)
      Heart rate

Even with all 11 data fields displayed, my aging eyes can still read everything thanks to the Roam’s larger screen size

The reason you prioritize the order of the data fields is because you can zoom in and out with the right side buttons to display fewer or more data fields.

For me, the app and zoom in/out were game changers compared to having to fiddle with the buttons on a Garmin to configure the fields displayed and having to have different pages to see different sets of data.

My climbing page: Bring on Fleche Buffoon!

The bottom part of the climbing page shows terrain profile. If you’re just out on a ride, it will show you the profile of the roads you’ve just ridden. But if you’ve loaded a ride route, it will show you the profile of the upcoming roads.

My map page: Because Wahoo’s maps don’t include street names, it’s probably not as useful if you’re actually lost and trying to find your way around

You can also create custom pages. Even though I just use a power meter for “fun,” I created a power meter page.

My power meter page: A constant reminder of how much I suck

In addition to power zones, the side LEDs can also be set for speed or heart rate zone. If you set them for speed, the middle LED is your current average speed. LEDs above (blue) indicate that you’re currently riding at a higher average speed and below (yellow) indicate a lesser average speed (there’s also an up or down arrow next to the speed indicator on the display to let you know if you’re going faster or slower than your current average speed). If you set the LEDs up for heart rate, then they light up based on what zone you’re currently in.

You also use the app to authorize connecting to a number of different third-party apps, such as Strava, RideWithGPS, and TrainingPeaks. When you do, your ride data is automatically uploaded to those sites when your Roam syncs with the app.

Without going into everything it can do, you can basically use the app to configure everything on the Roam.

Routes and navigation
If you’ve created a route on Strava, RideWithGPS, or Komoot (I use the first two but not the third), you load it to the Roam via the app. Note that the app syncs with all your linked route providers and shows all your routes and each route’s associated provider. If you load the route before you’re at your actual ride start, you’ll be asked if you want to be routed there. Or you can load the route once you’ve arrived at your ride start.

Loading a route is easy-peasy with the app

Once riding, the Roam will alert you with turn-by-turn navigation directions (regardless of which page your viewing). Even though the Wahoo maps don’t have street names, the directions will tell you which way to turn and the name of the street. If you have the top row LEDs enabled, they will also “blink” in the direction you’re supposed to turn. And after you’ve made your turn, you’ll get an alert telling you how far to the next turn and what direction to turn.

Your other left!

If you’re on the map page, the black chevrons indicate that you’re on your route

If you go off course, the top row LEDs flash red and you’ll get an “off route” sound alert (I have the latter turned off because I don’t hear it so well). And the Roam will re-route you back to your original route. However, you won’t get turn-by-turn navigation direction alerts to get you back on track. Instead, you need to be on the map page where you’ll see blue chevrons that you need to follow. If you’re riding somewhere without a lot of roads, this is fairly easy to do. For example, turn right at the next road. But if you’re in a denser area with a lot of roads, you’ll have to pay more attention to figure out where you are on the map and when the next turn is.

Follow the blue chevrons, not the Yellow Brick Road, to get back on course

But not 100% perfect
When I’ve been out riding in more rural areas, the Roam’s navigation has been spot on. However, in more urban areas, I’ve experienced a couple of glitches (especially if I have a route that has a lot of turns in close succession).

First, sometimes after making a turn, instead of directions for the next turn (often times very shortly afterwards) the navigation directions stay “stuck” on the previous turn. When I make the next turn, the navigation “catches back up.” This seems to be random and doesn’t happen a lot. I don’t know if this is a GPS, mapping, or Roam unit issue. I do know that other ELEMNT, Bolt, and Roam users have reported similar occurrences. However, it’s worth noting that the routing on the map page, i.e., the black chevrons, still shows the correct route. So when in doubt, follow the black chevrons.

The second glitch (which has only happened a couple of times) is more perplexing. The navigation directions will tell me to turn the wrong direction, e.g., left instead of right. Again, I don’t know if this is a GPS, mapping, or Roam unit issue. I’m inclined to believe it’s some sort of mapping issue because on one ride, my Roam, a friend’s Bolt, and another friend’s Garmin all had navigation instructions to turn right when we were supposed to go straight (we were all using the same route I created on RideWithGPS.com). Fortunately, I knew the route so knew the navigation directions were wrong. And the route on the actual map (on all of our GPS units) was correct.

In this instance, trust the map routing not the navigation directions!

While these issues haven’t been a problem for me, i.e., I’ve been in familiar territory so know where I am and where I’m going, they could be an unpleasant surprise if I was riding where I didn’t know the lay of the land. But I would expect that even if navigation instructions gave me a wrong turn that I would get an off course LED alert. And there’s always the map page to check to make sure you’re on the right route.

Phone notifications
Although I keep my phone in my back jersey pocket when I ride, I prefer to be “disconnected” from it. After all, part of riding is to get away from it all. But as a practical matter, I’ve set my Roam up to display any text messages (but not email) that I receive. This is mostly in case my wife or daughter needs to get a hold of me while I’m riding.

When I receive a text message, the top row LEDs light up green and the message pops up on my screen. Especially if I’m in a group, I’m not going to divert my attention to try to read the entirety of the message. But I can glance down to see who it’s from and whether it warrants me having to stop and respond immediately. The message will disappear off the screen of its own accord, but you can also press one of the function buttons to discard it (off the Roam, not your phone) immediately. You can also press DND (do not disturb), which will turn off alert pop ups for a set period of time (configured in the app).

Some emoticons will display on the Roam, but apparently not the taco one

Where I’ve found this feature most handy is when I’m riding to the ride start of a group ride I’ve organized. If someone texts me because they’re running behind schedule, I can know that en route and know to wait for them. No more having to pull my phone out of my jersey pocket to check for texts (yes, I’m lazy).

Riding with the Roam
Riding with the Roam is pretty much like with any other cycling GPS computer. You power it on and press START (using one of the smart buttons) to start a ride. If you have the AUTO-PAUSE feature enabled, the Roam will pause whenever you stop (whether it’s a stop light or a coffee stop) and re-start when you start rolling again. At the end of the ride, press STOP and the Roam will ask you END RIDE? Press YES and your ride is recorded and will sync with whatever apps you’ve authorized.

Claimed battery life is 17 hours, but that’s probably a best case scenario. I haven’t run the battery completely down to zero, but have gotten a max of about 14 hours before dropping to less than 10 percent and re-charging.

More bells and whistles than I know what to do with
All of the above is how I’m using the Roam. But it can do a boatload more, such as (not an exhaustive list of every single feature/capability):

To Roam or not to Roam
That is the question. Whether you’re a first-time bike computer buyer or looking for something new to replace your current unit (most likely Garmin), the Wahoo ELEMNT Roam deserves serious consideration.

But whether the Roam is right for you will depend on what you’re looking for, want, and need in a bike computer. Because I’m more of a “basic” user, the Roam works for me. And even if you want more features than what I use, I’m guessing the Roam will work for a lot of other people too. I’m not a gravel grinder or off-road rider, but the Roam’s long battery life and different mapping features should serve them well. But there are some things that Roam doesn’t do that you have to take into consideration and decide if they’re deal killers for you, such as:

    1. No street names on maps (probably more important for roadies and urban riders)
      No integration with Garmin’s Varia Radar (understandable since Garmin is a competitor, but you’d be surprised how many people consider this important) [The latest Wahoo ELEMNT firmware update now supports Garmin Varia Radar – Ed.]
      No crash detection/alert

There is also price to consider. At $380, the Wahoo ELEMNT Roam is … well … pricey. We’re talking Garmin Edge 830 territory pricey. So that’s the logical comparison to make if you’re trying to make a decision.

Personally, I’m sold on the Roam. For me and the kind of riding I do, it does what I need it to do and does it very well. I’ve grown used to and appreciate the larger form factor, i.e., bigger screen. And the overall experience/usage is easier than my previous Garmin thanks to the companion ELEMNT phone app.

Ultimately, what’s most important is that Wahoo has come up with a worthy product to give consumers more choice in the marketplace.

Shop for Wahoo ELEMNT Roam ($379.99) here.

Buy the ELEMNT BOLT on Amazon here.

PEZ contributor Chuck Peña is a former weekend warrior racer who now just rides for fun and coffee (as well as the occasional taco), but every once in a while manages to prove Fausto Coppi’s adage true: Age and treachery will overcome youth and skill. He lives in Arlington, VA with his wife (who is his favorite riding partner), his daughter (who takes great joy in beating him at golf all the time, but at least he’s still faster on a bike), and their dog (who is always there to greet him when he comes home from a ride). You can follow him on StravaTwitter, and Instagram.

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