Back when Wahoo Fitness introduced the ELEMNT headunit in 2016, we were impressed. So impressed, in fact, that for those of us who were using Garmin units the changeover was a no-brainer. However, the original ELEMNT was a porker. Clocking in at almost the size of a Garmin 1000, it can be a bit jarring dangling off the front of a clean, handbuilt bike. Thankfully, Wahoo upped the ante this spring with the ELEMNT Bolt, packing almost all of the functionality of the original ELEMNT into a smaller package, about the size of the original - and racer favorite - Garmin 500. We took the Bolt out for a few weeks of heavy-lifting in an effort to compare it to our gold standard for computers: The SRM PC8. We use our headunits for one thing - training. Data and functionality is king, and that's the prism through which we'll be pitting the two units against each other. We used them both with two sensors: An SRM SRAM crank-based powermeter, and a Wahoo Tickr X strap heartrate monitor.
Interface & Display
The Bolt is an extremely intuitive computer to use, and is dependent on a fairly straightforward Wahoo smartphone app for setup. The learning curve to use the Bolt is as shallow as they come when it comes to tech, and pairing sensors to the unit is a fairly painless process. Sidenote: The Bolt will also pair to your Di2, eTap, and EPS drivetrain, allowing the rider to see what gear they're in and battery charge level, and it'll even talk to a Moxy oxygen sensor. The Wahoo app offers a dizzying array of data fields available to customize each page (a la Garmin), and navigating between them on the unit itself is a painless process. Another nifty feature is the Bolt's ability to "zoom" in on a page, especially with the smaller screen size. Buried in an interval and just want to see power and time? Keep those near the top of the configuration list, hit the up button on the right side of the Bolt, and voila, numbers big enough to chew on. That said, the display isn't what we'd call "high-def". In fact, it seems about as chunky as the Garmin 500 of yore. With more than four data fields on screen, and especially with maps, discerning what's going on in the heat of the moment can be less than optimal.
And then there's the PC8. It too, has its own app, but it only works on a desktop (Mac/PC), called Device Agent. Customization isn't quite as extensive with the PC8, and data options are trimmed down from the Wahoo, reflecting the very purpose-driven nature of the unit. Unfortunately, the PC8 has only two options for displaying what we'd call "real-time" wattage: Instantaneous, or a 30-second average. This can be somewhat frustrating during intervals - we prefer something like a three, five, or ten second sampling, which helps keep efforts on track but with some smoothing over the course of the workout. Just as well, the PC8 is anything but intuitive to use out of the box. It takes some hefty studying of Device Agent and the PC8 manual to decipher the array of what's happening at the periphery of the screen, and the various button combinations for commands are reminiscent of attempting to perform a Fatality in Mortal Kombat - B+B+D+Left+Up. To learn the way of the PC8 is an art and a skill, one that you can't add to your LinkedIn profile, but one that will cause envy among training partners. That said, once mastery is achieved, true appreciation for the beautiful display of the SRM head unit happens. It's gorgeous. And everything seems to be in exactly the right place. Crisp, clear, and in a horizontal dashboard reminiscent of a modern street motorcycle.
Happily, neither makes use of a touchscreen, one of the most frustrating on-ride tactile interfaces to use. Sweaty hands, gloves, and possible precipitation all play havoc - real buttons, please. VICTOR: BOLT Unfortunately for the PC8, the Bolt's user-friendliness gives it the edge, even with the poor display resolution and vertical display orientation. Additional options for training metrics are a boon, and endless customization as well as integration with a variety of sensors are both a huge plus. But, we can't hand victory to the Bolt without acknowledging the PC8's insanely beautiful display. There's nothing we'd rather stare at when suffering through a five-minute full-gas interval.
Build & Aesthetics
Unboxing the Wahoo was...well, it was a bit underwhelming. We've become a little too-used to the alloy and glass (and German) construction of the SRM PC8, and it's set the bar high for everyone else when it comes to polished finish work. The Bolt feels fairly cheap and plastick-y. Given that it's a third the price of the PC8, we can let that slide, but just barely. It's also one of the few metrics the Bolt doesn't measure up to its Garmin competition. The Bolt is purported to be aero (you'll note our glossing over this marketing tidbit), and cleanly integrates with the included mount in a seamless union, but we find the look to be more jarring than attractive. Maybe it will grow on us, but for now, we find the look of the PC8 dangling off the front of a bike to be just right - if we must have a computer hanging off the bars.
Recently, Garmin has been notable for a certain characteristic, or rather, lack thereof: Battery life. Luckily, both the Bolt and PC8 are exceptional in this regard. Wahoo claims 15 hours of use from a single full charge on the Bolt, which we found accurate, and the PC8 always impresses with up to about 20. The PC8 offers a bit of an advantage too - its always-on display shows battery life when it's not being used, reducing the risk of the 4% battery surprise at the start of a ride.
VICTOR: PC8, by a whisker
Maps & Navigation
Meet the SRM PC8's Achilles Heel: It doesn't. While it's GPS-enabled to allow for route/speed tracking (and accompanying Strava/TrainingPeaks uploads), it has no mapping capabilities. At all. Not even a breadcrumb, like the ancient Garmin 500. The Bolt, on the other hand, is superbly functional when it comes to basic mapping. For us, it's everything we want, and nothing we don't. If we're looking for the local bakery or brew stop, we'll consult our phones. But, when it comes to mapping out a route prior on MapMyRide or Strava, the Bolt offers seamless map syncing via Bluetooth or WiFi. We use this more than we'd like to admit, and it's becoming a critical feature in new places, or when we're looking to mix up the daily routine with new routes. We're cartography dorks, and spending hours staring into Google Earth looking for new places to escape on two wheels is a favorite past-time - being able to translate that directly to our bars is crucial. The Bolt's ability to guide turn-by-turn (if using MapMyRide) is a handy feature, and we never felt like the monochrome maps on the small screen were too tough to discern - but that's all there's really room for. Leave the watts for another page.
Wahoo set the standard for how a training device talks to the cloud with the original ELEMNT, and it's translated over to the Bolt. All services and connectivity (Bluetooth and WiFi) is driven from the Wahoo smartphone app, allowing the user to seamlessly setup any number of ride-logging services (we primarily use Strava and TrainingPeaks), along with an auto-upload at the end of the ride, provided there is a data signal on the paired phone. The syncing is extremely quick and completely unnoticeable. As an added bonus, the Bolt will sync maps over a cellular connection painlessly. It uses an ubiquitous mini-USB cable for charging - no matter where you go, finding juice for the Bolt is a snap. The PC8? Not quite so easy. While WiFi capability has at long last been added to the computer, it's klunky to use, requiring the user to key in network details via the desktop app (we've taken to creating a hotspot with our phone to kludge a faux-Bluetooth tether, a la the Wahoo). The upload takes a fair bit of time. Fortunately, the desktop application is fairly good when it comes to uploading to our data outlets of choice. Oh, and charging? SRM has done us a #servicenotservice by using a proprietary magnetic cable, much like MacBooks of old. The upside to the single-purpose cable? The port is never going to fail, as we've had multiple Garmins succumb to a dead USB connection. The downside? The PC8 cable is easy to lose, and there's no jewel case at the front of the local Kwik-e-Mart with SRM cables for $5, as is the case with the Wahoo.
We'll admit, the Bolt had us questioning our faith in the PC8. It's a capable little guy, packed with all sorts of whiz-bang features, a tiny footprint, functional connectivity for days, and a decidedly polished interface. But, there's something deeply enticing about the PC8, a purpose-built machine designed for one thing, and one thing only: To make a cyclist go faster. It's the choice of the professional, it feels like it's chiseled from granite, and it's built like a tool instead of a gadget. Were it not for the total lack of mapping capability, we'd still be in the SRM camp, forgiving its litany of sins and high price tag (it's $749, the Bolt is $249) in exchange for its lovely high notes. Different tools for different people? We'd say so - something about apples and oranges. The PC8 is a stripped down track car with little more than a steering wheel, rollcage, and tachometer, purpose-built for speed. The Bolt is a lovely modern sports car with things like air conditioning, a stereo, and satnav. Spoiler alert: We love them both, for totally different reasons.
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