Above Category was founded with the idea of finding cutting-edge products that elevate our experience on the bike. From frames crafted with new technologies to wheels with unorthodox construction methods or timeless tig-welded machines, we're always on the hunt for genuinely beyond category products and partners. But that fascination, of course, carries over to ancillary gadgets, which is why we're pleased to welcome Hammerhead Bike Computers to the Above Category fold.
Hammerhead has been making waves over the last couple of years with their innovative approach to cycling computers. The Karoo is their flagship product and is now in its second iteration, dubbed the Karoo 2. It's a midsized unit, larger than a Wahoo Elemnt Bolt but much smaller than a Garmin 1030. For my tastes, it's the ideal size.
When you first turn the Karoo on, you'll likely notice that the device seems much more akin to a smartphone than other bike computers you may have used. That should come as no surprise as the Karoo is an Android-based platform with a delightfully bright and sharp display complete with touch functionality. And thanks to those Android smarts, the Karoo can function as a standalone unit as long as you have a WiFi connection to hand, a blessing for those who want to upload routes, send their rides to a route platform, and update device firmware without a secondary device.
Out of the box, the Karoo has a range of pre-programed profiles (or rather, configurations of how your desired data is displayed) so you can get to the action right away. For me, none of the stock profiles quite suited my preferences, but that was no problem as they are all easily customizable, and it's a breeze to create new configurations of your own.
Mapping done right
In my mind, the standout feature of the Karoo is how robust its mapping features are. As long as you have your general territory uploaded to the unit, it's incredibly detailed and can navigate on the fly. Out in the middle of nowhere and need to find the nearest bathroom? Bonking hard and need to find some emergency food? You can search for locations straight from the Karoo and have it navigate you there. It doesn't quite hit Google Maps ease, but it's not far off. And given that Hammerhead release updates at a bi-weekly cadence, the road ahead is clear.
img src="https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/1234/3118/files/DSC02936.jpg?v=1647303861" alt="hammerhead mapping" />
If you're heading out for a race or training ride and have pre-loaded a specific route, the Karoo has some pretty nifty features there too. As you can imagine, it will give you turn by turn navigation, but it also has some tricks up its sleeve. For example, when you hit a climb, it will quickly show you the elevation profile, breakdown the upcoming pitch changes, and mileage countdown to the summit. Once you crest the top, it will even give you an overview of how many more major climbs remain on your route. I found this a fun way to keep motivated when pushing up a long climb and very useful in gauging how to manage my efforts on a course I hadn't ridden before.
Notes to new users
I'm really loving the Karoo so far, but there are a few little quirks that are good to know, especially if you're about to transition from another bike computer system.
The Karoo uses a proprietary mounting plate that differs from the Garmin or Wahoo versions. It's pretty nice, and the unit does include its own clamp-on handlebar mount. However, if you have multiple bikes and a sleek computer mount that integrates with your stem for each one, the Karoo won't be a direct plug and play. If you used a Garmin, you're in luck as Hammerhead kindly include an adapter. If you come from the Wahoo eco-system, though, you'll have to replace the Wahoo puck for a Garmin one before you can mount the device.
When you power up your Karoo, it will automatically prompt you if a firmware or maps update is available. However, if you're about to head out for a ride, do not update right away! It can take several minutes to complete the process, and if you head out to make the group ride and leave WiFi before it's finished, you might not have any maps at all for your ride. This might sound like common sense, but I made this mistake.
As great as the bright touch screen and advanced mapping are, they come at a cost. The Karoo is rather battery hungry compared to other units I've used. Hammerhead claim a range of 7-14 hrs. To most riders, this will be a non-issue. But if you're a bike-packer, randonneur, or another ultra-distance type of rider, you'll want to be sure you have some kind of portable battery source on your ride to keep it juiced up.
img src="https://cdn.shopify.com/s/files/1/1234/3118/files/456A7375.jpg?v=1647304270" alt="riding the karoo 2" />
All in all, the Karoo is an excellent piece of gear. The functionality is excellent, and the features are rich. It feels like a bike computer that genuinely deserves the name. I've only been using mine for a few weeks and have only just scratched the surface of what it can do. I'm excited to explore it even further and put it to work in upcoming races and big rides.
Here at Above Category, we're proud to be among a select few premium partners to carry Hammerhead computers. So if you're interested in getting one of your own, you can shop them online or swing by the studio to check one out in person.