GPS cycling computers are reviewed on a regular basis. After using a Garmin device for years, I have swapped to a Wahoo device. How do they compare?
One of the reviews I read was titled “The least bad GPS”. We are spoilt by our smartphones. We spend so much on our phones – and the market has become so great – that there is real value for money to be found with smartphones. Yes, they can be expensive, however, the hardware in modern smartphones is remarkable.
You will not notice this soon as when you buy a cycling computer. First, to be fair, you will be likely paying a lot less than for your phone. Secondly, GPS cycling computers are much tougher, so most people would not buy a new cycling computer every two years, but that’s what many people do with their little pocket computers. Finally, due to the last two factors, the market is much smaller for cycling computers. I think also that, ironically, many people have a smartphone worth more than their bike. This is not meant to be a criticism, as my first bike came from a supermarket. Rather, if we pay so little for our bikes it seems unlikely we would spend $500 on a cycling computer.
Wahoo was a late entrant to the cycling computer market, but the devices are well made and competitive with Garmin.
There are currently two devices on the market: Wahoo Elemnt Roam and the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt. The Bolt has a black and white screen whereas the Roam has a colour one. There are other differences but, for my personal purposes, less important. I own the Wahoo Elemnt Roam.
What makes the Wahoo product stand out is the quality of the product. The screen is large and has excellent contrast. The buttons are large. It is waterproof and shockproof of course.
I am impressed by how simple the Wahoo Elemnt Roam is to use. Even though it has the complexity of the old TomTom car navigation devices, it is all really intuitive.
The smartphone app for the device is simple but powerful and allows easy adjustment of the functions of the device. When riding, it is important to get going quickly and to be able to keep going after quick adjustments.
I have been using a Garmin Edge 520 Plus for many years. Garmin produces reliable devices and has made big improvements in its latest generation of devices. They are held back in the software, apps and general usability. It is not so much that Garmin devices do not work but rather that they are hard work. Usability is the issue.
Garmin Edge 520 Plus (and the new 530) are small devices that have many functions. Overall functionality is their strength but nothing is done quickly on these devices. At first, I did not mind that so much. I had used GPS devices before as well as the Garmin Edge 520 Plus, but after a few years of button pressing, I was getting tired of it. I did not use most of the functions, if for no other reason, just simply because it was too hard. It was the slow death of my use of the product… I began to leave it at home more and more often.
Komoot on a smartphone
Komoot is a very good app and works very well. If you haven’t given it a try yet, you really should.
The big screen on the phone makes navigation easy. The issue with smartphones is they are fragile but essential. I am careful to use my phone only on safe rides and in good weather. Komoot will discharge the battery of the phone in five hours, which is OK in the city, but if you are doing long rides in a forest, navigation is essential. You cannot see where you are in a forest, the maps are often out of date and rerouting is essential. The lack of mobile reception means that the phone does not work and komoot will not reroute without mobile data. That said, it will download maps and doggedly lead you back to the planned route, so you are never completely lost.
What’s important for a cycling navigation
In my view, cycling GPS needs to be indestructible, have long battery life, attach to the handlebars, it has to be easy to use, have Australian maps onboard and get regular maps updates. It needs to work night and day and in any weather. Garmin and Wahoo tick these boxes, but the smartphone does not. Garmin and Wahoo both have a battery life of at least 17 hours, so a long or multiday ride is possible.
Both Garmin and Wahoo download OpenStreetMap. The same maps used on komoot. OpenStreetMap is the best map for Canberra. The more remote you get the more uncertain it will become. As we just recently experienced in Jervis Bay, under forest cover, it is impossible to confirm the quality of forest management trails from satellite photos. High-resolution satellite photos are the tools of the trade for mapping remote locations. This means verification of the maps can only be achieved by riding the trails (scouting) and leaving notes on OpenStreetMap to have things fixed, should you not want to fix it yourself (this also possible).
Assuming the maps are current you want to download them regularly. This is not automatic with Garmin but instead requires a multistep process of downloading the map to the PC from OpenStreetMap. Next you need to transfer the map to the device. The process of different types of maps to be stored on the device for the same area is easy but the software for the PC for Garmin is dated.
Wahoo offers a free map download service that is controlled by the smartphone app. The cycling computer connects directly with Wahoo via Wi-Fi. Just switch it on, tell it what to download and walk away. Simple. No computer is required.
Navigation on Gamin depends on the device you buy. The cheaper devices have no navigation or maps. The Garmin Edge 520 Plus has maps and navigation, but only for preplanned routes. The more expensive Garmin units have a touch screen and simple navigation. Just touch a point on the map and the computer will navigate you there. These models are above the $600 mark even without sensors and include only the head unit for the handlebars.
Wahoo Elemnt Roam allows you to plan a route on the fly. Choose a point on the map and ride there. No phone is required to do this as it is possible on the device. You can do it on the phone, too, and this has the benefit of a bigger screen and faster route calculation. The synchronisation of phone and device is super fast. It is up to you, whether you wish to get the phone out.
Garmin or Wahoo?
If you only ride around the suburbs it is questionable that you would want anything so complicated as a Garmin. Wahoo is far easier. If, however, you want a lot more data about your ride the Garmin Edge 530 measures a lot more than the Wahoo.
Both Garmin or Wahoo are compatible with a full range of sensors (Bluetooth and Ant): heart rate, cadence, power metres, and more. I have a heart rate monitor from Wahoo that connected with the Garmin reliably, every time, within seconds. Bluetooth and Ant standards make this possible.
For me, Wahoo is the better option. However, Garmin is a popular brand and many will not make the switch.
The current retail prices from 99 Bikes with only the headset included. You may get them cheaper elsewhere, but these prices are below RRP.
- Wahoo Elemnt Roam – $499
- Garmin Edge 530 – $439