Mountain Biking with the Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT

ELEMNT with map display
Not an ELEMNT BOLT but an ELEMNT. Map view with real resolution (Image: Wahoo)

The Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT  is a really good GPS cycling computer. This becomes clear when looking at most of the product reviews, and I can also second it from my personal experience.

But can it be used for mountain biking as well, especially for riding single tracks, including routing?

I couldn’t find any further information on that, especially since most reviews have been done by road cyclists.

Note regarding the image: This doesn’t show an ELEMNT BOLT, but an ELEMNT – which has a bit larger display. The onscreen arrangement and resolution is similar.

The Basic Problem – Navigating the Woods

An intersection of 5 different paths in the woods. Really hard to know where to go!
An intersection of 4 different paths. Really hard to know where to go!

When riding a mountain bike in the woods, in contrast to riding on the street, navigation and orientation are a bit difficult. After all, there are not a lot of signs in the woods (apart from hiking path signage), and many paths are so small that they can be easily overlooked. This is especially the case when riding single trails. And often the speed is quite high, which means you don’t have time to orient yourself.

The same intersection from above as seen in the map view on the BOLT. It's very clear where to go.
The same intersection from above as seen in the map view on the BOLT. It’s very clear where to go.

That’s why it’s quite helpful to have a device which constantly tells you, where to go. The requirements for such a device are from my point of view:

  1. You need to be able to choose a route you want to go and store it on the device.
  2. The device must be able to constantly display a map with position and direction.
  3. The map needs to be very detailed, because you often ride tiny paths with an MTB.
  4. The device needs to react quickly to changes in position and direction.
  5. Turn-by-turn directions should be possible, they need to be clear and impossible to miss (e. g. when going at high speed with wind noise).
  6. Long battery life.
  7. It must be water and shock resistant. It must be able to survive a bike crash.
  8. Using it with gloves must be possible.

Personally, I’ve tried the following devices in the past:

  • Garmin Edge 205 (ca. 2006), GPS cycling computer
  • Garmin Edge 800 (ca. 2011), GPS cycling computer
  • Different smartphones (Samsung/Apple) and Apps (Open Street Maps, Komoot…)

With none of these devices did I have a lot of fun riding my MTB.

Riding Single Tracks with the Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT

To put it in a nutshell: the ELEMNT BOLT fulfills all requirements listed above. Now, the details:

1: Choosing a Route

The route can be stored on the BOLT very easily using the perfect smartphone integration. This can be done without any configuration effort, anytime, and (only) wirelessly, even on the go.

To be more precise, you use the Wahoo app’s integration with different cycling / outdoor services. Currently supported are for routes with turn directions: Komoot and RideWithGPS, plus the Wahoo ELEMNT app itself.

Example: You plan the route with Komoot, which then automatically appears in the Wahoo ELEMENT app and can be sent to the ELEMNT BOLT via bluetooth.

The actual route calculation doesn’t happen on the BOLT, but rather the turn directions need to be contained in the route data. This has the following advantages:

  • no long-lasting route calculations on the device (a problem with some Garmin products)
  • longer battery life because of fewer calculations
  • no unwanted re-calculation of routes if you have gotten off the route (the BOLT simply can’t do that)

Side remark: The smartphone can stay at home. The BOLT works autonomously, once the correct route has been loaded.

2: Constant Map Display when Riding

The ELEMNT BOLT by default comes with a display page configuration “map” which also displays the speed. Any other further data fields can be easily added to it. With more than 2 data fields the maps display starts to become too small to be useful though. A key press leads to all other display pages (which are also freely configurable).

Some word regarding the map display quality: The ELEMNT BOLT has a black/white LCD display (resolution 320×240) with illumination, which is only needed in the dark or dusk. I was a bit skeptical first, because I’m a bit spoiled by all the very good smartphone displays. The BOLT’s display is totally sufficient for navigating using the map from my experience. The route and paths can easily recognized and distinguished. A realistic impression of the map’s resolution can be seen in the image in the first paragraph of this page.

3: Detailed Maps

Wahoo uses OpenStreetMaps as it’s map base material. These OSM maps can be very detailed. In the Berlin area for example, every tiny path can be found in the map – in other regions this can of course be different.

Wahoo also updates the map material regularly, the updates can be very simply downloaded to the device.

Maps are provided for all of the world’s regions.

4: Rapid Reaction to Changes in Position and Direction

The ELEMNT BOLT supports GPS, GLONASS, and Galileo (and some more) and the speed and accuracy of positioning is absolutely sufficient for a fast-paced ride through the woods. I need to say that I wasn’t able to test this in very deep valleys.

If the map is set to be rotated with the riding direction (not pointing north), it turns just as you would expect it (no jerky turning of the map etc.)

5: Clear Turn-By-Turn Directions

If you ride a specific track, the map displays the surrounding paths. The path you need  to ride is clearly indicated. If you get closer to a turning point, the distance to it is displayed. From a certain distance on, a popup is displayed and there is an acoustic signal, and also one from the integrated LEDs. Additionally, the LCD display’s illumination turns on for a short period.

Riding off the track with the ELEMNT BOLT
Riding off the planned track with the ELEMNT BOLT

If you miss a turning point or get off the track, the BOLT also clearly indicates that with a different acoustic signal and a different LED color (red) for a couple of times. After about 10 seconds, this stops, so you can also keep on riding off the planned track without being bothered by constant alerts. This can be seen in the image on the right.

After getting off the track, if you get back on track at any place of the route, the ELEMNT BOLT reacts just as you would expect – it quickly recognizes that you’re back on track, and continues with guiding you on the track.

Also, you can start a route anywhere – you don’t have to pass the route’s starting point. As soon as the BOLT recognizes that you’re on the track, it turns on the routing.

Overall, the turn-by-turn directions and routing are very clear and can’t be overlooked.

6: Long Battery Life

According to different reviews and also from my own experience, the BOLT gets to at least 10 h on a single charge, with active routing, some illumination, LEDs and at temperatures around freezing point. When turning off some of the features, e. g. illumination or routing, you can probably get to the advertised 15 h. So the BOLT seems to squashes all competing devices with similar functionality.

7: Resistant to Water, Shocks, Crashes

As expected, the BOLT is small (so it’s protected by the stem and handlebar a bit) and light, and of course, sufficiently water resistant. I didn’t do any crash testing, but it sure looks quite robust. The mount also resists any strong shocks and vibrations which are common during mountain biking.

Those physical properties make it much better suited for outdoor sports activities than e. g. a smartphone mounted to your handlebar.

8: Usable with Gloves

The BOLT doesn’t have a touch screen, but physical buttons on both sides and at the bottom edge of the display. They can also be used fine with winter gloves.

These buttons also offer good usability when the device is wet. With touchscreen devices, one often hears reports about input problems (e. g. with some Garmin devices).

TLDR; Summary

The Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT is well suited for mountain biking, especially riding single trails.

4 Replies to “Mountain Biking with the Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT”

  1. Hi, thanks for all the good info here. I have a similar list of requirements to what you’ve listed. I’d like to draw a route on a smartphone and upload the gpx to a device via BT. For route planning I’m using CartographPro on iOS. I can then export the gpx via “Open In…” menu to other apps. Any idea whether ELMNT app would support such an input? Does it appear in the Open In menu?

    1. Matt,
      I think this will work. I tried the following: I created a GPX file (on my laptop) and sent it to my iPhone via AirDrop. The iPhone automatically offered the Wahoo ELMNT app to open it.
      I then stored it in the Files app, and Files also offered to open the file with the ELEMNT app.
      Unfortunately I wasn’t able to test it with the CartographPro app because it’s not offered in the German app store.

      1. Many thanks indeed! Sounds like Bolt is the way to go.

        BTW, for some reason on the AppStore the app is called “Cartograph 2 Maps” but it shows app as CartographerPro once installed. It’s from an Austrian guy (https://www.cartograph.eu).

  2. Thank you very much for the post. I have the same requirements and this was the only place where I could find good information whether Wahoo is well usable for mountain bike navigation.

    Regarding 1., I’d add it’s also easy to use a route created on your own computer. Some part of Wahoo storage can be mounted using MTP and gpx routes can be simply put there under routes/ subdirectory. Turn-by-turn directions work with BRouter when using Locus style directions, although Wahoo converts fine directions to just one of the three “left”, “right”, “straight” (which is still better than with RideWithGPS where everything is apparently just “straight” and real instructions are just in comments). Comments can be added using gpx element, which I think can be very useful to not miss important waypoints.

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