Gear

First Ride: Wahoo Elemnt Roam GPS Cycling Computer

Wahoo's new Elemnt Roam boasts navigation capabilities that will please mountain bikers and gravel riders, while keeping the proven features of its GPS line.

Gravel has gotten its dirty fingers into everything, it seems. Even your head unit gets a revamp aimed at post-pavement adventures. Sure, Wahoo’s newest computer, the Elemnt Roam, has plenty of features to get the dedicated roadie excited. But its special sauce is aimed squarely at those seeking dust and dirt. That’s you too, mountain bikers.

Notably, the Elemnt Roam integrates Singletracks and MTB Project maps into its navigation system. (An integration with Trailforks is also on the horizon; Garmin recently announced its Edge 530 and 830 models, which already integrate with Trailforks.) That means you can get breadcrumb navigation off-road too. And that’s just the beginning.

Elemnt Roam's warmup screen
The first taste you get of color on the Roam happens at startup. Like the Elemnt Bolt, the Roam picks up a GPS signal very quickly after startup. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com

Other Smart Navigation features on the Elemnt Roam seem equally impressive: You can create a route to get you to the start of your ride, you can retrace your route, the device can get you back on track if you go off-route, and you can even use the “take me to” function to get you somewhere specific. You can save locations in the device too in case you want to go back to that awesome coffee shop you stopped at mid-ride. Yep, you can save those locations right in the middle of your ride, no WiFi required. All of those features should come in handy if you frequently ride in unfamiliar places.

The device itself is larger than the Elemnt Bolt, but slightly smaller than the original Elemnt, which will be phased out. It also features a larger battery that Wahoo says should last up to 17 hours. The screen size measures 2.7 inches, which is larger than the 2.2-inch screen on the Elemnt Bolt and the same size as the original Elemnt.

Also of note: Wahoo integrates color into the Elemnt Roam’s display, though it’s not a full-color display that we’ve seen on other devices. Instead, Wahoo uses color selectively to highlight the things you need to see quickly while you’re riding, rather than adding color to every element on the screen. According to Wahoo, it didn’t make sense to go full-color because there was no real advantage to it; full-color can be just as confusing during quick glances as black and white. So the selective color helps to enhance readability only.

Navigation colors
The maps page features selective color. The road you’re on and navigation arrows stand out in color while the rest of the map remains black and white. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com

The Elemnt Roam integrates with Wahoo’s mount seamlessly. It looks neat and aero. But the device will still mount to your old Wahoo mount too, provided there’s enough clearance between the computer and your handlebar. In other words, the mounting interface hasn’t changed.

Nor has the three-button layout you may have gotten used to on the Elemnt Bolt. And the face also features colored LED lights that can be programmed for use in a variety of ways, including navigation and Strava Live Segment notifications.

And the Elemnt Roam communicates with the Wahoo app in the same way other Wahoo computers do. If you’ve used Wahoo computers before, the overall experience with the Elemnt Roam will feel intuitive and familiar.

Elemnt Roam First Ride

My first experience with the Elemnt Roam took place entirely on pavement in and around Monterey, California. But there was still plenty of opportunity to experiment with notable features.

For example, I tried the “return to the start” and “get me to the start of my ride” functions. Both worked as intended, and I found these to be very useful features. The map is immediately readable, and Wahoo denotes your intended route with bright blue arrows. It’s easy to see at a quick glance.

Elemnt Roam Navigation
Wahoo placed the screen as close to the facing glass as possible to ensure a crisp picture and to eliminate any shadows or artifacts. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com

My only complaint on that first ride was the Elemnt Roam’s relatively slow notification system when turns were approaching. It would have made my ride much smoother if I had gotten turn indications a second faster than I was getting them, particularly on fast descents. This is hardly a problem that’s exclusive to Wahoo, and I don’t know what it would take to speed this up. But I definitely think I would have missed fewer turns with a slightly quicker system.

Since that first ride, I’ve gotten a few rides in at home too. Obviously, I didn’t use the navigation features on home roads, so I was able to get a sense of how the computer functions in the situations in which I’m most likely to use it. Fortunately, it felt almost no different than using the Elemnt Bolt I’m used to. The Elemnt Roam’s larger display is easier to read, and while the overall size of the unit is bulkier than the Elemnt Bolt, I didn’t feel as though I had a laptop extending off the front of my handlebars. It’s an ideal size.

Big screen, big buttons
The Elemnt Roam is slightly smaller than the original Elemnt but features the same screen size. The three buttons along the bottom of the screen will feel familiar to Elemnt Bolt users. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com

While it isn’t revolutionary, it is a positive step for Wahoo, which has become the first formidable opponent of the Garmin giant. Like the Elemnt Bolt, the Elemnt Roam is quick to set up (just scan the QR code and it’s paired to your phone), it’s intuitive and easy to use, and it’s got all the features you’ve come to expect from the top of the line.

We’ll be doing a long-term test of this $380 unit to check Wahoo’s battery life claims and to spend more time with the navigation system. Early impressions are quite good, and assuming the Elemnt Roam works as intuitively as the Elemnt Bolt has, it’s not a stretch to envision this unit becoming standard equipment on our test bikes.

 

Customizable computer screen
You can customize each page to get the data fields you want. If you want less data and bigger numbers, you can do that. If you want all your data and don’t mind smaller numbers, you can do that too. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com
GPS Cycling Computer
A clear example of the Elemnt Roam’s selective color. Photo: Dan Cavallari | VeloNews.com