I'll be honest, I'm probably the worst person to try and review a modern cycling computer. Why? Until a couple of months ago, I'd taken a near five year hiatus from riding with any kind of ride data. No mileage, no heart rate, no power... nothing but an analog watch strapped to my wrist. After years of racing and training diligently to a coach's prescription, I'd gotten a bit burnt out by it all and decided to go back to life untethered from technology.
The care free lifestyle had served me well for quite a while until I got caught out solo on an unmarked Grasshopper Adventure race earlier this year. Dropped from the lead group with no wheels to follow or any GPS guidance, I found myself off course a few more times than I'd like to admit. With a summer full of similar gravel and MTB races on the schedule, I figured it time to get back in the head unit game.
My last frame of reference for a cycling computer was a Garmin 500 I bought nearly ten years ago. I figured it was time to get with the times, and when the new Wahoo Element Roam finally came out, I got my hands on one and mounted it up. Given my lack of experience with anything else out on the market, this will be less of a true review, but rather some of the revelations of riding with a computer once again.
The Roam is the largest computer Wahoo makes. While on the bigger side, it's comparable to the Garmin counterpart it competes with, and is a bit smaller than the SRM PC8. Out front of a road stem, it looks pretty normal but definitely looks large when mounted atop the stem on my mountain bike. While it certainly takes up some cockpit real estate, the large screen is really quite nice if you like to have a number of data fields open at any given moment or for using the maps or elevation profile features.
With gadgets like this, I'm the kind of person that likes to avoid the manual until absolutely necessary. Mostly out of stubbornness, but also as a test of how intuitive the product is. Firing it up, the first thing I realized was that I couldn't change or set anything up on the device itself, and that you actually need to download the Wahoo app. From what I understand, this is not uncommon these days, but remember, I've been living under a rock when it comes to bike computers.
At first, I was a bit annoyed at needing another electronic device to make this electronic device function, but as soon as I dove into it I realized that it is so, so much easier than trying to set things up with just the two buttons on my archaic Garmin. Building and arranging custom pages was a breeze, and in no time I was ready to go.
Out on my first spin, things started off as expected. Time, speed, all the usual fields we running just like any other computer. Suddenly though, it started beeping repeatedly at me. I looked down and started seeing text messages pop up on the screen. I definitely didn't expect to have that happen! Turns out, these modern computers can help complete a life of never being disconnected. For me, I immediately went into the app and disabled those notifications. I could see that for a lot of people, seeing your text or email notifications without having to dig your phone out could be a benefit.
While I didn't necessarily need a computer for my typical training and fun rides, I still needed to get familiar with it. After tracking my first few rides, I remembered that old Strava account I hadn't logged into in years. Back when I was actually using it, I always hated needing to be hooked up to a computer to get ride data uploaded. I know, I know. Pretty much every computer does this now, but being able to have rides auto upload wirelessly is an incredibly welcome convenience.
While it's been fun and all being back on Strava, comparing segment times and having a ride log again, I could easily go back to living without it. My main purpose for getting back on the computer train was as a tool for race day. Maps and navigation were really my primary interest. Being able to sync a course map from my phone to the Roam, wirelessly, as late as minutes before start time, is such an awesome ability. The ease of which it can be done makes the Roam all the sweeter.
I did a fair amount of traveling to new places this year, and riding events in an unknown territory, it was so nice being able to look at the map while riding and have a sense of where the route would go. Even on courses that were well marked, it was a huge mental advantage to get alerts as key turns or prominent segments were coming up. Having navigation on a pre-loaded ride route is awesome, but if you're caught out lost in the middle of nowhere, the Roam can navigate you back to your start line or hotel. Just make sure to download the area's map before heading out.
What I've really come to appreciate most, however, is the climbing page with the elevation profile graphics. Whether on a, big long grinder climb, or a shorter steep punchy climb, I find it incredibly useful to have a visual of where I'm at on a climb and gauge how I needed to meter my efforts to get to the top as fast as possible without blowing up.
Despite having a computer back on my bike, I'm still a pretty simplistic rider. I still don't have power and I still don't ride with heart rate, so there aren't many sensors I need to pair the Roam with. One that I do love though, is having tire pressure readings with TyreWiz right there on my display.
In nearly all scenarios of dirt racing, especially cross or gravel, I'm constantly paranoid about having burped or leaked a tire. If my tires every feel slightly too squishy, I'm immediately worried as to wether I should stop to put more air in to prevent a bigger catastrophe. 9 times out of 10, when I stop to check, my tires are just fine and it was just a mid race mind game. With psi reading always in view, it provides a lot of piece of mind while out on rugged terrain.
For mountain biking, I appreciate it even more. I've only got one bike at the moment that I use for everything from cross country racing to hitting jumps and gaps on enduro style trails. For more single track and trail riding, I like to keep pressure fairly low around 18-20psi, but going off jumps or landing big drop offs can get really sketchy with a squishy tire, and I tend to air the rear up to around 27 psi. When I'm riding bigger trails and see a big feature coming up, knowing my pressure is where it needs to be instills a lot of confidence.
I'll admit, it was a bit of an ego check these past few months putting a computer back on my bike. After spending so long riding without it, I'd developed a a reputation for being the guy on the start line without a computer strapped to my stem and no rides to track online. With that, came a small sense of pride. While I don't envision ever going back full on tracking power and HR, I really can't deny the advantages a computer can offer. Navigation alerts and elevation profiles are extremely nice to have. As dorky as it might be having a TPMS system on a bicycle, having a constant display of front and rear tire pressure is simply amazing.
I know the competitors all have devices with similar features, I really fell in love with the simplicity and ease of use of the Wahoo Roam device and app. There are certainly times where I'd like to have something a little smaller mounted to my bars, the bigger screen really allows you to take advantage of all the Roam's features and that makes it well worth it. Ego aside, the Roam has brought me back to the dark side of riding with data.
For more details on the Wahoo Element Roam, check it out on our web store here.