There are many debates in cycling: disc brakes or rim brakes, aerodynamic or lightweight, tubeless or clinchers, and leg warmers over socks or leg warmers under socks? And when it comes to the best cycling computers, the two opposing forces are Garmin and Wahoo.
Despite the onrush from Hammerhead and the ever-present SRM, Lezyne and Bryton, from general consumers to WorldTour professionals, the overwhelming majority ride with either a Garmin or a Wahoo head unit.
Wahoo has just two main computers alongside a wealth of hardware in other categories - mainly indoor cycling - and software with its training platform SYSTM. Garmin, meanwhile, has continually buffered its head unit lineup with a range of innovative devices catering to various price points, as well as a much larger range of tech catering to non-cyclists, including a number of the best smartwatches.
In this article, we’ll attempt to answer the over-arching question: which cycling computer is best, Wahoo or Garmin?
Wahoo cycling computers explained
Wahoo has two cycling computers to choose from: the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt and the Wahoo Elemnt Roam. The Bolt is its race computer, designed to be sleek, lightweight, and aerodynamic, while still providing you with important navigation and training features. On the other hand, the Roam is designed for riders who value adventure, mapping, and exploration over race day performance. The Roam’s colour display is larger than the Bolt’s, and the Roam features a longer battery life too.
However, with the introduction of the latest version, launched in early 2021, the Bolt's increased quantity of different colours (64 up from just eight) and a reworked map screen, makes its display slightly clearer for those following a route.
- Bolt vs Roam: A Wahoo cycling computer head to head
Garmin cycling computers explained
The affordable Edge 130 Plus is much smaller than most cycling computers and weighs just 33g. Garmin’s Edge Explore ($249.99), Edge 530 ($299.99), and Edge 830 ($299.99) are its mid-range offerings featuring larger colour displays and up to 20 hours of battery life. The main difference between the Edge 530 and Edge 830 is the latter’s touchscreen, as opposed to the button-operated Edge 530.
The Edge Explore also comes with a touchscreen and medium-size display, but as the name suggests, it loses some of the fitness capabilities in favour of a focus on mapping. With that said, you’ll be a bit more limited in exploration because of its maximum 12 hours of battery life.
There is a big difference between the Edge 830 and Garmin’s top of the line Edge 1030 Plus ($599.99) which costs nearly twice the price. The Edge 1030 Plus’s display is closer to the size of most smartphones than most cycling computers, and it comes with a claimed 24-hour battery life. Unique to the Edge 1030 Plus is external memory storage, daily workout suggestions, and multi-region cycle maps routable to cycling-specific street maps. The Edge 1030 Plus is billed as the ultimate cycling computer by Garmin.
Why Wahoo is better
One of the biggest differences between Wahoo and Garmin is the Wahoo Elemnt companion app that allows you to set up, update, and adjust your Wahoo cycling computer conveniently from your phone. While Garmin cycling computers are just as customisable – with multiple riding screens, pages, and wireless connections to display – you can only change the display through the computer itself. Even with a touchscreen, it can be a tedious process that many consider is easier done on a smartphone.
The Elemnt companion app connects with Wahoo cycling computers via Bluetooth and allows you to sync routes, workouts, and more from your smartphone. There are too many app features to list them all, but here are a few that stand out: customisable pages, map management and settings, Strava live segments, and text message and phone call alerts.
One small feature of Wahoo computers that makes a big difference is the ability to zoom in/out on your KPIs (key performance indicators such as power, heart rate, speed, etc.) on a Wahoo cycling computer’s display. In the middle of a ride, you can zoom in to show only power and time during a tough interval, and then zoom back out to see additional metrics like distance, time of day, cadence, and more.
As opposed to a touchscreen featured on a number of Garmin cycling computers, the Wahoo Elemnt Bolt and Elemnt Roam feature only buttons. We’ll discuss this further below – why a touchscreen can be good or bad – but for many types of cycling, the button-controlled Wahoo computers come out on top. Touchscreens require a careful and precise touch on a small screen, which can easily be foiled by bumpy roads, rain, mud and winter gloves. For off-road riding, buttons are often the better choice for controlling your cycling computer.
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Why Garmin is better
Garmin has far more options than Wahoo’s two cycling computers, which means that it will cover more of the bases in its offerings. The Edge 130 Plus, for example, meets the sub-$200 price point which Wahoo doesn't cater to, and is one of the best budget cycling computers available.
The touchscreen displays on most Garmin cycling computers are wonderfully convenient for most riders. In use, touchscreens are simpler and more intuitive to navigate than buttons, especially when browsing the map screen. The touchscreen can also be locked at any time to prevent accidental use.
Navigation is also a strong suit of Garmin cycling computers, with a super clear map screen, rerouting capabilities, and integration with third-party routing services via the Garmin Connect IQ app.
Most Garmin cycling computers also come with an emergency/incident alert in the event of a crash, or if your bike suddenly starts moving while you're at the café. This is one of those features that you never really think of wanting, until one day when you really need it.
The mid-level Garmin cycling computers and the Edge 1030 Plus have 20+ hours of battery life, compared to the Wahoo computers which have 15 hours (Bolt) and 17 hours (Roam) of battery life, respectively. This could be a deciding factor for bikepackers and adventure riders who might spend all day on the road or in the mountains. For extreme endurance rides (or if you forget to charge it), the Garmin Edge 830 and Edge 1030 Plus can last close to 40 hours on battery saver mode, and an extra battery pack is also available, which integrates into one of Garmin's out-front mounts.
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How to choose
Touchscreen displays are fairly polarizing in the cycling community – some love them while others hate them. It can take a bit of learning to get used to button navigation, but once you have it down, it becomes natural. Certain types of riders will prefer one over the other: fair weather and casual riders will prefer touchscreens for their ease of use, while mountain bike and gravel riders might prefer buttons instead. On bumpy trails and gravel roads, or in the mud and pouring rain, wearing thick gloves, touchscreens can be difficult, or even impossible to navigate. Buttons are more reliable in variable weather conditions, and when the road is less than smooth.
The size and colour of the display are also important factors to many cyclists. If you’re a commuter or casual cyclist, you probably don’t need a high-resolution colour display. But if you’re bike-packing, gravel riding, or exploring, you’re going to want a map that you can easily read in the midst of a ride. Wahoo head units are known for having easy-to-read displays that are less reflective than Garmin displays, but the size and clarity of the Edge 1030 Plus screen will be the deciding factor for many.
Battery life is one of the biggest differences between the Wahoo and Garmin cycling computers, with Garmin leading the way across most price points. And when you add in battery saver mode, some Garmin head units can last over 24 hours, making them the head unit of choice for bikepacking and ultra-endurance cycling.
Wahoo’s Elemnt companion app is a fantastic user-friendly feature that is missing from the Garmin interface. While Garmin does have an app – Garmin Connect – you cannot use it to customise your Garmin cycling computer. This is one of the biggest reasons that cyclists choose Wahoo over Garmin: intuitive, user-friendly features and the Elemnt companion app.
Wahoo and Garmin are the leading cycling computer manufacturers for a reason. Both offer affordable, feature-laden options for all kinds of cyclists. Some units are lightweight and aerodynamic, while others are built to be robust, with colourful displays and over 20 hours of battery life.
In the end, there is no clear winner for all cyclists, but based on where and how you ride, you will certainly have a preference. For us, Wahoo leads the way for exploration and off-road riding, while Garmin offers a number of affordable options with bright displays and easy-to-use touchscreens.
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Zach is a freelance writer, the head of ZNehr Coaching, and an elite-level rider in road, track, and e-racing. He writes about everything cycling-related, from buyer's guides to product reviews and feature articles to power analyses. After earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Exercise Science at Marian University-Indianapolis, Zach discovered a passion for writing that soon turned into a full-fledged career. In between articles, Zach spends his time working with endurance athletes of all abilities and ages at ZNehr Coaching. After entering the sport at age 17, Zach went on to have a wonderful road racing career that included winning the 2017 Collegiate National Time Trial Championships and a 9th place finish at the 2019 US Pro National Time Trial Championships. Nowadays, Zach spends most of his ride time indoors with NeXT eSport.
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