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Wahoo Fitness has its roots in triathlon. Here, we take an in-depth look at the company’s new cycling computer, the unlikely place Wahoo got its name (hint: it has to do with floating aluminum), and the company’s tri ties.
Where Did Wahoo Fitness Come From?
Chip Hawkins is not only the Founder and CEO of Wahoo Fitness, he is also a serial entrepreneur. After helping a manufacturing company turn its business around from losing a million a month to making a million a month, he was given the presidential bonus—a mere $1,500. “At that point I knew I didn’t want to work for anyone else” but myself, he recalled.
His next move was to buy a struggling neon sign repair company which he turned into a profitable business and sold in late 2000. Next, he purchased a floating dock manufacturing company, Wahoo Docks, (named for Wahoo Creek, which is on the north end of Lake Lanier in northern Georgia) out of bankruptcy and, with the help of a partner, turned it around.
But long work hours led Hawkins to become unhappy with his level of fitness. A not-so-successful attempt at a duathlon led him to a weeklong boot camp, where one of the instructors was a triathlete. She convinced him to try his first triathlon and that’s when his frustration lead him a revelation.
“I got all the gadgets,” recalls Hawkins. “I had the Power Tap with the little yellow computer and the Garmin 305, but they wouldn’t talk with each other.” The engineer in him took over and he quickly came up with the idea of a small device that could plug into your phone to accept data from any ANT+ device. He built what would become the Fisica Key at the annual ANT+ conference in September of 2009. With the product in mind, Hawkins knew he had to have a company to back it. He pulled some resources from the dock company to get things started, but knew he would have to create a new company if he were to take things further. After two months of thinking of a name, one of the employees of the Dock company said, “Why don’t you just call it Wahoo Fitness?” And the name was born.
The Fisica Key was released in early 2010 and was a big success, quickly putting Wahoo on the map in the electronics category. Hawkins based the new venture near his home in Atlanta and began to grow the company. The next big innovation came in 2012 with the release of the KICKR, an indoor trainer that started the smart trainer category. Since then, they have released the KICKR Snap, Fitness Bike Desk and last March, they released the ELEMNT cycling computer. But even as the ELEMNT was being launched, they were already working on another product.
Introducing the ELEMNT BOLT
The ELEMNT is a sizable computer. For some that’s a good thing, but others prefer a slimmer option. Shrinking the ELEMNT wasn’t the only goal of the new BOLT. Wahoo wanted to keep as many features of the ELEMNT as possible, and it had to look good. “People spend 8, 9, 10 thousand dollars on a bike and then throw on this computer that ruins the look,” says Cycling Business Manager Jose Mendez, who also has a degree in industrial design. “We want it to look like it belongs on the bike.”
But smaller and elegant were not enough for Wahoo. They also set out the challenge of making the BOLT actually improve your performance on the bike through increased aerodynamics. To do this, they recruited Dimitri Katsanis, a man with an impressive resume in the aero world. He designed his first carbon bike in 1993, began working with British Cycling in 2002 and recently designed the Pinarello road and time trial bike ridden by Team Sky in 2015 and 2016, as well as the bike used by Sir Bradley Wiggins to set a new Hour World Record.
They took an unconventional approach to the design. According to Katsanis, they had to start with the end in mind and work backwards. This idea led to the concept of creating a single integrated system. Working with Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD), they tested several forms of the system to find a shape that would be the most aero. Through their research, they created the computer and mount to act as a single system. Both the computer and mount have a lip on the bottom that, when together, form a seamless unit. The computer itself features slightly tapered sides and Wahoo did take into account that most riders like to tip their computer up for a better viewing angle, so the BOLT can be tipped up slightly without harming the aero properties. According to Wahoo’s own CFD numbers, during a 40k time trial, the BOLT saves 12.6 seconds at 21mph over the leading competitor (Garmin 520) when on a road bike.
However–and this is a big however–none of the aero advantage applies to triathletes on TT bikes since the system was designed only to work at the front of a road bike. Hawkins and Mendez pointed out that the main reason they had to focus on road bikes is that front end of a tri bike is already so busy with the bars, your arms, a hydration system that it would be nearly impossible to test the aerodynamics. Plus, triathletes put their computer in different places, so designing and testing for all scenarios would be nearly impossible.
The good news is that you can still use the BOLT on a standard Wahoo mount by attaching it to your aerobars. The larger size of the ELEMNT is nice for reading data, but it does take up a lot of real estate, so the slimmer profile of the BOLT makes it a more compelling option for many.
Wahoo knew that the BOLT had to retain all of the features found on the ELEMNT—like pages, routes, LEDs (which can show your current power or heart rate zone and direct your upcoming turn), viewing texts/calls, zooming, Strava Live Segments, Best Bike Split integration and more.
However, due to its smaller size, the BOLT does have some differences. The smaller screen (2.2 diagonal inches versus 2.7) means that the BOLT can only show up to 9 data fields compared to the ELEMNT’s 11, and the battery life is 15 hours compared to 17. There are other physical differences other than size and shape. The BOLT places the LED’s across the top rather than the side and the three main buttons at the bottom are slightly recessed as opposed to being raised as they are on the ELEMNT.
Like the ELEMNT, set up is about as easy as it gets. As Hawkins says, “Using a cycling computer shouldn’t be the hardest part of your ride.” Both computers pair to your phone, and then all the setup is done from there. You can add third party apps, connect sensors, set alerts, customize pages and more, all from your phone. Usability is also very simple. The side buttons zoom in or out to show as much or as little data as you want. The three buttons across the bottom perform multiple duties, from creating laps and viewing different pages to ending rides and saving your data.
The BOLT packs a lot of features into a computer smaller than your iPhone, making it a worthy companion.
Available now for $250 at Wahoofitness.com.