Tech & Wearables

Reviewed: Wahoo’s New Rival Smartwatch

The indoor trainer and cycling computer brand that has been a longtime favorite of triathletes is branching out with its first smartwatch, but does it stand up in a crowded market?

Review Rating


Basics

A moderately equipped smartwatch with a few very cool, totally singular (and totally tri-specific) features


Pros

Fantastic tri transition functions
Very cool bike computer handoff feature
Handy “zoom” function
Decent battery life
Simple and intuitive interface

Cons

Few smartphone functions
Slightly clunky brick/swimrun capabilities
A few bugs here and there
No navigation


Weight

54g

Price

$380

Brand

Wahoo


As the makers of some of the most dependable, easy-to-use, and well-designed cycling computers/indoor trainers on the market, it’s exciting to see Wahoo enter the (crowded) smartwatch market with the new Rival. Even more exciting than that, the Rival is geared more heavily towards triathletes than pretty much any other smartwatch available—boasting a host of tri- and multisport-specific features that are not only very clever, but also entirely unique. While the Wahoo Rival isn’t a do-it-all situation like a few other smartwatches in the $300-500 price range, what it does, it does pretty well. Read on for our review.

Wahoo Rival Smartwatch Review: The Basics

It’s a pretty big deal when a brand like Wahoo finally dips their toe into running/multisport electronics, and it’s no surprise that Wahoo spent a lot of time working on developing the Rival. The result is a very tight set of basic features that triathletes will appreciate along with 14 days of battery in smartwatch mode and 24 hours of GPS training. To get the basics out of the way, the Rival has wrist-based heart rate, open-water and lap swimming, advanced cycling (power, cycling dynamics, etc. when connected to the appropriate sensor), and running (with some built-in dynamics like cadence)—however, it does not have data fields for running with power (yet) or a track mode similar to a few competitors like Coros and Garmin. The Rival will do basic smartphone notifications like text, phone call alerts, and emails on iOS (Android is missing email currently), but it won’t do other app notifications or control music; it also does not do navigation. And while it ticks most of the basics, it’s the multisport features that deserve their own paragraph.

Wahoo has created two totally new functions that it’s safe to say other companies will try to copy in the future: touchless transitions and multisport handoff. The former is multisport wizardry that automatically detects when you go from open-water swimming to T1, then onto your bike, onto T2, then onto your run. It not only cycles into the proper mode (we’ll get into this more, below), but it also allows you to manually trigger if it doesn’t properly trip, or go back a step if it accidentally triggers too early. Additionally, you can edit the “race” later in the app to match up to official transition spots and results. Almost more impressively, when paired with a Wahoo ELEMNT (Roam or Bolt), the Rival will automagically hand off your time/information to the bike computer when you get close to your bike in transition. The RIVAL also has other multisport profiles like bike/run brick, duathlon, and aquabike that use the handoff feature, as well as a manual multisport mode that allows you to link any of the workout profiles into one session.

Wahoo Rival Smartwatch Review: The Good

Obviously triathletes should be huge fans of the touchless transition and maybe even moreso the handoff mode. The touchless transition worked very well in our mock tri tests and was shockingly accurate when compared to a manual transition on our “control” watch. Even when it got it wrong, it was a very very simple fix in the Wahoo smartphone app post-tri—simply put in the correct times from your results, and each leg is adjusted for the proper sport/transition. The handoff feature is even more mystifying and very easily falls into the “why didn’t someone do this before” category. So many triathletes have a smartwatch and a bike computer but hate either mounting the watch on bars in a race or hate fussing with the setup for both on race day—only to have to clunkily combine them post-race. Set up is simple by putting the ELEMNT into low-power multisport “standby mode” in transition, and it activates when you come into T1 and get close. 

We also liked the easy-to-read fonts, simple and intuitive interface (both typical of Wahoo), as well as the zoom function that they borrowed from their cycling computers that allows you to view more or less data on a given screen based on preset priorities you set up in the app. Sometimes you want to see your pace, sometimes you very much do not. Also the burly construction and size of this watch feels more like a $500+ Garmin Fenix or Suunto 7 than something under $400.

Wahoo Rival Smartwatch Review: The Meh

There’s a lot that’s great about this watch, and certainly the “goods” are good enough for most triathletes to seriously consider adding this to their holiday wish list. Unfortunately, this watch doesn’t do everything perfectly, so it’s worth mentioning a few mild misses so at least you know what you won’t get with what you will. First, it’s important to know that there are no navigation functions—even breadcrumbs, routing, or compass, let alone mapping (competitors in this price range are hit or miss on this type of functionality). There is also no way to adjust GPS modes (no GLONASS) or GPS sampling to extend battery life. We also really liked the triathlon mode, but the bike/run brick mode only allowed one iteration—rather than multiple bike/run/bike/runs—and the manual multisport mode is fine, but a little clunky, requiring the user to navigate the sport profile menu during each transition and doesn’t work with the handoff to an ELEMNT. We also had a few issues with buggy screens, but I’d guess a firmware update or two would fix that and maybe even button up some other aforementioned issues. More smartphone integration at this price would be great too (like music control and other app notifications), but not a dealbreaker by any means.

Wahoo Rival Smartwatch Review: The Conclusions

There’s a lot for triathletes to get very very excited about in this watch. For those who have struggled with their smartwatch and/or cycling computer at a race (truly the last time you really want to add another level of complexity), the Rival solves a few big problems. The bones on this watch are fantastic—with a great smartphone app that helps do the heavy lifting of loading workouts, customizing sport profiles and data screens, and more. There are a few things missing from the Rival that make it more of a $300 smartwatch than a $380 smartwatch—when comparing with offerings from COROS and Polar, for example—but it’s far from overpriced. While there are a few bugs and odd little misses here and there, nothing should prevent Wahoo fans from extending their collection onto their wrists, and triathletes should rejoice at some of the fantastic, singular multisport features on the new Rival.