Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: Strong triathlon tracker

Wahoo's debut watch should get better with promised updates
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Wahoo Elemnt Rival
By Wahoo
As a debut, the Wahoo Elemnt Rival leaves us feeling like this 'could' be a great multisports watch. We don't have any massive complaints about how core sports tracking features work. While there are some odd software quirks to get used to, Wahoo does also bring some interesting ideas to the table. Wahoo is promising a fair amount of features through software updates and as long as it doesn't keep people waiting for them, it'll help justifying a price which doesn't seem right to us at the moment. Especially when you compare it to what's around it and maybe costs less too. Hopefully richer training features and improvements to elements like smartwatch features will make the Rival an easier one to recommend. Right now though, that feels difficult to do.

  • Nice build, comfortable to wear
  • Reliable tracking
  • Some nice software touches
  • Lots of 'features on the way'
  • Some iffy heart rate readings
  • UI takes time to get used to

The Wahoo Elemnt Rival is Wahoo's first attempt at making a multisport watch, designed to give Garmin and Polar a run for their money.

There have been rumors and speculation that a Wahoo watch has been in the works for a while now, and one of its product managers told us that the Rival has been in development for at least three years.

This is a watch that can track runs, rides and swims and also throws in some features Wahoo hopes will give it major appeal to triathletes. Those include the ability to automatically track transitions during races and training along with smarter integration with Wahoo's bike computers and its indoor trainer setups.

At , Wahoo has made the Rival cheaper than the Garmin Forerunner 745, Garmin's cheapest triathlon-centric watch. It's also more affordable than the Polar Vantage V2, which offers triathlon tracking support.

It feels like a bold move for Wahoo to enter a space that's so hugely dominated by those established names and newcomers like Coros. So can the Rival really rival the competition? We've been putting it to the test to find out.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival: Design and screen

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: Strong triathlon tracker

The overall feeling of having the Rival on the wrist is that it does a feel a lot like wearing a Garmin Fenix. The 46mm polymer case and 1.2-inch gives it almost the same stature as the middle sized Fenix 6 and even that big ceramic bezel screams Garmin's outdoor watch.

It's a big watch, but certainly doesn't weigh as heavy as you'd expect it to. It weighs 53g, making it significantly lighter than a Fenix 6 and basically the same weight as the Polar Vantage V2. If this is something you're planning to wear for long periods, and no doubt you'll will if you're a triathlete or into your endurance sports, this isn't a watch that's going to weigh you down.

The 1.2-inch, 240 x 240 resolution color display is a good size to check on your stats during a workout, though don't get too carried away with hearing this being called a color display. Those colors are very muted and nothing like what you'd find even on a cheap smartwatch.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: Strong triathlon tracker

Wahoo Elemnt Rival (left) and Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar (right)

Wahoo does offer a nice feature with its ambient light sensor that automatically inverts the display depending on the light source available to give you the best viewing option. It worked best when we jumped into the water for a swim.

Visibility in general was fine outdoors and indoors. There's a backlight as well, though perhaps not the brightest we've seen on a sports watch with no ability to alter its brightness setting.

That polymer case is partnered up with a 25mm silicone band that can be removed via a pin mechanism placed on the back of each side of the band. It has that nice, flexible, soft feel you like to find on straps you're going to be wearing to work out. There was no cause for concern with regards to skin irritation in our time wearing it. Crucially, it never fell off, with a pretty standard watch-style buckle mechanism to keep it securely in place.

As a package, the Rival has a waterproof rating that makes it safe for swimming up to 50 meters deep. That puts it in line with similarly priced watches in terms of its ability to handle a shower or swim in the pool and open water.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival: Watch UI

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: Strong triathlon tracker

There's no touchscreen display here, so your means of control is through the five physical buttons dotted around the left and right sides of the case.

There's a learning curve to remembering what these buttons operate. Even with our experience using multisport watches from Garmin, Polar and Suunto, it paid to take some time to understand Rival's slick-looking software.

The top left button is the backlight button and also the way you unlock/lock the watch screen.

The button below it scrolls through widgets showing off stats like elevation and daily heart rate. Hold down that button and it pushes you into the settings menu to pair up external sensors, broadcast HR, view workout history and power off the watch.

Over to the other side of the watch and the top button lets you scroll through your sports modes. The middle button starts the tracking and the bottom button scrolls through data fields as well. You can also press the two lowest buttons together to toggle through displaying more or fewer data fields during a workout.

It all sounds relatively straightforward, but it definitely took some time to adapt to Wahoo's setup.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival: Elemnt app

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: Strong triathlon tracker

Wahoo uses the same Elemnt iOS and Android smartphone app that it uses for its Bolt, Roam and Mini devices. If you're new to Wahoo, it shouldn't take you too long to get accustomed to where everything lives.

The first screen is your workout screen, then you've got your workout history screen, which puts daily activity stats at the top. The profile section is where you can adjust power and heart rate zones and connect to third-party apps.

There's a sizeable collection of apps here too, including Strava, Training Peaks, Final Surge, MapMyFitness, Google Fit, Apple Health and even Dropbox.

The settings screen is perhaps the most important here, as this is the place to customize your watch. You can control the daily activity data you can record and edit workout profiles. You can pick from some template profiles to add to the watch and create some generic ones too.

You can also turn on features like Live Track, alerts for notifications and set up your paired sensors.

It's an app that's pretty straightforward to use. We found it can be a little slow to connect to the watch when you open it up to sync data or change settings. Overall though, it's been pretty stable to use and most shouldn't have a problem getting to grips with it.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival: Sports and fitness tracking features

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: Strong triathlon tracker

On paper, the Rival pretty much offers everything you could want from a multisports watch. On the sensor front, you're getting built-in GPS and GLONASS, an altimeter, GPS-based compass and an accelerometer. You don't get a gyroscope or a thermometer.

Before delving into sports tracking, we should talk about its fitness tracking skills, which are a little on the basic side. You can track steps, distance covered and calories burned, but can't track floors climbed despite the inclusion of an altimeter. You also don't get sleep tracking either. Wahoo told us it has the capability to offer it, but it only wants to add it when it feels it adds value for the user.

There didn't seem to be anything out of the ordinary from a step tracking point of view, though it doesn't seem possible to view totals easily beyond your current week's step counts.

Switching to sports tracking and you get a sizeable collection of workout profiles along with the ability to create more generic or preset ones in the Elemnt app as mentioned. The core modes are indoor cycling, outdoor cycling, running, treadmill, lap swimming, open water swimming, strength and yoga.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: Strong triathlon tracker

Run tracking compared: Wahoo Elemnt Rival (left and centre) and Garmin Fenix 6 Pro Solar (right)

For running, it didn't keep us waiting long for a GPS signal and on the whole, delivered reliable distance and core running metrics compared to the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro and Forerunner 945 we pitted it against.

The feature to toggle how many data fields (up to six) are on view in real-time is a nice feature and metrics were on the whole easy enough to absorb on the move whether you go for the maximum six or keep it simpler.

You can also benefit from more advanced running metrics, though you'll need to pair it up with Wahoo's Tickr X chest strap monitor to make that possible.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: Strong triathlon tracker

Swim tracking compared: Wahoo Elemnt Rival (left) and Form Swim Goggles (right)

Moving to the water, it was a solid performer too. We pitted it against the Fenix 6 Pro and Form's Swim Goggles and it delivered near enough identical core swimming metrics. It was in line with elements like average pace and rest time between sets with a breakdown of individual lengths also available to view in the companion app.

Where Wahoo thinks it has the upper hand is with its collection of triathlon-centric features and the ability to work with other Wahoo devices.

When in triathlon mode there are touchless transitions, which use the onboard accelerometer and Wahoo's algorithms to automatically change between swim, cycle and run tracking modes without you needing to hit a button. It's a feature that Wahoo told us itself is not 100% guaranteed to always match official results, so it does give you the option to edit post-race if needed.

Disappointingly, it doesn't work if you're doing a two discipline event or training session like a SwimRun or just doing a bike and running session. Wahoo says it is looking at other multisport activities, but hasn't gone as far to say when they might launch.

There's also multisport handover, which brings the Rival closer together with Wahoo's Elemnt bike computers. When you approach your bike from your swim, it will use Bluetooth to recognise when you're nearby to start sharing data and give you a cumulative workout metrics on the bike computer. You do still have the option to take the manual route with multisport tracking.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: Strong triathlon tracker

If you own one of Wahoo's Kickr Bike, Kickr, Core or Snap setups, you can also use the Rival to control them in level, ERG and passive modes.

There's some sizeable features that don't make the cut here, that you will find on other similarly priced and even cheaper watches. There's nothing in the way of training analysis like you get on Garmin, Polar and Coros watches. You can't create custom training workouts yet, though that's another one tagged as a future software update. There's also nothing in the way of mapping and navigation features here either.

Some of these arguably might not be huge dealbreakers for many, though it's more surprising there isn't anything in the way of some interesting training insights and analysis here. Wahoo may well be banking on people making use of third-party app support from the likes of Training Peaks to get that, but we'd have liked to have seen a Wahoo take on making better sense of training data.

We can't really knock the sports tracking as it seemed to perform well with what we threw at it. Are features like touchless transitions and multisport handover groundbreaking must-have features for triathletes? We are not convinced.

We do think the closer integration with Wahoo's other devices and potentially other third-party sensors and accessories could be how the Rival shines in the future. If Wahoo sticks to its promise of getting those software updates rolled out.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival: Heart rate accuracy

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: Strong triathlon tracker

The Rival includes an optical heart rate monitor, though Wahoo doesn't disclose much more about the technology it's using in that sensor. It does of course make its own accurate chest strap monitors, though those are based on EKG technology. It does also make its arm-worn Tickr Fit heart rate monitor that uses optical sensor technology, and we found that to be pretty accurate on the whole.

It also offers ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity support, which means you can pair external sensors including chest strap monitors, whether that's a Wahoo one or one from another brand.

That onboard heart rate sensor provides all-day heart rate monitoring and lets you broadcast heart rate to Elemnt bike computers and apps. Its primary goal is to give you an insight into your effort levels when you're in workout mode.

If you head into your profile on the companion app you can set up your heart rate zones to make sure they are more accurately defined. Drop in your maximum heart rate and average resting heart rate and it will automatically calculate your zones for you.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: Strong triathlon tracker

Heart rate tracking compared: Wahoo Elemnt Rival (left) and Garmin HRM-Pro chest strap (right)

Performance-wise, we found the Rival had good days and also bad days from an accuracy point of view. Mostly not very good days. Steadier runs would push out data in line with a chest strap monitor on most occasions, but there were plenty of times like the run shown above where the graphs and average BPM readings were far off a chest strap.

When we put it to the high intensity test, things didn't get much better. Below is a sample from an interval running session where both average and maximum heart rate readings were some way off a chest strap monitor.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: Strong triathlon tracker

Interval training with heart rate: Wahoo Elemnt Rival (left) and Garmin HRM-Pro chest strap (right)

Daily HR in general seemed largely reliable, though that data isn't displayed or kept anywhere in the companion app as far as we can see.
If you want to get the most accurate data, our advice is to pair it up with one of Wahoo's chest strap monitors or something from Polar and you'll get the kind of insights you can rely on.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival: Smartwatch features

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: Strong triathlon tracker

The Rival can play smartwatch, but in very basic terms. Even those features that do make the cut don't match what else is out there. Wahoo says software updates are on the way to improve things, but that seems to be a theme here.

You're not getting apps, payments or music controls/players. You're getting notification support, though how that notification support works when paired to Android phones and iPhones differs.

With Android phones, you can receive text messages only with email notifications to be added in a future software update. For iPhone users, you get text message and email alerts. There's currently no third-party support and no timeline for when or if that will be added.

So clearly the support favors iPhone owners as things currently stand, but even then it's not by much. We used the Rival with an Android phone and can't say we receive a lot of text messages these days, but we did test it out and it worked. Once the message notification pops up and you've read it, you can then delete it.

Other than that very basic notification support, you can pick from a handful of watch faces you can change the accent colors on and manage the widgets displayed on the watch. That's your lot though.

While we don't have an issue with Wahoo keeping smartwatch features to a minimum, the lack of third-party app support for notifications is baffling and hopefully this is something Wahoo is working to add quickly.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival: Battery life

Wahoo doesn't disclose the capacity of the battery packed into the Rival but does talk about the kind of numbers you can expect. It says it should be capable of running for 14 days in 'smartwatch' mode or up to 24 hours in GPS mode or heart rate monitoring mode.

To put that into perspective, the pricier Garmin Forerunner 745 promises 7 days in smartwatch mode and 16 hours of GPS battery life. The Polar Vantage V2 offers 7 days in smartwatch mode and up to 40 hours in GPS mode. It's worth mentioning the vastly cheaper Coros Pace 2 here too, which offers 20 days and 30 hours GPS battery life.

So while the Rival's numbers aren't class leading, they sit in around what you can expect around this price. In practice, without any kind of tracking, we saw a drop of around 10% a day. For an hour using the GPS, battery drop-off was similar to what we found with a Fenix 6 Pro, knocking just 2-5% off battery. We found it was good for a solid week's worth of training and maybe get you up to 10 days. 14 days seems very optimistic, especially if you're training regularly.

Thankfully, if the battery does happen to run low while you're out tracking, it will save the part of the workout before that screen goes blank.

How we test

Michael Sawh


Michael Sawh has been covering the wearable tech industry since the very first Fitbit landed back in 2011. Previously the resident wearable tech expert at Trusted Reviews, he also marshaled the features section of T3.com.

He also regularly contributed to T3 magazine when they needed someone to talk about fitness trackers, running watches, headphones, tablets, and phones.

Michael writes for GQ, Wired, Coach Mag, Metro, MSN, BBC Focus, Stuff, TechRadar and has made several appearances on the BBC Travel Show to talk all things tech. 

Michael is a lover of all things sports and fitness-tech related, clocking up over 15 marathons and has put in serious hours in the pool all in the name of testing every fitness wearable going. Expect to see him with a minimum of two wearables at any given time.

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