In this Hammerhead Karoo Review we look in detail at one of the world’s coolest-looking Bike Computers. If we are dealing in superlatives then let’s say it’s THE coolest-looking Bike Computer.
But looks can be deceptive. And marketing hype can be deceptive. So let’s lift the lid and see what’s really inside.
To compete with Garmin’s high-price/high-features business model all the other bike computer manufacturers have to decide which aspect of their product they want to make awesome, in order to appeal to a large number of cyclists. Hammerhead have chosen these three areas in which to compete and beat Garmin at their own game:
- Looks, Ease of Use & Data Visualisations;
- Training; and the key one
- Mapping & Navigation.
I’ll cover those 3 areas, in turn, after having a look at what you get and how the Karoo is set up. I’m not going to cover every aspect of the product unboxing and setup, so for more info here is the user guide on hammerhead.io.
- Awesome piece of hardware and a touchscreen that works, even for navigation
- Great route grabbing and route creation functionalities
- Great route catalogue tool
- Internet connection via SIM card or WiFi
- Good, responsive training tool
- Some cool, innovative data displays
- Easy setup
- Battery life when navigating is shortened
- No dropbox or Google Drive integration
- No audio yet (external BLE audio can be paired for navigation alerts)
Who Is the Karoo For?
Generally we could say that Hammerhead are targeting the Karoo at ‘those who navigate‘ or ‘those who want a cool-looking generalist device‘. More specifically Hammerhead seem to be well suited to targetting: cycle tourists; urban and rural explorers; gravel racing cyclists; high-end tech enthusiasts; and touring companies.
Some of those segments have obvious meanings, others not. I’ll summarise key areas of the Karoo experience that might appeal to each type of potential buyer by way of explanation:
- Cycle tourists – group ride sharing and personal route management functionalities
- Urban/Rural Explorers – People who plan whilst riding, exploring the immediate area in an ad-hoc manner
- Gravel cyclists – the map has a dedicated gravel routing preference
- Tech enthusiasts – can load and run Android apps onto the Karoo
- Touring Companies – can sync any Karoo device to any online Karoo user profile and routes can be frequently modified and sync’d throughout large groups.
Unboxing & Contents – Hammerhead Karoo Review
It came with a sweet BarFly out-front mound and a tether plus some tools, a cable and a a SIM tray
The rear of the device is pried off by hand (without tools) in order to insert the SIM card into a slot that is covered by a rubber seal. It’s inserted just like in your smartphone.
The tether is attached underneath the mount (90 degree Garmin-rotated type) and the mount is removed by a hex wrench/allen key. Apart from carrying the Karoo, the tether is also great to reduce the chance of theft or loss from your bike.
Setting Up The Hammerhead Karoo
This section assumes you’ve used a bike computer before, so I go though the more unusual and noteworthy parts of setting up the Karoo here. Other basics are covered in the User Guide: hammerhead.io.
You will be aiming to set up: your Hammerhead dashboard account; WiFi; BLE/ANT+ Bike sensors; and training screens.
Most changes are completed on the Karoo itself. There is no smartphone app. You’ll create your online account and link to other ride and analysis platforms like MTB Project; Garmin Connect; RideWithGPS; Komoot, TrainingPeaks; and STRAVA.
You create routes on the Karoo OR on the online Dashboard or you can import them into the Karoo dashboard. Hammerhead then organise your routes in the dashboard as ’tiles’ – nice.
The dashboard has a somewhat minimalist approach and does NOT contain any post-workout analysis. Other than a summary on your Karoo, that’s it. Hammerhead assume you will do all your analysis on STRAVA or ‘somewhere else’. That might provoke you to say ‘Oh’…but I actually think it’s a sensible move for a challenger-type company. This move frees up Hammerhead employee’s time to focus on making an ever-cooler device.
Connectivity – WiFi & BLE/ANT+ Sensors
WiFi connectivity is the easiest one…you know what to do. It’s great to have your rides uploaded over WiFi to STRAVA before you even walk in the door and it’s very quick at getting new routes from the dashboard on to the Karoo – like super quick. Although downloading the required map segment can take a few 10s of seconds if it is not already cached on your Karoo.
Ultimately Hammerhead want to support the connection of every sensor type (Source: hammerhead.io) and, they have made a reasonable effort so far with the commonly used BLE/ANT+ sensor types: HRMs; L-R power meters; and speed/cadence/combo sensors. You can now also pair to a Bluetooth Audio sensor (we’ll come back to that interesting choice)
Aero sensors and muscle oxygen sensors are going to be well down on the list of priorities in reality. Although, I would hope that “trainer control” is on the soon-to-do list as currently my KICKR only appears as a power meter. To put your expectations for sensor compatibility in perspective, we are only seeing POWER METER calibration supported in Q4.2018. That is a ‘must-have’ feature if you are going to the trouble of supporting power meters in the first place.
That all sounds ‘OK’. But the implementation of what is there IS good – for a start you can disable BLE or ANT+ entirely if you only use one sensor type and that might save some battery juice. Also, for example, the sensors: can be renamed; clearly show identifiers like ANT+ ID; describe the type/capability of the sensor eg telling you if power balance comes from your PM; and show battery status/voltage info. OK the sensor might transmit incorrect battery data but Hammerhead have no control over that.
Training Screens & Data Fields
I’ll start by saying that the Karoo doesn’t support multiple bike profiles but, as long as your bikes have the same wheel sizes then you can use the Karoo’s PAGE SETs as if they were bike profiles. You could see PAGE SETs as SPORT PROFILEs, so you might have one set of pages for these or more scenarios: commuting; navigating; your MTB; climbing and racing. If your bikes have different wheel sizes then you will have to change that setting before you choose a different PAGE SET.
PAGE SETs work in a similar way with tiles, that Wahoo uses on their app – except Hammerhead coolly makes use of that ON THE DEVICE.
Basic options for your page sets are navigation cues (on/off) and autopause (on/off). Going beyond that is where we get some cool stuff. We’ll cover that in the Looks & Visualisation section (coming next)
Looks & Visualisations
The Karoo Hardware Aesthetics
The hardware has a ‘solid’ design.
The Karoo has a wider screen than most bike computers. That extra width is probably ‘neutral’ when considering its effect on the display of data metric but the screen size AND TYPE is highly suited to navigation. The maps look great on it and are sensibly augmented by the ability to overlay a couple of pertinent metrics, shown below. I have seen more vivid colours on other devices BUT overall the clarity and readability of the Karoo in multiple lights conditions is great.
The buttons are designed well and the touchscreen works almost all of the time, unlike every other touchscreen I’ve previously tried to use! If Apple made a bike computer then it would probably look more like the Hammerhead Karoo than any other bike computer on the market now.
Karoo General Interface Aesthetics
The whole interface is clear and intuitive. Whilst it is designed to be touchscreen operated, buttons seem to me to be able to perform all the navigation and selections that are normally required.
Karoo is built on Android and so there are familiar similarities with how your smartphone may work, for example dragging the screen down to see a wifi connection, brightness settings and sensor bar. There are also many small, perhaps unnecessary, but very nice touches – such as the inclusion of small on-screen icons next to the physical buttons, these give an indication of what action the buttons can perform.
A great deal of thought has clearly gone into the interface.
Throughout the Karoo’s interface it is clear that the designers have made significant attempts to make it look good and I would say that they have achieved that, although style is always a personal thing.
Screens & Data Fields
There are some novel and useful new data field types and all the usual suspects are there as well.
The novel data fields include enhanced ‘average data fields’ for power/speed/cadence, which include colour indication to show if that metric is rising, falling or constant. Those same metrics are further enhanced with a visual ‘tail’ if they are shown in full screen mode. There are also animated Zone data fields for heart rate and power. Like this…
Training & Racing
Most medium- to high-end bike computers are able to perform as training and racing devices. We are particularly looking at the devices ability to help the athlete follow a relatively complex training plan and to pace race efforts. A key part to supporting all of that is being able to offer a variety of ways of display standard information from bike sensors such as power, speed, cadence, grade and so on. Karoo canprovide that support and is able to present the data as various laps or averages as suited by different Karoo owners. That’s all standard stuff and Karoo can meet the needs of most race data as well.
Part of training is to analyse your performances and Hammerhead do not provide that on their platform but do give most of the necessary means to get the data from their platform and into other appropriate platforms like TrainingPeaks. I would have preferred the inclusion of automated dropbox links too.
Karoo cannot yet, for example, run workout files created byTrainingPeaks. For most cyclists that’s fine and certainly fine for Hammerhead’s intended market but a notable number of athletes regularly follow structured workouts. Similarly, more serious athletes might be looking for high levels of integration with smart indoor trainers ie to have those structured workouts control the trainer’s resistance. Hammerhead’s Karoo can readily take such turbo trainers as a source of workout data but is currently unable to control a smart trainer like Wahoo’s KICKR.
The more dedicated athletes looking for a comprehensive training infrastructre will choose a different kind of cycling product for advanced training and racing.
This is the key area for the Hammerhead. The Karoo does genuinely stand out as a well-made and good-looking device and, sure, ‘looks’ will get some customers. The Karoo’s training capabilities are strong enough for most people but still similar to competing products. Thus Mapping & Navigation is the area where the Karoo needs to stand out from the crowd. And in this section we are talking about HOW WELL it works at navigation and not HOW PRETTY it looks.
The kind of people I can see as having bikenav needs are: trail riders; tourers; weekend group riders; urban explorers; rural explorers; and more.
Other than the obvious ‘A to B via C‘ need then these people are likely going to be looking for this kind of functionality: grabbing public routes; sharing routes with group members; creating new routes; sticking to, or avoiding, certain kinds of trails and roads; including POIs in a route either for enhanced leisure (a pretty view) or cycling necessity (bike shop/coffee); storing & organising a catalogue of personal routes; re-routing; and probably more besides.
The Karoo needs specific features to do all that properly.. The overall solution involves features on the Karoo device and cloud platform as well as integrating with other platforms that provide routes/analyses such as RWGPS, STRAVA and map providers. And, of course, Hammerhead will need to match what the likes of Garmin, Polar, Wahoo, Lezyne, MIO and others already do in this area in some way.
My personal bias here is me coming as someone who DREADS the 4, 5 or 6 times a year when I have to organise some sort of route for me and/or friends. From bitter experience, it is usually a thoroughly awful and long-winded experience where I can never quite remember how I ended up doing ‘it last time’. If you navigate with routes you create regularly then you’ll probably wonder what I’m going on about! Things are always easier when you know exactly how to do them….
Hammerhead has a good method to catalogue and display nicely your routes as ’tiles’. Each tile has summary information about the route, including an overview route plot, that easily helps you identify the route you are looking for.
If you click the image to the right you can also see an icon to the bottom left of each tile which lets you know the source of the route.
If the source route is changed then this change is NOT automatically sync’d through to your Karoo. However, any changes YOU make to the route on the Karoo dashboard are synchronised to any other Karoo users who you have shared your route with.
Whilst I may not ultimately end up regularly using the Karoo as I am a ‘occasional navigator’, I have to say that the route library functionality and all the stuff in the next few sections that you are about to read is REALLY great. To the extent where I will probably end up the Hammerhead dashboard as my MAIN route creation and sharing repository…it’s that cool.
Hey. If you don’t buy a Karoo…make use of the free Hammerhead account (I hope they don’t mind ;-))
Creating Routes – from scratch
The route builder seems good to me. It works smoothly and well. Most of the time, the route segments seem to route sensibly.
Hammerhead’s route builder on their online dashboard provides a clean interface to create a route as a series of points in a responsive manner. It’s quick at drawing the points and allowing you to change your mind by moving any parts of the route it suggests that you don’t like. Of course, the route can be optimised for road/off-road usage and it seems to include some paths, but not all. There is also the option for GRAVEL riders to optimise the route for their kind of riding – I’m not quite sure exactly how that is different to MTB.
What I particularly liked was the unusual pointer, shown in the image below, that allowed points on the route to be moved. It was clear how it worked without having to remember if I had to right-click, or press delete, or do something else. It’s a small thing, I suppose, but it’s one of those ‘things’ that is fundamental to creating a point-to-point route. The same pointer is on the Karoo, I’m showing the dashboard view most of the time as the image is bigger and clearer for the purposes of this review.
I could create Waypoints as either a UK postcode or other POI based on a location name via the dashboard (I assume your postal/zip code works equally as well). So here, below, I decided to navigate from my favourite Castle to my favourite Palace. It’s an English thing.
A route can be reversed at any time during the dashboard creation process, which is handy for me as I would always create a route on a computer but better functionality is where the BIKENAV recognises that you are navigating a route the ‘wrong’ way and asks if you want to reverse the direction.
+Take Out: The great thing with the Karoo is that you can create these routes on the Karoo itself as well as online on the dashboard.
-Take Out: The routing engine does not consider all my local off-road paths, instead of routing me more on roads that I would like.
Creating Routes – from somewhere else
There are several cool ways of getting routes from ‘somewhere else‘ into Karoo
a) Direct File Import
You can import files directly from many common source files – gpx, fit, tcx, kml and kmz from Strava, MapmyRide, Ride with GPS, OutdoorActive, Trailforks, OpenRunner, MTBProject, Bikemap.net and Gpsies. Whilst RideWithGPS supports the first 4 of those, Garmin Connect will only support TCX and GPX formats. STRAVA’s route builder is STILL in BETA and only allows the creation of routes from activities that you have already have in STRAVA – the world of bike navigation is ‘a bit of a mess’ in my opinion.
One of the issues I face is that I periodically have problems with complex (long) routes on STRAVA which I simply cannot import and, similarly, which Garmin Connect can’t either as it can’t bypass ‘errors’ that it finds in the routes – although Garmin Connect never tells me what the errors were. So I would typically use Fit File Repair Tool to repair and prepare the file and then, finally, Garmin will accept it. This all wastes chunks of my precious time.
For example, the SWC London Loop route (GPX), shown below, took about 10 seconds to import in the Karoo dashboard and it fixed all the ‘errors’ silently which Garmin Connect rejected.
b) Route URL Import
Just cut and paste the URL of your STRAVA route, RideWith GPS route or public Garmin Course and it is super easily imported into the Hammerhead dashboard. I tried those three sources and others are supported (link to: hammerhead.io)
It’s worth dwelling on this section. It’s only one sentence but simply cutting and pasting a URL with Hammerhead can save you a LOT of time and inconvenience working thought other platforms if you think about how you might currently do similar tasks.
c) Sync’ing To your Karoo
Now comes the complex part where you have to sync or put the file into a certain folder on your device.
Nope. It will already ‘just be there’. Turn on the Karoo and it will have been automatically and silently WiFi sync’d to your Karoo’s catalogue of routes. You literally have to do NOTHING. ZIP. NADA. RIEN. It’s there and there will be a nice pretty visual tile which REALLY helps you identify the routes in your library.
+Take Out – super easy
-Take Out – well; there is one annoying nuance. Once the route is downloaded to the Karoo you have to check the ‘Available offline’ slider to make the map available offline even if the map details have already been pre-downloaded.
d) Route Import via Google Chrome “Karoo Route Grab” Extension
For those of you who find there are too many clicks in cutting and pasting a URL ;-), there is an EVEN EASIER way!
Use the Karoo route grab extension for Chrome – (download here) Supported sites include Strava, Training Peaks, Garmin Connect, Ride With GPS, Komoot and MTB Project. You click the button in Google Chrome and the current route is grabbed and sync’d…#SuperSimple.
Even more super cool is that the Chrome route grab also grabs the highlighted route created in Google Maps, like this climb of the Tourmalet:
Creating Routes – Supported Maps
There is a satellite map view and then two variants of open map projects, namely Hammerhead’s stylised version of OSM or Open Cycle Map (OCM).
These are ‘proper’ maps for cycling navigation and there are no geographic exclusions. ie You can use any country maps and these are regularly updated on the dashboard but infrequently on the Karoo.
Large areas of the globe can be downloaded and cached in your device (settings>offline Map Sections). If a new route runs entirely through these cached maps then it can be displayed without having to do anything further, otherwise, you are prompted to download any uncached sections if mapping directly on the Karoo
Alternatively smaller route sections (5km to either side of a route) can be downloaded with each route.
If for any reason there is no map data then Karoo will still show a breadcrumb trail.
My understanding of why Hammerhead enabled offline map sections was that these have the potential to be more easily and quickly kept up-to-date than an entire regional/global map which could only ever (practically) be updated periodically, say once every 6 months. It looks like Hammerhead are working on increasing the size of each offline map section right now.
Creating Routes – Preferences
You can choose your route preference with your type of riding be that gravel, mtb or road.
That’s pretty much it although there are ‘usual’ options like reversing the route, undoing your last plot or creating a return leg. For the hillier routes, the grade of various segments of the planned route can be checked at the bottom of the map, as shown on the following image:
The two main ways to enhance your route are through the addition of TBT instructions and the ability to re-route after you have started your ride
The Karoo automatically adds turn-by-turn instructions to new routes that are either imported or created. This can be achieved on either the dashboard on the Karoo itself and both those methods require an internet connection for TBT instructions to be added.
The cues are added automatically but can be enabled, disabled or re-enabled as you ride
Currently the cues and routing alerts pop up clearly on the Karoo however the Karoo did not originally support any kind audio alert. It now supports bluetooth audio which would be handy , for example, to link to a COROS Smart helmet which has speakers.
Routing & Re-Routing
Automatic re-routing occurs when you go off-course and the Karoo gets you back on to the course using its knowledge of the routes ie it’s like your car’s satnav rather than simply directing you to a compass heading or back along the route you came.
Manual re-routing is possible before you start your ride by editing any route you have imported into either the dashboard or on the Karoo itself. However the Karoo also allows you to manually re-route, mid-ride, by choosing a new route without stopping the recording of your ride AND the Karoo will also navigate you to the start of any new route for up to 30km from your current position.
I’ve performend about 10 notable navigations with the Karoo. Both local, complex ones and a trip to Brighton and back. The road-navigation was near faultless apart from one instance where it failed to navigate me back to my route when I deliberately (ahem) went the wrong way.
The only other routing omission was the lack of ‘Surprise Me’ or ‘Round Trip’ routing which I would definitly use every year for trail rides around wherever I go on holiday. I suppose it could be argued that the ‘Return Leg’ route, that the dashboard might create, could be a different route to your outward leg and hence a round trip, of sorts, is created. Having said that; the Karoo was good at helping me when in my ‘exploring mode’, dipping in and out of routes and checking out somewhere ad-hoc – this is executed very nicely by Hammerhead.
One negative point would be the lack of an ability to navigate to addresses en route ie if I was a bike courier then the Karoo is not able to navigate to addresses when en-route.
Working with the touchscreen was generally great (better than any other touch screen). The only issue I had was that the Karoo sometimes not be as responsive as I would like when pinch-zooming. I can live with that as zooming is also possible with the buttons.
As a training device it ticks the standard boxes. I have a special screen setup to look at the efficiencies of my L/R pedal stroke…if it can do that you can rest assured that it will probably do everything that the normal cyclist training for an event would need. I’m not normal (of course!) and the Karoo is NOT sufficient for me as a structured training tool and nor is it able to handle unusual sensors. That’s fine. It’s not designed with that breadth of support for training as its primary pupose.
You can share any of your routes with other people via the dashboard. This can be a simple URL or you can share that URL via twitter or Facebook where the link is clickable by your friends back to the route on the Karoo dashboard. They will need a (free) Hammerhead account to view it (Hammerhead should change that).
Hammerhead told me that shared routes could be edited by other Karoo users. I didn’t test that.
Post Ride Activity
Ride summaries are shown on your Karoo but not on the Hammerhead dashboard. The dashboard shows your route THAT’S IT – not any of the ‘performance metrics’ like your average speed ometres climbed or average power…nada.
There are some interesting post-ride options where you can send your ride directly to STRAVA after having edited privacy and ride type details as shown on the image above.
Hammerhead Karoo Technical Specs
These are the full Hammerhead Karoo Specifications for those of you interested in this sort of thing.
- My UK 4G O2 SIM card doesn’t work in the Karoo
- Battery drain is noticeable when navigating in map mode on long rides and significantly impacts the battery
- Battery management could be improved when the device is not in use ie an improved sleep mode.
- Some of the specs seem aspirational rather than actually working eg muscle oxygen sensor compatibility
- As of the date of publishing this review I could pair to bluetooth audio devices but didn’t get any sound though them.
Side Load Android Apps
The Karoo runs Android 6. As a result, you can do many super-cool things with the myriad of Android apps that we all know and love. For example you can run the Android STRAVA app on your Karoo by side-loading it ie as if your Karoo was a phone.
This is not formally supported and I’ve not tried any of it. Here is more info: (here at karoousers.org)
Leading up through 2018, Hammerhead have been putting a lot in place with their underlying tech infrastructure. I’m hoping they will now continue to roll out the promised features in line with their published roadmap:
Roadmap – Link to: Hammerhead.io
The Hammerhead Karoo experience is sleek and smooth.
Coming to it for the first time you might say it was spartan. However, that underestimates the work that has gone into simplifying just about every aspect of bike navigation. It looks spartan because the unnecessary gumf has been designed out.
My initial impression of the dashboard was “Is that all?”.
After spending 30 minutes or so playing with the different route grabbing and creation options from numerous other platforms, I was sold. I will probably end up using the online platform going forwards for my occasional navigational exploits both alone and in groups. It will definitely save me time creating, sharing and organising routes with Hammerhead compared to the current ‘online navigation’ hell-hole I periodically have to trawl through. Maybe if you know every detail of RideWith GPS then maybe that’s better…I haven’t got the time to learn something as complex as that for my occasional, but regular, navigational needs.
Action: Go and grab a free Hammerhead account now if you create and share routes more than once a year.
The Karoo is a competent training device that supports a sufficient number of sensor types and screen layouts. As a device, the Karoo cannot stack up to a top-end Pro TRAINING device like the Edge 1030 and it never will. Although I think the Karoo will make inroads there to some degree once TRAINER CONTROL and STRUCUTRED workouts are supported.
But the Karoo definately does stack up well to the Garmin Edge devices both in terms of looks and in terms of navigational ability. To me, the one navigational win that Garmin seems to have over the Karoo, is their Trendline Popularity Routing (TPR). TPR is generally good, but the problem I have with TPR is when I have to use it in Garmin Connect! The somehwat unruly Garmin Connect Route Creation is not a great place to spend 30 minutes…or longer.
I’ve had many good results from Hammerhead’s maps too. I’m not sure of the extra benefits that GRAVEL ROUTING brings to the navigational table as I don’t do that kind of riding. But it got me from A to B and, sometimes when I changed my mind it let me re-route to C too ! When C was a long way away I made sure I had my usual battery pack…just in case.
The Karoo delviers a good navigational experience. The flow of what you need to do to get going is quite a bit easier than on almost all other devices. It’s also quick. I never noticed any delays that you often get from other, under-powered BIKENAVs.
In a nutshell: Slick navigation, cool looks and competent, but not expert, training features.
Price, Discount & Availability
The RRP is $499 but at the time of writing there is a special price of $399 which is further discounted by 10% to $360 with the code ‘THE5KRUNNER’. At that discounted price I would say that the Karoo was fairly pitched against directly competing products. Using that code supports this site, thank you.
Link to: Hammerhead.io