Wahoo RIVAL Review | GPS ELEMNT TRIATHLON
Return to the full Wahoo Elemnt Rival Review
An alternative review of the Wahoo RIVAL – your next GPS triathlon watch? Certainly, one you’ll see more of in 2021.
✔️ Novel & useful pro features
✔️ Easy novice setup
At rrp$379/£349 it compares very favourably to the Garmin 745 at rrp$499 and the Polar Vantage V2 at $499.95. You’ve probably wondered why some of the other reviews miss the importance of the novel sport-focussed features that Wahoo has introduced here for the proper triathletes. They’ve also missed out on the true simplicity of the whole setup which will appeal to those starting out in triathlon. Sure, there are gaps but Wahoo has been working on filling those for a while already.
Answer: some reviewers don’t understand the target market for the RIVAL nor do they understand the needs of triathlon for different triathletes.
Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL – An Explainer
The RIVAL is ever-so-slightly chunky-looking and a little like a Garmin Fenix in that sense. Yet, at the same time, it’s still lightweight at 53g. Even better, with a featherweight ceramic bezel and gorilla-glass then we are looking at a properly durable piece of kit. It shares the same type of 5-button interface with the more serious competitor watches, add to that a normal (dull) colour screen, and a 24-hour GPS battery-life and you should be good for an Ironman.
The function of the Wahoo RIVAL’s buttons and how they interact with the menus are different from every sports watch that has come before.
I remember my first Wahoo ELEMNT bike computer and it was tricky to internalise the logic behind it all. Eventually, Wahoo’s bike computers DO make perfect intuitive sense and then save you time. I’m hoping that the RIVAL will have me feeling the same way too. I’m not quite there yet.
One thing that stands out when using the RIVAL is its responsiveness. If you press ‘STOP’ it stops immediately, if you change a data field or watch face on the app it syncs immediately to the RIVAL. #ProperlyPowered.
Now I’m going to go into a few more details and the overriding theme is that Wahoo majors on sport-focussed features with only the rare token nod to peripheral smart features such as notifications. Like the Polar Vantage V2, the RIVAL is not pretending to be a smartwatch. I like that.
Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL – Its place in the Wahoo ecosystem
Wahoo has an advantage over almost all of the competition. It already has an awesome ecosystem to fit things into. Wahoo’s smartphone app focusses on device maintenance tasks, workouts and a modest training log. All the complex stuff like planning routes, advanced analytics and structured workouts are facilitated with 3rd party providers via Wahoo’s open architecture…with even more openness to come!
That said, Wahoo has put more emphasis on integrating the RIVAL with its other products – TICKR, KICKR and the other ELEMNTs. That is where RIVAL’s strengths lie today ie the “Wahoo Package”, and that’s one reason why you might buy the Rival. Take a look at the inclusions and omissions from the Wahoo Fitness ecosystem and see what you think:
- Sensors & Sensor connectivity – We have BLE and ANT+ (FE-C) connectivity to power meters, chest straps or running dynamics and indoor smart trainers. #Cool
- Workout export – yes to STRAVA, dropbox and others. #Cool
- Structured workout import/execution (TP) – No, it’s coming #Hmmm
- Route import – No #Hmmm
- Other – links to ELEMNT/BOLT/ROAM during triathlon & generic broadcasting of oHR (just oHR). #Cool
Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL – Other Cool Stuff
Wahoo has introduced an auto-transition feature that switches sports during a triathlon if you forget to press the button. Rival uses its onboard sensors and connectivity to external sensors to determine the start/end of one of the legs. Garmin, sort of, did this first in early 2019 with Swimrun, so it’s nice that other brands have taken a useful feature further forwards.
Even cooler is the auto-handoff which allows you to use your bike’s ELEMNT as a ‘dumb’ display for the Rival, here’s how that works:
On race day as you head off to the start line, you leave your bike‘s ELEMNT in MULTISPORT mode. Then, later, once you enter T1 in the race your bike’s ELEMENT head unit will wake up and pair to the RIVAL and start showing your live race data on the big screen. You also get to see these extras piped over to the bike’s ELEMNT:
- Swim stats
- T1 stats
- total race-time stats
- Map + Route (from bike’s routing)
- Strava Live Segments
Now, because the bike-ELEMNT doesn’t record the workout you won’t accidentally get duplicates of the bike leg created by each device to ruin your precious stats. Cool !
One of the failings of most new triathlon watches is that they fail to let you make a custom multisport profile. You know, like for that brick workout you ‘only’ do once a week. Things as unimportant as that! 🙂 Thankfully Wahoo avoided that trap and there are duathlon, (short-)brick and other profiles, although I’m not sure how to create a pool-triathlon profile or a repeating profile (Otillo) other than by manually switching from one sport to the next. (Edit: custom multisport profiles have been significantly improved and updated in Dec 2020)
After the race, or after a swim workout, the Wahoo app allows you to edit various aspects of the workout such as your race split durations and pool length. This sounds relatively trivial but quite a lot of people want the ability to get their workout data ‘just right’ and this helps. Even better you can set the Wahoo app to delay uploading multisport workouts just so you can check that you have all the transition points correct.
One of the novel concepts on the original ELEMNT was the ability to drill up or drill down through the selected metrics on any page. This is also implemented on the RIVAL and you simultaneously press the bottom two buttons to show more or fewer metrics OR to drill down through time-series charts to higher levels of granularity. I like this feature but I don’t think it works as well on the wrist when running as on a bike device. The data fields are cleverly unusual in zoom mode…you can get two metrics in one ‘box’ and, via an app setting, you can hide the units of measure on the watch screen to create more space – if you always have the same data fields why show the units when you know what they are?! #Cool
The Wahoo app already has the ability to natively and automatically export FIT files to dropbox. You don’t know how happy it makes me that the RIVAL also allows this 🙂 There is a good chance that I will end up using the RIVAL as my primary device going forwards and, if I do, THE DROPBOX FEATURE will be the main reason. You can also attach RIVAL to a computer as a USB drive.
Wahoo RIVAL Review – Bike Features
The RIVAL has a pre-loaded KICKR sport profile. As the name suggests, if you have an indoor KICKR trainer then you can use the RIVAL to control it. Currently, this is via manual control and I would expect Wahoo to quickly introduce support for following structured workouts and for following previous FIT-based workouts.
Venturing outdoors, the RIVAL supports LIVETRACK via your smartphone.
The rest of the bike spec is as you would expect with support for PMs and SPD/CAD sensors with the usual data suspects covering HR, POWER, ELEVATION, ZONES and ALERTS.
With oHR, custom pool lengths and GPS distance in OWS, what’s not to like? Those 3 features tell you this should be a competent swim offering. Because of the CV-19 situation, my testing for this part of the Wahoo Rival Review is incomplete.
There are also the usual stroke, distance and many other swim-related metrics like HR on offer. More intriguingly, there are novel, pool-based functionalities covering REPEATS, SETS, IDLE TIMES, REPEAT-ON and SWOLF (set). The ability to zoom into the data metrics in pool mode also looks very promising and MIGHT work well in action.
The Wahoo RIVAL comes ready-for-action either on a treadmill or outdoors. Both those sports profiles support running dynamics (VO/GCT/STRIDE-LENGTH) which, in turn, come from your Wahoo TICKR-X strap (not Garmin HRM-PRO), whereas cadence and indoor pace come from the wrist. I really would like to see support added for NPE RUNN‘s treadmill sensor and STRYD’s footpod pace. NB: Running power IS displayed, recorded and visible in the laps on the app (yep).
Interesting bonus features are LIVETRACK (via smartphone) and grade-adjusted pace.
Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL – Smart Features
Call notifications, steps and other basics are here alongside a watch-only battery mode of 2 weeks.
It’s a basic smartwatch by today’s standards.
Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL – Alongside your Apple Watch 6 (AW6)
In a way, a two watch setup gives you the best of both worlds. Unrivalled smartwatch features from AW6 that no Garmin will come close to matching and then a dedicated triathlon/running watch that you just wear for your sports and which needs charging up less than once a week.
Just link your Wahoo RIVAL into Apple Health. #Sorted
Note: In the ELEMNT app (My 24/7 Data>Share to Health>authorize)
Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL – Accuracy
The accuracy of both GPS and oHR needs improving, especially the latter. Consequently, I will revisit the accuracy in more detail later in 2021. I used a chest strap and was happy enough with the post-workout GPS track that was produced.
Update: 26 Jan 2021. I have many tens of hours of usage now with the RIVAL and my initial view has not especially changed ie a) you need a HRM and b) the GPS is fine for a pretty track of your workout but less so for instant pace, although lap pace is not too shabby ie #Normal. Wahoo NEEDS to get footpod support for pace and distance implemented ASAP…currently I am relying mostly on running power for pacing by effort – that feature IS live.
Update: 2 April 2021. Firmware update offers better GPS performance.
Update: 25 May 2021: Firmware update offers improved HR performance
Here are some results from the firmware which claims to have improved GNSS performance.
In a nutshell: GPS+GLONASS performance is close to that of a top-end Garmin triathlon watch. But not quite as good.
Here is the methodology for my standard GPS test and the images below are from that test with the Wahoo in GREEN. I do MANY other workouts as well in order to come to a brief conclusion for you. The RIVAL scored 67%, which isn’t great but its score suffered because of some unusual behaviour (which Wahoo will rectify eventually via firmware) and other cases where the GPS track was parallel (but close) to the correct route. If you only quickly glance at your route after your workout then you just won’t notice these things. In my other tests there are numerous good examples of correct positioning, perhaps more importantly is the RUNNING PACE that is reported live to the watch and that is pretty much exactly on par with Garmin. The WAHOO scores well when determining the distances of workouts and it flags up an autolap as well as any other device.
Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL – Specifications, Resources
A quick review of the Wahoo Rival’s specification shows good but typical hardware specs and we can further assume that Sony’s GNSS chip is used. I’m not sure about the oHRM. There is nothing unusual or especially noteworthy in the specs:
- Dimensions 46.5 x 46.5 x 15.3 mm
- Display Size 1.2 in (30.4 mm) diameter
- Display Type Color
- Display Resolution 240 x 240
- Lens Material Gorilla Glass
- Bezel Material Ceramic
- Case Material Nylon Polymer
- Strap Material Silicone
- Strap Length 10 in (25.4 cm)
- Fits wrist circumference 140 mm – 240 mm
- Weight 53 g
- Battery Rechargeable Lithium-Ion
- Battery Life Smartwatch Mode: 14 days
- GPS or HR Mode: Up to 24 hours
- GPS Functionality Built-in
- Supported Satellites GPS and GLONASS
- Water Rating 5 ATM (water-resistant up to 50 meters)
- Perfect View Zoom Buttons
- Ambient Light Sensor
WORKOUT ANALYSIS FEATURES
- HR Zones
- HR Calories
- HR Broadcast
- GPS Speed & Distance
- Customizable Data Pages
- Customizable Activity Profiles
- Auto Pause
- Auto Lap
- Manual Lap
- Audio Prompts
- Finish Time
- Auto Multisport Activities
- Manual Multisport Activities
- Button Lock
- Activity History on Watch
- Altimeter – Yes
- Compass – Yes, GPS based (non-magnetic)
- Gyroscope – No
- Accelerometer – Yes
- Thermometer – No
- WiFi – No
Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL MANUAL
Wahoo ELEMNT Rival – Firmware Updates
As of June 2021, it is now clear that Wahoo is progressively adding to the competencies of the Rival with some major enhancements. There have been many additions to the RIVAL since launch and here are the important ones
- This update added the ability to broadcast running pace and cadence plus introduced some new app notification sources.
- This update added the ability to include a custom multisport profile.
- This update added the initially limited ability to complete track workouts where the GPS track AND YOUR PERFORMANCE STATS snap to the correct dimension of a correct oval with full-correct 100m segments.
- This significant update adds structured workout support of workouts synced from Training Peaks
- iOS MUSIC CONTROL – introduces the ability to control music from the RIVAL. Play, skip, pause, and adjust the volume.
- PLANNED WORKOUTS – from TrainingPeaks and also include 12 key Wahoo workouts. Sync up to a week of swim, bike, run workouts
- KICKR HEADWIND – control the KICKR HEADWIND smart fan by: heart rate response, speed simulation, and low-med-hi settings.
- SMART NOTIFICATIONS (iOS) – smart notifications from WhatsApp, Signal & Telegram alongside calls, texts & emails
- BROADCAST OPTICAL HEART RATE -over ANT+
- PACE CHART View the pace of all your previous splits in an easy-to-see chart format
Wahoo ELEMNT Rival – Futures
Briefly, the existing Rival hardware can never have maps, contactless payments or music added. It will stay as a ‘proper’ multisport watch. Some may argue that the omission of maps is a big one but I disagree. Perhaps simple breadcrumb routes are appropriate for the Rival and my understanding is that they are not planned either, although the hardware might allow that.
Structured workout support IS planned (now delivered) and it’s safe to say it will include KICKR control and links to Sufferfest! (SUF, owned by Wahoo)
Tidying up the multisport profiles has already happened. Other reviews seem to have missed the existing template profiles like duathlon, to be fair though, I couldn’t create a RBRBRBRBR type profile or a pool swim triathlon. Whilst these are peripheral features for many athletes I would say they are KEY features for a tri watch to be considered as a ‘proper’ tri watch. (Edit Wahoo adds further multisport features)
Alongside this, Wahoo is still beefing up its platform API, so this should open up the whole ecosystem to more new functionality into 2021, I’ll revisit this review of the Rival at that point.
Finally, I’m assuming that more watch faces will come and that the existing watchface widgets may also be expanded. However, that is only going to be meaningful if 3rd parties can start to plug logic into the watch and I’m not sure if that will happen (it might).
Wahoo ELEMNT Rival vs Garmin 945 / 945LTE
This choice is difficult and it is the exact choice that I had to make as a serious age group triathlete. I chose the Garmin 935…here’s why
Both watches offer great integration with their own brands’ ecosystems and adherence to standards which is important when your sports data need to flow seamlessly across multiple sports platforms. Similarly, both watches are great at working with all standard 3rd party sensors.
You can rest assured that all the essential triathlon features are very well covered by both watches.
To decide between the two depends on your approach to tech and training.
If you want the latest, greatest tech and every imaginable sports feature and smart feature then you will always pay the premium for a Garmin. You’ll then slightly bemoan the reliability and be continually frustrated that you can’t find anything in the 945’s menus. You will also be worried about the 945’s battery life which to me was somewhat unpredictable.
If you want the complexity moved from your watch to the app so that every single workout is not constrained by your tech then you’ll go for a Wahoo.
You might be intrigued by the physiology features of Garmin, which Wahoo lacks. However, you plan to use an optical HRM and that data WILL simply be wrong at times. Garbage in…garbage out. ALL your Garmin physiology data might feel right but it will be nonsense as you haven’t used a chest strap. Just sayin’. I base many of my own training decision on HR data and I’ve used chest straps for that purpose for over 10 years – I currently use HRV4Training and a proprietary Training Load tool…just do it properly or don’t do it at all! (Training Peaks is cool too) Buy either a Garmin HRM-TRI/HRM-PRO or a Polar H10.
So, in my case, I became annoyed by using my 945 and sold it for a simpler, second-hand 935 that ‘just worked’ (except the optical HR which is broken 😉 ). I just don’t want any of the smart features on the 945 like maps and music. When I’m not using my 935 for sport, I wear an Apple Watch 6 / SE which is a superior smartwatch to anything Garmin will ever make.
The RIVAL is a ‘just works’ tri watch and it is the sort of sports watch I should be using alongside my Wahoo ROAM/BOLT 2 as I am a typical Wahoo target consumer. However I use STRYD and whilst Stryd power IS supported by Rival, calibrated instant pace from Stryd is not supported (yet) and that is the one single reason why I am not using Rival. Once Stryd Instant Pace works, I’ll use Rival properly for my own triathlon training and racing.
- If you have a Wahoo bike computer and you don’t use Stryd…which is most of you reading this…then buy the Rival. !
- If you want complex, expensive tech, music and other features that you won’t use buy the 945.
- If you want proven tech and have a Garmin Edge then buy a Garmin 935.
- If you want a small format tri watch buy the Garmin 745 or 945LTE.
Take Out – Do I get a Rival or not?
To finish up this Wahoo Rival Review, the takeout for me is that it is the type of triathlon watch I’m looking for. That’s one reason why I also like the Vantage V2 as both the V2, Garmin 935 and RIVAL are simply aiming to support proper triathlon training and with some innovative new triathlon sports features thrown in and less of the smart-tech nonsense.
Wahoo’s hand-off feature is a de facto acceptance that a bike computer is best for, errr, the bike. The implication, therefore, is that a triathlon watch should perform better when running and swimming. RIVAL does the swim piece well enough and now even logs running power to keep me happy.
The rrp$379.99 price tag is interesting and, with structured workouts, it becomes compelling.
The bottom line is that existing Wahoo users will seriously consider buying an ELEMNT RIVAL. If you want a capable tri-watch with a simple app set up then Rival fits the bill – especially if you are searching for your first ‘proper’ triathlon watch.
Buy Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL – Review, Price, Availability & Discounts
Status: Shipping Now.
You can now buy the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL directly from Wahoo or Wiggle. Wahoo’s new product pricing is well controlled and I wouldn’t expect ANY discounting until well into 2021. Rather, I see a greater likelihood of new features improving the value proposition at these price points: