Wahoo RIVAL Review, ELEMNT GPS TRIATHLON Watch – 2021 update
An alternative review of the Wahoo RIVAL, perhaps your next GPS triathlon watch? Certainly, one you’ll see more of on race days in 2021.
Wahoo Rival Review
Verdict: Wahoo Elemnt Rival is great for all levels of triathlete wanting a triathlon watch that's full triathlon features not gimmicks, its ease of use beats all-comers.
Rival can’t beat the Garmin 945 on the volume of techy–smart features but you want a triathlon watch that is full of sporting features, right? You might also want to save some money on a top-end triathlon watch and the Rival is cheaper than the competition: Garmin 745, Garmin 945/945LTE, Polar Vantage V2 and Suunto 9 Peak (comparisons below).
Rival works excellently with the Wahoo ecosystem and is the obvious choice for committed Wahooligans.
The two key take-outs are that Rival is easy to use and that it has a wealth of proper triathlon features. It’s both pro-friendly and newbie-friendly at the same time.
Rival has a high-quality, part-ceramic construction that makes the plastic Garmin 945 look cheap in comparison…plus everyone’s got a Garmin. Be different but be different with a proper triathlon solution that works…like Rival.
- Ease-of-use – Garmins are too complex
- Lightweight – easy to wear
- Easy to read – larger, more readable text if you hide data field titles
- A Must-have for Wahoo ELEMNT Bike computer owners
- Fantastic compatibility with 3rd party platforms & sensors
- Track mode for running, pool mode for swimming and bricks for tri training
- Unique automatic transition
- Structured workout support – custom or Training Peaks plans
- Native running power for Stryd
- No instant pace from Stryd
- Only Training Peaks as a provider of structured workouts and plans – more to come
- Optical HR needs work…I use a chest strap
- No routes, not even breadcrumb.
At rrp$379/£349 Rival compares very favourably to the Garmin 945 at rrp$599 and the Polar Vantage V2 at $499.95. Wahoo Rival simply wins the argument with the importance of the novel sport-focussed features for the proper triathletes amongst you. Wahoo wins big time even with beginners who value the simplicity of setup and use. This is an updated review of the Wahoo Rival for 2021 that now fills in all the major gaps from when it was launched in 2020, compared to the Garmin Forerunner 945 it represents a good bang for your tri-buck.
Review Updated July 2021
Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL – An Explainer
The Wahoo Rival is a mid-sized GPS triathlon watch, the same ‘normal’ size when compared to the Polar Vantage V2 and Garmin Forerunner 945. Rival is better made than the 945 but not as polished as the Polar V2’s superior hardware case.
The RIVAL is a little like a Garmin Fenix with a triathlon-cum-adventure watch look. Yet, at the same time, it’s still super-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 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. Soon enough, Wahoo’s bike computers DO make perfect intuitive sense and then save you time. After a few tweaks, RIVAL has me feeling the same way too.
One thing that stands out against the Garmin Forerunner 945 when using the RIVAL is its responsiveness. If you press ‘STOP’, Riva stops immediately, if you change a data field or watch face on the app Rival syncs immediately to your changes on the app. The Rival is properly powered and doesn’t lag like the Garmin Forerunner 945
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, contrast that to the Garmin 945 which is trying too hard to make everyone happy with smart features only to make the whole watch more complex to use.
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 focuses 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 specialist 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) – Training Peaks with more to come in Q3.2021
- Route import – No. I don’t think breadcrumb routes are on the roadmap in the near term.
- Other – links to ELEMNT/BOLT/ROAM during triathlon & generic broadcasting of oHR (just oHR). #Cool
Routing/navigation is the only significant omission.
Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL – Other Cool Stuff
Wahoo has introduced an auto-transition feature that automatically 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 custom multisport profiles that were 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 (can be customised) 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. Plus that’s handy for many middle-aged triathletes whose eyesight is not what it was and who don’t want to wear glasses when training and racing.
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 🙂 You can also attach RIVAL to a computer as a USB drive if you are a PC Luddite like me!
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.
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.
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.
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)
The Wahoo Rival is not intended as a smartwatch despite having the usual basic smart features.
In a way, a two watch lifestyle gives you the benefits of both worlds. Unrivalled smartwatch features from the Apple Watch 6 (review) 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 GPS is now equal to a normal Garmin and oHR still needs improving.
Wahoo improved GPS performance in April 2021 and HR performance in May 2021 but there is still more work to do if you need accurate HR. The post-workout GPS track is fine and not dissimilar to the Garmin 945 ie it can be improved but the easy GPS accuracy gains have now been made.
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 eventually scored a generous 79% with April’s firmware – the same as a normal 945 performance. The WAHOO scores well when determining the distances of workouts and it flags up an autolap as well as any other device. What gets me though is the instant pace accuracy which is sometimes spot on and then at other times widely incorrect eg 40secs/km incorrect.
GPS accuracy is fine for cycling as cycling doesn’t often represent too much of a challenge for any GPS. I’ve also included an OWS swim track where the Rival is perfectly fine, actually surprisingly good. But not quite as good as the Garmin.
I’m not a great candidate for oHR and, just like with the Garmin 945, the charts I could show here wouldn’t be great. oHR performance varies by person and by usage…you might be lucky. I just use a chest strap!
Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL – Specifications
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:
|Wahoo ELEMNT Rival Specifications|
|Dimension||46.5 x 46.5 x 15.3 mm|
|Display Size||1.2″ (30.4 mm) diameter|
|Display Resolution||240 x 240px|
|Strap Length||10″ (25.4 cm)|
|Strap Fit||140 mm – 240 mm|
|Battery||Battery Rechargeable Lithium-Ion, Battery Life Smartwatch Mode: 14 days, GPS or HR Mode: Up to 24 hours|
|GPS||Yes, GPS and GLONASS|
|Water Rating||5 ATM (water-resistant up to 50 meters)|
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 – Top 10 Tips
No review is complete without a top 10 tips so here they are for the Wahoo Elemnt Rival, just things that I like and use. Please feel free to share your favourites in the comments below and I’ll add the most interesting ones here
- Improve battery life and diable these: Wahoo App>Element Watch>My 24/7 Data> steps& heart rate
- Share activity data to iOS: Wahoo App>Element Watch>My 24/7 Data>Share to Health
- Change the functionality of the on-page zoom behaviour: Wahoo App>Element Watch>Zoom/View Button Layout
- Hide data field titles (make text bigger): Wahoo App>Element Watch>Hide data field titles
- Give your external sports sensors a name to avoid confusion: Wahoo App>Element Watch>Sensors>Setup Sensors> Saved Sensors>
- Broadcast HR to your Bolt, ROAM or gym equipment: Wahoo App>Element Watch>Sensors>Auto broadcast heart rate
- Create a complex structured interval workout on the free version of Training Peaks. Put it in your calendar for today/tomorrow and it will sync to your Rival.
- Enable touchless transitions: Wahoo App>Element Watch>Workout profiles>triathlon>Touchless transitions/auto transitions
- Create a custom multisport profile: Wahoo App>Element Watch>Workout profiles>triathlon>add leg
- Access your fit files either directly via USB on your PC or via Dropbox: Wahoo App>Element Watch>Upload>Automatic Upload>Dropbox (add and authenticate Dropbox)
- Transfer an executable Running workout to your watch: Wahoo App>WORKOUT>Pick a Planned Workout>(Check Sync from web if none appearing, check sport setting in Training Peaks)
Wahoo ELEMNT Rival – Firmware Updates
As of July 2021, it is now clear that Wahoo is progressively adding to the competencies of the Rival with a series of major enhancements and I will keep updating this review as the updates are released. 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. For treadmill usage.
- This update added the ability to include a custom multisport profile. A key triathlon training feature
- 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. A must-have credibility feature.
- This significant update adds structured workout support of workouts synced from Training Peaks. A key triathlon training feature
- 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 onboard/streaming 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.
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 aging Garmin 935…here’s why
Both 945 & Rival offer great integration with their own brands’ ecosystems and adherence to industry 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 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 admin 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. If, however, you plan to use an optical HRM then 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. 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 #DesignFault 😉 ). 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 natively supported by Rival, calibrated instant pace from Stryd is not supported (yet) and that is the single reason why I am waiting to use 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, so long as you don’t want to rely on a flawed Garmin oHR sensor design
- If you want a smaller 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 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 auto-transition feature is a de facto acceptance that a bike computer is the most suitable 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
You can now buy the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL directly from Wahoo, Competitive Cyclist or Wiggle by clicking on the blue image at the end of the review. 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: