wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL on wrist

Review: Wahoo’s First GPS Smartwatch, the Do-It-All ELEMNT RIVAL

Get more data at your fingertips — without using your fingertips.

Heart-rate monitors, fitness trackers, and sport watches; Wahoo Fitness has dominated in only two of these three categories — until now. Today, Wahoo joins the ranks of its competitors in developing the trifecta of performance sport wearables.

The ELEMNT RIVAL watch ($380) markets itself as a versatile, sleek, feature-rich GPS smartwatch with all the options you could want. It measures heart rate, steps, distance, and calories burned 24/7 — plus mileage, speed, average and max pace, and a slew of other metrics depending on your activity.

Oh, and it automatically syncs your workouts to your connected Wahoo app, komoot, Strava, Nike Run apps, and more.

wahoo rival closeup

“The real magic of RIVAL is that we were able to take everything we have done with the ELEMNT bike computer and create a perfect parallel, giving triathletes and runners the same ease of use,” Wahoo founder Chip Hawkins said.

Wahoo Fitness ELEMNT RIVAL Specs

  • Components: Damage-resistant gorilla glass, ceramic bezel, silicone strap
  • Weight: 50 g
  • Physical features: Waterproof to 50 m, optical HR monitor, screen lock, ambient light sensor, 4 watch face options
  • Features: 9 sport modes (including triathlon mode), live tracking, customizable data fields, screen zoom, step tracker
  • Price: $380
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Wahoo ELEMNT Smartwatch Review

It’s November in Colorado (and it snowed last week), so I wasn’t able to test the swimming functions. I did, however, splash and submerge the watch on a few occasions and found no complaints with its level of waterproofing. Despite the temps, I did test the other six — not three, not four, but six — sport modes the ELEMNT RIVAL offers.

The first week I had the watch, I wanted to familiarize myself with its settings and the accompanying app (which was still in beta testing) before I dove into a major running or summiting endeavor. That first week, I completed six workouts: five running (with one treadmill session and the rest outdoors) and one strength training and yoga session.

I also wore it to the grocery store, commuting to the office, exercising at the park, and walking the dog. (Fun fact: Jogging with a dog, kid, stroller, and cup of coffee translates to a 17-minute mile.)

Wahoo RIVAL testing

The second week I tested the watch, I made sure to push the limits on the sport modes. I ran into the mountains, biked across town, and I even completed a sprint triathlon — my version was SUP-bike-run (again, it’s November and sleeting).

However, this is the part where I say I’m not a professional athlete. I’m not in training for a race (or participating in one anytime soon thanks to COVID). The workouts I chose weren’t about hitting a PR but more simply about figuring out the breadth of performance data the ELEMNT RIVAL smartwatch can provide.

wahoo RIVAL watchfaces

What’s more, I’m a little old-school. I still listen to cassette tapes, carry cash, and prefer books to their e-reader counterparts. All this is to say I’m not a diehard smartwatch user. I have tested a few smartwatches but never felt compelled to own one. That’s all to say, I don’t carry much bias in brand or features.

The one-page “quick start guide” provided with the app was all the instruction I needed. The ambient light sensor (which changes screen brightness) worked great and made it easy to view my data. Good screen visibility is huge when you’re running at night, in full sun, or with fogged-up glasses.

Even better, Wahoo Fitness added a “perfect zoom” function, so you can choose what data you’d like to see on screen. These options range from a large-font, time-elapsed, or mileage display, all the way down to a six-way split-screen for active time, mileage, heart rate, cadence, lap time, and more.

The analog and digital watch displays, the step counter, and the single sport modes I tried all worked great.

Sprint Triathlon Test

triathlon transitions
The author checking the Wahoo’s T1 transition time reading (from SUP to bike)

While I wasn’t able to get the multisport mode to record my swim portion (because I paddleboarded), the open-water swimming mode successfully tracked my SUP time and distance (in yards) independently with no issues.

The big key feature with Wahoo’s triathlon mode is its touchless transitions — it automatically switches disciplines for you, calculates transition time, and knows when you start up with your next leg.

All of this displays on the watch. And you can manually stop or edit your transitions if you need to — though I didn’t, as I found the transitions very accurate.

I finished my sprint tri (half-mile SUP, 12-mile bike, 5K run) in 1:40. Of course, if I wanted just a finish time I could’ve run a timer. I also have my leg and transition times, GPS route, and heart rate during each minute of the workout recorded.

So now I have a baseline goal if I choose to make a second attempt. (I’ll be picking a day and location that hopefully doesn’t involve a 20mph headwind.) And who knows, maybe SUP tris will catch on.

Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL vs. Garmin, Suunto

When it comes to wearables like GPS smartwatches, at least two big brands come to mind: Garmin and Suunto. So, how does the RIVAL compare? This is by no means a head-to-head comparison but a quick look at similar watches on the market.

On par with other brands, Wahoo’s watch has features like a heart-rate sensor, water resistance, triathlon mode, and compatibility with fitness apps.

The ELEMNT RIVAL has a 240×240 screen (same as similar Garmin models and slightly smaller than Suunto 9’s 320×300 screen.) The battery life (according to each brand) is the same: 14 days for the watch and a GPS battery life of 24 hours. Its water resistance rating, down to 50 m, is also on par with other watches on market.

Where the ELEMNT RIVAL differs a bit is its additional on-screen features, like the touchless transitions in triathlon mode, perfect zoom, and compatibility with other Wahoo products. (No other watches currently on market can connect to Wahoo’s KICKR trainer.)

But here’s the real kicker: The Wahoo Fitness RIVAL watch has a low and competitive price of $380. (The Suunto 9 and Garmin Forerunner 745 are both $500.)

Conclusion

My biggest question at the onset was, “How will this watch perform? Specifically, are the functions well-designed, and is it making a difference?” For me, the answer is a surprising and resounding yes.

I wasn’t suddenly hyper-focused on seconds between splits or fixated on calorie counts. But I did find myself thinking a lot more about how active I was (or wasn’t) during a day and how I could use the workout history to improve my performance over time.

Overall, I was pretty impressed with Wahoo’s ELEMNT RIVAL watch. Specifically, I appreciated its easy setup and seamless ability to toggle between sport disciplines. I won’t hold out for a specific SUP mode, but I also wouldn’t object if Wahoo kept developing its watch tech. Think climbing, paddleboarding, adventure racing, skimo racing — the possibilities are endless.

Until then, I’m happy with the opportunity to test the ELEMNT RIVAL further in the classic categories: swim, bike, run.

Wahoo watch testing

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Mary Murphy
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Mary is based out of GearJunkie's Denver, CO office. Her outdoor interests span from climbing to landscape photography to pack-paddleboarding. If she's not writing, you can most likely find her at the top of a fourteener, or in a local bakery.

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