It was only a matter of time before Wahoo entered the sports watch market. The RIVAL automatically transitions from one activity to the next, tracks your transition times, and records time and other data for each segment. Here’s my review and set-up guide.
Last November, the folks in Atlanta dropped the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL into the deep end of the pool to compete with the likes of Garmin, Polar, Suunto, and Coros. For any PEZ readers who happen to be triathletes… you’re the demographic the RIVAL is squarely aimed at.
What makes it different from all the other watches currently on the market is touchlesses transition. Just hit “start” in triathlon mode and start your first leg (default is swimming). The RIVAL automatically transitions from one activity to the next, as well as tracking your transition times. Just hit “stop” when you cross the finish line. The RIVAL records your time and other data for each segment. Wahoo indeed!
Another great feature for triathletes is multisport handoff. You can connect a RIVAL with an ELEMNT bike computer to display your cumulative workout metrics from the RIVAL watch on your ELEMNT bike computer while riding your bike leg — but still retain control of the head unit itself.
But wait a minute … PEZ is a road cycling – not triathlon – website. So why review a product for … egads … triathletes? Because the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL’s cycling features might make it an interesting option for those of us who are mono-athletes. If your interest is piqued, please read on.
What the ELEMNT RIVAL Is and Isn’t
Wahoo calls the RIVAL a multisport GPS watch, which is an accurate description. It’s a watch (meaning it tells time and you wear it on your wrist) with GPS tracking designed to record data from fitness activities: specifically, swimming, running, and cycling. It also tracks your daily workout calories and steps, but — even though it has an altimeter — doesn’t track floors climbed. Another thing the RIVAL doesn’t do is track your sleep — something that’s important to a lot of athletes. Presumably, these and any other fitness watch features could be added in the future via a firmware upgrade. [Ed. – Per Wahoo, sleep tracking will be a future firmware upgrade but no release date yet.]
It’s important to note that the Rival isn’t a smartwatch. It does have the ability to display incoming text messages, emails (currently just for iOS), and phone calls, but that’s about as smart as it gets. No notifications for other apps. No music control. No navigation. No contactless payment. [Ed. – Wahoo has no plans to add these smart watch features as they require hardware beyond what RIVAL is built around.] So if you absolutely must have a full-on smart watch with all the bells and whistles, these are not the droids you’re looking for.
About the Watch
The RIVAL comes in either Kona White or Stealth Grey (PEZ got the latter). Specs (per Wahoo):
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
My ELEMNT RIVAL was just over Wahoo’s claimed weight
Battery: Rechargeable lithium ion
- Smartwatch mode – 14 days
- GPS or heart rate mode – Up to 24 hours
GPS Functionality: Built-in
Supported Satellites: GPS and GLONASS
Water Rating 5: ATM (water resistant up to 50 meters)
Ambient Light Sensor: Yes
Ambient light sensor does not change the watch face in watch mode
- Wireless Connectivity – ANT+ and Bluetooth
- Sensor Compatibility – ANT+, Bluetooth, and ANT+ FE-C
- Phone Compatibility- iPhone (iOS 12 or newer) and Android (Version 6 or newer)
- Altimeter – Yes
- Compass – Yes, GPS based
- Gyroscope – No
- Accelerometer – Yes
- Thermometer – No
A few things worth noting. Size-wise, the RIVAL is big watch. The case plus buttons measures ~50 mm across. But since the watch only weighs 53 grams, it didn’t feel as big as it looks. Also, the watch strap is very comfortable — even when worn tightly enough so it stays in place (necessary for the heart rate monitor — more about that later). A nice touch is that there are two loops to hold the strap in place and both a little nub that fits inside a strap hole to keep it secure. Also, don’t expect a color screen along the lines of something like an Apple watch. The screen display is largely white on black with selective and subtle use of color (such as highlighting menu selections, which buttons to toggle to turn a workout on or off, and whether a workout is paused or resumed).
The little nub slots into a strap hole to keep it in place
Set Up and ELEMNT App
The first thing you need to do is charge the RIVAL. The charger is a little “puck” with a cable you plug into the USB port of a computer or a USB wall charger (like what you use to charge your phone or tablet). I have a couple wall outlets with built-in USB charging ports so used that. The RIVAL clicks into the charger to latch in place.
Download the Wahoo ELEMNT app to your phone (I already had it since I’m a member of the Wahoo ELEMNT ecosystem with my ROAM bike computer).
When the RIVAL is charged, turn it on and a QR code appears on the watch face. Scan the code to pair the watch with the phone (exactly how I paired my Roam with my phone). Since I already had my profile loaded, I was done. But if you’re a new ELEMNT user, you’ll need to set up your personal profile, which includes stuff like left or right for wearing the RIVAL, your name, height, weight, date of birth, what apps (Strava, etc.) you want to authorize to upload workouts, power zones, and heart rate zones.
The ELEMNT app makes it easy to configure the Rival to your liking
The ELEMNT app is also used to customize the watch. There are four different watch faces to choose from: utility digital, simple digital, utility analog, and simple analog. I chose utility analog. You can also choose an accent color (default is blue). And you can manage the widgets that appear on the watch face (up to three). In my case, I chose steps, heart rate, and battery status (other choices include workout calories, weekly workout time, weekly cycling distance, weekly run distance, weekly swim distance and world clock (another city in a different time zone).
L: Utility digital watch face; R: Simple digital watch face
L: Utility analog watch face; R: Simple analog watch face (essentially the same but without the hour markers)
Another thing you do with the app is manage how data is recorded and displayed for different workouts:
- Lap swimming
- Open water swimming
- Triathlon [For the PEZ multisport athletes: the default triathlon workout profile is open water swimming, running, cycling but it’s possible to change the order of the legs or delete a leg (so you could do a bike-run brick). You can also reconfigure it to be an indoor triathlon (or you could create a custom workout profile) with lap swimming, treadmill, and KICKR.]
Pick your accent color
The app is also where you configure what alerts you want to appear on the RIVAL — text messages, phone calls, and emails (currently just for iOS but Android is in the works) — and whether you want them to just pop up on the screen or also have a sound and/or vibration alert.
Using the RIVAL
I’m not going to cover every single use for the RIVAL or do a deep dive into all of its features (I’m sure we all know a certain person on the web who excels at that and I’m not going to try to compete). But PEZ readers will probably want to know a thing or two about using the RIVAL for cycling.
Essentially, the ELEMNT RIVAL can be the equivalent of a cycling computer on your wrist. With built-in GPS, it can record speed and distance on any bike ride without a bike computer or having to use Strava on your phone. Want to record that bike share ride? On a vacation and rented some bikes for rides with your family? Taking a shop (or friend’s) bike out for a test ride? No problem. Just follow these simple steps:
- Press on the middle right button and select cycling (use the upper and lower right buttons to scroll up or down through the list).
- Press on the middle right button again and wait for the GPS to acquire satellites. When the indicator next to the button (3 o’clock position) turns green, you’re good to go.
- Press the right middle right button to start your ride.
- Stopping for coffee and need to pause the ride? Press the middle right button and the indicator next to the upper right button (2 o’clock position) will turn red. To re-start the ride, press the middle right button (the indicator at the 3 o’clock position will be green).
- To stop and end your ride, press the middle right button to pause the ride and then press the upper middle button to stop the ride. Press the middle right button to confirm ending the ride. If you want to save the ride, press the middle right button. If you want to discard the ride, press the lower left button.
I know that’s a lot of button pushing, but once you get the hang of it it’s not that bad. However, in the age of smartphones it’s probably not quite as easy/intuitive as a touchscreen.
As a GPS fitness watch, the RIVAL is close to perfect for coffee or other social rides where you want to record the ride data but aren’t concerned about knowing how fast or how far you’re riding while you’re riding. For me, it means I can ride my 90s #steelisreal Hollands (currently without a computer mount) and my oldie but still a goodie Bridgestone MB-2 mountain bike set up as a cit bike with slicks (also without a computer mount) and easily record the rides without the extra drain on my phone battery if I was using the Strava or some other ride app.
But the ELEMNT RIVAL is more than just a GPS watch that can record time and distance. You can directly pair sensors to the watch (using the app) just like you would to your bike computer. In my case, that means my 4iiii Precision single-side crank arm power meter (that also does cadence) and the speed sensor on my rear wheel. For all intents and purposes, the RIVAL then becomes the equivalent of my ROAM — but instead of on an out front mount on my bike, it’s on my wrist. Not that I would use the RIVAL to replace my ROAM as a display for data while riding (having to look at my wrist would be both distracting and dangerous). But it’s an easy and convenient way to have a back-up of my ride. Just in case. Because no one has ever had their bike computer crap out or battery die on them mid-ride … ever.
With the same bike sensors connected to both a bike computer and the Rival, if your bike computer fails, the RIVAL could save the day
You can also connect the RIVAL to a KICKR trainer to control the trainer in three different modes:
- LEVEL: Just like riding on a fluid or wind trainer, the faster you go, the harder it gets. The level you select determines the progression of your power curve.
- ERG: Set your desired power, the KICKR will increase or decrease the resistance to maintain a constant power output, regardless of speed.
- PASSIVE: This mode allows the RIVAL to be used as a display when riding any smart trainer paired to a 3rd party app. The RIVAL displays and independently records metrics from connected sensors during a workout.
Honestly, controlling a smart trainer manually sort of defeats the purpose of a smart trainer IMHO. Most people I’ve talked to buy and ride a smart trainer to do virtual riding with an app controlling the trainer. And you don’t need to have the RIVAL connected and set for passive mode to do virtual riding on a smart trainer (just if you want to independently record metrics apart from whatever app you’re riding).
Rival vs Roam
You’ll note in the above picture that my post ride data on my RIVAL (left) is not exactly the same as on my ROAM (right) — notably average speed (you can’t see it here, but elevation gain was also different). I noticed this discrepancy on several rides and wondered what was up because my speed, distance, cadence, and power data are all from the same sensors for both devices. I sent some ride files to the tech folks at Wahoo to analyze and this is what they said:
- The one thing to keep in mind is that two GPS devices (even two ROAMS) can provide slightly different data sets as there just could be multitude of factors impacting things. One of the slightly more different aspect in this case is that RIVAL is a wrist based device and ROAM is on the cockpit of the bike. So the way it may receive GPS may be slightly different.
- The barometric altimeter could be impacted with how it may be worn or the position of the watch/covering etc. [NOTE: I was wearing the Rival underneath the sleeve of both a base layer and jersey, so that probably has a lot to do with any differences.] Also RIVAL elevation data is updated on regular intervals before a workout using the companion app so that could explain some differences as well.
- Also ROAM uses BT [Bluetooth] for connecting to the power meter and RIVAL uses ANT+ so this could count for the slight difference in power numbers but they are very close.
Ditch the Chest Strap?
My favorite reason for riding with the RIVAL that I can ditch the dreaded chest strap heart rate monitor. A great feature of the RIVAL is that it will automatically broadcast your heart rate to an ELEMNT bike computer (you set this up in the app) without having to be in cycling mode or manually turning on the broadcasting. If you’re using another bike computer that can receive heart rate via Bluetooth or ANT+, you have to set the RIVAL to broadcast heart rate.
Use the ELEMNT app to set the RIVAL to automatically broadcast heart rate to an ELEMNT bike computer. But you’ll need to turn on broadcasting manually for everything else. The RIVAL will broadcast heart rate for 4 hours and then prompt to continue broadcasting for one additional hour every hour afterwards. Just remember to turn broadcasting off afterwards to not drain your battery!
It’s generally accepted that chest strap heart rate monitors are more accurate than optical heart rate monitors. Since I’m not racing or training for anything, I’m willing to accept the trade-off in accuracy of a chest strap for the convenience/comfort of a watch. Some of that accuracy loss is also a function of how you wear the RIVAL (or any other wrist optical heart rate monitor). Per Wahoo: “To ensure best quality heart rate readings, wear the watch away from the wrist bone and tighten the strap such that the watch should not move on your arm.” There’s a “Goldilocks” aspect to this: not too loose so that it moves but also not so tight that it constricts blood flow (because optical heart rate sensors measure heart rate based on blood flow).
That green light is a flashing LED that shines light through the skin and is used to measure heart rate based on blood flow
How (in)accurate is the RIVAL? I can’t say definitely, but I can say that when riding The Sufferfest or Zwift using my TICKR heart rate monitor connected to the app, the heart rate readout on my RIVAL is usually within a few beats per minute of the TICKR’s numbers (but I’ve seen occasional deviations as much as 10 beats per minute). So not perfectly spot on, but pretty close. Again, for me and my riding, close enough. But if you absolutely demand the most accurate heart rate data, a chest strap is the way to go.
Strap or wrist? You decide.
Speaking of The Sufferfest and Zwift, the RIVAL easily paired with both apps (using the same method as manually broadcasting to a non-ELEMNT bike computer), as well as the Xert training app and RGT Cycling.
Wahoo says 14 days battery life for the RIVAL in smartwatch (even though it’s not really a smartwatch) mode. My personal experience using the RIVAL in what I’d call “mixed” mode, i.e., as a daily watch/heart rate monitor plus connecting it to my ROAM on outdoor rides and to The Sufferfest, Zwift, or Xert on indoor rides, is more like 10 days. That’s still pretty good battery life (my wife has to charge her Apple Watch daily). And since the RIVAL currently doesn’t have a sleep monitoring function, I could make the battery last even longer if I turned it off at night.
As a casual sports watch that monitors my heart rate and records my steps, the ELEMNT RIVAL does the job. However, it’s a fairly large form factor so not an everyday for all occasions watch for me. For example, not really a business watch for me. Also, it’s lack of a full suite of smartwatch features makes it less usable as an everyday watch.
But I’m a “watch guy” in that I own several different watches (including old fashion analog watches that just tell time), each with a different purpose. So the Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL is now part of my collection. For me, it’s my “go to” cycling watch that allows me to ride without a chest strap heart rate monitor. If it was just a heart rate monitor, it would probably be considered an unreasonably (if not ridiculously) expensive alternative ($379.99 for a RIVAL watch vs $49.99 for a TICKR heart rate monitor). However, for me, the Rival is definitely an easier and more comfortable option (and I’m willing to accept the inherent differences in accuracy). Plus I wear a watch while riding and want the functionality of a watch. So, for me, it’s a two-fer deal.
If you’re a Wahooligan and already immersed in the Wahoo ecosystem, the RIVAL fits in seamlessly and makes sense as an option if you need to fill the GPS sports watch void. Even if you’re not part of the Wahoo ecosystem with all your other sports tech gadgets, feature and price-wise it’s a competitive option in the market. The RIVAL is certainly a worthy choice if you’re a triathlete (especially with its touchless transition feature). But even if you’re just a cyclist — like me — it might make sense if you want a GPS sports watch and don’t want the hassle of wearing a chest strap heart rate monitor (plus no more having to replace coin cell batteries!).
The Wahoo ELEMNT RIVAL is not your father’s watch (in this case, my dad’s Hamilton Boulton)
• Buy it online at Wahoo here
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