Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: a hardcore sports data watch for triathlon devotees

Wahoo Elemnt Rival does tri-specific tracking well but goes light on fitness features

Wahoo Elemnt Rival Review
(Image credit: Wahoo)
T3 Verdict

Wahoo Elemnt Rival is not as packed with features and rugged as some Garmins and Suunto's Garmin’s Fenix but it might still appeal to keen triathletes thanks to its seamlessly transition feature that allows for button-free switching between running, cycling and swimming. The design is clean and thanks to recent software updates, it feels less feature-poor than before.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Lightweight

  • +

    Extremely easy to set up and use

  • +

    Clear data screens

  • +

    Touchless Transition tech

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Less features-packed than rivals

  • -

    No navigation feature for instance

  • -

    Sensitive to colour specification

The Wahoo Elemnt Rival review TL;DR: a great tri-watch packed with sport features aimed and hardcore athletes that's surprisingly comfortable to wear.

The Elemnt Rival joins a long list of well established fitness devices, and is aimed at the more hardcore gentleman or lady of the road. While the Rival clearly makes a play for our best running watch top 10, it is actually more squarely aimed at the just-as-good but somewhat-less-frequently-read best triathlon watch list.

How has Wahoo chosen to stand out from the likes of Garmin, Polar, Fitbit and Suunto? It's brought some serious, new features to the party, but it's also reduced the complexity of the Elemnt Rival, compared to some of its, er, rivals. Of course, this could also be seen as having fewer features, and taken as a negative. 

Yes, in a bold move, Wahoo actually pares back the features and declutters the running watch experience to hone in on the data that matters to those who take their sport seriously. Let’s face it, the last thing you want to do when pounding a marathon or competing in a punishing triathlon is interact with fiddly buttons or manually set up  data screens.

The Wahoo Elemnt Rival’s main party trick is something the company refers to as ‘Touchless Transition’, which is essentially a triathlon mode, as the watch seamlessly switches data screens and the figures it tracks during the three individual disciplines. 

Similarly, Handover Mode allows the watch to interact with Elemnt cycling computers to beam race data from the watch to a cycling computer for the bike leg of a triathlon, meaning all of the key metrics and figures are right where the participant wants it.

Predictably, it plays extremely nicely with the rest of the Wahoo ecosystem, so if you have a Wahoo Kickr turbo trainer, Elemnt bike computers or Tickr heart rate monitors, the watch automatically detects these things and collates data from everything into its own Elemnt app.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival: price and availability

The Wahoo Elemnt Rival is available to buy directly from Wahoo UK for £349.99 / $379.99 / $599.95 AUD.

It is keenly priced to sit somewhere between Garmin’s more expensive Forerunner 945 and something like the cheaper Suunto 5, but then the features it offers also sit somewhere between its rivals. What it lacks in sleep tracking and active training assistance, it makes up for with innovative, sports-focussed features.

It’s available in either Stealth Grey or Kona White but I’d suggest it looks far better and more premium in the former. Kona White, with its Wahoo blue accents on the bezel, cheapens the package somewhat.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: person looking at the Elemnt Rival and the Wahoo app on a phone simultaneously

(Image credit: Wahoo)

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: design

Measuring 46.5 x 46.5 x 15.3 mm, the Wahoo Elemnt Rival is slightly smaller than the Garmin Fenix 6 Pro and the Suunto 7 adventure watch but will still feel large on skinny wrists. Unfortunately, it’s only available in one size, so you’ll have to put up with that if it takes your fancy.

Thankfully, the silicone strap is comfortable and has plenty of adjustability in it, while the watch itself is incredibly light. At just 53g, it sits on the wrist nicely and doesn’t move around when running, swimming or cycling

The ceramic bezel is a nice touch, as it adds an additional element of toughness and apparently improves the strength of the GPS module inside. There are five stubby buttons located around said bezel and they have been ever so slightly recessed to avoid any scratching or bashing when in use.

That said, I did find that the main activity selector button was easy to accidentally depress when working out or when generally wearing it. The Elemnt Rival lets out a shrill beep when an activity is just about to start and this would sometimes go off when washing up and whatnot. Slightly irksome. 

Holding the top left button during a workout for a few seconds locks the watch and is advised if you are performing a strength routine, where accidentally stopping or pausing an activity is easily done.

It is waterproof (obvs) and packs a Gorilla Glass lens, which means it should be able to put up with a fair amount of torture during events. Flip the watch over and you’ll be able to see the strobing green optical heart rate system, which monitors blood flow and aims to give a fairly accurate heart rate read out. Unlike some rivals with similar tech, the rear of the watch isn’t overly bulbous and doesn’t stick into the wrist.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: person running a wetsuit and the watch in front of a blue background

(Image credit: Wahoo)

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: features

Like many other fitness and running watches out there, the Wahoo Elemnt Rival is always working, so it will be tracking your steps and keeping an eye on the heart rate in the background, meaning you get a fairly good picture of an average day every time you fire up the accompanying app.

Aside from telling the time, iOS users can receive smart notifications from WhatsApp, Signal & Telegram alongside calls, texts and emails straight to Elemnt Rival. iOS users can also control music on their phones using the watch, although it doesn't have built-in memory to store the songs: it's merely wrist remote controller for your tracks.

There is some customisation of the watch face available, with a number of colours and a couple of styles to choose from via the app, but it’s no way near as in depth as rivals from Garmin or even the Apple, Samsung and Huawei smart watch brigade.

As previously mentioned, it is waterproof to up to 50M, so perfectly good for swimming and it features all of the sensors you’d expect, including an altimeter, compass and accelerometer. However, there’s no gyroscope or thermometer, should you require data from these.

The watch also plays very nicely with any ANT+ and Bluetooth external sensor, which makes pairing a heart rate monitor, cadence or power meter really easy, even if it isn't from Wahoo. In fact, the connection process is one of the slickest I’ve ever tried and, like it says in the marketing fluff, you can simply leave those duties to the watch and get on with your chosen sport.

Naturally, there’s a stopwatch function, which is handy when training, and an ambient light sensor, so the watch automatically brightens or dims with the conditions. It’s part of the reason it has such an impressive battery life, boasting 14 days of running time in smartwatch mode and up to 24 hours in GPS or Heart Rate broadcast mode.

Speaking of broadcasting heart rate: heart rate data captured from Rival's built-in optical heart rate sensor can be sent to other GPS devices via ANT+. Finally, it seamlessly integrates with Strava and TrainingPeaks software, while not can also be used to control a Wahoo turbo trainer, which is a very handy feature if you don’t want to drip sweat all over your smartphone during intense sessions.

That said, it lacks some of the nice bits that its cheaper Garmin Forerunner 245 model offers. This is mainly in the form of built-in music apps, coaching and running dynamics tracking, but Garmin also offers VO2 max readouts, training effect feedback, recovery time suggestions and much more. Hey, it even tracks the female menstrual cycle.

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: a 3D render of the watch displaying the different sport modes

(Image credit: Wahoo)

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: performance

Straight out of the box, the Wahoo Elemnt Rival is an extremely easy piece of kit to live with. It feels like the first few seconds with the watch reveals a lot about its general demeanour and the remainder of the ownership experience.

Simply download the the Elemnt app (iOS and Android), snap a QR code that flashes up on the watch face and the rest is as simple as filling out a few bits of information. The app itself is extremely slick and lacks the clutter of Garmin’s brilliant but very busy ecosystem.

Pairing external sensors is also a doddle and it’s probably one of the fastest procedures I’ve experienced on a smartwatch. To begin with, I fired up my old Wahoo Kickr and it had no trouble finding it within a few nanoseconds. From here, it picked up the cadence sensor and even hooked up with a Myzone MZ-3 I like to wear… not something many smartwatches enjoy doing.

The watch itself feels really light on the wrist. In fact, as someone who wears a fairly chunky ‘dumbwatch’ every day, it felt a little disconcerting at first, but I soon grew to like the way it seemingly disappeared during longer rides and runs.

Flicking between the various sports activities and preset profiles is as easy as hitting a button and once underway, pushing the bottom two buttons activates Wahoo’s Perfect View Zoom, which essentially cycles through various data screens so you get exactly the readouts you want.

In rival watches, this is usually a case of delving into the app or settings on the watch and fiddling around with layouts manually until happy. It’s a really nice touch on the Elemnt Rival and something I found myself using a lot during a turbo training session.  Now that Wahoo added Kickr Headwind control options to the Rival, these sessions are even better (and cooler).

Wahoo Elemnt Rival Review: person riding a tri bike wearing the watch

(Image credit: Wahoo)

On top of this, the watch seems particularly good at acquiring a GPS signal before a run or other outdoor pursuit. It might be the age of some of my existing products, but they seem to take a while and a lot of arm waggling to latch on.

Information on the screen is presented in a fantastically crisp fashion and the simplicity of the watch face itself goes to show how performance focussed it is. As lovely as the bespoke Garmin watch faces are, they are often difficult to read and end up looking a bit tacky.

Alas, there are a couple of issues I had during my time testing the watch and they mainly revolved around strength training. For a start, the watch doesn’t track reps, effort or other important workout metrics and the built-in heart rate sensor is particularly poor when gripping a dumbbell or barbell. It will often drop out and not give a true reflection of overall effort. 

Similarly, and something I mentioned earlier in the review, it’s really easy to accidentally pause a workout when hauling dumbbells around due to the placement of the main button. I found myself locking the screen every time I started a strength workout to save the hassle.

Head on to the app and weirdly all it displays in the Strength profile is distance (often 0.00km), moving time (largely pointless) and total time. There’s also a screen for average and max speed, which again is a bit silly, as it displays nothing unless your strength routine involves a treadmill, sprint training or a bike.

But then it’s not really pitched as a general fitness or workout watch and if you solely use it for cycling, running and swimming, it’s absolutely brilliant. The GPS is very accurate and the wrist-based heart rate monitor works really well during these pursuits.

You can also plan workouts using the Elemnt Rival: the watch has TrainingPeaks integration as well as 12 pre-built Wahoo Sports Science workouts. A recent software also added a track running profile that provides more accurate distance and pace metrics when running on a 400m track. Pressing the lap button during a track session will snap intervals to the nearest 100m.

On the subject of everyday fitness, I also found the step counter to be quite inaccurate, telling me I walked over 11K steps on a day I clearly sat at a desk typing for the majority of it. Plus, it doesn’t offer give any data for floors climbed, so it paints a limited picture of general daily health. 

If you really need this kind of information, it might be worth checking out what the Fitbit Versa 3 has to offer, or the Garmin Forerunner 245 also has a ton of data an analysis on things like sleep, recovery and so much more. 

Wahoo Elemnt Rival Review: person looking at the Wahoo Elemnt Rival on their wrist

(Image credit: Wahoo)

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: verdict

Although not as rugged as the Suunto 9 Baro Titanium, nor as good as a general fitness watch as, say, the Garmin Venu 2, the Wahoo Elemnt Rival majors on its swim/bike/run focus.

If you are someone who regularly enjoys those pursuits, individually or in triathlon form, Wahoo’s smartwatch delivers a bucketload of data in a way that requires very minimal interaction with the tech, allowing you to focus on performance with only the cursory glance at the watch face.

The Touchless Transition is an excellent innovation and works very well, while the fact data is seamlessly handed over to other Wahoo bike computers will please anyone who is already invested into the ecosystem.

I loved the fact I could control a a Kickr via the watch face, saving my iPhone from being drenched in sweat every time I wanted to work out, and was equally impressed with the simplicity and clarity of the smartphone app. It also requires zero effort to have runs, cycles and swims uploaded to Strava, removing an irritating step from the process. 

There are better general fitness watches out there for people who need coaching or who want to count daily steps, the quality of sleep and floors climbed, but the Wahoo Elemnt Rival is arguably for those who are perhaps beyond tracking base levels of fitness. For competitive types, it’s represents a lot of smart watch for the money. 

Wahoo Elemnt Rival review: also consider

The Polar Vantage V2 is a watch of many qualities. Its build quality is excellent and definitely a step up from original Vantage V plus it has loads of useful tests and data for serious swimmers, runners and cyclists to better their form and get ready for races more efficiently. Better still, most of the tests and data provided by the Vantage V2 can't be found elsewhere, making it all the more appealing for the information thirsty athletes.

Despite the Garmin Enduro being tailored to a very niche market, many others can also benefit from wearing this monster of a watch. Sure, the extra long battery life will come in handy if you're an endurance athlete but if you're happy to spend this much money on a watch, I would recommend the Enduro for you as I'm sure you'll love it.

Leon Poultney
Leon Poultney

Leon has been writing about automotive and consumer tech for longer than he cares to divulge. If he’s not testing the latest fitness wearable and action camera, he’s out in a shed fawning over his motorcycles or trying not to kill himself on a mountain bike/surfboard/other extreme thing.