ROAM Wasn’t Built in a Day

I'm going to reframe a debate on a product that just got introduced. The product is Wahoo’s ELEMNT ROAM.

If I ever hit hard times I know what job not to apply for: Tech editor for bicycle electronics. I’m not that guy. But I have something most of my betters don’t have: Age. And I don’t mean wisdom. Just age. As you age your imperatives change. Certain things are more important to me now and here’s the heck of it: Those things don’t translate well to a feature-by-feature shootout.

Can I recast the utility of a product, using a set of parameters that I can relate to? And, when I write about the ROAM I’m trying to make a larger point here; I could be writing about any product in any product or service class.

Claimed versus Actual: Let’s take battery life as an example. If you’re comparing a pair of products, one advertises 15hr of battery life, another 20hr, then who wins this one in a feature-by-feature comparison? However, if the manufacturer of the product making the less-feature-sexy product reliably, product-by-product, delivers what it claims, and this reliable delivery is industry leading, then, speaking for the get-off-my-lawn generation, we don’t like surprises! We don’t mind an under-promise. What we mind is under-delivery.

Ease of Set Up & Use: I’m not a Wahoo fanboy; nor a Wahoo vendor. I don’t ride Wahoo’s stationary trainer; I ride another. Wahoo is not a Slowtwitch Partner. When I go to a Wahoo launch, I pay my own way there and back, pay my expenses, and if I receive a provision of product that usually ends up in someone else’s hands. But dang it, when I open a Wahoo box, whatever comes out just works. It’s easy. If I read the instructions, fine. If I don’t read the instructions, pretty much also fine. The unit even comes with a charged battery. Apps (whether Wahoo’s Companion App or 3rd party apps) pair with the device; the device does everything promised of it; and I don’t have to learn a new language, or know the secret handshake, to use it. It’s just easy and even folks who typically choose a competing brand’s products know this to be true, if you’ve used Wahoo’s products in the past.

Speed of Updates: When I buy a product like this, what I want is improvement over time. I want firmware updates that solve problems. Note to brand owners: I don’t mind if you’re a little behind. I just want to know you’re working hard as heck to catch up and move ahead. I want to know that you care about your product as much as I do. That if I’m unhappy, you’re unhappy. When you deliver an update, remember, I don’t like surprises. I don’t want the new firmware to tank my battery life. I don’t want the new firmware to cause my device to repeatedly reboot.

Screen Clarity and Size: Up through my mid-30s I had perfect vision. Does that describe you? Wait until you’re my age (that was my vision 30 years ago). What I value is screen clarity. Screen size. A properly backlit screen. If I can’t see it, I may as well not have it. For you whippersnappers who can read an ELEMNT Bolt, if the ROAM’s larger size offends you, then by gosh you have the Bolt! If I don’t hate Wahoo for making your Bolt, is it okay for Wahoo to make my ROAM? And yes, it’s much easier for me to read the ROAM’s maps than the ELEMNT’s maps! Why? Because the ROAM offer’s between 7 and 10 colors used depending on the map feature. If you disagree or disregard my opinion, remember, I’ve ridden, outside, with the both the ELEMNT and the ELEMNT ROAM. When you ride with it, then you deserve an opinion on its screen readability, at which point I’ll be happy to hear it.

Customer Service : I’m cranky about this. I wrote about when I was a manufacturer. Somebody asked yesterday on our Reader Forum, “How long should a wetsuit last?” Asking that question of me is grooving a pitch down the center of the zone. I felt if you spent your treasure to buy my wetsuit, it should last 2 years. And if yours didn’t, you sent it back to me and I fixed it or replaced it no charge, and I didn’t ask how your wetsuit was damaged. I fixed it or replaced it regardless of fault, because you paid good money and that money should get you no fewer than 2 years of a top quality wetsuit. I paid the freight back to you with the same urgency you freighted it to me. This matters to me.

Family of Products and Services: Otherwise known today by many as “ecosystem”. I asked people in our Reader Forum, “What brands are you most attached to?” Brands that you use every day. That you rely upon the most. Where you would be in deep doo-doo if that brand, poof, was gone? In some cases, brands I rely upon are also brands I complain about. Like AT&T. But generally they’re brands that are very good about anticipating my needs and making a suite of hard and soft goods that work seamlessly together. Apple. Google. To be clear, some folks actually value Garmin’s ecosystem over Wahoo’s. Fine. Just, ecosystem doesn’t nicely slot onto a feature comparison.

Notice something about my above list? None of this stuff shows up on the list of specifications. None of this stuff gets a value-add in a feature shootout. So, when I hear that the ROAM is overpriced by $80 because of the features it doesn’t have, what is ease-of-use worth to me? Reliability? A company who absolutely knows who I am? What my sport is? Whose CEO will speak directly to the end user on our endemic social platforms? (If you’re a CEO who’s too important to talk to your customers, your brand is too important for me to buy.)

And, look. Wahoo doesn’t (yet) have the capacity (that I know of) to interface with custom apps. It won’t interface with Varia Radar, and that’s kind of like Shimano being the only wheel company not to offer XD drivers. The ROAM hasn’t migrated to USB-C, and while I don’t find that a problem I acknowledge that it’s a reasonable ask. The action cam jockeys whine righteously about the lack of full GoPro integration. When I set up my ROAM map page I had to use the Companion App to select the date field(s) above the map; some of you don’t want to have to use the Companion App at all. And it’s a valid beef that most of the ROAM’s copious compatibility is with paid apps. And finally, while the ROAM gives the battery life it promises, I haven’t found that I can view the remaining battery life from the device.

I say this because if you’re wedded to a certain feature set, these gripes you have are legitimate. I think it’s quite fine for consumers to choose a Garmin, a Lezyne, or some other GPS head unit. I find that negotiating my way around Wahoo and its associated apps to be easier than Garmin with Garmin Connect. I don’t begrudge anyone who feels differently (Jordan Rapp loves Wahoo's intuitive readability, but prefer's Garmin's ecosystem.)

Two things I’ve found in my life as a manufacturer, a consumer, and an observer: 1st is that the most important functions of a product are the unsexy ones. Before a bike can be aero, it has to handle, stop, shift, fit you well and, you know, not break. Boring stuff like that. My bikes were sexy! My wetsuits were sexy! But nobody ever died on one or in one, and that was what mattered most. My products had to major in the major stuff before we wound ourselves up on the minor stuff; 2nd, the true measures of a company are how often a product functions as planned, and in how that company reacts when things don’t go as planned.

Above I list themes that inform my choice of one product over another. This isn’t to throw shade on any of Wahoo’s competitors; indeed, I ride the stationary trainer I do because it checks all the important boxes for me. But when I write a product review – on anything – the feature shootout is only one part of the equation, and not usually the most important part. The reason I gave the ROAM a higher grade than some other reviewers, or some of our dear readers, is that my value set as a consumer – whether age-driven, such as attention to my failing eyesight; generational (I didn't grow up with iPhone as a 1st language); or the hard win I give you when your service is over-the-top – is gauged to what satisfies me.

LATE ADD: Hitting any ELEMNT family power button once gets me to the menu screen; battery life is displayed as a percentage at the top of the screen. Didn't know that. Now I do.