Bike computer company launches new smart watch to track triathlons

Wahoo, the company best known for its bike computers and smart trainers, has finally launched its own watch.

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The new Wahoo Element Rival puts it squarely up against competitors including Garmin, though it is specifically focused on tracking triathlon and races in particular.

It does so using what Wahoo calls its “touchless transition” technology which enables the watch to automatically detect when an athlete has moved between swimming, cycling and running and track them accordingly.

It costs £349.99, putting it at the upper end of many activity trackers but roughly in line with other watches that offer similar triathlon features. It is available now.

That – as well as tracking triathlons more generally – was the “pain point” from which the idea to launch a watch emerged, Wahoo’s chief executive Chip Hawkins told The Independent.

In practise, it means that once the watch is paired with one of Wahoo’s bike computers, they will automatically hand off information to each other. Through a triathlon, all information is stored on the watch, but it will be visible on the bike computer so that athletes know how they are performing.

The watch gathers information from its sensors and feeds them into algorithms that aim to spot when a triathlete has moved from swimming and into cycling, and can start tracking them as they go, for instance. Mr Hawkins said that it can be difficult to remember to tell the watch that the activity has changed in the midst of a tough triathlon, and that the watch can help avoid any associated mistakes. 

Mr Hawkins said that the company had focused on building a triathlon watch, “because no one has done that right yet”. While he said that he did believe the Rival is a better watch for the sports individually, too, the company focused on triathletes and a watch that can track their performances throughout a whole race – many of whom already use the company’s Kickr smart trainers for their bikes he said.

He noted that global lockdowns will inevitably “affect people’s ability to buy and affect people’s ability to use” the watch, but that the company was taking the long view and that “triathlon will be back, and the world will be back to normal, sooner or later”.

Wahoo arrives somewhat late into the smartwatch market, which has been accelerated by the Apple Watch but also includes more close competitors to Wahoo such as Garmin. Mr Hawkins said that given many people put their personal training data into third-party software – such as Strava and Training Peaks – they should still be able to get access to their data even if they have been tracking it with a competitive product until now.

He also said that the Rival is not aimed at competing so closely with lifestyle smartwatches, such as those made by Apple. Instead, the Rival is intended to be “first and foremost an awesome watch for training” – though it can still be worn 24 hours a day, includes more premium features such as a ceramic bezel around its edge and will track metrics such as steps.

The watch has been development in for three and a half years, which Mr Hawkins said was the “longest development of anything I’ve ever done in my life”, and involved going back to the drawing board during development to ensure that the battery life was long enough. The watch should last 24 hours in GPS mode – enough time for an Ironman triathlon – or 14 days if it is used as a watch, he said.

Wahoo said that the watch is already being used by its triathletes, which include Olympians and Ironman champions, such as the Brownlees, Jan Frodeno and Heather Jackson.

“When preparing for the big races, you’ve got to be able to focus on what you’re doing one hundred percent and not worry about your kit,” said Alastair Brownlee in a statement. “The ELEMNT RIVAL helps me track all my metrics during a training session without distracting me from performing to the best of my ability – be that in the water, on the bike or when running.”

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