Sunday, 6 August 2017

Wahoo ELEMNT / ELEMNT BOLT GPS Navigation - The Details You Need to Know!



Wahoo ELEMNT / ELEMNT BOLT GPS Route Navigation - The Details You Need to Know!
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I've owned my Wahoo ELEMNT GPS for a year now, using it on and off as new features are released and as I've needed for data collection from trainers/power meters/etc. The Elemnt BOLT was released a few months ago, and I've been using that more and more as my primary 'cycling computer'. Given both these units run the same operating system and have the same features, I'll refer to them both hereon in as the 'Elemnt'.



I've used the basic mapping features on the Elemnt: Map display while riding, follow the 'breadcrumb' trail for routing back home, and I've tinkered with the Turn by Turn navigation using the "TAKE ME TO..." function on the iPhone companion app. All which were pretty straight forward, although I wasn't able to select any alternate routes with the "TAKE ME TO..." routing, it decided on a route and that was that.



Yesterday I set out to ride a familiar loop here in Melbourne called the "Tour de Burbs", aka the 'Burbs Loop. A 28km hilly loop that's a regular weekly hit-out for riders who want something other than the flat Beach Rd rides. The aim of my exercise yesterday was to try out the features of turn-by-turn (TbT) navigation on the Elemnt. The 'Burbs loop isn't all that complex, containing only 14 or 15 turns.

The process I followed yesterday resulted in two things - Firstly, confusion as to where I'd gone wrong in setting up the navigation/route, and secondly, around 4-5 hours of research trying to get my head around navigation and turn-by-turn functionality on the Elemnt. That research consisted of reading Ray Maker's post on Turn-by-Turn on the Elemnt, going over the Wahoo official site/help pages, and trawling though many forums where people have posted similar questions.

So. After all that. Here it is. The details. This is what you'll need to know to understand routing, navigation, and how to setup turn-by-turn on the Wahoo Elemnt as it stands right now (August 2017).



Isn't all course routing the same? Just make a route, sync, and go? No. 

"Route Navigation" and "Turn By Turn Navigation" are two different things

"Route Navigation" - Visual breadcrumb/chevron/ant trails overlaid onto the existing maps. No cues, just 'distance to go' shown based on you current location and end point location based on the selected route. You'll also get an elevation profile on screen of what's coming up hill wise. 

Breadcrumb map overlay

Elevation - Past, Present, Future


"Turn By Turn Navigation" - All the features of Route Navigation but with Turn by Turn cues based on pre-defined cues generated by whatever service you've sync'ed with (ie RideWithGPS). This is what I expected all routes on the Elemnt to do, turn-by-turn like most GPS navigation units in cars, phones, etc. It isn't the case.


Turn-by-Turn navigation - With cues!


What? That's confusing. I know.

Here's the details..... 

The Elemnt ships with global maps on the units. Worldwide maps! That's pretty cool. Garmin Edge units on the other hand ship with regional maps. If you're travelling far and wide with a Garmin Edge you'll need to buy additional maps or download the compatible OpenSteetMaps (Thanks again DCRainmaker for the brilliant info here!). 

To cram an entire WORLD of maps onto the Element there's a tradeoff. The maps on the Elemnt appear to be stripped of all metadata that can be used to generate detailed navigational routes (think turn-by-turn). It has no ability itself to generate the required 'cue sheets' for the route you want. A 'cue' being information about the route such as "Right Turn at location X onto street Y" or similar. A 'cue sheet' being the list of cues that navigate the entire route. 

Without this map metadata on the Element, the task of creating these cue sheets is 'outsourced' so to speak to the Elemnt Companion App or to a third party such as RideWithGPS & Komoot. 

What about Strava? Well. That's what tripped me up yesterday. I'd created a route using the Strava Route Builder. I sync'ed that to the Element, and when I attempted to ride the route all I was presented with was a breadcrumb trail and 'Distance to go...'. So just basic navigation, not turn-by-turn. I rode the entire 28km just following the breadcrumbs. Once I'd passed the end point, it started counting up the 'Distance to go...' again. That wasn't what I wanted. It turns out that Strava does not export routes with cue sheets. Even when they're explicitly configured in the route. 




Theres's good news though! Strava does offer a GPX to Route service via StravaLabs: http://labs.strava.com/gpx-to-route This creates cue sheets from basic GPX routes (when it doesn't crash). Nice! But when syncing to the Elemnt it still has no cue sheets, breadcrumb mode only. Damn it. Throw us a damn bone here Strava... A lot of us pay for Strava Premium, just make this work please. 

OK - With Strava off the menu for creating turn-by-turn routes for the Element, I headed over to RouteWithGPS. Signed up, logged in, and created the 'Burbs Loop route by uploading the base GPX I had. With that created, I synced it over to the Elemnt and loaded the route. Wait. Same deal. Basic breadcrumb mode and no cue sheets. No turn-by-turn navigation. I was told that RideWithGPS would do it!?!? 

'Burbs Loop imported from GPX. Note: No cue sheet.... no turn-by-turn.

Again, there's more to it than just using RideWithGPS. I had to manually create the route in RideWithGPS to finally get the cue sheets! Many mouse clicks later I had recreated the 'Burbs Loop on RideWithGPS, saved it, and sync'ed that over to the Elemnt. BAM! I finally figured out how to get Turn-By-Turn navigation on the Elemnt! 


'Burbs Loop - Manually created... now with Turn-by-Turn cues! 

Turn-by-Turn success! 

Elevation profile showing for the route too. Nice.



From a technical standpoint, I get it. Lightweight maps on the unit + no cue sheets in route files means there's no way the Elemnt can work out what to do, so the best it can do is overlay breadcrumbs and smile back at you with it's palms facing upwards saying "That's the best I can do with what I've got!"... Which is fine for the majority of users.... I'd just assumed a GPS bike computer would do all the GPSey things without the need to line so many ducks up in a row.  

Side Notes: 

  • On the fly re-routing isn't possible as the Elemnt can only reference the pre-defined cues. Once you're off-course you're on your own until you get back onto the predefined route.
  • Komoot - I signed up and created the route on there too. One catch with Komoot is you also need to 'unlock' or activate your region to allow Komoot to sync. I didn't to this step.... I suspect once it's all set up it'll work the same as RideWithGPS. 

Garmin solve most of these issues by using detailed regional maps with all the data required to routing/re-routing on their head units. The trade off being these are non global maps due to space limitations. Route and re-route generation can be a little laggy on the head unit too. For interest's sake I dropped the base 'Burbs Loop GPX file (without cues) into the \NewFiles\ folder on the Garmin Edge 820 and it loaded it up ready for turn-by-turn navigation. Well, that was easier... I suspect it's only a matter of time before we see a ConnectIQ app that'll do route syncing from Strava/Garmin Connect/etc. 

So there we are - The details I wish I had of known yesterday. Is it a show stopper for Wahoo in the Elemnt vs Edge war? Not really. I think turn-by-turn is niche for bike computers and if you use it a lot you've likely done your homework and have figured this all out already. The functionality is there, it just takes a little work to unlock it.

Hopefully this helps people understand the operation of the Element unit(s) a little better before or after purchase. Let's hope Strava start syncing soon with cues included... and/or the Elemnt Companion App can take care of automatic cue generation and maybe also take care of re-routing on the fly to the head unit. 


tldr; To enable Turn-By-Turn route navigation on the Wahoo Elemnt/Bolt GPS cycling computer you need to sync routes that include cue sheets from a third party service that includes these pre-defined cue sheets when exporting/syncing. Currently only RideWithGPS and Komoot does this. The Elemnt has no ability to re-route on the fly. "Take Me To..." on the Elemnt phone app will give Turn-By-Turn on a route it chooses to your required destination. 



4 comments:

quagmire71 said...

Interesting article. I've thought about a Wahoo computer as a replacement for my 6 year old Garmin 800 but your article it goes to show that navigation for cycling hasn't really moved on in all this time. I would usually have a phone in me but I don't really want to depend on it for navigation and what happens to its lifespan if Wahoo stop updating apps/devices? We should have moved onto a killer device now that takes into account bike safe(r) routes and does full turn by turn navigation but it's clearly not here. Read the reviews on Amazon and people struggle with easy to use Garmin including the Etrex so the chances of them spending four hours to get a Wahoo to direct them properly is ludicrously small. They'll just stick a phone mount on the bars and go back to using Google maps.....

Feels like I need to wait for the next generation of devices to get something noticeably better than I've been using for years :-/

Benbong said...

Thanks Shane for the review!

I have a Lezyne year 10 GPS that has a similar feature, but got tne same issue.
I did create my ride with ridewithgps but get nothing. I just wanted to confirm if you have exported A tcx file for this to work (amd if you had the free plan).

Thanks for your time ;)

Shane Miller said...

The Elemnt companion app syncs with the services you authorise, RideWithGPS being one of them. I'm not sure what format it exports for these synchronizations..... but when the cue sheets are there in the RwGPS route, they're there on the Elemnt sync. This was done with the free account.

Benbong said...

Ok, I'm back to the drawing board then, thanks for your answer :)