Two years ago I took the big step and bought myself a proper bike computer (or a head unit), a Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt. This action felt like a rite of passage, progressing from being a casual cyclist to becoming a passionate data-driven amateur cyclist (define as you will). It promised the collection of large amounts of data, such as cadence, heart rate and power, as well as showing maps and recording rides. At that stage, it was more than enough for my purposes.
The Wahoo is a very good bike computer, and even the upgrades to the new Bolt are pretty marginal, a testament to the quality of the original (although the new colour screen is pretty cool). As I became more interested in long-distance riding and audaxes (such as Berlin-Munich), the small screen became a bit of an issue. I was also looking for something with a colour screen, detailed maps useful for orienting, and a clearer elevation profile for upcoming hills (I no longer hate climbing).
Whilst the new Bolt wasn’t really a contender, I did think about an upgrade to the Wahoo ELEMNT Roam. The maps are good, however this still didn’t offer the climbing profile I wanted. Unfortunately Wahoo only offers general profile and current gradient, rather than a detailed breakdown of upcoming segments which would allow the user to plan efforts.
Garmin’s 830 and 1030 Edge were interesting, as these seemed to to tick most of the boxes, including the climber function and an app store which adds functions such as wind direction. From their optics however, these however felt a little dated, and – whether or not a fair judgment – I had the impression that Garmin had a reputation for reliability issues.
Given that no major releases for either were published at the time for either Wahoo or Garmin, I wasn’t keen on spending a lot of money on something where I had doubts. That’s where the wildcard came in – the Hammerhead Karoo 2.
The Karoo 2
Over the past few months, I’ve been bombarded with adverts of the Karoo 2 on Instagram and Facebook, and originally I just rolled my eyes and over time became increasingly irritated. Just as any good advertising should do though, it sew a seed, which – coupled with my search for a new computer and dissatisfaction of the current market offerings – flowered into an idea.
Hammerhead played it well, offering a 45 day no-commitment trial period. One day I took a punt and ordered the Karoo 2, with the idea lingering in the back of my mind of getting a Garmin if it didn’t work out. About a later, the K2 came in the post.
For the first day or two, I was quite sceptical of the K2, but its performance and quality quickly grew on me. After about a month of using it, I discovered that the altitude values were inconsistent over routes I regularly rode, and I later had some sensors cutting out, in particular one of my power meters. This is where Hammerhead’s customer service really shone, and one technician asked me to send over my ride data and made some practical suggestions after analysing it. After several attempts to remedy this, I was sent over a replacement computer, and indeed it appeared that the original model had some minor problems. Since I received the new computer, I haven’t had a single issue.
I don’t want to do an in depth product review, and I defer to more capable reviewers such as road.cc, CyclingNews and DC Rainmaker. Instead, I felt like putting my thoughts into words after using the computer for several months. Perhaps this might help someone who is in a similar position to myself.
To keep things to the point and fun, I have listed 3 things I don’t like, 3 things I do like, and then a short summary.
Disclosure: I am not sponsored by Hammerhead and have paid for the Karoo 2 in full with my own money. The below is purely my unbiased opinion based on my experience.
3 things I don’t (quite) like…
- The K2 has a USB-C port which I like, however it’s protected by a tiny rubber plug which I’m sure I’ll lose soon. In comparison, the Wahoo ELEMNT Bolt has a plug which is built into the body. This is a much cleaner solution and more practical as it can’t be lost. That being said, this point is addressed on the Hammerhead website, and it appears the USB C port is waterproof even without the plug.
- After using the mount for the Bolt, the K2 specific mount feels a little too clunky and heavy. I don’t really use this however, as the K2 does come with a Garmin adapter. Unfortunately there is no Wahoo adapter available. That being said, I have bodged my current Wahoo holder to adapt to the Garmin mount.
- This is an odd one, however having the software regularly updated somehow makes the K2 feel a little experimental. When you buy the Bolt (and presumably Garmin products), it feels that you are buying a product which has been fully tried and tested, and over its lifetime may receive minor updates. In comparison, Hammerhead is clearly a startup and it does appear to rely on its community to perfect the product. Over successive major and minor updates since I received it however, I get the impression that the K2 is becoming more refined – anybody buying this now with the benefit of these upgrades will certainly receive a very sophisticated computer, comparable with offerings from Wahoo and Garmin.
3 things I like…
- The K2 build quality is very good – it feels solid but not too heavy, and the screen is large and presents data very clearly. Upgrading from the Bolt, the map screen is incredible, with a high level of details and POVs presented without the data being overwhelming.
- The K2 has the perfect mixture of touch screen and buttons – if it starts raining, the big grippy buttons on the sides cover all normal functions. I have only used the K2 in winter so far, but with touchscreen compatible gloves, the screen is easy to use, and I often find myself using the physical buttons as much as (if not more than) I use their touchscreen equivalents. The computer even has a tiny on-screen keyboard (which can be used to write up ride descriptions) which is surprisingly easy to use given its size.
- The K2 really feels like a community-driven project. The website has an active forum where many users suggest developments which may materialise in the fortnightly software updates. This is linked to my third point above. One example is the new app store function which was released just after I bought the K2. This has however disappeared again, but I presume it will reappear again when it has been improved. As noted above, the customer support is great.
The bike computer market for amateurs / professionals right now feels like the mobile phone market must have done before the iPhone was launched. Much like Nokias, Motorolas and Sony-Ericssons of the early 2000s, every bike computer model has a standard set of features and sensors, and this is the main reason you buy a specific model. Afterwards, you may get a minor updates once in a while to remove bugs and add one or two features.
I feel like Hammerhead has taken the opposite approach, where you buy a headset with an array of sensors, and the software (and its updates) is the actual product. This is the part that actually polarises me a little. I’m not sure I like paying for something that is arguably not finished, but that being said, the potential is massive.
With increasing concern on environmental sustainability and concerns about our throw-away culture (including the cycling sector), it doesn’t quite feel right to buy a new headset every few years whenever either (i) a new model is released, or (ii) the old model no longer fulfils our needs. Think of all the old mobile phones, other electronic devices and cables you have squirreled away at home, especially the plastic and precious metals used to produce these.
I like the current offering of features the K2 has, but the idea of a continuously developing software and a new app store for third party developers is really intriguing. This should mean that a single device should still be relevant and modern in 10 years. With the EU “right to repair” initiative, this may be an important step in developing the environmental sustainability creds of cycling.
Whilst my experience with product support has been very impressive so far, my original concern was that in the future the standard of support may no longer be the same, or that Hammerhead may lose interest when a new model is released. Their customer support and engagement clearly differentiates them currently as a newbie from the incumbents in the bike computer market, but can they guarantee that the updates will still be regular and of high quality, and that my K2 will still be still a competitive product in 10 years? The recent purchase of Hammerhead by component giant SRAM would however suggest that the product will not just be a short term fad.
For the price tag of less than the top range Garmin model with similar functions, this is however a risk I’m comfortable to take.
UPDATE: Just after I wrote this post, Hammerhead released a new feature called “Predictive Path Technology”. This means that – even if a path hasn’t been uploaded – the K2 will predict the path you take and display the climbing profile. I’m not sure if this is new in the market, but two weeks ago I initiated a route up my local climb just so I could see the profile. This didn’t work well, as the routing algorithm tried its hardest to avoid the climb. This new update solves this problem, and just reassured me that the community development approach of Hammerhead really will lead to a great product that just gets better.
Have you bought a K2? Do you agree or disagree with my thoughts?