#Wahooli-cans and Wahooli-can’ts

What’s the difference between the two below shots I took and posted to instagram (and yes I know they’re crap examples of the ubiquitous ‘behind bars’ social media image)?

Well, there’s one obvious thing and one far less obvious thing.

The obvious: The headunit. One is a Wahoo ELEMNT BOLT, the other a Garmin Edge 1000. 

The perhaps not so obvious, and something alluded to in the accompanying caption: On social media, you can almost guarantee that on the right, or somehow featuring a Wahoo headunit, will deliver a lot more engagement and praise than any featuring a Garmin computer – particularly if you add on the all-important #wahoolican identifier. Those strangely 80s, boxy, ‘so uncool it’s cool’ looking devices that are the ELEMENT and ELEMNT BOLT have become the ‘thing’ to guarantee a popular cycling post on social media.

Wahoo are ‘disruptors’ in the cycling industry, bringing their groundbreaking and untoppable Kickrs to the world of indoor training, and their ELEMENT and ELEMNT BOLTs to a world previously dominated by Garmin.

Wahoo’s headunits have become the choice of the cycling influencers, the instagrammers, the vloggers, the bloggers, the riders with tattoos, the riders that do gravel, the riders that used fixies in London before it became a ‘thing’ (people like me 🤦? Maybe…) And those chunky, utilitarian, almost crap-looking BOLTS have become a little token of hipness, an identifier, a point of difference. Get a Wahoo, and you’ll be asked at some point how you find it versus a Garmin, and you’ll be looked at as someone ‘in the know’ when you roll up to the group ride. To be a ‘Wahooligan’ has become ‘the thing’ now. Buy a Bolt and express yourself.

Wahoo have, admittedly, done a great job on bashing their way into a market that was all EDGE EDGE EDGE for a long time, by focussing on the user-experience – easy uploads, simple data screens, whizzy lights, and great customer service. 

I have both a BOLT and an Edge 1000. I used the BOLT for about 4 weeks and promptly switched back. I just didn’t enjoy using it as much – I found the need to use your phone to alter data screens prohibitive (how TF do you do that on the move!?) and the data screens a little limited. Perhaps I need to give the Bolt a bit more time to get used to it and sink into the hype. I don’t want you to think this blog is me dissing BOLTS – that’s not what the blog is about, so let’s move on. [Post-publishing note: I may end up regretting writing this blog, as since I started drafting it my ‘trusty’ Garmin Deg 1000 seems to have picked up a bug.]

Wahoo and Garmin seems to have become akin to how Apple and Microsoft / Android, were a few years back. In the early 2010s (or earlier? Who knows, I’m no tech guy), when Apple was starting to develop the stranglehold on the market that it has now, to be seen with those tell-tale white headphones was to be making a point. ‘I know my shit, I’m edgy, I’ve got an iphone / ipod.’ And it seems that this is what you’re saying when you clip an ELEMNT onto your bars.

Compared to some, I’ve not been riding seriously for that long, maybe 10 years at the most. But even when I started, riding was looked on as a strange pastime, something for the introverts, loners and old men with beards doing Audax. Now, it’s pretty much a ‘cool’ pastime, along with things like crossfit and mindfulness. Cycling seems to be associated with the young, savvy, and edgy. Those who spend all day drinking pour-overs in a fancy café with a mac, writing a blog (i.e., again people like me 🤦).

Now that cycling is more popular, people seem to want to revert back to the old days of it being a bit unusual, and a marker of something different. A few years ago, you wore Rapha. You were gritty, understated and classy. Now, to wear Rapha is almost a cliche, a badge of the MAMIL. Instead, you ride gravel, use a Wahoo, and carry home-made vegan energy bars in your pockets. The rise in gravel in the last few years has been phenomenal, from a niche in the US to an exploding scene, and now the latest thing in the UK, with British riders desperately cramming a bit of off-road into their rides so they can take a photo and talk about it later.

Brands have come to understand the need to connect with their audience in a new way. Rapha’s project with EF Education First, getting riders to pursue ‘alternative calendars’ and race new formats and create content around it, is a great example.

Wahoo have done a brilliant job of creating this point of difference by making their audience feel a sense of unity with one another, and to feel that they’re expressing themselves somehow, by buying an EMEMNT. This is as much due to that cultish ‘#wahooligan’ tag, as is the mere fact that they’re one of the few viable alternatives to a Garmin. Other brands are developing this ‘edgy’ side to their marketing, and trying to develop a sense of tribalism in their following too; think Muc Off’s punk aesthetic, Pongo’s playing on the old trope of ‘sockdoping’ and encouraging user-participation in their user feed, and so many more.

Am I a convert, one of the #wahooligans?? Not right now. I’m a bit of a miserable git and was slow to move over to Apple, shunning its cult-like status. Until about 24 hours ago and it developed a glitch, I loved my Edge. Who knows whether I’ll stick with it or not. But as I mentioned before, that’s not really the point I’m trying to make here.

To be honest this is a bit of a ramble, an aimless musing. I guess I’m just trying to point out that cycling appears to have become as much a vehicle for expression and attempt to assert ‘difference’ as anything, with little tribes and cliques emerging. Cycling was the geek’s choice of pursuit a few years ago, and had a bit of an underground, cultish vibe. Now it’s the mainstream. But perhaps as a result of this rise to ubiquity, brands and individuals are regressing back to a point where they strive to be different, unusual, or part of a ‘cult’. For a marketeer, if you can harness that, you’re in a good place.

PS. Type in #mountainmutton on Instagram. I’m as guilty as all the rest.

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