What the Wahoo Elemnt Rival smartwatch taught me about myself

In case you’re wondering what it takes actually to lose a few pounds, here’s a big tip. It takes work. A lot of hard work. Dieting is one thing, but raising your heart rate, exercising daily, and resisting the temptation to lounge all day on the couch are all critical elements.

I know this, in part, because of a new smartwatch I’ve been testing. Called the Wahoo Elemnt Rival (that’s not a spelling mistake), the watch is packed with high-tech features, but the one that is most interesting to me is the heart-rate sensor. I am surprised by how often I use it. The main watch face I used shows the battery level, my heart rate, and my steps but I glanced at the heart rate most often. (Oh, and it also shows the time and date, but then again, so does my phone.)

Heart rate is one of the best indicators of your current state, revealing if you are too inactive or are pushing yourself too far. Wahoo is, of course, known more for their bike trainers and other gear, so I took the Rival on many road trips on a bike. I sometimes found I was taking on hills at too high a speed and pushing myself too much, thanks to a quick glance at the watch.

In the heat of the moment, other indicators for heart rate are not as helpful. I prefer a watch because I can glance even during a tough workout in the rain. The Rival also lasts several days or even a week or more on a charge, as opposed to other gadgets that mount to your bike and show the same data. When information is readily available, we’ll use it more. I’ve tested dozens of heart rate sensors and gadgets over the years, but suddenly with the easy access to my heart rate directly through the watch (with no strap sensor needed), I used it more.

Sitting too long on the couch? No problem, I glanced down and noted my heart rate was pulsing low, and I needed to move. On a brisk walk? I could see if I needed to pick up my pace. It was a constant reminder about my health and if I needed to move more.

Beyond that, it was also a way to monitor and adjust my bike trips. I tend to head out often to a coffee shop to work on a laptop, and I liked being able to go at a slower pace and keep my heart rate down so that, when I arrived, I could just jump right into work. On other road trips, especially with my spouse, I’d burst ahead and get a good pace going.

Many of the best features on the Rival offer a similar ease of use factor. Honestly, there are almost too many to cover. I used the timers to see how quickly I could bike to my favorite work spot. I was amazed by the ambient light sensor that adjusts the display for available light. I liked all of the workout modes, although #goals on the triathlon mode. Syncing with my phone unlocked a mountain of data, including the path of my most recent trip.

I will say I am not a big fan of smartwatch notifications, and with the Elemnt, it was no different. I tended to turn them off, but I could see someone who needs to stay connected at work liking the options for seeing a portion of a text or a soft vibration for incoming emails.

I could explain all of the nitty-gritty details, the zoom modes for workouts, and even the connection the watch makes to the bike trainers for showing things like bike cadence. I want to go back to my favorite feature, though. During my test period, I started paying more and more attention to the heart rate sensor and started to actually adjust what I do, how I ride my bike, and even where I went. I sat on the couch less, too. That might be the ultimate win.