Hammerhead Karoo 2 Review
A review for touring and bikepacking
If you’ve ever used the mapping and routing functions on medium to small bicycle head units, you’ll know that it’s a feature almost not worth using. Yes, it technically works, but it takes so much advanced thinking, preparation, typically a real computer, and at best you get a route that tells you when to turn. One of the biggest issues is you may not think you need directions until you do. Routing from a device on the fly just doesn’t work that well. It's cumbersome and not intuitive, and if you don’t do it often, it’s hard to recall the sequence of button presses and menus to get to where you need. Not to mention, the screen resolution is too low to get detail, too small to see and the directions are often very intrusive if you want to keep an eye on other data on your ride.
In these cases, it seems far superior to pull out the phone and use Google Maps bike directions to navigate where you are going. But the downfalls to this are A) you must try to ride one-handed while holding the phone and B) you need to have cell service. Mounting your cell phone to your bike would eliminate that first issue but opens other issues – exposing your phone to the elements (sun, water, damage from crashes), increased battery usage, if it’s cold out and with the phone on the front of your bike getting wind chill, that battery can drain even faster. It’s nice to know your phone has plenty of battery try to make a call if you have an incident on your ride.
Larger size units tend to be better at the mapping and routing functions. Most people don’t route or navigate all that often. Owning a feature-rich device that is physically large and typically much more costly than medium to small-sized units is unnecessary. And who wants to strap an iPhone-sized head unit on their bike every time they ride? You’re out there to enjoy yourself and get away, not have more screen time, and get sucked back into our phone-addicted modern world. Enter the Hammerhead Karoo 2.
Hammerhead is probably most famous for its mapping and routing functions. Any device can display basic data, but to be good at mapping means developing a device that is first and foremost, focused on it. That’s what Hammerhead set out to do and that’s what they did.
Given the nature of the trip, quality mapping and routing was aa high priority. Here are some of the reasons it's great with navigation and touring:
- High res – the screen is one of the highest resolutions currently on the market (292 PPI)
- Responsive touch screen – It feels like using a modern smartphone
- Anti-Glare – your smartphone can be tough to see in bright conditions. The Karoo 2 uses a “Dragontail” glass screen that is textured to reduce glare and is super tough.
- Simple design – Less is more when you need to get somewhere. The Karoo 2 uses an intuitive 4 button set and is a full touch screen meaning you can control nearly all functions from the buttons or use the touch screen
- Quad core processor – this is part of the reason the mapping is so fast and seamless. The more powerful the processor, the more work and faster “thinking” a computer can do.
- USB-C charging – A charging port is typically the weak point of any device when it comes to waterproofing. USB-C ports can be exposed to the elements without rubberized plugs. However, if water does accumulate in the port, you will need to let it dry before charging. USB-C also means faster charging than other iterations of USB.
- WiFi – save your ride and connect to Wifi and your activity is uploaded in a flash.
- Fantastic display
- Large screen
- Intuitive interface
- Integrates with Strava, Komoot, Training Peaks and so many more. Uploads are quick and seamless.
- Battery life was never an issue to make it a full day even on the longest day of the tour as long as you use low power mode. Nightly recharges were required.
- Even in low power mode and with the screen off, important notifications like directions do wake the unit up and display them to you
- Overall ease of use
- The mount is proprietary but is very solid and issue-free. If you already own mounts that are ready for Garmin ¼ turn, there is an included adaptor that works cleanly as well.
- The battery life is only 12 hours when using all the features. It seems to drain at about a rate of 10% per hour. But in low power mode or with fewer connections (disabling Bluetooth pairing with a smartphone, less ANT+ devices like power or heart rate), it goes much longer.
- Bluetooth antenna and connection is one-way – the Karoo 2 can receive info like text notifications from your phone, but data cannot be pushed over Bluetooth from the device to the phone. This means to upload you must use wifi or a data card in the device. This was easily mitigated by using a personal phone hot spot.
- Physical size seems large. This is subjective. The device has a lot packed in and feels “thick” and heavy.
Addressing Battery Life
The claimed battery life is 12 hours under typical usage. The competition out there certainly beats the Karoo 2 in run time. Riding an entire day off a full charge is a non-issue, but you must be diligent about charging each night. This can be a chore if you have other devices to keep charged like phones and lights. A solution is to carry a 20000mAh battery bank for recharging devices. There is no shortage of options out there but find one that is reputable and has multiple USB outputs to charge multiple devices at a time. A large battery bank like this has the capacity to recharge a smartphone 3-6 times. To keep the battery bank charged, either use a portable solar panel if you have sunny conditions by strapping it to a bag or rack. Or, if bikepacking is something you plan to do a lot of, consider a dynamo hub that generates power as you roll along. This is superior in cloudy conditions, shorter days, or night riding.
Thoughts From the Participants
“This May I had planned to ride my bike from Casper, Wyoming to Chico, California, approximately 1143 miles. I would be crossing the beautiful states of Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Nevada, and Northern California to our end destination in Chico. Many uncertainties on the road ahead would ensure a proper physical as well as mental challenge. On this trip, I had the opportunity to try out the Hammerhead Karoo 2 computer. This bike computer was a lifesaver and was a staple tool on our 13-day voyage across the western U.S. The Hammerhead Karoo 2 served as a reliable map as well to record all the ride data; the Karoo also enabled me to upload my rides to Strava so that my friends and family could keep up with the progress I was making. Below I will be sharing my favorite features of the Karoo Hammerhead and reasons why I regarded it as such a useful tool on my adventure. Battery life: One thing is for sure on long adventures and that is the importance of battery life. Difficulty keeping electronics charged is the primary battle of modern-day explorers and adventurers alike. The Karoo 2 kept its charge very well, the longest day on the bike was 16 hours and I was never worried that my Karoo 2 was going to die. Besides a very good battery run time, it was very simple and quick to charge.
Navigation: The Karoo 2 was a very good navigational tool. The simple interface and quality mapping inspired confidence while navigating across the western U.S. where a wrong turn could leave you lost and without water. Having detailed, easy-to-read maps made it simple to navigate through cities in search of our next grocery store. WiFi: The connectivity to Wi-Fi or in my case, my phone's personal hotspot, made uploading rides or downloading maps or routes accessible wherever I had cell service. This was vital to keep my family and friends up to date on my progress as well as address any route changes I would have to make as they arose. The simple, easy-to-use interface was reliable and quick to make connections, route changes, uploads, and downloads. The Hammerhead Karoo 2 was a great tool on and off the bike, simple to map out my routes, upload my data as well as track my stats throughout the day-to-day riding; all while being simple to use with excellent battery life. These qualities make the Karoo 2 a quality choice for anyone looking to get out of their comfort zone on a big bike adventure.” - Corey Duren
“Admittedly, I’m not an experienced bikepacker and was nervous about such a big trip. I got the chance to use the Hammerhead Karoo 2 for a couple of weeks ahead of the trip to get comfortable with it. After becoming familiar with the unit, it eased a lot of my anxieties as it was consistent, reliable and on-the-fly mapping and routing worked! When you are on this big of a trip, you must balance planning against being adaptable. We spent most of our time in the desert and that meant water access was limited. Natural bodies of water were rare or brackish, so we had to rely on towns. Each evening, a bit of research about the road ahead was required – how far to the next town? How much elevation gain? How long will it take? What will the wind be like? You do your best to plan and make progress, but sometimes the terrain and weather trump your plans. The Karoo 2 was an important tool in this decision-making and helped us adapt these daily plans as needed (which we did quite a as bit). My favorite function of the Karoo 2 is the data visualization for heart rate. It may sound funny to be concerned with physiological data when on a big bike tour, but with the wind, elevation gain, the weight of the gear we were carrying, and the milage goals we had, it was critical to keep my heart rate in a zone I could sustain all day, every day for a couple of weeks. Too much and I’d pay for it later, especially pushing hard on a climb. But on the other hand, we had to keep making progress and it was easy to zone-out and pedal softly.
Heart rate on a device isn’t all that special, but the Karoo 2 offers a more graphical visualization. Keeping an eye on numbers can get mind-numbing, but seeing a slider change color from green to yellow to orange to red was so simple and so nice and easy to respond to. The other function I really enjoyed was the option to use buttons. The touch screen is good, but as with any touch screen, can get greasy and full of smudges. Add in that we were on tour and didn’t have many hand washing opportunities, were constantly using sunscreen, and often had long-fingered gloves on and you have a recipe for a gross, hard-to-see, hard-to-use touchscreen. Dedicated buttons made this a non-issue.Mapping on the fly was a breeze. Provo, UT was the biggest city we’d encountered on the trip and required the most surface street navigation we’d dealt with up until that point. From the RV park we stayed at, we wanted to get out of town the safest and most direct way we could. Using the Strava app’s mobile route builder on a smartphone, we drew a very rough route from our start point to our endpoint (literally, a swipe of a finger across the map - it’s really cool, check it out!). Strava then built a route loosely based on that. We saved the route. Then we copied the URL of the route on Strava and pasted it into the Hammerhead dashboard. We connected the Hammerhead to our smartphone's personal hotspot and the route instantly synced over to the device and was ready to use. The route Strava generated was clean, direct, and avoided high-traffic areas. It felt very safe. The Karoo 2 did the rest of the work and we arrived at our destination with ease. And all it took was a wifi or cell connection from a picnic bench at an RV park, a smartphone, and about 5 minutes of time. I was impressed!" - Ryan Oakes
“The Hammerhead is really an impressive computer whose functionality is excellent for adventuring and bike touring. While the size may be off-putting to some, it’s an effective asset in using the computer as a tool in any guided or free-form ride. First off, the mapping on the Hammerhead is phenomenal. Every detail of any trail or road is easily visible on the large color screen, so on-the-fly navigation is confidence-inspiring. Looking ahead or exploring an area is simple and easy with touchscreen scrolling. Rarely is a new city or trail network a mystery. A surprise feature is the in-computer navigation. During a recent bike tour with friends, we stopped at the beginning of a dirt road where a state park sign boasted hot springs with no other indicator of how far or where. I easily found it on the Hammerhead and let the computer determine the route. The quoted 4.5mi detour with 250ft of climbing was not only accurate but yielded a gorgeous valley enshrouding the Yampa River and our promised hot spring hidden behind the ridgeline just off the main road. Lastly, loading rides and routes is kind of a crucial feature for me. Being able to pull up a route in the computer with a wifi connection from either Ride with GPS or Strava is simple and doesn’t require loading up the computer unnecessarily with files that I don’t need.” - Fergus Tanaka
If you need a device to help you find your way around, or aren’t a big route planner, but like a backup option, OR you love maps and routes and planning your rides, the Hammerhead Karoo 2 is a top choice.