I’d been thinking about getting some daytime lights for my bikes for a while, so when I saw that Garmin had updated their Varia RTL515, I jumped at the chance to get one.
The Garmin Varia RTL515 is an LED rear light with radar for detecting traffic approaching from behind. It links to a Garmin head unit via ANT+ or a phone via Bluetooth (new in the RTL515). Since it uses the ANT+ standard to communicate, it’s supported by other manufacturers’ head units such as the Wahoo ROAM.
I mostly cycle on fairly quiet, country roads, with little traffic – I can go on an hour’s ride and see only about 5 or 6 cars. However, the narrower roads mean that you need to be courteous to the other road users and slow down or pull over to let them past, especially in the case of the massive tractors farmers around here seem to have these days. When it’s windy, it’s sometimes difficult to hear the traffic approaching from behind. I thought the radar function of Varia would help with this.
The Garmin Varia comes with an O-ring based seatpost mount with various inserts for non-round seatposts. However, I wasn’t too impressed with the security of the mount, so I swapped it for Garmin’s bolt-on mount – however, this is only an option for round seat posts.
The unit has a red LED-based light with four modes. There are two modes that show a steady red light with high or moderate brightness, and there are two flashing modes, again with two intensities. When traffic is detected, the light starts to flash, regardless of the mode. The mode can be set using the button on the device, or from the settings within the head unit. Garmin claims the light is visible from 1.6km (that’s about a mile for non-metric users).
When the radar detects approaching traffic from behind, the head unit shows an indicator for the approaching vehicle. The indicator is coloured orange for slower traffic and red for faster moving vehicles. The connected unit will also bleep and, for watches, vibrate. Once the traffic has passed, the indicator changes to green. Traffic is detected from up to 140m away.
There’s a Garmin Connect IQ app available that shows the rough speed of the approaching vehicles and the total count for the ride. It also has a website, https://www.mybiketraffic.com, where you can upload the data from your Garmin and see the points on the ride when vehicles passed, together with their speed.
The Garmin Varia works well and I definitely feel safer and more aware of traffic when cycling with it. If you ride somewhere with heavier traffic, it might not work so well as you may end up with ‘alarm fatigue’ with the display alert going off all the time. In these cases, there are much cheaper rear lights on the market.
I don’t know why Garmin haven’t combined it with a camera, like the Cycliq lights – they’ve certainly got the expertise with their VIRB range of cameras, and adding a camera to the light & radar functionality would make a killer product.
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