The Garmin Varia is Garmins first foible into cycle lighting and first impressions are good.
The Varia, in its simplest form, is a rear light that offers the usual option of flashing or solid light courtesy of a series of horizontally mounted LEDs which are bright enough to be seen during the day but not so obnoxious they are excessively bright at night. The lights though, are an ancilliary to the Varias main trick. It is a rear facing radar unit, which can detect approaching vehicles at up to 140m as quoted from Garmin, which in real world use is accurate and if anything, it feels like the cars are noticed earlier.
Notifications are fed to the rider via an optional extra head unit or a compatible Garmin Edge computer. Once a car is noticed, the static green dot will change from green to amber, and a white dot representing the vehicle will move up the screen towards the now amber dot which is you. As the car gets closer, the rear light will also change the frequency of it’s flash to better alert the driver to your presence, increasing the rate of flash as the car draws closer. It sounds much more complicated than it is and the layout is very simple and clear. If the car is approaching at a dangerous speed, the dot will go red. I am yet to ascertain the speed required to go red even when riding on national speed limit b roads it is hit and miss. That said, the unit has never missed a car and I have seen up to 4 being monitored at the same time. The rear unit can also pick up cars when riding in a small group and I noticed cars approaching behind even when there were other cyclists behind me. That said, I did not thoroughly test this aspect so couldn’t testify as to it’s consistency in such conditions.
All in all the Varia is a competent method of informing the rider of impending danger, although quite what you do with that information is still the topic of debate but at least you are not startled so much when buzzed by a car out of the blue.
Varia rearview bike radar and smart bike lights not only alert cyclists of vehicles, but also alert the vehicles of the cyclist. With Garmin cycling products you can now track all your essential stats with peace of mind on the roads.
– Dan Bartel, Garmin
My only complaint is the lack of audible alarm which would be handy to draw your attention to a head unit that is otherwise out of view on your stem unless riding in low light. Synching to a Garmin edge improved things and an audible alarm is present, offering the extra notice you’d require.
The unit is well made and fits securely to both round and aero seat posts whilst offering up to 6 hours life in real world riding which is more than enough for commuters who can charge at work via the usb cable supplied.
If you have compatible Garmin Edge head unit already, the light alone is priced at the high end of the market at £159 arguing that it is more than just a light, but if you also need to buy the specific Garmin Varia head unit also hen the price jumps up to an eye watering £239, making it a luxury purchase for the person who has all the other gadgets, rather than an essential commuter must have.