- Tail light version goes from solid to flashing as vehicle/bike overtakes
- Fellow riders can leverage a single Varia by adding it as a sensor
- Provides an extra layer of safety, audible alert and visual display with # of vehicles
- Smartphone Varia App displays graphics and audible/vibration alerts for approaching vehicles
- Works with smartphones apps like Ride with GPS to overlay maps with radar alerts.
- Multiple mounts provided to fit standard or aero seat posts
- Delay in detecting vehicles when on a hilly road
- Riders with short seat posts and/or saddle bags may not have enough room to mount
- Commuters on busy city roads may find the constant alerts annoying
- No saddle bag mount from Garmin (only 3rd Party)
- Another item to charge
Price: $149.99 (RVR315 – radar only); $199.99 (RTL515 radar with tail light)
Battery Type: Rechargeable with micro USB cable
Battery Life (RTL515): 6 hours solid, 8 hours peloton, 6 hours night flash, 16 hours day flash
Battery Life (RVR315): 7 hours:
Seat Post Mounts: Aero and round seat tube mounts attach with O-rings
Visibility: Daylight visibility up to 1 mile
Alerts: Visual and audible alerts for vehicles approaching up to 153 yds away.
Connectivity: Bluetooth and ANT+
Dimensions: 1.8” x 2.8” x 0.8″ (RVR315) ;3.9” x 0.8” x 1.6″ (RTL515)
Weight: 1.8oz (RVR315) ; 2.5oz (RTL515)
Water Rating: IPX7 (suitable for splashes, rain or snow showers)
Modes: Solid, peloton, night flash, day flash (RTL515)
Lumens: 20 solid, 8 peloton, 29 night flash, 65 day flash (RTL515)
Viewing Angle: 220 degrees (RTL515)
Compatible Garmin Units: List HERE
Compatible 3rd Party Units: Wahoo
Compatible 3rd Party Apps: Ride With GPS
Increased Safety While on the Road
Back in May, Garmin introduced their latest version of the Varia radar. Several of my friends ride with the older version and say they wouldn’t ride without it. I have been reluctant to try it, because I thought the audible beeps would be distracting and I already wear a rear-view mirror. But I thought I’d give it a go and contacted Garmin for a test sample. They sent me both models of the radar, RTL515 (radar w/taillight) and RVR315 (radar only). To my surprise I liked having that extra security and now like my friends, wont ride the roads without it.
How Does it Work?
The Varia uses radar to detect a vehicle or bike overtaking you from behind up to 153 yds (140 meters) away. It then provides an audible alert as well as a visual. The visual is a bar on the left or right of your screen and circles indicating the vehicle or bike approaching from behind. If there are multiple vehicles, there will be circles for each one. The circles move up the bar indicating how close they are to passing, allowing you to move over to the right.
I tested both Varia models on a Garmin Edge 1000 and Edge 130 Plus. Visually it worked great on both, but on my Edge 1000 the audible tone was extremely soft. I called Garmin Support to see if there was a way to increase the volume, but there wasn’t. They were also baffled as to why the tone was so quiet and had never heard this issue before.
Wahoo computers are also compatible with both models of the Varia radar. As well as with Ride with GPS app to overlay your maps with the review radar alerts.
Key Features to Keep You Safe
The audible tone and visual confirmation on my Garmin head unit was very useful. It was especially helpful on windy days, noisy roads or riding on low traveled roads where you tend to get distracted on the scenery. When I was on hilly roads the radar had difficulty picking up approaching vehicles at a distance. Radars work on straight lines and the hills can cause an issue. That’s when I reverted back to looking in my mirror before I passed another cyclist on a climb.
When on solid mode the light would start flashing as soon as a vehicle was detected. This alerted both the driver and cyclist behind me. The light would then go back to solid once the vehicle passed.
New for this version is the Peloton mode which dims the rear tail light to a low intensity flash (8 lumens) as not to “blind” riders in the paceline. Other modes include solid, night flash and day flash. Battery life is dependent on which mode you choose; 6 hours solid, 8 hours peloton, 6 hours night flash, 16 hours day flash.
Share with Friends
One of the neat features of the Varia is you can share the safety. I had other riders in my group add my Varia as a sensor on their Garmin. Then as we rode in a group, as my radar picked up a vehicle overtaking us, it would alert everyone on their devices. I tested with 3 other riders and myself on several rides. It seems to drain the battery a bit quicker since it is “talking” to multiple devices. On one ride, I had forgotten to charge the Varia and it died about halfway into the ride. It was interesting that we all got used to having the early warnings and really missed the added security.
Mounting to Your Bike
Garmin provides a universal seat-post quarter turn mount in the box. This includes the mount (aero or round seat post), 2 fitting shims and 4 O-rings (2 large, 2 small). I had trouble attaching the mount to my road bike as the O-rings were too small. I called Garmin Support and they said to loop two together, which then work fine. However, I am concerned about the O-rings long term. If the rubber wears out and the O-ring breaks, you’ve lost an expensive radar.
Garmin does sell a mount that doesn’t require O-rings which I ordered back in August and am still waiting for it to ship. Another rider I know did purchase the mount a few months back and says it works just fine (see his picture below).
The picture below shows the installation of the RTL515 on my bike. Note the two O-rings looped together in order to mount to the seat post. Also, there is little room to mount the radar with my extra-large saddlebag. Both models of the radar work fine in this configuration. Just make sure you have enough room, too.
Leveraging the Varia App
Garmin has an app you download to a smartphone which is used to change settings on the Varia or as a primary display when riding. The app is also used to customize the radar alert settings.
I was reluctant to test the Garmin Varia radar, because I already ride with a rear-view mirror. But once I started regularly using it, I won’t leave home without it. Both the Varia RTL515 and RVR315 gave me more security while on the road. The audible and visual alerts let me know how many vehicles are approaching as well as the distance in proximity to my bike. Wind noise and focusing on things ahead can distract you from knowing a vehicle is approaching. The Varia radar solves that problem.
NOTE: Out of the box, the sample RTL515 was not too bright and wouldn’t hold a charge for very long. Eventually it wouldn’t charge at all. Garmin replaced it immediately and the new one is bright, holds a charge and works perfectly.
Kenneth Pierce says
This thing made my solo rides on long narrow roads much much safer! When solo I always use it to decide when to take the lane or move a little to the right. But before moving into the lane be sure to turn your head to double check. And I think some law enforcement and military vehicles use radar scattering tech and the device will not register their presence. I went to turn left, Varia did not indicate any vehicle, but when I double checked with a head turn there was a state trooper directly behind me. And as a veteran I know for a fact some military vehicles and aircraft use radar scattering paint to fool radar. Be safer with Varia!
Sheri Rosenbaum says
Interesting point. That is why I also ride with a mirror. I always double check what’s behind before turning or taking the lane.
If the vehicle travels at the same speed as you, it will not show up on the varia. The trooper could have been tailing you from a light or a turn. When there are changes in speed the radar picks it up.
Kevin Moran says
I’ve had the RTL510 for 1 1/2 years and use it on all solo rides. I also recommend turning your head and singling especially on a left turn. If a vehicle is approaching from the rear and matches your speed it will disappear from the Wahoo/Garmin display it only indicates a vehicle or rider if they are approaching at a higher speed.
I went down a steep road at about 30 mph, Varia green light on, felt safe. Got to the stop sign and glanced behind me. There was a pickup not 2 feet from my rear wheel. Scared me. He had matched my speed for half a mile, I guess.
Peter Nebenfuhr says
I was torn between having a film record (combined with tail light) using a Cycliq and the Garmin radar (with tail light also) and decided on the security of having a record. The Cycliq is easy to use and produces a very clear recording. An optimal solution would be for Garmin to add a camera combined with the radar & light. As I use a Garmin computer (1000 soon to upgrade to 1030) I prefer to stay within a single integrated system. Hopefully, they’re working on something like that.
My RTL 510 came with both the “current” set of wedges plus the now-hard-to-purchase $20 mount. That let me put mounts on two bikes. Zip ties let me attach an OutInFront mount to a baggage rack for use on a third bike. There is a definite need for someone to make alternative mounts for this, such as to a seat stay, a rack, a secure bag mount, etc! I dread the day my RTL 510 battery poops out and I no longer have the space to mount the 515 (or whatever by that time)…
David Stihler says
I’ve had Varia Radar since Garmin first purchased the technology in South Africa. I also ride with a mirror and turn my head when changing multiple lanes. Ghosting was a problem but Garmin made a few changes to the original algorithms to help with this. I believe once a car is picked up and starts to ghose as they match your speed the newer varia will maintain the approaching dot. Don’t bet your life on it, always check before turning. On hilly or curvy plus hilly (I ride in the mountains) you will detect a beep when the radar first picks up an approaching vehicle then the dot goes away. Believe me, that vehicle is still there, still approaching so when you hear a beep, trust it.
My Varia is a year old. I am also deaf, so the beep is no help to me.
Road Bike Rider says
I am using the older Varia, which I use with my Wahoo ELMNT bike computer. It really lights up bright with a bunch of LEDs when a car comes from behind. It does a much better job that my previous Garmin bike computer did with it as far as visual notifications go. (The Garmin beep was louder than the current Wahoo.)
So if visual notifications are important, then I recommend that setup!
Yes, I see the little cars on my ELMNT. But can’t hear it. I’m deaf (unable to hear).
Dave Perreault says
I’ve had the RTR515 for several months, and love it when it works. Initially, the supplied mount caused the RTR to say Radar disconnected when riding over rough paved roads. Bought the optional mount and now the radar disconnected message appears a few times during a ride. Not sure if its my RTR unit or not. I don’t leave home without it.
Kirk Larson says
Purchased the 510 when the price dropped in anticipation of the arrival of the 515. I was also surprised at how quickly it became a “don’t leave home without it” accessory. I also purchased the optional quarter turn Mount. It’s biggest drawback is that it’s one more battery needing to be charged. Bike computer, headlight, radar, heart rate, phone, tablet….
A friend of mine has one of these Garmin radars. I half way jokingly, tell him I don’t want to ride behind him because he’s going to give me cancer bouncing that radar beam of me, mile after mile. I said half way jokingly,
because it does give me some concerns.
Why does radar bother you? It’s not xray or cellular. It’s a sound. Above human hearing.
Thanks for explaining that. I had it pictured as some kind of electronic beam being bounced off me.
Bob Floyd says
It’s lidar. Some sort of IR beam or something that you can’t see.
Alan Stempel says
Bikerman, most of the answers to your question are technically wrong. The Varia units use RADAR (Radio Detection And Ranging) , not LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging). This is per the following Garmin support page: https://support.garmin.com/en-US/?faq=0WK0iSND1W8GonJSGgJjU5
Such radio waves are not ionizing and are thus probably not capable of causing harm. See this CDC explanation of ionizing vs non-ionizing radiation.
William Wightman says
The Varia is a fantastic safety device. I use the unlit version in combination with bright day and night lights with a rear view mirror on a recumbent. While at night it is easy to spot traffic from behind in the mirror, it is difficult in the day because the vehicle blends into the background. The Varia evens this out a bit. Crossing lanes is a three step process: look/listen to the Varia, look in the rear view mirror, and look over your shoulder as a last and most important confirmation, then begin changing lanes in a predictable fashion. Do not surge across lanes.
I use a 3rd party mount for the Varia that attaches directly to my saddle due to limited room on my seatpost. The Varia RTL works extremely well as it provides a visual / audio alert well before I can normally hear the approaching car. I echo what others have said in that the algorithm is set to only display objects that are overtaking you, presumably to avoid false alerts when riding in a group.
Bob Floyd says
My history with Varia devices and Edge 1000 and Edge 1030:
I bought original (horizontal version) Varia Radar in October 2016. I also bought another one in 2017. I was using them with an Edge 1000 and they worked pretty well, sort of. After a few hours of riding (2 or 3), I would lose connection between the Varia and the Edge 1000. I mistakenly assume the Varia was the problem and returned both Varias several times to Garmin. I finally bought RTL510 after fighting this problem for a long time. It seemed better, but I soon realized that my Edge 1000 was the problem. I bought an Edge 1030 and the disconnecting Varia problem was gone!! Triumph! Success!
Unfortunately, when I have used the RTL510 with my titanium bike, The power button breaks within 1 or 2 rides. The button either falls off or jams. I’m on my 4th one now (first one free replacement, then pay a reasonable fee thereafter) and have gone back to my horizontal Varias which work fine.
Everything seems to work best when I don’t ever touch the RTL510 power button, so maybe that is the approach I should use from now on with that unit. [The edge 1030 will activate the RTL510 if it has not been manually powered off]
Still, I wouldn’t leave home without a Varia no matter what troubles I have had in the past.
Also, please not that the “Garmin Varia UT 800 Smart Headlight Urban Edition with Dual Out-front Mount” works wonderfully with the Edge 1030 and Varia radar. It blinks in a manner to grab attention, especially from cars preparing to pull out in front of you. I won’t leave home without it either.
Bob Floyd says
By the way, not power button problems with my 2 carbon bikes. Very, weird!
Bob Floyd says
An interesting thing to do with you Varia is to install “My Bike Radar Traffic” from Garmin’s Connect IQ website: https://apps.garmin.com/en-US/apps/c5d949c3-9acb-4e00-bb2d-c3b871e9e733
You can display number of cars that have passed you, see the speed of the car or the closing speed of the car to you.. However, the data will only display in one Garmin data square. So, you cannot use 3 squares and separate the data fields. You can configure this stuff using Connect IQ. I prefer to use the iPhone app, but the web browser app works too. I have settled for now on car count ans closing speed. The data readout is a little funky, but okay.
After the ride, you can go to the app author’s web page (https://www.mybiketraffic.com/auth/login/) and do some cool stuff. See DCRainmaker article for more info: https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/05/varia-radar-maps-connect-app.html
Lana Drahrepus says
Same for me. This device has become a “do not forget it at home when you ride a bike” item. And as a german citizen i also recommended not buying the crippled 516 Varia Version cause off the stupid StVZO laws is germany. I recommend buying strait the international 515 Version – for your own safety
John Tonetti says
With all due respect, I think the “issue” of the Varia not picking up approaching vehicles on hilly rides is overstated, and a bit like saying “I can’t see my TV when I’m in another room.” I’ve been using the Varia for about 2 years, and this *sometimes* occurs when I crest a hill and the Varia’s “line of sight” of the road disappears. It can also occur when one rounds a bend in the road. Having said that though, my Varia consistently warns me of approaching vehicles within 500 yards, so usually I would pick up a vehicle before I crest a hill or round a bend. So the short version is, I’m rarely surprised, and certainly nowhere near as many surprises as when I rode without it, even when I rode with a mirror.
I have used a mirror in the past but I’ve discarded it with the Varia, as it is much better at picking up vehicles. The downside, as mentioned above, is that vehicles “disappear” on the Varia if they follow at the same speed for a distance. For that reason I would NEVER depend solely on the Varia (or the mirror, for that matter!) before changing lanes. Always confirm with your own eyes.
Let’s examine my ride with and without Varia515.
Before : I’m riding as much as I can, sticking to the right side of the road, I don’t know who and what is behind me. A drunk \ tired \ texting while driving driver comes from behind and crashes into me. I’m dead in the best case scenario.
After : I’m riding as much as I can, sticking to the right side of the road, I know that there is a car 140m and closing behind me. The driver in that car is drunk \ tired \ texting while driving, but of course I don’t that. All I see on my phone is a car approaches from behind. There is nothing to alarm the driver that he is going to hit me.
The only difference between the “with Daria” and “without Daria” is knowing that there is a car behind me. That is all. In both cases the accident cannot be avoided because the driver is not entirely focused on driving and I can’t do anything about that.
As long as there will not be a component in the car which alerts the driver, Varia515 is only an elusion of safety.
Michael R. says
I don’t agree with your argument. And there is nothing in a mirror that changes the situation. I know that a car is coming 300 yards behind me. Great information. Not available with a mirror without sacrificing forward view, i.e. carefully examining the mirror to see very small objects. What solution do you propose that tells us of the state of inebriation of an oncoming driver? You raise hypotheticals to criticize a solid, helpful safety device used by many careful thoughtful riders.
John Tonetti says
I agree with Michael R., although I think he understates the case for Varia. With a Varia, I get an audio and visual warning of a vehicle approaching from the rear, as well as an indication of how fast it is approaching. I can turn my head to see whether the vehicle looks to be on my line, or whether it is moving away to the center of the road. Also, the driver of the vehicle can see my light from at least ¼ to ½ mile away, depending upon visibility and light conditions.
Without the Varia, I’m dependent upon hearing the vehicle approach (try that with hybrids or electrics!) or turning my head constantly hoping to catch a glimpse, and hoping I don’t hit anything in front of me. Failing that, I get no warning. And I’m dependent upon the driver spotting me based upon… well, pretty much whether they’re paying attention and that they can pick me out from the surroundings.
I bought my Varia just to see whether it was at all useful. After two rides, I was convinced it was one of the most helpful safety devices I own. Roni’s arguments are all arguments against cycling on the road under any circumstances.
David S. says
I use the Varia with the Hammerhead Karoo2 and the display is similar to the descriptions mentioned above, although the warning tone is more audible than just a single tone generated by some head units. In addition, the Karoo2 sends the warning tone to bluetooth-enabled devices such as hearing aids and earbuds. I don’t ride without my Varia, and have quarter turn adapters on all my bikes.
Harvey Miller says
I’ve had the button break from normal use on my Varia RVR 315.
To repair this problem, using a fine tweezer I aligned the plastic extension under the damaged button surface. This extension is there to allow the button’s finger depression to reach the on/off switch on the unit’s circuit board. After placing the plastic extension level and centered with the surface I simply ran a 2 millimeter high bead of Liquid Electrical Tape over it and slightly passed the button border. After letting it cure I was able to use the button normally again because liquid electric tape will permanently stick to all surfaces that it touches prior to final curing.
My suggestion is easy, quick, waterproof and better than the original in terms of toughness. Time will prove its durability which, I predict, should last the lifetime of the Varia.