- 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.
Sheri Rosenbaum regularly contributes articles and reviews products for RBR. She’s an avid recreational roadie who lives in the Chicago area and a major advocate for women's cycling, serving on the board of directors and volunteering with the Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club. Click to read Sheri's full bio or visit her web site sunflowersandpedals.com.