Great Visibility, No Matter What Speed
By Sheri Rosenbaum I’ll admit it, I’m a Garmin Gal. I upgraded a while back from an Edge 800 to a 1000 for my bike and have a Forerunner 920 XT watch for open water swims, hiking, triathlons, or when I forget and leave my 1000 charging on the counter. Garmin released the Varia UT800 Smart light last April and then in the fall sent me one to test. I definitely was anxious to get it paired with my 1000 and put it through its paces.
I think the best test for this light was back on December 3rd when I did a Super Moon group ride. Riding through the woods at night is so exhilarating, but as you age night vision definitely makes you tentative. But with the Varia light’s high-powered CREE® LED, 800 Lumens and 270 degrees of visibility, I never hesitated in the darkness and actually lead the way for some riders who were using lesser quality lights.
Actually, I lost count how many people commented on how bright the light was and wanted to know what brand it was.
How Obtained: sample from company
Availabilty: Online and retail
RBR Sponsor: No
Tested: 25+ hours
Weight: 4.6 oz (130 g)
CREE LED: yes
Degrees of visibility: 270 degrees
Visibility distance: 1 mile (1.6 km)
Water rating: IPX7 (splashes, rain/snow)
- Pairs with certain Garmin Edge devices
- Automated brightness control based on ambient light and speed extends battery life (when paired with compatible Garmin devices)
- Very good battery life
- Water rating suitable for rain or snow (same as Edge)
- Optional helmet mount easily attaches through vents
- Mounting system could be improved
Speed-Based Automated Brightness Control
The Varia is a “smart” light. When paired with your Garmin Edge (must have ambient light sensor) it automatically adjust to ambient light conditions and speed to extend battery life. So on my Super Moon ride it came in extremely handy. As I navigated through the trails with roots, rocks and loose gravel, the light would brighten as I went faster, thus seeing farther ahead and dimmed as I went slower. But as it dimmed it still provided plenty of light for me to see.
Another way it’s a smart light is when paired with compatible Edge computers it can be set to automatically turn lights on or off and control brightness. I covered “Pairing with your Garmin unit” in my Bontrager ION light review. As with the ION, pairing the Varia was very simple and quick. As an anecdotal side note, remember that your Edge is paired with your Varia. I was using my bike on the trainer in the basement. When I turned on my Edge it turned on my light that happened to be sitting on the kitchen counter. The light gets hot and need cooling from movement outdoors and it drains the battery. So be sure to unpair the light in this situation.
There are five setting for this light as shown below. For my Super Moon ride I chose High and the brightness control. I wasn’t sure how long the ride would last so I thought this would be a good test on battery life. The ride ended up being a little over 2.5 hours (including sitting around time). I did get a pop up message on my Edge screen, about 2 ¼ hours into the ride, warning the light battery was getting low. But the light was still running strong when I pulled into the parking lot after the ride. I did bring a backup light just in case, but never needed it.
Setting / Battery Life
High (800 lumens) / 1.5 hours
Medium (400 lumens) / 3 hours
Low (200 lumens) / 6 hours
Day flash (more than 700 lumens) / 25 hours
Night flash (100-300 lumens) / 6 hours
I am also in the habit of running a headlight during day rides using a daylight flash setting. The Garmin Varia is visible from more than 1 mile (1.6 km) away.
I tested both the universal out front mount and helmet mount. This is where the Varia got dinged the ½ star on the rating. Garmin’s universal mount is a nice design because it reduces the handlebar real estate needed to run a computer and light. The computer sits on top and the Varia attaches with a friction mount below using a quarter turn adapter (can also mount a GoPro or Garmin camera). Out of the box you must use a screw and hex wrench (provided) to attach the light to the mount adaptor bracket. Then attach it to the bottom of the universal out front mount with a quarter turn.
Universal out front handlebar mount
What I didn’t like about the mounting bracket is first, you needed a hex wrench (why not a thumb screw) and second, I wasn’t confident the light was securely mounted. I would have preferred a slide mount with a confirmation “click” when the light is securely attached. Also a slide mount would be a lot easier when removing or mounting the light as I remove my lights almost after every ride or two for charging. I also have 4 bikes and transfer lights from one bike to the next. Having to buy a universal out front mount for all my bikes gets expensive at $39.99 a pop.
The other issue with the mount comes into play if you need to move the light from the handlebar to the helmet mount. For this I had to take the hex wrench, remove the mounting adaptor bracket and attach the light to the helmet mount. I think using a thumb screw would make the swap a lot easier. I gave Mitch the task of testing the helmet mount with his GoPro and it worked just fine.
Two versions: Urban or Trail
The Varia comes in two models, Urban or Trail Edition. The lights are the same, the only difference is what comes in the box. I tested the Urban Edition but also received the helmet mount that’s included in the Trail Edition.
Varia UT800 Urban Edition
- Varia UT800 smart headlight
- Charging cable
- Universal out front mount ($39.99 value)
- Quarter turn to friction mount
Varia UT800 Trail Edition
- Varia UT800 smart headlight
- Charging cable
- Helmet mount ($14.99 value)
Like the Edge computers, the Varia has a water rating of IPX7. This means it is suitable for rain or snow. If you are trail riding, commuting or get caught in bad weather, you wont have to worry about damaging this light.
Get smart functionality with compatible Edge computers
According to the Garmin site, the Varia Smart light is compatible with Edge 1030, 1000, 520, 820, Explore 1000, and Explore 820. It also is compatible with some of the Garmin watches.
Garmin’s Varia UT800 Smart headlight provides great visibility and battery life for your night or daytime rides. The universal out front mount accommodates your computer and light, minimizing handlebar real estate. Pair with certain Garmin Edge models to leverage unique features like auto adjustments to ambient light and speed for extended battery life. Shed some light on your rides, trail or road.
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.