Garmin VARIA review

Garmin Varia Review

The number of bicyclists hitting the roads around the globe has surged to over 400%, but this consequently and considerably increases the number of bike related roadway deaths. If you’re an avid cyclist, you know the inherent danger of sharing lanes with motor vehicles, and Garmin’s Varia Radar helps create a safer cycling environment by warning you of approaching vehicles from behind up to 140 meters or 153 yards away – a trick most vehicles can’t even do!

Although the Garmin Varia will not completely eliminate bike-car crashes, it does offer cyclists better piece of mind knowing the distance of vehicles behind them. Adding to this, this bicycle radar is definitely not a substitute for remaining vigilant, but allows you to focus more on other aspects of the road. The Varia arrives with a bunch of mounting gear to ensure the pieces firmly attach to the handlebars and seat posts. Adding to this, these included accessories are easy to remove, and can be easily tucked away in your pocket after locking your bicycle.

Unboxing the Garmin Varia

The Varia can be had in two different variants, one with and one without the front display unit, where the latter option would need to be paired with a compatible Garmin Edge device. In the box of the Garmin Varia, you receive:

Radar Bundle Variant

  • Radar tail light
  • Radar display unit
  • Micro USB cable
  • Universal seat-post quarter-turn mount
  • Stem mount
  • User guides
  • Seat-post quarter-turn mount

Tail Light Only Variant

  • Universal seat-post quarter-turn mount
  • Seat-post quarter-turn mount
  • Radar tail light
  • User guides
  • Micro USB cable

Garmin Varia Design

The rear radar of the Varia is lightweight at 63 grams, while the front display unit weighs 28 grams. The device is easy to operate with only a few options available on it, which is a good thing in this case. It does however transmit a lot of important data, by pressing a few buttons. Charged via an included micro USB cable, the Varia boasts a battery life of 10 hours in flashing mode, and roughly 5 hours in always on mode.

Highlights of the Garmin Varia

  • Billed as world’s first cycling radar
  • Can be mated with Edge device
  • Can detect vehicles up to 140 meters away
  • Taillight brightens and expands as traffic approaches
  • Can be charged via included USB cable

The status of the battery is clearly indicated on the display, and one of the noteworthy features of the battery is the latest Varia firmware will switch the device off and on automatically based on the usage of the Garmin Edge. And if you’d like to switch the Varia off and on manually, you can do so easily by pressing down the single button at the top for a few seconds. The Varia even allows you to toggle between two light modes, one mode that will keep the taillight in an always on configuration, while the second configuration keeps the taillight in a blinking position.

With regards to mounting the Varia, Garmin has used the same 6 year old quarter turn mount concept on all its cycling products. As mentioned before, the Garmin Varia package arrives with a few different seat post mounting options, where you can use the round mount (included) for round seat post and triangular mount (included) for an aero seat post. The display unit of the Varia pairs wirelessly with the rear radar, and can be charged in the exact same way, i.e. via micro USB.

When successfully paired, the unit of the Varia will display a small white dot as a car approaches from behind, and this dot will gradually move from the bottom of the display to the top as the car gets closer. Along with the white moving dot, the unit will also display a yellow light at the top, and a green light to indicate the coast is clear. Adding to this, the display of the Varia will be populated with multiple dots for multiple cars, whereas the two white dots located below the blue dot indicate the battery status for display unit and the radar.

Pairing the Varia with a Garmin Edge Display

If you purchase just the radar package, you can pair the device with a Garmin Edge device. Compatible devices include the Edge 25, Edge 520, Explore 1000, Edge 1000, Edge Explore 1000, Edge 810, Edge 510 and Touring Plus. When you pair the Garmin radar with any of the aforementioned devices, the information will be indicated directly on the Edge. To connect with the radar, the Edge device uses ANT and ANT + to transmit the radar related information.

When you switch to the ride mode, you’ll notice a sort of upside down Wi-Fi like symbol at the top of the Edge screen, which is actually a radar symbol that indicates the radar is connected and transmitting to your bike computer. A missing symbol could mean one of two things, either the radar unit is turned off or fell off. If you’re riding on a clear road with no cars, the side of the Edge screen will not display any information, but as soon as cars come into view, the Edge device will beep and display a cautionary color on the edges of its display.

Out of the white dots and indicators, you may at times notice a red color dot, which represents a fast approaching vehicle. This is just to alert you that you’re about to be overtaken by a high speed car. While all this action is displayed on the display of the Edge, the light of the rear radar is actually changing to react to the traffic as well. Closer approaching vehicles will trigger the red taillight bar to expand, and sounds are only emitted from the Edge device not the taillights.

Pros of the Garmin Varia

  • Much smarter than a typical bike light
  • Can detect vehicles approaching from up to 140 meters
  • Can be paired with an existing compatible Edge device
  • Tail light brightens and expands to notify approaching traffic of a cyclist ahead
  • Indicates relative speed of approach and threat level
  • Displays multiple approaching vehicles
  • Can be used as a standalone taillight
  • Light can be changed from blinking to steady mode

Cons of the Garmin Varia

  • Pricey, but definitely worth it considering that getting hit from behind is the major cause of cycling fatalities

Final Thoughts

The Garmin Varia is an expensive device, but could mean the difference between life and death. And if you’re a cycling enthusiast, this is something worth considering. It can be paired with an Edge device, saving you money if you’re device is compatible. Additionally, the Varia eliminates the cumbersome task of riding with mirrors resulting in a smoother cycling experience.

Vehicles these days are equipped with a plethora of high end security features such as rear sensors, lights, airbags, etc, whereas apart from helmets cyclists have to be extra cautious on the road. The Varia not only keeps you safe knowing what’s behind you, but also allows you to focus on other aspects of the road.

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