Varia's Visibility: See and Be Seen
Being visible to other pathway and roadway users is essential, whether you like to ride at night, during daylight-hours, or anything in-between. A light innovation which addresses the rider's desire to be seen and ability to "see" their surroundings is Garmin's s "Varia Radar Tail Light". The Varia allows riders to receive visual and addible alerts on their compatible GPS computer device or upon Garmin's dedicated radar display unit, notifying them of approaching vehicles(s) from up to 140 meters away. The following will provide two comprehensive reviews and thoughts on the light from Full Cycle staffer, Phil, and longtime customer, Mike.
Summary of the Varia's Key Features:
- Alerts: Unlike your typical USB-rechargeable rear light, the Varia has an integrated radar sensor which allows the riders to audibly and visually be alert of moving traffic behind them.
- Charging Method: USB-rechargeable
- Charge Time: ~5 hours
- Visibility and Duration of Alerts: The light allows riders to be seen from up to one-mile away (with a 220-degree range) , in addition to providing alerts for approaching vehicles that are up to 140 away
- Device Compatibility: The light is able to connect to Garmin's dedicated radar display or through compatible Bluetooth devices.
- Battery Life: The estimated battery life is around 15-hours in flashing mode, or 6-hours in solid/ night-flash modes
Phil's Thoughts & Review
"I've had the light for about two-months now and love it, I think its great to hear that a fast approaching object is behind you with the "beep", and that I get to see it visually on my Wahoo bike computer in front of me. Similar to a video game, it shows you how many approaching cars are coming and what position they are in, distance wise. I want to be visible to all traffic on roadways and pathways, so it's definitely a bonus to quickly see if someone is behind me and how far away they are!
The light has great energy saving modes with the constant and flashing light settings — I only use flashing as it conserves battery. Paired with my Wahoo, I like how it displays exactly how much battery life the Varia has left. My commute is about an hour each way, and I've only had to charge it once every handful of days. After a few months of regular use, the battery continues to hold well.
Staying visible at all times should be every cyclist's priority. For me, this light wins because it is so much more than a light. Aside from the brightness and the various light settings it offers, it's the integrated radar system is what makes it unique and separates it from other regular re-chargeable lights. After using the Varia, I haven't touched any of my other USB rechargeable rear lights that I used to rely on, and why would I? It's easy to operate, the battery holds well, and most importantly, it allows me to know how far cars behind me are (this is handy when its difficult to shoulder check in traffic).
Stay safe and visible!"
Mike's Thoughts & Review
"GARMIN VARIA RADAR - GAME CHANGER – that thing is way too extravagant… Who really needs a radar on the back of their bike? Does it actually work?
Those thoughts went through my head the first time I saw a Varia out on the road. I rolled my eyes too… I promise.
…but after seeing a few more around, I was curious enough to do some research online. After reading DC rainmakers excellent (and very comprehensive) review of the radar, I decided it might actually work as advertised, and I might have a pretty strong use case for one.
I spend a lot of time on quiet country highways south-west of Ottawa in the summer. Although there isn’t a tonne of traffic, road shoulders can be narrow, and cars tend to approach from behind very quickly. It would be nice to have an awareness of approaching cars from a distance without always needing check over my shoulder.
So does it work? Heck yeah it does!
The Radar – I’m more relaxed on the road and my neck isn’t sore at the end of my long rides.
The radar provides me with reliable situational awareness out on the road. In fact, over the three years I have been using the Varia, it has never once failed to pick up an approaching car (though will sometimes through a false positive from a bird or leaf blowing in the wind behind me). If it isn’t alerting me of an approaching car, there is no approaching car. I feel free to pick the smoothest lines, and dodge potholes on country roads without worrying that I’m suddenly going to competing for space with a passing vehicle. It has also been nice to know when a car is coming, so that I can calmly drift closer to the shoulder before the car needs to pass. I’ve found visibly moving over like this prior to being passed sends a positive signal – that I am considerate of sharing the road – and drivers generally respond more courteously as a result.
Of course, this also means that when I’m out riding, I can count on the Varia to help watch my back, so that I don’t have to be constantly looking over my shoulder for 3-5 hours at a time. Simply put, it keeps my shoulders and neck from getting stiff by the end of a ride. Game changer!
The Light - Cars can actually see you, long before they need to pass.
The red light on the radar is more than bright enough to be seen during the day from over a kilometer, and blinks with increasing intensity when the radar detects a car approaching. I tend to believe that when most drivers act aggressively toward cyclists, it is partially because they are taken by surprise – becoming anxious and reactive as a result of suddenly being confronted with the need to navigate around you. With the Varia, drivers can see well before they ever need to pass. When drivers are prepared, they are less stressed, having more time and space to plan how they will pass safely. I actually noticed a perceptible reduction in the number of close/aggressive passes by cars on my daily rides, and will it’s impossible to say for certain, I believe the light is a contributing factor.
Overall, I really can’t think of another piece of cycling gear I own that has had such a dramatic impact on my riding experience. Honest.
While the Varia can be purchased as a standalone radar, I’d highly recommend the radar/light combo, as the integrated rear light is a major safety enhancer (which I’ll elaborate on below).
The radar works best when paired with a cycling computer (compatible with most Garmin or Wahoo units) to provide audible alerts and display visual tracking of approaching cars.
Reliability has been stellar, and after three years nearly daily use in riding season, I have not noticed any deterioration in battery life or performance. I continue to rely on the radar, even when I need to last for all-day (8hr) rides."
Products Mentioned Above and Additional Resources
- Pairing with Wahoo Devices Information can be found here.
- A list of Garmin's compatible devices with the Varia can be found here.