Garmin Varia - really all that?

So the Things You’d Buy again thread has a lot of love for the Garmin Varia.

I’ve been considering the radar lately and currently run a Bontrager Flare rear light. If I was to buy the Varia am I better if just buying the radar, or is the light worth the extra dollars, and more importantly, is it a worthy replacement for the Flare?

FWIW I think it’s worth getting the light combo.
It is seriously bright and visible from a distance - but the bonus is that it automatically changes flash patterns when it senses a car, just for that extra bit of attention-seeking behaviour…

(I had almost tagged you on Slack to go back and see all the mentions it was getting in the forum thread!)
If you are already seriously contemplating it, I’m confident in recommending that you won’t regret it.


A couple of rides with the Varia and I’m confident you won’t deliberately ride without it again. With the rear light, the daytime setting is seriously bright, automatically adjusts the flash when a vehicle is behind and is 270(?) degree so is still quite noticeable when not directly behind.


I agree that it is all that. Had to buy a second one for my wife cause I didn’t like giving up mine and I didn’t like sending her out without one. I have the lighted version and think it is useful, but also use a secondary light like the flare. Belt and suspenders approach if you will. Also the Varia doesn’t have the best run time, so the second light is nice the few times I have run out of battery.


What is everyone’s experience with the Varia in high-volume traffic? My brother-in-law has one, and on a recent ride the thing was beeping at him (via his Garmin computer) every 4 seconds as a car passed. I felt, at that point, it was more of a distraction than anything. I realize you can adjust the volume, but that seems to defeat the overall purpose. Interested to hear some feedback as so many folks seem to love the unit!

I’m really bad traffic it does beep all the time. You can always mute the beep on the head unit and then turn it back on when traffic thins out. You always have the visual display to look at.

I ordered one today.
I’ve been umming and ahhing for a while, and then I saw the Francis Cade youtube video “7 Bike Products that will make your life easier” - I should have it to play with next week.

I replaced a Flare R with it. While the flare was a great tail light, I really love being able to look down, and get flashing lights on my elemnt based on the speed of the approaching car.


I don’t use my Varia in urban / inner suburban environments. I just assume that cars are everywhere.
For me, it really shines on quieter roads where I can just enjoy the ride without constant shoulder checks.
If you do use it on busy roads - just turn the sound off or it’ll drive you nuts.


The beeping in traffic isn’t too bad, once you’re used to riding with it.
A couple of things that take a few rides:

  1. Learning not to stare at your head unit constantly, and watching the little dots as they catch up to you. Soon enough you “relearn” to just give it a glance when it beeps.
  2. Not looking at it at all when you don’t need to - just using the little beep to confirm there’s traffic behind, particularly on busier roads.
  3. This one is a little bonus I hadn’t considered before buying, but it’s one of the best things about it - NOT having to head check when the radar has already told you there is a car behind (when turning right, into roundabouts, etc).
    I still always head check - even though I don’t think the radar has ever missed anything - but just doing it to confirm you’re clear is just a little cool added extra!

My rides generally combine heavier traffic (particularly at the end of my ride as I’m getting home) and quieter country roads, and I think it serves a purpose in both environments. The only case it probably wouldn’t is if you only ever ride in high volume traffic, all the time…

I have the Varia combined with the Fly 6. Granted it is a fair bit of hardware hanging off the back end, but worth it. Just run the camera on the Fly 6 and use the Varia for the light. As mentioned it has the interruptive flash pattern when it detects a car. I live in a smallish country town, quite a bit of riding is done on roads with 80 - 110kmh limits - great not to have the swivel head going. I always know whena vehicle is approaching and how fast. When I do ride in Perth, I tend to mute the sound - otherwise it chirps like a canary onm the red smarties. Highly recommended.

I still don’t really understand. First, when a car approaches from behind me, I can hear it, especially if it’s going fast. Second, what good does it do you to know a car is coming? You can’t really avoid a car about to hit you from behind. Having more information about the cars coming from behind me would give me the opposite of peace of mind, I’d think. What does it actually change while you’re riding?

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You don’t hear every car coming behind you - certainly not from the distance the radar picks them up. And it doesn’t take much of a headwind to “impair” your hearing enough to reduce that distance further.
And while I absolutely agree - knowing a car is behind you won’t prevent an incident - at least you can reduce the probability and not be a contributing factor…
It’s really just about having the time to move over to the shoulder, particularly on narrower and quiet country roads - where for the most part you can ride out in the middle without having to constantly check over your shoulder.


I don’t find it useful in heavy traffic or city riding. I use my flare for that. Where it IS super useful is that quiet ride on country roads where cars surprise you coming up fast when you have wind in your ears. It’s also fantastic on gravel, where your ears get numb from the grinding gravel sound, and pickups come up behind you fast.


I agree that you typically hear cars, however it’s my experience that the Garmin flags them far earlier than you hear them. It’s amazing.

The second advantage is that it shows you the quantity of vehicles passing. Unless you have super hearing, you cant get that with your ears.

In the end - to your question on why it matters - personally, I find it super valuable to know when I am being overtaken because I am able to calmly navigate to the edge of the road. It is safer for me and for the car.

Bottom line: It’s one of the most effective and simple products that I have seen in cycling. Can not recommend it enough.


Both my cycling buddies have the Varia Rear Light and they are great! Like some of the others on here, I have been considering it for a while as well.

Given that it has been out for a few years now, does anyone know if the Garmin Varia radar/rear light combo will be up for a refresh or upgrade anytime soon?

There was an updated version came out last year - RTL515 (update from 510).
I think the main thing was Bluetooth Smart, and maybe some extra battery life - not that I’ve been disappointed with the battery on my “old” unit. Lasts several long rides on flash mode, no problem.


What I like about it is that when a car is approaching heading in the opposite direction, it still lets you know when a car is approaching from behind.
Without the varia it is much harder to tell, as the sound of the car going the other way can mask the sound of the car approaching from behind.
The dot moving to the top on the screen also lets you know when to do the “incompetent wobble” so as to encourage greater passing room or make a car behind wait until the car heading the other way has passed and there is more room to overtake.


From DCR -
What’s the difference between the newer RTL515 and the older RTL510 again, they look identical?

While externally identical, the RTL515 has Bluetooth connectivity for apps, and a new lessened steady ‘Peloton’ mode for group riding. Also, it has 1hr extra battery compared to the RTL510.”

I’ve found the battery life to be very good - 8-10 hours I think in the daytime flashing mode. I think it is bright enough, and also replaced a flare light with it.