If there is one product we have been eager to test for some time, it’s the Garmin Varia Radar. An innovative piece of technology that warns you of motor vehicles approaching from behind while you’re riding on a public road. But does it really do what it claims to? Is it accurate and reliable? Here’s what we found.
If you don’t feel some level of fear of being hit from behind by a motor vehicle while riding on South African roads, then you’re in an absolute minority – 2.4% to be precise, according to our recent SA Safe Cycling Survey, presented by Garmin Varia. But 58.7% said they are afraid on certain sections of road, 29.3% said they’re consistently afraid and 9.72% said they’re very afraid. Read the full survey reveal here.
The TREAD team members personally know (knew) a handful of cyclists that have been killed by motor vehicles from behind while they were riding their bicycles. And we know of many more. We are highly vulnerable every time we ride our bicycles on a public road. And even though we’re mountain bikers, some percentage of our riding time is spent on public roads shared with motor vehicles.
The Garmin Varia Radar is primarily a small, lightweight radar that you attach to your seatpost and pair via Bluetooth with your GPS device. There are two types, the Varia Radar RTL515, which comes with a rear light and the RVR315, which comes without the light. There’s a R1000 difference between the two and we can’t really work out who would not want the Varia Radar with the light, which is ridiculously bright and obviously a huge help in alerting motorists to your presence. Garmin claims this light beams to a 220-degree arc and can be seen from 1.6km back during the day!
It has three modes, including solid, night flash and day flash. It is rechargeable via a USB cable and, according to Garmin, it holds its charge for up to six hours on solid and night flash and 15 hours on day flash.
The approaching car is the white dot and you are the orange dot (top right of the screen). The radar shows the white dot moving towards you until it’s passed.
We used the Varia with a Garmin Edge 530 and a Wahoo Elemnt Bolt. Both paired very easily and worked as they’re meant to, which is to alert you when a vehicle is approaching, both a beeping sound and a white dot on your device screen that moves towards the orange dot at the top (which represents you). If the vehicles are approaching at a steady speed, the sides of your device screen turn orange. If the approaching vehicle is approaching fast, the sides of your device screen turn red. As soon as all detected approaching vehicles have passed, the sides of your device screen turn green to confirm that all is clear.
On a product that’s designed to potentially save your life, accuracy and consistency are essential. Not once in more than 25 hours of testing did we see anything other than perfectly timed warnings, both visual and audio.
Garmin opened up the pairing options on the Radar Varia so that other brands are compatible with it, including Wahoo, Hammerhead and Stages, only on models that have the Radar feature. Not all Garmin devices have the Radar feature, so be sure to check first before purchasing. What this does is enable others that you’re riding with to pair their devices with your Varia Radar, which is really very, very cool. There’s also a third-party Smartphone app that it pairs to.
We definitely felt a bit more secure when riding with the Varia Radar. Not completely without fear, but more in control of our safety by being aware of what’s approaching from the rear. When riding with a slight tailwind on a climb, you can usually hear most motor vehicles from around 140 metres back, but in all other scenarios, the Varia Radar warning comes before you can hear a vehicle approaching.
When riding with others it’s useful to know that it’s safe to pass another rider without having to first look behind. It’s also useful when riding on a quiet road and you want to ride next to someone. As soon as the warning of an approaching vehicle from behind sounds, you usually have enough time to drop move into single file without creating any frustration for the driver or panic for yourself.
The Garmin Varia Radar is possibly the most important piece of cycling gear for South African mountain bikers, road cyclists and triathletes. We actually can’t recommend it enough, especially for those that spend a consistent volume of riding time on public roads. At just over R4000 it may seem pricey to many, but the way it improves your riding experience and potentially saves your life makes it worth every cent.
Price: R4049 Garmin Varia RTL 515 Radar/Rear light
Price:R3049 Garmin Varia RVR 315 Radar