With our nights starting earlier each day as we edge into winter it is time to dig out last years cycle lights. Or is it? Cycle safety is big news and there are some many gadgets out there claiming to make you safer on the roads. If safer is more visible then time to invest in some hi-vis clothing and a bunch of strobing bike lights. OK… we need to balance safe with finance and style!

Garmin Varia Rearview Bike Radar

If you have ridden with one or more people, on a quiet country road on an early Sunday morning only two abreast to get a car or van to scream round you, hooting as they come by. “IT’S NOT ILLEGAL” your head shouts. Yes that’s right.. Rule 66 of the cyclists rule book provided by the government “never ride more than two abreast, and ride in single file on narrow or busy roads and when riding round bends”. Saying that, after you get hooted at for the 10th time on a ride you may think it is easier just to cycle in single file.

Slightly off topic for a bike light review, but this is more than a bike light. This is a technically advanced light that tells you vehicles are approaching from the rear.

Our first ride with Varia

The first ride was quiet country roads. Early morning, but not dark. Commuter time, but a few cars, not typical highway traffic.

Misses - none

First ride with the Varia was excellent. Initially I could only think of an appropriate use for this device was riding two abreast but as soon as you have a new bit of kit you can work out many new benefits. Quiet country roads where the road condition at the side of the road is not very good. It is much nicer to ride a meter from the edge and to do this without cars cutting you up is a nice benefit. You get plenty of warning when something is approaching from the read. Well before you have any chance of hearing a car. And when you are riding fast you can not rely on hearing anything with the wind blowing in your ears. A 30k ride and the Varia did not miss any cars from the rear. It is great to know the kit works. Like a cruise control on a car, I am sure it will take a while to get used to, you should never take your eye off the ball even if it does work, but nice to know you are getting told about all the cars approaching.

It’s two cars… Not one

You may hear a car approach you from behind, let it pass then decide to pull out into the better quality road. Not something you would do if there were two cars behind you. And the little icons will show you 2+ cars approaching from behind. A great feature to know so you can plan your next move. When cycling past a junction and a car is about to pull out it is always nice to know you have been seen and get that eye contact. This will not let you know they have seen you for sure, but it will notify you how many cars are approaching so you can position yourself appropriately.

Roundabouts and junctions

Now when approaching a right turn without straining your neck you can move into the centre of the road in preparation for the right turn. Personally I wouldn’t rely on the device solely for this maneuver but I found myself not bothering looking back if I had a car fast approaching. Wait for it to pass then if it is clear on the Varia take a look back. It saves you looking backwards to get a face full of car (and the potential wobble as you look over your shoulder, not good if you have a vehicle approaching from the rear).

False alarms

(read below software updates) On the first ride, the Varia did not miss any cars approaching. One did disappear off the radar before driving round me for some reason. But it did give me plenty of false alarms. Scenarios that seemed to trigger the device were two cars in quick succession passing on the other side of the road. Sometimes overtaking parked cars will trigger off a false alarm. I did have a couple of phantom alerts that I could not work out what caused it. But I would say a false alarm is better than a missed alert!

False Notifications on Garmin Varia

The above scenario may trigger a false alarm. Duel carriageway, cycling round a parked car. 

Garmin Edge 1000

If you have an Edge 1000 there is no need to get the front mounted head unit. The Edge will display a logo in the top right to show it is connected to the Vaira. On all screens it will display the icon. Then when some action is approaching it will squeeze the display to show the dots on the right hand side. You also get an audible alert.

It is very difficult to try and film the Varia Radar in use with the edge, but this short clip shows the Edge 1000 notification. The dot creeps up on the right hand side of the screen, and as the car overtakes the borders turn green to show threat is over.

 

When this device is best used

Quiet country roads are perfect. Your weekend ride this is excellent. It can make motorists hat you slightly less if you give them a bit more space.

When you may not get the best out of the Radar

If you are riding in a busy city, the constant alerts may end up just being an annoyance. But you do get the awesome bike light so it is appropriate, just the radar may end up desensitising you to the constant beeping and flashing.

Features:

  • World's first cycling radar that warns of vehicles approaching from behind up to 153 yards (140 meters)
  • Works independently and wirelessly integrates with compatible Edge® cycling computers¹
  • Edge computer or Varia head unit can detect multiple vehicles and indicates the relative speed of approach and threat level
  • Tail light unit brightens and flashes to notify approaching traffic of a cyclist ahead

The Varia line of cycling awareness products also includes Varia smart headlights and tail lights. When paired with select Edge bike computers¹, these bike lights help to create safer riding conditions by adjusting the beam focus point according to a bike’s speed and matching brightness to changing light conditions. As speed increases, the headlight focuses further down the road to project light to where it’s needed most and brings it closer as you slow. As ambient light fades or gets brighter, both the headlight and tail light adjust automatically when paired with a light-sensing Edge 1000 bike computer.

Pics from the Edge 1000

2 car notification on the Garmin Varia

It's great to know you have two cars approaching you from behind. Between the first notification on the Garmin Edge typically you have about 5 seconds until the car passes by. Plenty of time to adjust your road position. Even if the change is to move into a more dominant road position. You may thing, 'Hang on. There is a night bend ahead and I don't want a car passing me on this'. Or you may spot a road island and want to remove the option for the car to squeeze past you. Especially when there are two cars. If there is a tight squeeze up ahead, one car may pass through OK, but the second car may not see you or just follow the first car. 

Garmin Varia as cars approach on the Edge 1000

As the cars approach you will soon be in tune with how long until they pass. You do have to be aware if they decide to sit behind you and not overtake, they may actually disappear from the radar view. Do not let this device take over your normal ride safety!

Varia display on Edge 1000 after a car passes

Once the car passes the screen turns green. I find it is a little fast to go green as the car may still be driving around you, but if you have been paying attention you know there is something more or less about to pass. 

3 cars passing with Varia on the Edge 1000

On all screens you will be notified of alerts. The above pic from the Edge 1000 screen shows a segment approaching from the front, but three cars from the rear. 

Varia Disconnected

Once you turn off the rear radar you will get a big notification. Not one you can miss. Then the top right icon will turn red. 

Cyclists

Does it pick up bikes approaching from the rear? Unfortunately not. I was too busy playing devices to notice a rider approach from behind. No notification at all. It definitely would be great to know a cyclist is behind you so you can ‘up your game’. I guess something for 2.0 

The Test Continues

The Garmin Edge 1000 works seamlessly with the Varia and it can integrate to your normal cycling kit. The more I use it however; I notice more and more false alarms. Apart from very windy roads, cars are mostly always detected. If they disappear from sight, they disappear from the radar but sooner or later they will pop back into view. But with several cars passing on the other side of the road it will often pop up with a notification of a car behind. I am not sure if over time this will desensitise the notifications but I will report back and let you know.  

The more I use the Viria the more I realise that you should definitely not exclusively rely on this. I'm not sure any cyclist would rely exclusively on some tech, but you certainly wouldn't want to start getting lazy and not looking over your shoulder. This device really does work best when the cars are few and far between but as soon as the roads are quite busy it starts to get confused between cars approaching and cars behind you. And even cars that you overtake. If a car is travelling at the same speed is you, the radar will just stop notifying you that they are behind. If you watch the video below you'll notice the device showing a few phantom vehicles. Also it failed to pick up on two cars. I'm not sure if it's because the bright sunlight interferes with the radar. Or if it was a corner in the road. Or if it was because I was travelling more or less at the same speed as the cars.

This is a gadget I would buy for sure. If it was exclusively the radar then maybe I would think twice before buying one, but it is also a set of lights. And you can spend more on bike lights than the entire radar kit costs.

Day to Day Running

Battery warning notification. So I want to see how the bike computer was going to notify me that the batteries running low and the Garmin Edge 1000 this does its quite nicely a warning message on the screen to notify you of low batteries. It will not go away until you press the screen notification. The batteries I have found to last at least a week with moderate daily use and it charges via a standard USA data cable.

Notifications for bikes. Unfortunately the radar does not pick up on cyclists approaching from the rear. It would be nice to know it’s time to step up, put down some more power but unfortunately you just have to rely on your legs being in the ready state at all times to try and keep up with anyone who overtakes.

Notifications for motorcycles. It has no problems picking up on motorcycles approaching from the rear and typically they will be approaching at a higher speed than most cars. It has yet to miss a motorcycle for me.

Cars sitting behind you. My biggest complaint with the Viria is that cars that end up sitting behind you disappearing off the radar screen. The Garmin Edge will show a car approaching from the rear and then it may just disappear from view. If you are not careful, and not paying attention you may either miss the car behind you completely, and you may I think they have turned off, when they could be overtaking you any time. Maybe you could argue that this device has in fact heightened my senses to try to look behind me before cycling around a drain. This is something that happens all the time also not just occasionally.

A longer ride

If you have the patience then the video below is a longer ride showing the screen of the Garmin Edge 1000 on a ride with the Varia. You can hear the alerts, but you may notice a few misfires and it also misses a couple of cars on a bend. 

Don’t forget. They are actually lights

Working with the Garmin Varia it is quite easy to forget that this is actually a replacement to your rear set of lights. And as lights they are full of tech in their own right. The radar talks not only to you via the bike computer or front mount but also directs to the traffic behind you. Garmin marketing suggests that cars colliding with bikes from the rear is the number one reason for accidents in America. And if this is the case we certainly want to let vehicles to know we are there. As cars approach the lights get brighter, flash more frequently and basically wave out to the driver saying hey Don't forget there is a cyclist in front of you. To test this we will try to demonstrate with photographs what happens as cars approach.

Bike Light flashing with no car behind

The standard flashing is a slow pulse with 4 of the LEDs illuminating. 

Full flashing when a car aproaches

When a car approaches the flashing intensifies and speeds up. All the LEDs will light up

Bright Light Flashing

The full flashing is something you can't really miss!

Software Updates

So my connect account today has a few update for my lights. It's fun being able to update all your tech. 

Varia Software Update

So as you can see from the software update above, Garmin have addressed the false detections. They have also fixed other bugs. We are going back out on the road and will report back!

Post Software Update

So the updates from Garmin have certainly helped with the false detections. We have seen a lot less of these happening. Cars will still disappear from the radar when they are just sitting behind you at the same speed. Would be great if that could get ironed out. 

The verdict

I do love the Garmin Varia. This is definitely something I would buy. Not just because I'm in the market form some new lights but despite the occasional misses and the occasional false alarms I do like riding with this device.

And the price, You may say it is expensive. But when you total up an excellent set of lights and also not having to ride with mirrors (Not that you would do that anyway) then this is a bit kit that I can see many bike manufacturers trying to imitate. Well done Garmin getting out there first. I'm looking forward to 2.0.

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