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Garmin Varia rear view radar review

Garmin Varia rear view radar
6 Oct 2015

The Garmin Varia rear view radar is the future, there’s no doubt about it.

Cyclist Rating: 
Unique safety aid for quiet roads.
Easily confused by heavy traffic

In the US alone, approximately 726 cyclists a year are killed, and a further 49,000 are injured, as a result of motor vehicle accidents. According to the US Department of Transport, 40% of these collisions occur when the cyclist is struck from behind. To help combat these worrying figures, Garmin has released the Varia range of smart accessories including the Varia rear view radar.

Garmin Varia

Garmin says that ‘as the first of its kind radar system for bikes, the Varia rear view radar will create a safer environment on the roads’. The Varia system comes in two parts: the radar/light unit itself and the optional display unit. The rear view radar can detect an approaching vehicle from up to 140m away and track up to eight vehicles at once.

The rear radar unit attaches to anywhere at the rear of the bike, although Garmin recommends that it is attached to the seatpost, and is as close to 90 degrees to the ground as possible. The mount uses stretchy rubber bands (like the Edge computers) and the radar unit attaches with the same quarter turn system. I’ve used the mount on various seatposts (27.2mm all to the way up to 34.9mm) and had no issues.

Garmin Varia rear view radar

When you turn the light on, just the two central LEDs are illuminated. As the light detects approaching cars, more are more lights are lit until it reaches maximum brightness when the cars are 10m away. At the same time the unit transmits the vehicles approach and threat level to the head unit.

We were using the Varia radar with the optional head unit but you can sync the rear view radar with an Edge 1000 and receive the same experience. The Varia display unit has a strip of central LEDs that illuminate as a car approaches. The LED at the very top changes colour to indicate your current threat level – green for none, amber for caution and red for danger.

Garmin Varia display unit

Out in the countryside, and on quiet roads, it works a treat – warning you of approaching vehicles well before you can hear them. I did a static test on a climb in North London and the Varia was warning me of cars before I could even see them turn the corner. Take the Varia into the inner city though and it soon becomes confused by all the traffic.

When I used it on my commute the warning light barely came off amber and the distance indicator was constantly flicking backwards and forwards. As long as you don’t come to rely on it as an indicator of safety it’s not really a problem, but it’s clear that it’s been designed for use on wide American highways. It’s still a great product, and it’s definitely the future, but it’s still a few revisions away from being the city commute saviour.


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