Hands-on Review with the Garmin Varia
The release of the Garmin Varia range of smart lights provides cyclists with GPS-integrated improvements to their safety out on the road. The Varia lights I tested were the front and rear Smart Lights and the Rearview Radar.
The first noticeable aspect about the Varia products is their quality. The devices look smart and the supplied mounts are well-built and sturdy. The front Smart Light provides a dual out-front mount to hold your Edge on top and the front Smart Light underneath. The seatpost mount interchangeably supports both the rear Smart Light and the Rearview Radar with the familiar Garmin quarter-turn locking system.
The test for the Rearview Radar was on the regular early morning team ride out to Nudgee Beach. The Rearview Radar acts as a rear light and gets brighter (by lighting up all bulbs) when cars approach. The other riders observed the light lighting up fully when cars were passing our group and not when other riders were passing or approaching me.
The Smart Light test was a night-time anti-clockwise loop of Mount Coot-tha starting at the “back” (Simpsons Rd/TV towers). At night, the “back” climb of Coot-tha is in total darkness, shaded from the City lights by the dense forest with no street lighting. Riding Coot-tha in the dark is an interesting experience as you cannot see the difficultly the next section ahead.
The front Smart Light brilliantly lit up the darkness with the powerful 600 lumens high beam. In addition to the powerful high beam, the front Smart Light also cast a lower-powered low beam to light directly ahead of the front wheel to help spot any road hazards such as potholes and sticks. The headlight was one of the best lights I’ve used for lighting up the road directly ahead however it was a little strange when descending the winding roads of Mount Coot-tha.
Right-curving corners were well-lit but left-curving corners were lacking the same lighting; the headlight might be better suited for American right-hand roads.
The rear Smart Light produces a powerful light to clearly let approaching drivers know your road position. Every time I’ve ridden with the tail light fitted, I’ve felt somewhat safer knowing the light is prominently visible in both night time and in daylight.
I tested the Smart Lights and Rearview Radar initially with my Garmin Edge 510. The Edge 510 does not connect with the Varia range of devices however some smart features were still observed. As mentioned before, the Rearview Radar fully lit up in the presence of approaching cars and not in the peloton. The front Smart Light automatically lowered the high beam when a car with lit headlights approached and raised the high beam when it detected walkers ahead on a dark pathway.
I later tested the Varia devices with the Garmin Edge 520. The Edge 520 is a noticeable improvement on the Edge 510 particularly the ease of pairing with the multiple Garmin accessories I was using. Garmin’s Virb XE camera paired instantly with the Edge 520 after not being able to pair with my Edge 510. The Garmin Vector 2S and Garmin heart rate monitor were also detected straight away. The Varia devices required a firmware upgrade before being added to the Edge 520.
Trialling the Edge 520 with the Varia Smart Lights and Rearview Radar did not produce any noticeable differences from the Edge 510. I was unable to observe any smarter control of the high beam on the headlight and my fellow riders did not observe any brightening of the tail light when I was braking.
The Varia Smart Lights and Rearview Radar are fully functional when used with the Garmin Edge 1000. The Edge 1000 uses the Rearview Radar to display rear-approaching vehicles on the display and provides further control over the headlight through the ambient light sensor built into the Edge 1000. I was fortunate to ride with a rider using Edge 1000 and Varia front Smart Light and Rearview Radar. He was very happy with his setup as he invested in the Varia devices to make his daily commute safer.
For more information and specifications on the Garmin Varia Smart Lights and Sensors, check out our page at https://www.ja-gps.com.au