Garmin Varia Rearview Bike Radar review: Life-saving cycling tech is here, and it works
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 – the Varia Rearview Bike Radar is the first to land in Alphr’s offices.
Garmin says that “as the first of its kind radar system for bikes, the Varia Rearview Bike 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 that mounts on the handlebars. 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, as close to 90 degrees to the ground as possible. The mount uses stretchy rubber bands, just like the Edge cycling 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 haven’t encountered any issues.
When you turn the rear light on, just the two central LEDs are illuminated. As the radar detects approaching cars, the other LEDs steadily light up – to increase visibility – and it reaches maximum brightness when the cars are 10m away. At the same time, the unit transmits the vehicle’s approach speed and threat level to the head unit.
I was using the Varia radar with the optional head unit, but you can sync the rear view radar with a Garmin 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.
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, this isn’t a problem, but it’s clear that it’s been designed for use on wide American highways. It’s still a great product, and an exciting glimpse into the future, but it’s still a few revisions away from being an inner-city saviour.