Garmin’s range of Varia radar-controlled rear lights are hugely popular and one of the few devices widely accepted as a genuinely great piece of kit. The Varia light regularly features in the “cycling products you’d buy again without hesitation” thread over on the CyclingTips forum. As good as the Varia is, there was always the feeling something was missing. That something was a rear-facing camera, and as of today, it is no longer missing.
Garmin has announced the new Varia RCT715 (Rear Camera Tail light, one L missing?) with all the most-loved features of the RTL515 and now with a 1080p 30FPS camera with a 140° field of view. The new Varia retains radar capable of detecting approaching vehicles up to 140m away and the same reactive light options to improve visibility on the road.
For those new to the Varia range, the tail light connects with compatible head units (including many non-Garmin devices) and omits an audible tone when a vehicle is approaching from the rear and displays the location of the vehicle on the head unit screen. The Varia can also switch the light from solid to flashing or from flashing to flashing faster as vehicles approach, before reverting back to the previous mode after the vehicle has passed. Furthermore, the light can even detect when you are riding in a bunch and adjust so as to not pester you (or your riding buddies) with constant alerts.
It ain’t broke, fix it anyway
Again, the Varia is widely considered a great device with a large fanbase, presumably about to grow even larger with the inclusion of a camera. As mentioned above, the new Varia includes an integrated 1080p/30 FPS camera offering continuous, radar-controlled, and reactive incident detection recording modes.
Incident detection is exactly what it sounds like. The new RCT 715 can detect if an incident occurs and automatically saves camera footage from immediately before, during and after the incident. Sounds great, but hopefully the incident detection accuracy has improved in recent times given how sensitive the feature was on Garmin head units I have used in the past.
The Varia is delivered with a 16 GB micro SD card included. Although that should suffice for commuting, recreational riders may want to invest in a card with greater capacity. The Varia is compatible with micro SD cards up to 128 GB. Again, not huge, but presumably enough memory to outlast the battery life on a single charge.
Speaking of battery life, Garmin claims up to six hours of run time with radar, day flash mode tail light, and camera all operational, although it is unclear which camera mode provides such battery life.
Unsurprisingly, Garmin lists a host of its own head units and watches as “compatible devices” including the Edge 530, 830, 1030, 1030+, and a host of Garmin wearable devices such as the Fenix 6 and 7. Interestingly though, older devices such as the Edge 1000 and Edge 520, to pick just two, do not appear on the compatibility list, despite Garmin listing them as compatible with the RTL515.
One of the most-loved features of that RTL515 was its compatibility with many thrid party head units. Garmin didn’t list head units from third party manufacturers on its compatibility list for the RTL515. Presumably, the radar and rear light compatibility with these third party head units will carry over to the new RCT715, but given the disappearance of older Garmin devices from the compatibility list, it seems fair to assume some camera features will not. Unfortunately, we have not had the opportunity to try a new 715 for ourselves, so only time will tell how much camera function compatibility Garmin will afford to other manufacturers.
The free Garmin Varia smartphone app offers access to recorded footage, video transfer, customisable camera settings and select data overlays. The app also offers a more detailed radar display for those who ride with an upfront smartphone display, good news for Chris Froome. The app can also provide vibration alerts for those who prefer to keep their phone out of sight.
Garmin includes mounts for round, aero, and D shaped seat posts as standard with the Varia light, meaning compatibility with most bikes.
The Garmin Varia RCT715 is available now priced at US$399.99 / £349.99
As mentioned above, we haven’t yet had a chance to test the new Varia for ourselves. While it certainly seems promising, I might proceed with a certain level of caution. Squeezing a camera, memory card, and all the additional operational guts on top of the radar and rear light already packaged into the relatively small Varia package certainly is a lot to ask of a bike light. That said, the Varia has put radar technology in bike lights with resounding success for the better part of a decade already, and Garmin has a history with action cameras with its Virb offering in the past. Only time will tell if the addition of a camera has improved what wasn’t broken.