Garmin’s range of Varia radar-controlled taillights is very popular and one of the few that’s widely accepted as a truly impressive range. Varia light is featured regularly in “Cycling products you will buy again without hesitationMore on the CyclingTips forum. Despite the quality of the Varia, there was always a feeling that something was missing. That thing was a rear camera, and even today, it’s not missing anymore.
Garmin announces the new Varia RCT715 (Rear camera tail light, one missing? The new Varia retains radar capable of detecting approaching vehicles from up to 140 meters away and the same reactive light options for improved visibility on the road.
For those new to the Varia range, the taillight connects to compatible head units (including many non-Garmin devices) and ignores an audible tone when the vehicle approaches from behind and displays the vehicle’s location on the head unit display. The Varia can also switch the light from steady to blinking or from blinking to blinking faster as vehicles approach, before returning to the previous position after the vehicle has passed. On top of that, the light can detect when you’re riding in a group and adapt so it doesn’t bother you (or your riding buddies) with constant alerts.
It’s not broken, fix it anyway
Once again, the Varia is widely regarded as a great device with a large fan base, presumably on the cusp of growing even more with the inclusion of the camera. As mentioned earlier, the new Varia includes a built-in 1080p/30fps camera that offers both radar-controlled and interactive continuous recording modes.
Accident detection is exactly what it sounds like. The new RCT 715 can detect if an accident has occurred and automatically save camera footage right before, during and after the accident. It sounds great, but hopefully, accident detection accuracy has improved recently due to how sensitive the feature is in Garmin head units I’ve used in the past.
Varia is delivered with an included 16GB micro SD card. Although this should be enough for commuting, recreational riders may want to invest in a card with a larger capacity. Varia is compatible with micro SD cards up to 128 GB. Again, not a huge memory, but presumably enough to last the battery life on a single charge.
Speaking of battery life, Garmin claims a runtime of up to six hours with the radar, daytime flash mode tail light, and camera all ready to go, though it’s unclear which camera mode offers that battery life.
It’s no surprise that Garmin lists a range of its flagships and watches as “compatible devices” including the Edge 530, 830, 1030, and 1030+ and a range of Garmin wearables like the Fenix 6 and 7. Interestingly, older devices like the Edge 1000 and Edge 520, to choose only two, do not appear in the compatibility list, although Garmin does list them as being RTL515 compatible.
One of the most beloved features of the RTL515 was its compatibility with many party head units. Garmin does not include head units from third-party manufacturers on the RTL515 compatibility list. Presumably, radar and backlight compatibility with these third-party head units will carry over to the new RCT715, but since older Garmin devices have disappeared from the compatibility list, it seems fair to assume that some camera features won’t. Unfortunately, we haven’t had a chance to try out the new 715 for ourselves, so only time will tell how compatible the camera functions will be with Garmin for other manufacturers.
The free Garmin Varia smartphone app provides access to recorded footage, video transmission, customizable camera settings, and a choice of data overlays. The app also provides a more detailed radar screen for those riding a smartphone’s front screen, good news for Chris Froome. The app can also provide vibrating alerts for those who prefer to keep their phones out of sight.
Garmin includes round, pneumatic, and D-shaped seat post mounts as standard with the Varia light, which means compatibility with most bikes.
Garmin Varia RCT715 is now available at $399.99 / £349.99
As mentioned earlier, we have not yet had the opportunity to test the new Varia for ourselves. While it certainly looks promising, I might go with a certain level of caution. Sure, shoving the camera, memory card, and all the extra operational guts on top of the radar and taillight already packed into the relatively small Varia package is a lot needed to get a bike light. However, Varia has put radar technology into bike lights with wow for the better part of a decade already, and Garmin has had a history with action cameras with the Virb show in the past. Only time will tell if adding the camera improved what was not broken.