The Garmin Varia Radar was an absolute revelation when it first debuted in 2015. A RADAR system for your bike to inform you about road traffic behind you! Two years on, Garmin have repackaged things into the Garmin Varia RLT510, so what has changed and should you upgrade?
Garmin Varia Radar RLT510 – Next Gen Bike Saftey
Sometimes a gadget is released which just causes a paradigm shift in the way you think, and just possibly act. I don’t think it would be unreasonable to view the Garmin Varia Radar in the same way as the cycling GPS head unit, or perhaps Strava in how much of an impact this system could have for cyclist and cyclist safety. Admittedly there is a significant caveat here that we are talking about a closed system from Garmin, which WILL limit the uptake
Hell has frozen over in the last year for Garmin, in that may of their units work to receive Bluetooth sensor input, AND their ANT+ Smart Light protocol is open to other manufacturers, so anything is possible… I just wouldn’t hold your breath!
To look at this years Garmin Varia Radar RLT510, the entire device design has been reworked, giving a dramatically different look compared to the original Garmin Varia Radar.
There are only so many ways that a radar system can work, so don’t expect earth-shattering changes from this unique Garmin, but they have indeed given the original system a good polish. Let’s take a look!
Garmin Varia Radar RLT510 Design
Hey look it’s a box – which does make the Garmin Varia Radar RLT510 look a little like Hal9000 from Space Odessey “I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
Thankfully inside the box, there is no evidence of sinister supercomputers
What we do have is a couple of dead tree manuals, the micro USB cable, and the seat mount using a Garmin Quarter Turn mount, two rubber inserts for a regular or an aero stem, and the rubber bands to hold them on
Clearly the main change between the two units is the shift to a long thin approach with a considerable 60 lumen LED on the top of the new Garmin Varia Radar RLT510, which can be set to solid, night flash and day flash modes. Personally, I’d have liked to have seen a touch brighter LED used, but there is apparently a balance to be made in battery life vs brightness.
The front and back of the unit sandwich a transparent red plastic section with a small LED on both sides as well, to give lateral visibility when cycling
The plastic sandwich also allows light to be refracted down the sides of Varia Radar, further increasing visibility
On the top of the unit, we have the power button, which is held in a rubber surround which wraps around the whole edge and back part of the unit, increasing grip for when you are taking it on and off the Garmin mount
On the back we have the Garmin Quarter Turn Mount and the micro USB port under the rubber flap
With the mount working the same as any other Garmin unit, just this time facing rewards
The Garmin Varia Radar RLT510 has grown a bit, both in size and weight compared to its forebearer, increasing from 73mm to 98.6mm in the longest dimension, and now tipping the scales at 71.0g, vs the original’s at a more svelte 63.5g
Personally comparing the two, I can see the real benefit of including the larger daytime running LED, particularly on what is a safety device. However, I do think that the original Varia Radar visually was more appealing. Perhaps that is just me though?
Garmin Varia Radar RLT510 Specification
- Dimensions: 98.6 x 19.7 x 39.6 mm
- Weight: 71.0 g
- Modes: solid, night flash, day flash
- Lumens: 20 solid, 29-lumen night flash, 65-lumen day flash
- Battery life: 6 hours solid, 6 hours night flash, 15 hours day flash
- Communications: ANT+
- Waterproofing: IPX7
- Viewing angle: 220°
Garmin Varia Radar RLT510 Manual
The PDF Manual for the Varia Radar can be downloaded from HERE
Garmin Varia Radar RLT510 Using the Device
You need to have a Garmin Edge head unit (Either the 1000 or 520 from the last gen Edge units or everything up from the baby Garmin Edge 103) to use the Varia or buy the package with the small display. As I mentioned above, I think the inclusion of a separate screen option is excellent, as it means someone with a different cycling computer can still use the device. I’ll write the rest of the Garmin Varia Radar Review from the point of view of a Garmin Edge owner
The Varia radar communicates over ANT+, so to start you need to pair the unit with your Edge – press and hold the power key for two secs and the status LED flashes blue, indicating pairing mode.
The Garmin Varia Radar RLT510 now shows up on your Edge device as “Radar” whereas previously it had been identified as a Varia light. Although if you really want, as with any of the sensors, you can rename them
From there it is straightforward. Going out for a ride? Switch on the Garmin Varia Radar RLT510, and then your Edge unit. The wifi-esk signal symbol in the top right of the unit screen means you are connected and ready to go
As you ride along, the signal symbol stays in the top right of your display to tell you that everything on the system it was working. This is important for two reasons, unlike ANT+ Smart Lights like the Cycliq Fly 12CE which will autostart when you power up your Garmin, the Radar system doesnt active. You must manually power the system on. Secondarily the connected symbol works to tell you this things are STILL connected, if your Radar runs out of juice. Yes you’ll get a few heads up noticed on the Edge before it died, but when it does, you’ll also lose the conntected symbol, so as too not to lull yourself into a false sense of security about the lack fo cars behind. The minor caviat being that other Smart Lights will keep the connected symbol active as well, so there is still some care to be taken anyway
Crucially the system is entirely unfazed by parked cars or people. You can cycle down busy streets, and its only triggered cars and larger objects moving towards you. Which is how this type of radar system should work.
It’s worthwhile just sitting at the side of the road when you first go out with the system installed, just to see how it functions, as traffic approaches and then passes you
When a car is approaching you and gets to within 150meters, the unit gives a beep. A dot appears, and the edges of the screen turn red. At which point, I generally move in towards the side of the road
As the car gets closer, so does the red dot. So you are not getting a static notification “there is a car”, but more of a changing proximity warning that is much more useful.
If there is more than one car, you get more than one dot – simples. However, it is only when all cars behind you, within the range of the system, have passed, that the screen will flash green to confirm there is no vehicle within range behind now, at which point I move back away from the side of the road again
The Garmin radar system works by a speed differentiation, so here the system is only able to pick up objects moving towards you. That includes riding with friends, so far it hasn’t been phased when I was caught by a group of 20 or so riders. As mentioned above, Garmin has produced an expanded number of Edge units now, which also support the Varia Radar system, even down to their smallest Garmin Edge 130.
You don’t get the colour change with the screen – well the unit is black and white of course, but you do get the familiar chirp, and cars on the side of the screen. It should also be noted that this isn’t a feature of the Garmin Varia Radar RLT510, as the current Edge models also support the original Garmin Radar device
I’ve actually found the system to be a THOROUGH pain in the neck in both the city and the town – lots of cars in both, who knew?!
However when out on the country lanes, either fighting into a headwind, speeding along, or just chatting with friends, then the Garmin Varia Radar RLT510 comes into its own as a safety device, warning you of an approaching car, and letting you get into line. Then joining your conversation after the car has passed
I haven’t had issues with riding in a pack with the radar, but I have occasionally found the issue with a moped, or motorbike behind our group keeping the same pace, so the system isn’t foolproof, but I’m certainly not taking it off my seat post!
Garmin Varia Radar RLT510 Conclusion
On one side, Garmin has a fantastic and unique device in the Garmin Varia Radar RLT510 which I’d actually consider a device useful enough that people could really be tempted to move from a rival GPS head unit to Garmin in order to get access to the Varia Radar – whether saving some cash by going with the last generation or this Garmin Varia Radar RLT510 with the integrated daylight running light.
That for me is also a slight sadness. Garmin has licensed out the ANT+ smart light protocol. As a result, we have smart lights from the likes of Bontrager, See.Sense and Cycliq. Garmin should license out the ANT+ Radar network to other companies, to support broader uptake they have created a cycling safety device which is THAT important in my mind – particularly when we look at the nature of our congested roads today.
I have found that the Garmin Varia Radar has changed my riding style, in that I ride further out in the lane when there is nothing behind and move closer to the kerb when there is the *beep* of traffic approaching. Not only does this mean that I’m more aware of what is going on around me, but also means that most of the time I’m cycling on better tarmac away from all the rubbish at the side of the roads.
I’m going to give a cautious 4/5 here, but with a TG Recommend too. If you already have sufficient numbers of bike lights, then you may be better off saving yourself about £80 and buying the previous generation unit – I cant fit the Cycliq Fly 6 CE, SeeSense Icon and new Varia on my seat post together.
However, if you feel that you also need to upgrade your rear-facing bike light, then you get a great two for one with the Garmin Varia Radar RLT510