Garmin Varia Review

Sep 21, 2023 | Uncategorized

Garmin Varia 

Rear light + radar 

Tom Robertson Review 

I’ve always been one to keep up with the latest gear in the cycling world. I read new articles and quickly form opinions. When Garmin first introduced the Varia rear light a few years ago, my first thought was, “Who would pay that much for a blinking rear light?” Fast forward to 2023, and it’s become the one piece of equipment I won’t ride on the road without. 


The Garmin Varia is similar to most rear lights in that it’s a red, blinking light. However, it also incorporates a built-in radar. Once it detects a car coming from behind, the light changes its behavior, flashing continuously. If it’s already set to a flashing mode, the speed of the flashes increases. I’ve done a four-day bike tour on the same route for the last two years. In 2022, I rode it without a rear light and in 2023 I used the Varia. With the Varia,  I was amazed that cars seemed to consistently give me more space. The combination of the  bright light—which is visible from up to a mile away—and the changing flash sequence seems  to make a real difference. 


While it’s great to have the rear light, the power the Varia really holds is in the built-in radar,  which detects cars (and cyclists!) approaching from behind. The light/radar will sync with  various head units (it’s compatible with Garmin, Wahoo, and Hammerhead units), a Garmin  watch, or a smartphone via an app. When it detects a car coming from behind, it sends an  audible alert and displays a graphic on your head unit. Each car is represented by an individual  dot moving up the side of the display. Once all the cars have passed, the unit emits a different  sound to signal that the way is clear.  


While the radar can obviously work anywhere, it’s particularly effective on lightly traveled roads,  like those in Montana. I’ve been riding a lot lately in the Bitterroot Valley with my friend Rankin.  Typically, we ride on rural roads where you might not encounter a car for half an hour or more.  We often ride side-by side on these quiet roads, and previously, I would continually check over  my shoulder for cars. With the Varia, we are both alerted when a car comes up from behind  and it allows us ample time to slide in single file for the car to pass. 

The device also helps when riding solo. I did a bike tour on the Hi-line in Montana this past  summer and there are sections of that highway with minimal shoulders. Since traffic is relatively  light, I would ride well into the lane of traffic when it was clear. When a car did appear, the  Varia’s alert gives me enough time to move to the far right side of the road. The flashing light  alerts the car, and 95% of the time they move to the other lane and give me plenty of space.  


In talking to others that own a Varia, it seems our stories are similar. Initially, we all wondered  why anyone would spend so much on a tail light. However, after buying one, we can’t imagine  how we survived this long without one. Eventually, we all turn into Varia evangelists, telling all  our cycling friends how great it is and that they should get one, too. Seriously, you should get  one.