Try the Garmin Varia RTL515 – the radar that controls your back on a bicycle

Ergonomics and installation

The Garmin Varia RTL515 is a small device that measures less than 10 cm in height and 4 cm wide, by about 2 cm thick, not counting the assembly. The backlight is easy to identify at the top. The bottom that looks empty hides the radar.

A compact and well-finished case.

A compact and well-finished case.

Overall, the finishes of the RTL515 are very good. The plastics used give confidence in their robustness and the assembly does not reveal any defects. A small rubber cover placed on the back gives access to a micro-USB port to recharge the battery, non-removable. This cover guarantees IPX7 certification which guarantees a sufficient seal to use it even in the rain.

There is only one button on the Varia.

There is only one button on the Varia.

The only button on the box allows you to turn the radar on and off with a long press. When activated, the short pressures will switch between the different backlight illumination modes. It is possible to choose a fixed light (20 lumens), a night flash mode that reaches 29 lumens or a daytime flash mode that rises to 65 lumens. Finally, a “platoon” position reduces the power of the red light to 8 lumens so as not to dazzle other cyclists.

The clamp holds firmly in place on most seat stems.

The clamp holds firmly in place on most seat stems.

Weighing in at just 71 grams, the Varia RTL515 will not be felt when installed on a bicycle. The mounting system chosen by Garmin is both simple and practical. A plastic support is paired with a soft plastic end piece to better fit the upright where it is attached, without damaging it. A small rubber band holds everything in place. The box offers various sizes of laces and elastics to fit different amounts (seatpost, luggage rack, etc.). Installation and disassembly are very quick. Garmin offers optional screw support, probably to prevent it from being stolen.

In our tests, whether mounted on a seatpost or a frame rod, the Garmin Varia always held its place perfectly, even on roads that, however, shook the bike and its rider. .

The accessory can be installed in the luggage rack.

The accessory can be installed in the luggage rack.

This attachment fits into the radar box that attaches to it with a quarter turn. Again, simple, practical and effective. Installing and removing the RTL515 is very easy. The device stays in place on its stand without moving.

However, keep in mind that the radar field of view should be as clear as possible. Thus, on a bicycle whose seat does not rise very high and which is equipped with a luggage rack, the attachment to the seatpost may not be ideal. Sometimes it is enough to fix the slightly tilted device to fix it.

Holding the Varia RTL515 in a quarter turn.

Holding the Varia RTL515 in a quarter turn.

The Garmin Varia RTL515 incorporates Bluetooth connectivity that allows you to pair it with a smartphone, a Garmin watch, or a branded Edge bike computer. We tested with the Varia app on a smartphone.

Editor rating: 5 out of 5

User experience

Once connected to your smartphone, the radar works as long as it’s on and the Varia app is open on your mobile. The operation of the latter is minimalist. The smartphone screen shows a green band marked with a pictogram depicting a cyclist on two long vertical white bands symbolizing the road.

The Garmin Varia app and, on the far right, the Varia-compatible Ride with GPS app.

The Garmin Varia app and, on the far right, the Varia-compatible Ride with GPS app.

When a car approaching from behind is detected, the color of the strip changes. It is shown in orange when the speed of the oncoming vehicle is moderate and in red when the vehicle arrives especially fast. This visual signal is coupled to an acoustic signal that also varies depending on the speed of the approaching vehicle. Finally, it is also proposed to activate vibrations to indicate the arrival of a car. Once past the cyclist, a signal indicates that no vehicle has been detected and the bar is shown green again at the top of the screen.

The backlight allows you to see yourself from afar.

The backlight allows you to see yourself from afar.

The screen indicates a stained car and its icon approaches the top of the screen as it approaches the bicycle. This gives a good idea of ​​the distance between our rear wheel and the vehicle in question. It is assumed that the Varia RTL515 can alert the presence of several vehicles, up to 8 at a time. In practice, we rarely had more than 2 vehicles placed correctly. On the other hand, the succession is well detected, even if one vehicle is close to the next.

Garmin thought about not giving any warning to vehicles driving behind the bike at the same speed. This avoids overlapping alerts, especially in the city, where you are often at the same speed as cars in the middle of traffic. Another good idea, the flashing of the light accelerates when another vehicle overtakes us, which increases our visibility in front of it.

Luggage rack mounting is possible.

Luggage rack mounting is possible.

As long as its field of view is clear, the Garmin Varia RTL515 is capable of detecting vehicles up to 140 m away. A distance that we could not measure accurately, but which certainly exceeds 100 m. This is enough in the city, where it is assumed that vehicles must not travel more than 50 km / h. On departmental roads, vehicles traveling especially fast sometimes give the impression of being detected at the last minute. But here we can’t blame Garmin’s radar.

Among the complaints we may have, we highlight that the radar detects that something is happening, but that it is unable to differentiate between a cyclist, a car, a motorcycle or a truck. However, knowing what doubles us can be important in the attitude we adopt.

Various lighting modes are available.

Various lighting modes are available.

It also appears that the app is not systematically recognized as an authorized GPS to run in the background. During our test, when the application was not shown on the screen, it happened that the smartphone lost the connection with the Varia.

Strong points

  • Easy to install and remove.

  • Efficient.

  • Clear display of the application.

  • Autonomy.

Weaknesses

  • They may not fit on some seat stems.

  • No vehicle differentiation.

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