Garmin Varia

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Rob Hawks

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Mar 19, 2024, 7:02:38 PMMar 19
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Interested in hearing from randonneurs who have this or similar items (unit that gives you info on cars approaching from the rear). I'm pretty sure I'm going to get this with my REI rebate, but wanted more input first.

If you have this, do you like it? Was it worth it? How big of a deal has it been for you?

Thanks
rob


Travis Ruth

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Mar 19, 2024, 7:08:14 PMMar 19
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Hi Rob,

I've got the Varia radar + light. I use it connected to a Wahoo GPS.

It's great. I won't ride without one anymore. It gives me a bit of info, but it also flashes at fastly approaching vehicles. By default the head unit would beep every time there's a car behind but I found that very annoying and turned the sound off.

Battery life isn't great for randonneuring. It lasts about 6 hours with the light on low.

Travis



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Noah Swartz

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Mar 19, 2024, 7:13:05 PMMar 19
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AIUI there's a video one and a radar one, from what I've heard the radar one works better
But as always, it's good to read DCRainmaker's detailed review on these things: https://www.dcrainmaker.com/2020/05/garmin-rtl515-rvr315-cycling-radar-review.html

JinUk Shin

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Mar 19, 2024, 7:43:11 PMMar 19
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I have the ebike specific one which I used during PBP.  It costs a bit more unfortunately but fits our use case much better.  I was able to use a 10kmah battery and run it for the entirety of PBP.

https://www.garmin.com/en-US/p/874099

The difference is:

1. It does not have its own internal battery. There are different connectivity options (I'd use the USB-C option)
2. It only mounts via 2bolt, but it comes with a Flange adapter so you can mount it using the Garmin Quarter-Turn capability.

In actual use, its slightly more sensitive than the regular Varia (detects cars a little farther).  

The regular Varia can also run off battery; the issue is that the battery connection can get lose and cause your Varia to randomly turn off.  I was using this option for a long time until the e-bike specific Varia came out.

Mike Sturgill

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Mar 19, 2024, 7:48:28 PMMar 19
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Hi Rob,

I have the Varia RTL515. It's the best piece of kit I've ever purchased for cycling. It's incredibly accurate. I connect it to my Wahoo and it shows me up to 6 approaching vehicles at a time. Here are some of my favorite capabilities.

1) It gives me an audible and visual alert in addition to the approaching vehicle line. The audible/visual alerts have 2 colors and sounds which tell you the relative speed of the approaching vehicle(s).
2) It's extremely good at discerning cars from bicycles. I think there needs to be ~5 mph delta between you speed and the approaching vehicle speed. So, you can see bike approaching until they get on your wheel at the same speed, then they disappear.
3) It's also amazingly sensitive to approaching vehicle when you have a lot of riders behind you.
4) Battery life for me has been in the 12-15 hour timeframe. Some things that shorten the battery life is cold (<40 degrees) weather. Lots of approaching vehicles (i.e. riding on a freeway shoulder) because the flash speed goes up whenever a vehicle approaches. This is to alert the vehicle. On relatively quiet roads, I almost always get 14-15 hours of battery life
5) I can also plug it into an external battery while running. I have a small lipstick battery that I Velcro to my tube for any ride over 200 miles. That will double the battery life.
6) It charges insanely quickly. I have, on occasion, plugged it into a small battery that I always carry in my top tube bag. I once got a "low battery warning" and rode for 1.5 hours to a control. The Radar still functioned. I plugged it into my battery for the 15 minutes that I was at the control. It took me an additional 3 hours to complete the ride and I didn't receive an additional low battery warning.

I should also say that my chosen mode of operation is flash mode. This maximizes battery life to what I've quoted above. I also turn it off at every control while I'm there. Again, to maximize battery life. I think the newer ones (mine is ~3 yrs old) have a "sleep" (not sure if that's the correct term) function. When connected to the computer, the computer can tell the Varia to go to sleep. This happens, for example, when the rider stops. I saw this functionality on a new Varia with a Garmin 1040.

Anyway, I think you'll love it!
-Mike

Francois Clement

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Mar 19, 2024, 7:58:34 PMMar 19
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Hi Rob,
I've been a Varia user since the RTL 500, the rectangular version, and find them very useful. I added the RTL 515 a few years ago and use both all the time.
I have the radar/light paired with Garmin Edge 1030, 1040 and a watch. For the most part they are accurate, though there's an occasional false target (one location near the Apple campus) or not sensing a vehicle that moves in range from the side at your speed. In city traffic the beeping can get annoying however on the lightly traveled or back roads and descents the beeping is a good thing. I do have bar end mirrors and use them to confirm traffic approaching.

Battery life dependent on the light mode and the amount of traffic over time. I've had anywhere from 5hrs to 9hrs of life on a single charge on brevets. On the RTL 515 you can plug in a USB battery pack (mirco USB) and power the radar/light so battery life can be nearly limitless.

There are a few software features on the Edge head units that allow you to control the type of light pattern or to even disable the light yet still have the radar functionality. The other is a Garmin IQ app called "My Bike Radar Traffic". It's a data field that can be configured to display the number of vehicles that have passed, the speed at which they are approaching (relative and/or actual), speed of last and distance. The app will also write that data to the FIT file so you have a record of the data. Info about the app available from the Garmin IQ store https://www.mybiketraffic.com/about/

The manner I use my radar/lights on brevets is usually with the light off and radar on as I have a Cygolite tail light as the primary light. That'll allow me to get the longest battery life from the unit. Since I have two units I'll have the second as a spare for when the first one dies. On the longer brevets/rides I may bring a battery back-up and cables for the unit and my phone to recharge when needed.

Francois

Joshua Haley

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Mar 19, 2024, 9:06:36 PMMar 19
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Same experience as Travis. I hook mine up to a battery bank and can get a decent time out of it. However, if the wire is loose it will turn it off, and it's not water resistant while charging. So on sunny days, I'll leave it on. Rainy days I usually save it for when I'm riding solo.

Josh

Howard Zabell

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Mar 19, 2024, 11:39:52 PMMar 19
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Hi Rob,

I have been using the RTL515 for the past 4 years or so and love it. I have paired it with both a Wahoo Elemnt Bolt and Garmin Edge 1040 solar, and found both to play well with this unit. Max battery life is in flash mode, but I'm mindful of using that when in a group. Battery life is 5-8 hours depending on traffic levels, and I charge on the fly with a portable charger as needed on longer brevets. I supplement this with a dynamo powered tailight and a small portable chargeable rear light for triple redundancy.

In a nutshell- well worth it, highly recommended.

Howard

On Tue, Mar 19, 2024 at 4:02 PM Rob Hawks <rob....@gmail.com> wrote:

Roland Bevan

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Mar 20, 2024, 1:41:53 AMMar 20
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Like everyone else said - just get it. Only problem is you'll never want to ride without it (at least on road).
  -Roland

Rob Hawks

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Mar 20, 2024, 12:08:01 PMMar 20
to Roland Bevan, SF Randonneurs
Should be picking it up today.

DCRainmaker chided Garmin for not using usb-c ("c'mon Garmin, you can do it!") and other comments mentioned the on-bike charging issues. I see not much has changed since I had a Garmin 810. The 810 at that time was an improvement in that one could charge while using, but when you disconnected the external battery, the device automatically went into shutdown mode.

I'm eager to see if I will fall into the same category as those that called the device a gamechanger and they don't want to go without.

rob

mitch.i...@gmail.com

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Mar 20, 2024, 2:00:29 PMMar 20
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+1 on using the e-bike version of Garmin Varia eRTL615 with the add-on USB-C cable. I held off on purchasing the Varia with built-in battery as I wanted something that would last the longest brevet I would use it on. The run-time is only limited by the size of battery I plug into it. As a reference, I have used it on solid red for 10 hours with all four charge level dots on the Anker still lit. The Garmin cable connector is water tight and the USB-C extension cable can be made water tight with electrical tape. 

Eric Larsen

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Mar 20, 2024, 3:59:37 PMMar 20
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Question: do you want to ride behind one? (e.g. is the light blinking and blinding the rider behind you?) Just wondering.
Eric

mitch.i...@gmail.com

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Mar 20, 2024, 4:05:16 PMMar 20
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Good point. That's also the benefit of the eRTL615 with an external battery pack. I have it configured for steady on and don't have to worry about the external battery running out of power because of that. It's easy to change the flash mode on my Garmin Edge 1030 Plus in the menus when I want a different mode.

cheers,
Mitch

lisa charlebois

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Mar 20, 2024, 4:26:48 PMMar 20
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@Eric Larsen - I'm 100000% with you.

Riding behind these lights a living nightmare. 99% of the time the user doesn't switch it to peloton mode, so it's flashing in your eyes. And beyond irritating on long brevets. Not to mention the endless beeping from the car alarm that goes off non-stop.

I have one...and only use it on solo rides on country roads in Ottawa. I get the benefit, but oof, not a fan.

My two-cents that no one asked for ;)
cheers
lisa


ken jessett

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Mar 20, 2024, 5:48:01 PMMar 20
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I can sense cars coming up behind me, I would never want any device that clouds my innate ability to use all my senses.

Ken J.
RUSA# 3759

Eric Norris

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Mar 20, 2024, 6:30:22 PMMar 20
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Amen to that. I’ve been complaining for years about the results of the “taillight arms race” and the super-bright lights that make it impossible to ride behind many bikes at night.

I understand the mindset that says that a superbright taillight is more visible and makes you “safer” at night. But I believe that there’s a point beyond which added brightness doesn’t really make one safer. Taillights are only one part of an overall nighttime safety strategy, and they shouldn’t be overemphasized.

Lee Mitchell, the very well-known supporter of NorCal cycling who probably spent as much time as anyone alive driving behind bicycles at night, once told me that the most visible piece of reflective gear is an ankle band. The combination of reflectivity and the distinctive up/down motion helps drivers notice you and identifies you as a bike.

Want a brighter taillight for use in the day? Get a separate one for day and a less bright light for nighttime, or choose a light from Portland Design Works (or others) that has a day/night setting.

--Eric Norris
campyo...@me.com
Insta: @CampyOnlyGuy
YouTube: YouTube.com/CampyOnlyGuy 

Rob Hawks

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Mar 20, 2024, 7:53:52 PMMar 20
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Too bad that the Varia doesn't have a solid mode, or a low setting, or, a version without a light! Someone should tell Garmin to consider that.

rob

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Noah Swartz

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Mar 20, 2024, 8:01:53 PMMar 20
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A lot to consider

For contrast I rode with someone yesterday who had one and it was a very reasonable brightness, but I can't say with confidence which version it was or if it was in peleton mode or not. But it leads me to believe that every offending light likely has a mode that is tolerable for other riders while still bright enough to alert drivers.

mitch.i...@gmail.com

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Mar 20, 2024, 8:09:10 PMMar 20
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Reposting without email thread burying the attachments.
From the Garmin Varia eRTL615 manual (see attached below)... can I get a "what? what?"

cheers,
Mitch
Garmin Varia eRTL615 Device Overview.png
Garmin Varia eRTL615 Light Modes.png

Francois Clement

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Mar 20, 2024, 8:18:35 PMMar 20
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Rob there is a version without the light https://www.garmin.com/en-US/p/669024/pn/010-02252-00
The battery life is rated at 7hrs and I'm not sure if it works with an external battery connected.
The RTL515 battery and light output specs are here https://www.garmin.com/en-US/p/698001/pn/010-02376-00#specs

Francois

richar...@gmail.com

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Mar 20, 2024, 11:41:25 PMMar 20
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Great point Eric! I recall doing the Central Coast Double and Lee driving past for support and commenting on my ankle bands

The other point is having different levels of illumination.

It’s best to have:

  1. Helmet taillight
  2. Bike frame taillight
  3. Ankle bands (required by state law)

 

I recall when doing a brevet in Japan that it was mandatory for riders to have a helmet taillight

 

Always lots of opinions – But I also can’t  ride close behind an over  bright taillight.   

 

Richard McCaw

408-838-9863

 

 

Bill Brier Jr.

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Mar 20, 2024, 11:51:09 PMMar 20
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I have the RTL 515 and like others, have been very satisfied with it. While I had no big expectations, it is a helpful aid. By no means does it replace looking over your shoulder when turning. It actually detects cars much further back than I can see with a quick glance, so I always check the radar then look over my shoulder. It’s really nice to be alerted of cars well before you can hear or see them but in city traffic the audible alerts are too annoying.

A couple of complaints are it would be nice if there was a switch or control to easily turn off/on audible alerts. I keep the sound off most of the time. It would also be nice to have a radar only mode for longer battery life. I’ve gone 11 1/2 hours before getting a low battery warning. 

Bill Brier

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JinUk Shin

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Mar 20, 2024, 11:54:30 PMMar 20
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The 515 runs while charging the problem being it turns off when the light is unplugged.  You can imagine this being an issue but it did fine for me like this through 2021-2022.  Easy to just reach back and turn it back on.  

Mike Hrast

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Mar 21, 2024, 10:35:21 AMMar 21
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I have an older model that was given to me I have no room to mount this on my seat post. So I carry it in my middle pocket of my jersey and works fairly well but it would be good to know if others have the mounting issue and their solution. Photos would help as well

Mike

ps; how did this impact the battery life of your computer 
Sent from my iPhone

On Mar 20, 2024, at 8:54 PM, JinUk Shin <jinu...@gmail.com> wrote:



Tim Beloney

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Mar 21, 2024, 11:57:42 AMMar 21
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Haha I see what you did there!

Also too bad you can’t turn the volume off!


Tim Beloney 

On Mar 20, 2024, at 4:53 PM, Rob Hawks <rob....@gmail.com> wrote:



JinUk Shin

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Mar 21, 2024, 12:25:04 PMMar 21
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Regarding the other discussion happening in this thread, the lights on the Varia are quite subtle and not overly bright.  Not sure why that popped up.

And regarding this somehow "cloud[ing] your innate ability to use all of my senses", that's absolutely innane.  

Bill Brier Jr.

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Mar 21, 2024, 2:20:33 PMMar 21
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I mounted mine on the back of my saddle bag using a KOM Cycling Saddle Bag Clip Mount. Also bought a saddle bag with a built-in mount. Ideally the radar should be mounted high enough to not get interference from the rear tire. 

Bill Brier
Screen Shot 2024-03-21 at 11.15.38 AM.png
Screen Shot 2024-03-21 at 11.16.05 AM.png
Screen Shot 2024-03-21 at 11.15.54 AM.png

Robert Sexton

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Mar 21, 2024, 3:41:53 PMMar 21
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I run my 515 with the light off.    I get enough runtime for a 300k.   

I turn off the audible alerts in the garmin and use the screen alert only.  



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Bill Brier Jr.

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Mar 21, 2024, 4:08:28 PMMar 21
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Sounds like you can turn off the light from the Garmin head unit leaving the radar on. This is not available from a Wahoo (that I know of) and the button on the light only has three options, none of which are radar with light off. 

Bill Brier

Steve Saeedi

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Mar 21, 2024, 4:13:44 PMMar 21
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Often out of simplicity I turn off the radar light from the button on top. It cycles through Solid - Heartbeat - Blinking, and then off. 

Steve

On Mar 21, 2024, at 14:08, Bill Brier Jr. <wbr...@gmail.com> wrote:



Bill Brier Jr.

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Mar 21, 2024, 4:41:25 PMMar 21
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I think you mean "standby mode" which does turn off the light but also turns off car detection. 

Bill Brier


Screen Shot 2024-03-21 at 1.37.56 PM.png
Screen Shot 2024-03-21 at 1.28.45 PM.png

Steve Saeedi

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Mar 21, 2024, 5:01:34 PMMar 21
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I use a Garmin head unit, with the light off, it still detects individual vehicles approaching. Is the firmware version on yours up to date?

Steve

<Screen Shot 2024-03-21 at 1.37.56 PM.png><Screen Shot 2024-03-21 at 1.28.45 PM.png>

Bill Brier Jr.

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Mar 21, 2024, 5:04:00 PMMar 21
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I'll try updating the FW. Are you turning the light off from the light button or the Garmin head unit light mode settings?

Bill Brier

Steve Saeedi

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Mar 21, 2024, 5:31:45 PMMar 21