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Verdict: 
Really good lights, but price, weight and mounting options hold them back slightly
Weight: 
280g
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Garmin Varia Smart Bike Lights
7 10

The Garmin Varia Smart Bike Lights are an ambitious move into lighting from Garmin, integrating some interesting features. The ability to control elements from a computer and the unparalleled light coverage are particular highlights. However, there are some elements that could be improved, not least the price and mounting options.

After dominating the bike computer market for many years, Garmin has branched out with a range of smart accessories. Within this sits the Varia Smart Lights, a head light, tail light and remote that connect to a Garmin Edge device.

> Find your nearest dealer here

> Buy this online here

The first place to start is the head light, which is the most imposing element given that it is a 48x92x40mm aluminium box that sticks out the front of your bike.

As a regular light it is very powerful, pumping out 600 lumens with four settings – high beam, low beam, auto beam and flashing. It's not something that you would want to point too high as a regular car headlight is only 100 lumens more powerful than this.

Garmin Varia Smart bike Lights - mount and remote set up.jpg

Garmin Varia Smart bike Lights - mount and remote set up.jpg

It has several mirrored surfaces surrounding two high power LEDs, which mean that it not only creates a well defined rectangle further down the road, but also lights around the front wheel too.

What sets this apart is its smart capabilities that come from pairing it with a Garmin Edge. These allow the beam to either move closer to your front wheel at lower speeds or further away when you're moving faster. If it is used with a Garmin Edge 1000 it can also detect the light levels and adjust the light accordingly. I couldn't test the light levels as I was using it with an Edge 520, but light movement based on speed is very good, clearly moving further and nearer based on my pace.

But this is also one of the drawbacks: to be able to use these features you obviously need to have a Garmin Edge. It currently works with the 25, 520 and 1000, all significant additional outlays. Even just having the fundamental speed to beam distance element requires an investment of at least £100 for the Edge 25, a further £300+ for an Edge 1000 for them to work to their full capacity. That's in addition to the £239.99 RRP; a big price for a set of lights.

Garmin Varia Smart bike Lights - on mount.jpg

Garmin Varia Smart bike Lights - on mount.jpg

Attaching the headlight to the bike is through a reinforced out-front mount, with a male Garmin mount on the underside and female on the top. This lets you put your computer on the top and the light hangs underneath. The light needs to sit here because it is on the large size for your average handlebars, but with this being the only way to currently mount the light, it is fairly restrictive. It would be nice to have more opportunity to fit this elsewhere.

Another reason for the reinforced mount is because of the front light's not insignificant 225g weight. It is not going to be something that people would want to take up a Cat 1 climb.

At the back the tail light fits with the familiar Garmin mount, which can sit on a couple of different brackets. It is simple to fit and the different mounts provided mean a variety of ways to place it on the bike.

Garmin Varia Smart bike Lights - rear mount.jpg

Garmin Varia Smart bike Lights - rear mount.jpg

The rear is made up of seven LEDs and pumps out 55 lumens of light, which is about as much as you need to make sure you are seen at night.

The smart aspects of the rear light do not extend to the same complexities as the front. It can be turned on or off and have the sequencing changed to one of the four options (three degrees of solid beam and flashing) from the Edge 520 unit. It also changes based on the light levels if using the Edge 1000.

Garmin Varia Smart bike Lights - rear mount 2.jpg

Garmin Varia Smart bike Lights - rear mount 2.jpg

An interesting element of the rear light is that if you have two within the 'network' you can signal left and right when approaching a turning using the included remote. (You can buy the front and rear lights separately – £159 for the front, £59.99 for the rear.)

The rest of the remote's use comes from being able to essentially use the front light as a car headlight, so you can switch from full beam to dipped with a press of a button. This is especially useful if you don't have an Edge to make use of the smart elements.

Garmin Varia Smart bike Lights - remote.jpg

Garmin Varia Smart bike Lights - remote.jpg

In terms of battery life, the front light has a claimed 2.5 hours of use from a 6 hour charge and the back light has a 4 hour life from a full charge if used on the brightest setting. These are broadly accurate based on what I found. The battery levels of both can be checked from an Edge device, but they also have a red flashing LED to warn you that they are running out of juice. Although the 2.5 hours for the front might not seem that long, for the performance it gives in that time, it is understandable.

> Check out our guide to the best front lights here and the best rear lights here

Are they worth the money? That's a hard one. The headlight is undoubtedly the best light I have used for lighting the way, and the smart element is fantastic for when you are moving at speed in the dark. The trouble is, to make them work properly and use every capability it's a £550+ outlay. Plus the mount limits placement and it's a heavy unit to have on the front of your bike.

I have no doubt that if you can afford these lights then you will really like them, but the price is very prohibitive, and it does seem slightly off-putting that to get them to work properly you need to spend even more.

Verdict

Really good lights, but price, weight and mounting options hold them back slightly

road.cc test report

Make and model: Garmin Varia Smart Bike Lights

Size tested: n/a

Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?

Garmin says: "The Garmin Varia Bike Light Bundle reacts to your riding to provide you with optimum lighting levels at all times. The bar mounted remote makes manual adjustments quick and easy."

It is aimed at those looking to have the most visibility at all times, even when travelling at maximum speed.

It achieves these goals to an extent, but to get the full experience the person also needs to have a Garmin Edge 1000, which is an additional, considerable cost.

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?

Dimensions: Headlight: 4.8 x 9.2 x 4.0 cm; Tail light: 3.8 cm x 9.2 cm x 1.7 cm

Weight: Headlight: 222.0 g; Tail light: 52.0 g

Modes: Headlight: High beam, low beam, auto beam; Tail light: Continuous, pulse

Lux (headlight use only): 100 Lux at 10 meters

Lumens: Headlight: 600; Tail light: 22

Battery life (high power mode): Headlight: 2.5 hours; Tail light: 4 hours

Charge time: Headlight: 6 hours; Tail light: 2 hours

ANT+®: Yes

Water rating: IPX7

Rate the product for quality of construction:
 
8/10

Very well built, with solid aluminium used throughout the headlight and a durable plastic used for the tail light. It also uses the Garmin mounts system, which has years of proven stability, which is always nice.

Rate the product for performance:
 
9/10

They work fantastically, bringing considerable illumination and visibility out on the road, whilst adding in the smart elements that are particularly useful when training in dark conditions.

Rate the product for durability:
 
8/10

Everything is made well, battery life is good and if they were to fall off (unlikely) I would be very surprised if they broke.

Rate the product for weight, if applicable:
 
6/10

Headlight is very heavy for a bike light, but tail light is much lighter.

Rate the product for value:
 
5/10

Expensive to start with and then considerable expense to get the full features.

Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose

Very well, the front lights up the road very well ahead and has the smart sensing that means you can feel more confident of going faster without suddenly coming across an unexpected turn or pothole.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the product

The illumination from the headlight is second to none.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product

The pricing and limitations on features without other specific devices.

Did you enjoy using the product? Yes

Would you consider buying the product? Maybe, if the price of both lights and computers dropped.

Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes, again with the above reasoning.

Use this box to explain your score

It's a very good lightset, but it's expensive (especially if you want its smart capabilities and don't already have a Garmin Edge) and the mounting options are limited.

Overall rating: 7/10

About the tester

Age: 27  Height: 6 ft  Weight:

I usually ride: Cannondale Supersix Evo 6  My best bike is:

I've been riding for: 5-10 years  I ride: Every day  I would class myself as: Experienced

I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking

George spends his days flitting between writing about data, running business magazines and writing about sports technology. The latter gave him the impetus (excuse) to get even further into the cycling world before taking the dive and starting his own cycling sites and writing for Road.cc. 

When he is not writing about cycling, he is either out on his bike cursing not living in the countryside or boring anybody who will listen about the latest pro peloton/cycling tech/cycling infrastructure projects.  

12 comments

Avatar
Prosper0 [106 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

ludicrously massive, expensive and over-engineered. I reckon theyll sell about 50 of these.

Avatar
Dante256 [27 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

There is a video showing how the light beam changes with speed on TitaniumGeek

http://www.titaniumgeek.com/gear-reviews/garmin-varia-lights-smart-light...

 

 

Avatar
mike the bike [971 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

 A long time ago you could buy a cigarette case with a radio inside.  Imagine that, a built-in radio that allowed you to fill your ears with Desert Island Discs as you filled your lungs with assorted carcinogens.  Why did they do it?  Because they could.

Avatar
Nixster [380 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Based on my Edge 510 experience one firmware update and the lights will stop talking to your Garmin.  I'd never trust the rear light, I'd have a constant nagging doubt that the Garmin had decided to turn it off.

Avatar
nickminshull [12 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Really like the look of the front light luckerly I've got a garmin 1000 so that'll save me a bit on the expense because it is expensive! Would be good for my new commute as it now takes me down country lanes. But Santa is on his way soon so might see if a little elf could drop one in my stocking!!! 

Avatar
Peowpeowpeowlasers [536 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes
Prosper0 wrote:

ludicrously massive, expensive and over-engineered. I reckon theyll sell about 50 of these.

It isn't that large and it at least uses a proper beam pattern that doesn't dazzle oncoming traffic.  Compare that to your average "blind everyone 'cos I'm the most important person here" light.

Avatar
joemmo [1164 posts] 2 years ago
1 like

Looks like Garmin took their inspiration from all the ludicrous junk on kickstarter and threw it into production before anyone else could think of it.

Avatar
robthehungrymonkey [175 posts] 2 years ago
0 likes

Looks like a proof of concept type product. But does seem quite clever. 

I'm more interested in the rear light + remote combo, how much is the remote? I would quite like the option so switch on and off whilst still riding. It would have been very helpful riding through Belguim in Biblical weather at the weekend.

Avatar
spin cycle [73 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Would have been interesting if Garmin could have utilised the speed/beam tech from the front light for the rear.  So when you brake the rear light comes on or gets brighter.

Avatar
Bez [619 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

2.5 hours runtime? For £240? It might be bright but that limits its appeal somewhat: it wouldn't even get me to work and back.

I notice, too, the usual Garmin approach of refusing to support older models of Edge. They continually show that they really don't like people who buy their stuff but have the audacity not to just throw it in the bin as soon as they release something else.

Anyway, how about beam shots? Have they managed to keep the beam below the horizon? Am I the only person in the world who gives a toss about this?  22

Avatar
oldstrath [904 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
Dante256 wrote:

There is a video showing how the light beam changes with speed on TitaniumGeek

http://www.titaniumgeek.com/gear-reviews/garmin-varia-lights-smart-light...

 

 

 

He seems to like the beam - to me it looks ridiculously  narrow, but always hard to be sure how well a camera actually represents  the reality. 

Avatar
oldstrath [904 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
Bez wrote:

2.5 hours runtime? For £240? It might be bright but that limits its appeal somewhat: it wouldn't even get me to work and back.

I notice, too, the usual Garmin approach of refusing to support older models of Edge. They continually show that they really don't like people who buy their stuff but have the audacity not to just throw it in the bin as soon as they release something else.

Anyway, how about beam shots? Have they managed to keep the beam below the horizon? Am I the only person in the world who gives a toss about this?  22

According to the Rose website it is STVZO compliant,  so yes, I guess it is below the horizon.  I suspect it isn't  really  'like an automotive headlight', because  I doubt it has a true main beam. So quite why it's  better than the Ixon or the (sadly gone) Saferide is mysterious.