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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Really good lights, but price, weight and mounting options hold them back slightly
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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
Water rating: IPX7
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.
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.
Everything is made well, battery life is good and if they were to fall off (unlikely) I would be very surprised if they broke.
Headlight is very heavy for a bike light, but tail light is much lighter.
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.
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 helping companies deal with their cycling commuting challenges with his company Cycling for Work. He has been writing for Road.cc since 2014.
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.