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The Garmin Varia RCT715 is an all-in-one radar, camera and taillight. You're paying £350 for the convenience of having all three functions together – unfortunately even when they work correctly the confusing and flaky sum of the parts doesn't justify the eye-watering price.
Garmin does three versions of the Varia radar device – radar-only at £129.99, radar plus light for £169.99, or radar, light and camera for £349.99. Breaking these price increments down, you're paying £40 for a maximum 65-lumen light (6hrs life with 1080p recording going), and £180 for a 1080p/30fps camera.
Looking at these individual functions, £40 for a 65-lumen flashing or 20-lumen solid light is expensive – you can get the tiny-yet-75-lumen Lezyne KTV Pro Drive with 11hrs run-time for just £29 (up £4 since I reviewed it in 2019).
Similarly, a 1080p/30fps camera for £180 is steep – you can get that spec for just £105 with the Techalogic CR-1, with a 60-lumen light thrown in, as tested by Neil last year. These days 4k sensors abound, so 1080p looks literally last-decade.
So you appear to be paying £220 extra for around £120 or so's additional functionality over the base Varia radar unit. That may well be a premium you're happy with to only have to charge and mount/remove/manage a single device.
The RCT715 is compatible with no fewer than 97 Garmin devices, including what looks like all its watches and down to the most-basic bike units. Kudos to Garmin for ensuring the Varia isn't restricted to the higher-priced units.
In the box you get three rubber mounting blocks to suit aero, D-shaped (square at the back) or round posts. There are two triple-rung ladder straps that hold the Varia mount onto the rubber blocks and in place on your seatpost.
If you want to fix the mount permanently, Garmin provides three chunky zip-ties for the purpose.
The Varia has a unique keyed interface that inserts into the mount. The mount has a locking lever that then pivots 90 degrees, closing with a very audible and tactile snap. There's no way it's coming loose unheeded; it feels way more solid than the traditional Garmin quarter-turn interface.
The Varia charges via the provided USB-C cable into an IPX7-protected charging port, taking about five hours from a laptop port or three hours from a high-power wall charger. You know it's charging by the green flashing LED on the side, which goes solid once charged. You can see that it's charging via the app, but there's no percentage-charged indication.
Also on the back of the device is a twist-locked flush cap hiding the included 16GB memory card. You can go up to 128GB if you want to expand storage.
The vast majority of functionality is accessed by the Garmin Varia app – yes, yet another Garmin app to install. That's four and counting on my phone.
After you've installed the mount there's a live feed to the app to let you check the camera setup on the bike. This is handy to confirm it's not obstructed by the back wheel, mudguards and so on.
You turn the Varia on by a press of the larger of the two buttons. The light comes on and it starts recording immediately in the chosen mode.
Pressing the big button cycles through the light modes – from Constant to Peloton to Night Flash to Day Flash. If you press a fourth time then the unit then powers off – which is both counterintuitive and leads to inadvertent powering off. In the lit modes, powering off is achieved with a two-second-long press.
The small round 'camera' button toggles between recording (brief press) and not (long four-second press). A one-second press during video saves/locks the clip being recorded. Bon chance remembering all that.
The Varia uses the ANT+ Radar and Light Network protocol – so in theory any device from Wahoo, Hammerhead, Stages or Bryton et al following these standards should be able to pair with it.
I paired the Varia with my Garmin Edge 530. The 530 detected the Varia nearby and prompted me to put it into pairing mode. The Varia shows as a 'light network'. When connected there's a small three-curve wave icon in the top right of the head unit. In radar mode there are colour bars that appear on the sides of the display, changing colour, green or red, depending on the approaching vehicle's speed/perceived threat level.
As a light the Varia RCT715 is good enough – with four modes from a low-power 8-lumen 'Peloton' when riding with others, to a 20-lumen solid, 29-lumen Night Flash and the 65-lumen Day flash. Why you'd want only 29 lumens at night escapes me.
There's a small red LED on either side for side-on visibility, but these are so weak as to be effectively useless.
There are three video recording modes – off, on or when a vehicle is detected plus one minute after. You can choose 720p or 1080p, with or without audio.
The default video clip length is 90 seconds, but can be extended to 5 minutes. I highly recommend doing this, as the act of browsing a hundred clips after a few hours' riding is tiresome.
The crash-detected Incident recording is separate to other Garmin incident detection, say on your head unit or watch, and doesn't alert anyone – which seems a significant omission in a 'safety' device.
The camera overlays the footage with time/date, speed (both yours and any tracked vehicles) or GPS data. You can select to turn the overlays off, and adjust the speed unit and date/time formats. The GPS location comes from your Garmin head unit, or if you're not using a Garmin, it will capture from your phone via the app.
In the app you can view images/videos, download to your phone, erase and format the card. The Varia creates its own WiFi network for viewing and video and image transfer to your phone – but it's flaky and often needs restarting. Transfer speeds are very slow – a one-minute clip can take over one minute to transfer. Playing video using the app is interminably slow – videos sit buffering for sometimes a minute before playing, then stop frequently. I can't overstate just how poor the in-app experience is.
In terms of image quality, even at low speeds in bright sunlight number plates were unreadable at anything further than about 20 metres.
Below: passing parked cars in bright light at 20kph – the only one I could find on the whole ride that was legible.
And when overtaking closer than 20m but where speed differential is involved, it was hit-and-miss as to whether it captured a readable image because there's no image stabilisation at all. (Below: 52kph difference in bright sunlight.)
Fundamentally, this camera is only of use as corroborative evidence if someone hits you and sticks around or is identified by a third party – which makes paying the additional £180 for next-to-useless functionality pretty hard to swallow.
So the light is average, and the camera's decidedly overpriced and not really fit for purpose. Which leaves us with the radar functionality, the core reason for the Varia RCT715's existence.
Fundamentally, the Varia promises to give you alerts of approaching vehicles at ranges up to 140 metres. Alerts arrive either on the Varia itself with a chime that is hard to hear over road noise, or more likely through either your phone or Garmin head unit. If you're riding without a head unit, your phone can still give alerts even when locked in a pocket – haptic traffic warnings are a thing. On your head unit you get a small 'waves' icon top right to show it's connected and working, for peace of mind.
The radar has a 40-degree field of view, so as to detect vehicles that might be appearing around bends off-axis to your bike. While yes, I found the Varia was good at detecting approaching vehicles, a critical point here is that the Varia will not detect or show vehicles that are moving at or close to the same speed as you are. I noticed many times that it will advise a vehicle is approaching, then give the 'all clear' chirps/display – even though the vehicle may now be right behind you. There's basically no difference between a vehicle turning off and disappearing from the radar, and staying where it is behind you. Several times I had a rude shock, the Varia alerting me just as a vehicle was overtaking – it having snuck up on me without warning.
The Varia will also detect other things like cyclists or trains, if they are within the 40-degree field of view. Cycling alongside a trainline was an interesting experience, receiving the red-grade You're-About-To-Die alert when I'd just checked the road was clear.
The display can show up to eight vehicles, each appearing as an icon on the phone or dots on the head unit, but these are not reliable indications. Many times it reported one vehicle as two, and two vehicles as one. This can be a serious issue when you were only expecting one to pass, and a second follows closely afterwards.
Linking vehicle detection with recording mode was similarly fraught with errors – many times the 'only record passes' video mode either failed to trigger, or recorded lots of clips of empty road. If you wanted the Varia to act as evidence in a collision, this mode should be avoided in my experience. Another issue was where the settings would default back to original without warning.
In a similarly-flaky software vein, on a few occasions I had to unpair, delete the light from the app and re-pair to get it working again. I'm not alone in finding the app and software pretty awful – many respected reviewers have found the same.
The Varia RCT715 is a unique beast, incorporating light, radar AND camera. If you eschew the camera (and frankly, at this performance/app bugginess, you should) then options for radar+light exist.
As well as Garmin's own RTL515 for £169.99, which Iwein gave four stars, there's also the Magene L508 (aka Magicshine SeeMee 508) for around £125 that Dave rather liked, finding the radar performance on a par with the more-expensive Garmin.
Bryton also offers an ANT+-standard light+radar combo, the Gardia R300L, which costs £119.99. George currently has one on on test, so look out for the review soon.
I'm handing out two stars here when Iwein gave the radar+light variant four stars. This is down to the over-double inflated price for a camera that's next to useless at actually identifying vehicles – surely the main point of a bike camera.
You can buy just the Garmin RVR315 radar unit for £129.99 and get the traffic information that way, leaving you £220 to choose a better light, camera or light+camera package.
I really wanted to like the Varia RCT715. Unfortunately, unless you're absolutely set on the most-minimalist light+camera+radar setup using one item, and are happy to suffer with the terribly slow app and user experience, I'd recommend giving it a swerve. Likely it wouldn't see you if you did.
Poor app and camera performance, with a high price, means it's not a great option unless you need an all-in-one
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Garmin Varia RCT715
Size tested: (LxWxD): 4.2 x 1.7 x 1.3in (106.5 x 42 x 31.9mm)
Tell us what the light 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?
It's for people wanting alerts of following traffic, as well as a camera and light, all in one bundle.
IT LOOKS BACK WHILE YOU RIDE AHEAD
This rearview radar with camera and tail light continuously records your ride1. Plus, it detects vehicles approaching from behind and displays on your compatible Garmin device.
The built-in camera continuously records and automatically saves footage if it detects an incident.
Reliable rearview radar lets you ride like you know what's coming.
Control the camera right from your Garmin device, and access footage via the Varia™ smartphone app.
This compact device is easy to mount and fits most bikes.
Flex camera and tail light settings to maximise battery life.
Get up to 6 hours of battery life with radar, tail light in day flash and camera recording.
Keep an eye on what's behind you.
The integrated camera records what's behind you at up to 1080p/30 fps. So you can ride with peace of mind, knowing you'll capture clear footage if anything out of the ordinary is detected.
AUTOMATIC INCIDENT CAPTURE
Rest assured, this tiny camera has your back. It can detect if an incident occurs and automatically saves footage before, during and after the event.
WORKS WITH THE VARIA APP
Use this smartphone app to easily access your footage, transfer videos or customise camera settings such as data overlays.
Varia™ RCT715 has rearview radar that provides visual and audible alerts for vehicles approaching from behind up to 140 metres away.
MULTIPLE PAIRING OPTIONS
Pair and control the built-in camera with your Edge® bike computer or compatible smartphone as well as select Garmin wearables.
THIRD-PARTY APP COMPATIBLE
When used with a compatible smartphone, Varia™ RCT715 integrates with your favourite apps, such as Ride with GPS and more, to overlay your maps with rearview radar alerts.
Alert motorists to your presence as soon as possible with daylight visibility up to 1 mile.
Easily mount this sleek, compact device on the seatpost of almost any bicycle. The vertical design allows for leg clearance and a perfectly comfortable ride.
Stay powered for your longer rides with up to 4 hours of battery life with radar and tail light on solid high or night flash, 5 hours on solid low and and 6 hours on day flash – all with camera recording at 1080p.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the light?
Dimensions (LxWxD): 4.2 x 1.7 x 1.3in (106.5 x 42.0 x 31.9 mm)
Weight: 5.2 oz (147.0 g)
Light modes: Solid, peloton, night flash, day flash
Lumens: 20 solid, 8 peloton, 29 night flash, 65 day flash
Camera modes: Continuous, off, radar-activated
Camera settings: 1080p/720p, with 30 FPS
Battery life: 4 hours solid, 5 hours peloton, 3 hours night flash, 6 hours day flash (all with 1080p recording)
ANT+®: Yes (radar, bike lights)
BLE: Yes (radar, camera control)
Wi-Fi®: Yes (local network only)
Water rating: IPX7
Viewing angle: 220°
16 GB SD card included
Onboard accelerometer to automatically lock footage on incident detection
Camera control of Garmin Edge® and select wearables
Varia™ App provides convenient radar display, camera control and video transfer
It feels premium, which it should given the price.
The menu system is confusing as hell, as is the app.
The clamp is very solid and easy to use with gloves on.
Can't complain – it's IPX7.
Battery life was as described.
As a radar, it should be better, but it's as good as this stuff gets right now. As a camera, it's well below even basic expectations from a premium device.
It's durable and sturdily made, and IPX7 waterproof.
It's pretty heavy at 147g, but perhaps light considering what the alternative multi-item package would weigh.
Separate components are a better way to go.
Tell us how the light performed overall when used for its designed purpose
When riding, apart from the missed alerts, it's an OK experience.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the light
The radar, when it worked, but you can't trust it.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the light
The app user experience when viewing images. It's awful. And the poor image quality.
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
It's expensive compared with separate components that work the same or better.
Did you enjoy using the light? Nope
Would you consider buying the light? Nope
Would you recommend the light to a friend? Nope
Use this box to explain your overall score
The Varia RCT715 is below average – in terms of light output, the app quality, and the camera quality and functionality. Radar performance is a let-down for the price.
About the tester
I usually ride: Sonder Camino Gravelaxe My best bike is: Nah bro that's it
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: A few times a week I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, general fitness riding, mtb, G-R-A-V-E-L
Living in the Highlands, Mike is constantly finding innovative and usually cold/wet ways to accelerate the degradation of cycling kit. At his happiest in a warm workshop holding an anodised tool of high repute, Mike's been taking bikes apart and (mostly) putting them back together for forty years. With a day job in global IT (he's not completely sure what that means either) and having run a boutique cycle service business on the side for a decade, bikes are his escape into the practical and life-changing for his customers.