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Garmin Varia RTL515



Reliable alert system for being overtaken, with a very good rear light
Great rear light
Alerts you about overtaking objects well before you can see or hear them

At every product is thoroughly tested for as long as it takes to get a proper insight into how well it works. Our reviewers are experienced cyclists that we trust to be objective. While we strive to ensure that opinions expressed are backed up by facts, reviews are by their nature an informed opinion, not a definitive verdict. We don't intentionally try to break anything (except locks) but we do try to look for weak points in any design. The overall score is not just an average of the other scores: it reflects both a product's function and value – with value determined by how a product compares with items of similar spec, quality, and price.

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The Garmin Varia RTL515 combines a radar and a rear light. The light is bright, while the radar gives you an effective early warning for 'objects' overtaking. Both work well, and made me feel safer on the road, but the price is premium.

My initial thoughts on this radar system were the same as Dave Arthur's before he reviewed the previous version a few years ago: why do I need this? I can look over my shoulder, and I can hear cars approaching.

Yes, you can do both those things. Or you can add a mirror, which is cheaper. But the Garmin will tell you that an object is going to overtake you before you can see or hear it, and without having to take your eyes off the road in front of you.

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When the Garmin detects something, it'll give you a distinct multi-tone sound that is loud enough to hear over any wind noise. On a clear open road, quite often when I hear that sound, I'd look over my shoulders and only just be able to make out whatever is coming up behind me. The quoted detection distance is 140 metres; in real life that translated into impressively far away. On winding roads that distance is obviously shorter, but if the radar can't see it, chances are your eyes won't either.

2022 Garmin Varia RTL515 - boxed.jpg

If, like me, you think that is useful and will make you feel safer on the road, and you're prepared to spend £169.99, you can stop reading now and just go and buy one.

Overtaking objects

You might have noticed that I've not said 'cars' overtaking. The radar doesn't know what is coming up behind you. It just knows that there is something that is going faster than you, closing the distance, and will have to get around you if it is continuing at the same speed.

Could be a car, could be an artic, could be a tractor. Could be a fellow cyclist. I don't think it matters – I want to know something's going to overtake me first; what is of secondary importance.

The radar also attempts to tell you how fast the overtake is going to be, by changing the colour in the sidebar of whatever you've paired the radar with from amber to red – more about that in a minute. I found this slightly less useful; the overtakes don't consistently feel faster with the red colour, or less fast with the amber colour.

2022 Garmin Varia RTL515 screenshot 2.jpg

Also, the radar can't tell you how dangerous the overtake is going to be, as that depends on the road conditions, oncoming traffic and how close the pass will be – all things the radar can't predict. In other words, it just tells you something's coming up behind; it's not going to stop a crash – you still need to keep your wits about you.

Alert reliability

I didn't experience any false negatives with the radar; I can't recall a situation where something overtook me without the radar telling me about it.

Riding in a group, I did experience a small number of what you might call false positives, where the radar beeps but there is no danger, as other cyclists triggered the warning. It didn't happen often enough to be annoying, though.

2022 Garmin Varia RTL515 - 4.jpg

What's also useful is that in this situation you can mute the sound from your chosen head unit. This also comes in handy when you're riding in traffic busy enough where 'object approaching' is basically always true.

Pairing options

The RTL515 connects over Bluetooth and Ant+. You can pair it with your Garmin head unit or watch of choice, but also a Wahoo Elemnt, Hammerhead Karoo or Stages head unit. There's a phone app, and thanks to the Bluetooth connectivity, third party apps can connect too – RideWithGPS, for example. You can also buy a separate dedicated head unit for £44.99 if you prefer riding without a phone or GPS unit, but you do want radar.

Hammerhead's Karoo 2 is my head unit of choice, and this is what I used for testing the radar. Setting it up is easy – just bung the Garmin radar in pairing mode by pressing the (only) button on the top for long enough for the little sidelight to go purple. The head unit will detect two sensors: one for the radar and one for the light. And that's you set up.

On the Karoo, there are no setup options for the radar; reading other reviews, it looks like you do get some on Garmin head units, such as the choice of showing the sidebar on the left or right of the screen, and whether you get a single tone or multi-tone alert. For the light, you can choose the default light setting.

When you start a ride, the Karoo will now do the sound and show a sidebar when the radar detects something. Like I said above, the sidebar will be amber for what the radar deems a 'normal speed' approach, and red for a faster approach. When the object has overtaken, or is no longer detected, the sidebar turns green. There is a little car icon for each object detected in the sidebar too, useful to know if more than one object is coming up.

2022 Garmin Varia RTL515 screenshot.jpg

The light will switch to the default option you've chosen in settings, and switches off when you stop a ride. You can change the light setting on the head unit while riding, like you can mute the radar sound while riding.

The Karoo also shows alerts for connection dropouts, which happened a handful of times in the more than 1,000km I've used it. The connection restores itself pretty quickly without me having to do anything, so no biggie. You also get low battery warnings.

In all, the user experience of the whole system feels sorted; there isn't anything I'd want to see changed.

Rear light

Just like the radar, the rear light works really well. I've used it mostly on what is called 'fast flash' in the Karoo settings, which translates to 'day flash mode' in Garmin speak. For me, this flash pattern and brightness are just right and better than most other dedicated rear lights. Visible, but not annoying. Bright, but not blinding.

Obviously not visible to you as the rider, the flash pattern changes when a car (or other vehicle/object) approaches, to try to make you even more visible to the driver.

Whether the driver being aware of your presence will always mean a safe overtake with plenty of space is another thing. Wouldn't that be nice.

Battery life and charging

On day flash mode, the quoted battery life is 16 hours. In real life conditions, a recent nearly 300km audaxy/eating contest type ride confirmed that to be about right.

Charging is via the Micro USB port on the back of the light; it'd be nice to see USB-C here, but as the form factor is exactly the same as the previous version, I can sort of see why it isn't.

2022 Garmin Varia RTL515 - back.jpg

Mounting options

The radar uses Garmin's quarter-turn mounting interface, and comes with a rubber band-on mount to go on a seatpost. You get three inserts to go on the mount to suit your seatpost shape: V for aero, square and round.

2022 Garmin Varia RTL515 - mount.jpg

There are plenty of other mounts available from Garmin and third parties for attaching it to your saddle, saddle bag, child seat and so on.


Okay, £169.99 is a lot of money, and that is assuming you already have a head unit or phone to pair it with.

Yes, you can do without, and yes, a mirror does a similar thing for less. However, this radar alerts me to cars behind me before I can see or hear them; and because of the beep it does so without me having to keep an eye on anything but the road ahead of me. I didn't think I would before I tested this, but I can see myself getting my credit card out when this one goes back to Garmin.

> Buyer’s Guide: 10 of the best rear lights for cycling

As far as I know, there is nothing else on the market that does what the Garmin Varia does. You could buy just the radar from Garmin, the RVR315, and save yourself £40. I don't know why you'd do that, though, as the rear light on the RTL515 is really good, and it interacts with the radar, and so makes the radar (slightly) better.

It's also worth noting that Garmin has kept the price the same as the previous version. 


Before I reviewed the Varia, I didn't think I needed radar. Now, I'm convinced it makes my riding safer, because it alerts me to overtaking objects before I can see or hear them. The rear light is among the best in class in terms of flash pattern and brightness too.

Although at £169.99 it's expensive, it's not as costly as being hit from behind. It's up to you whether you want to spend your hard-earned on making that less likely.


Reliable alert system for being overtaken, with a very good rear light test report

Make and model: Garmin Varia RTL515

Size tested: n/a

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?

Garmin says:

"This rearview radar with tail light pairs with your Edge® bike computer or compatible smartphone to alert you of vehicles approaching from behind.

Reliable rearview radar lets you ride like you know what's coming.

One radar. Multiple display options. Pair it with your compatible Garmin device, your phone or both.

The Varia™ app has you covered if you're using your phone as a primary or backup display.

Shine brighter. Daylight visibility lets approaching vehicles see you from up to a mile away.

It's small, it's easy to mount, and it works with just about any bike.

Get more life out of your radar with up to 16 hours of battery life in day flash mode."

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

Garmin lists these details:


Varia™ RTL515 rearview radar provides visual and audible alerts for vehicles approaching from behind up to 140 metres away.


This radar works seamlessly with your Edge bike computer or compatible smartphone as well as select Garmin wearables or the optional radar display unit.


This smartphone app helps you increase your awareness by providing graphics '' plus tone and vibration alerts '' that indicate the position and speed of approaching cars.


When used with a compatible smartphone, Varia radar integrates with your favourite apps, such as Ride with GPS 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 road-use bicycle. The vertical design allows for better leg clearance and a perfectly comfortable ride.


Varia™ RTL515 features multiple modes, including peloton mode, which provides a low-intensity flash that is kind to other cyclists' eyes when riding in a group.


Time spent charging is not as good as time spent riding. Get up to 16 hours of battery life in day flash mode and up to 6 hours in solid mode.

Physical specs:

Dimensions: 98.6 x 19.7 x 39.6 mm

Weight: 71.0 g

Modes: solid, peloton, night flash, day flash

Lumens: 20 solid, 8 peloton, 29 night flash, 65 day flash

Battery life: 6 hours solid, 8 hours peloton, 6 hours night flash, 16 hours day flash

ANT+®: Yes

BLE: Yes

Water rating: IPX7

Viewing angle: 220 degrees

Rate the light for quality of construction:
Rate the light for design and ease of use. How simple was the light to use?
Rate the light for the design and usability of the clamping system/s
Rate the light for waterproofing. How did it stand up to the elements?

It's rated to IPX7.

Rate the light for battery life. How long did it last? How long did it take to recharge?
Rate the light for performance:
Rate the light for durability:
Rate the light for weight:
Rate the light for value:

As far as I know, there are no other products on the market that do what the Garmin Varia does, so it's impossible to say whether it's good or bad value in comparison.

As to whether it's worth the money – on the one hand, £169.99 is a big wodge of cash; on the other, I genuinely believe it makes riding safer so I'd say it's worth it.

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

It consistently warns you about objects closing in on you and the light works really well too.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the light

The light and the radar work really well.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the light

There is the occasional connection niggle, and the radar occasionally gets a bit confused with other riders behind you. The amber vs red warning on screen doesn't always correspond to how dangerous I feel the overtake is. I wouldn't call these dislikes; they are more minor niggles.

How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on

As far as I know, there are no other products on the market that do what the Varia does. You can buy just the radar device from Garmin without the rear light for £129.99, though I have to say I don't know why you would because the rear light is really good, and it makes the radar better.

Did you enjoy using the light? Yes

Would you consider buying the light? Yes

Would you recommend the light to a friend? Yes

Use this box to explain your overall score

The radar alert works reliably, and the light is really good too. I think this is an excellent product but it is expensive, so overall it's a 'very good' 8.

Overall rating: 8/10

About the tester

Age: 44  Height: 1.78m  Weight: 77kg

I usually ride: All of them!  My best bike is: Ribble Endurance SL disc

I've been riding for: Over 20 years  I ride: Most days  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: cyclo cross, commuting, touring, club rides, mtb, Zwift

Add new comment


JustTryingToGet... | 1 year ago

My partner suggested I start using mirrors but I absolutely will not. Not judging anyone else but I know myself and I am lazy. There is a risk that if I know what is going on behind me I won't turn my head, and if I don't turn my head, the dickhead behind me doesn't have advance warning.

Hirsute replied to JustTryingToGetFromAtoB | 1 year ago

Handy for looking a long way back though. You can get small ones for end bars.

HoarseMann replied to Hirsute | 1 year ago

Radar works well in combination with a mirror. You only need to look in the mirror when it beeps at you. £120 is still quite a chunk of cash, but I'd say it's worth it if you do a lot of country road miles.

IanMSpencer replied to HoarseMann | 1 year ago
1 like

The cost of quality protection against bad drivers is immense:

Cameras front and rear - £300+
Powerful excuse removing lights front and rear - £80
Mirror - £15
Radar £120

Cost of adequate protection from competent drivers:

Shoulder (for checking) - £0
Front and rear lights of decent quality - £40

Cost of self-preservation based on the expected incompetence and maliciousness of other road users: about £500.

You can argue about the cameras, but I've made aggressive, shouty drivers behave by pointing at my camera and shouting "on camera" though I have bluffed in the past. I see cameras as an investment in future safety but it needs the police to get it.

chrisonabike replied to IanMSpencer | 1 year ago
1 like

True.  Still doesn't cover the ones that are looking straight at you but just don't see.  Or the ones looking into their lap at the time.

Cost of protecting against them is a bit higher, but comes with other benefits.

IanMSpencer | 1 year ago

I ride with a mirror, matey rides with one of these. His beep triggers me to check my mirror. I think both would be ideal.

HoarseMann replied to IanMSpencer | 1 year ago

£120 is the cheapest I've seen it.

HoarseMann | 1 year ago

Big price drop on the Varia Radar £120 with light, £95 without. (Amazon link in article above)

HoarseMann replied to HoarseMann | 1 year ago

Blimey, they've sold out on Amazon within a day! Wiggle et al still claiming to have stock, but probably not for long. These Black Friday deals are starting a lot earlier.

Still got some of the radar only units at 89 quid on Amazon. 

Hirsute replied to HoarseMann | 1 year ago
1 like

Mines Arrived.  A bit smaller than I expected.

HoarseMann replied to Hirsute | 1 year ago

They're not quite as ungainly as you think they're going to be. The only thing I'm not too keen on is the rubber band for the mount - it doesn't work so well with the quarter turn as I find I need to use two hands, one to grip the mount to stop it shifting about whilst I attach the radar with the other. Pretty minor gripe though.

mark1a replied to HoarseMann | 1 year ago
1 like

This one used to be supplied with the original RearView and RTL510 models. If you have a round seat post they're rock solid.


HoarseMann replied to mark1a | 1 year ago
1 like

That's what I need - thanks!

JimM777 | 2 years ago

Unless you are pretending you're racing, I can't see that it offers any advantage over a good mirror that adds a little weight and air resistance, and which gives visual information on what is behind you. If you are also a car driver, as most of us are, checking the mirror frequently is automatic anyway. In addition, one of the most dangerous places are in a series of corners going uphill where there can be a large speed differential between a bike and a car. In these cases you might be better listening for vehicles rather than an alert from a Garmin.

mark1a replied to JimM777 | 2 years ago

One thing that it does that a mirror doesn't, is change the intensity and frequency of the flash as the vehicle gets closer, drawing the driver's attention. It often leads to an audibly detectable change in speed of approaching vehicles. 

Like a mirror, it's no replacement for looking over your shoulder, looking and listening. 

JimM777 replied to mark1a | 2 years ago

The whole point of a good mirror is it is a replacement for looking over your shoulder, so that that you don't have to look over your shoulder to see what's behind. You don't look over your shoulder when you drive a car, except for certain situations, and the same applies for a bike. In the same way as I'm aware when driving what's behind me and how fast it is going etc, the same applies when I'm on the bike. It's not difficult.

mark1a replied to JimM777 | 2 years ago

I think I'll stick to looking over my shoulder when turning right, etc thanks. Motorcyclists refer to this as "the lifesaver" for a reason. 

JimM777 replied to mark1a | 2 years ago

Duh, that's why I said "except for certain situations"!

jthef | 2 years ago

love mine except it is so long it takes a lot of the seatpost area which I use for a fly6 as well. it would be better for me chunkier but shorter.  

maxdabrit | 2 years ago
1 like

It's expensive . It may save your life. It will definitely make your riding less stressful. Why haven't you bought one yet ? 

JMark | 2 years ago

This has really improved enjoyment of my rides, previously I would ride to the left regardless, always nervous about what was happening behind, now I can ride in the middle of the lane knowing I'll get warning to pull over when something comes up behind me. Also has got me a better response to motorists as I get plenty notice of their approach, can pull over and help with their overtake.

Hirsute | 2 years ago

What sort of riding is this aimed at ? I guess not town riding.

chocim replied to Hirsute | 2 years ago
1 like

Definitely, you'd go mad with the incessant alerts. Country roads, though, another matter - works brilliantly in most cases.

jthef replied to Hirsute | 2 years ago
1 like

best in low trafic for alerts but in high trafic it gives you an idea of whats behind you. Great bit of kit.

Miller | 2 years ago

I have a Garmin Varia RVR315. That's the radar only, without a light. And... I've stopped using it. Not because it doesn't work, it absolutely does, but because using it makes me think about cars the whole damn time. It puts me on edge but I appreciate you may have very different feelings. It's for sale at a very reasonable price if anyone wants it. I made a video of what the garmin screen looks like when it's linked with the Varia, see it here (2 min):

adamfyfe | 2 years ago
1 like

I'm interested to know if anyone changes their road position as a reult of the alerts? i.e. moves to or from primary if a car's approaching.

awdickson replied to adamfyfe | 2 years ago

Absolutely! Super-useful when riding two abreast with a pal...radar bleep lets you know when to go in-line (if it's safe for traffic to pass). Really is a game changer as you can be relaxed riding side by side chatting away!

jthef replied to adamfyfe | 2 years ago

For me it makes me aware so I can make discions if needed, but when turning right in trafic it lets me know when best to check it's clear/ gap to signal and change lanes.

dodger | 2 years ago

I currently have the previous model RTL-510 which is brilliant on my solo commutes, not only does it have a bright light but it gives me awareness of vehicles approaching from behind and if they are at speed too, for me this is a god send. I also use a couple of IQ apps on the Garmin.
Tail Light Field ( which has a battery life and a Light on/off data field for stopping at cafes.
My Bike Radar Traffic ( which counts the number of vehicles that pass you in a ride

STATO | 2 years ago
1 like

I watched and read a lot of reviews before buying one of these, but ive had more false negatives (ie saying a car is not there) in a few rides than anyone else has had in ever.  Car pulling out of junction i just cycled past, overtakes me, no alert. Stop at a traffic light, car pulls up behind and 'disappears' so when it overtakes i get no alert.  Now both these times i was obviously aware of a car close behind and it isnt its purpose, so thats ok, but it seems to hold onto cars that drive up and follow behind me, so i dont understand why it loses them at other times. Also riding with a mate the constant alerts were annoying, as he dropped back then caught up as we were yoyo-ing up a climb or on descents.

It works perfectly fine out in the countryside for solo rides which is why i bought it.  Handy to pick up cars on twisty lanes, fast descents or if its just a bit windy and you cant hear cars. Unlike others i dont consider it something i could not live without though, perhaps because i dont tend to ride on many fast roads so its rare cars actually surprise me. I am happy I bought it tho, it achieves what i wanted from it. 


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