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Garmin’s new Varia gear warns cyclists about traffic they can’t see

Garmin time trial
Shutterstock / Radu Razvan
Not one to rest on its laurels, Garmin introduced a new line this week — the upcoming Varia “cycling awareness products.” The company’s first two offerings are the Varia rearview bike radar, and the Varia smart bike lights with Varia remote. These breakout products seem aimed at the hardcore crowd, as is a good deal of Garmin stock.

Bike radar only makes sense, considering how exposed cyclists are to the multiple-ton metal vehicles with which they share the road. According to the US Department of Transportation, 49,000 cyclists are injured in motor vehicle crashes, and 40 percent of those accidents involve the cyclist being hit from behind. The Varia rear-view bike radar is designed with those statistics in mind, the aim being to alert both the rider and the driver behind them.

Aesthetically, the light looks like your average 8 LED rear light, albeit a bulky one. It’ll give you 16 lumens max, with five hours of battery power and two hours to recharge. With ANT+ capability, it will link to bike computers with that tech, and that includes a good deal of the mid- to high-end Garmin line. It has a basic water rating so you don’t have to worry about it shorting out in the rain. Weight weenies might not like the heft, though – it’s 2.2 oz, or 63.5 grams, which is pretty damn beefy.

The heft makes sense when you add the head unit. That’s another 28.5 grams, and another $100 — but hey, how can you put a price on your safety? Well Garmin did, and it’s $300 (plus shipping) for the whole shebang. Connect the tail light wirelessly to an Edge cycling computer – Garmin just put out another one, the 520 – or use the $100 head unit to display the alerts picked up by the radar.

The radar scans the road up to 140 meters behind the rider. It works with the head unit to show up to eight vehicles and the speed of approach. The radar display will show the “threat level” with different colored LEDs, while an Edge computer overlays the data on the big, bright LCD screen.  The rear light will increase brightness or flash to warn drivers of the rider ahead.

Luckily the tail light can work independently, though it makes little sense to pay $200 for a rear light if you don’t have a compatible computer or the head unit, since the rear light would only warn approaching cars, not you.

So, if you just need or want lights, try the Varia smart lights. They too  have ANT+ and integrate with Garmin’s Edge line of bike computers. The 200 lumen headlight has three modes (high, low, and auto), will last two and a half hours at max brightness, and uses GPS data from the compatible Edge device to project further when the cyclist is riding faster, and with greater focus. Drivers will likely appreciate the high-beam cut-off when riders pass without blinding them.

The 22 lumen tail light gives riders the typical solid and flash modes, but also gets brighter when the rider breaks to warn riders and drivers behind. Use two, and they can be controlled like turn signals from an Edge or the Varia remote, including adjustments to the pattern and intensity. As for battery life, Garmin says it’ll last you four hours on the road.

That said none of these have been cleared by the FCC yet, so they aren’t technically up for sale. If you really want them bad you can order from Garmin’s website now, but the fine print says “processing” will take 3-5 weeks. Probably just enough time to get the devices cleared. Very sneaky, Garmin.

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