Garmin Varia RTL510 Radar Tail Light Bundle - Initial Impression

gadgetnut

Active Member
Hello, all. My Specialized Como 5.0 came with an integrated tail light under the saddle but the sight of it is almost completely obscured by a Topeak MTX saddlebag. I tried an inexpensive tail light from Amazon, and I didn't find it particularly visible during the day or reliable. I have had very positive experiences with Garmin products and decided to try the Varia RTL510 radar tail light.

Yes, you read that right. It's a rechargeable battery operated tail light with rear facing radar to detect vehicles coming up behind you. The sensor mates up to certain Garmin trip computers and, in my case, a bundled wireless handlebar display. Key features:

• visual and audible alerts to warn of vehicles approaching from behind up to 459 feet (140 meters) away
• tail light offers daylight visibility up to a mile away, way before the radar sees the vehicle

The pieces are easy to install. Typically the radar tail light would be mounted vertically on the seat post, but I needed to modify the factory fitments slightly to attach to the Topeak rack mounting plate underneath the saddlebag.

I've used the system on a single twelve mile ride around town and I'm astounded how well it works. There's an audible alert (you can turn the sound off if you wish) and the display shows a single or multiple bogeys and their approaching proximity appears on an LED display with three colors based on the road conditions behind you. A green light means no cars are present, an amber light signals that a vehicle is approaching, and a red light signifies that a vehicle is approaching at high speed. I particularly like that the handlebar-mounted radar display unit includes a blue status light to confirm that the two wireless units are successfully connected.

During my ride with a friend on a bike behind me, the system did not false positive once, and up and down hills and around corners it faithfully alerted me to upcoming cars behind me. The system is designed to only alert to a vehicle or motorcycle gaining on you, though not pacing you at the same speed. The system has an IPX7 waterproof rating and both batteries charge with included USB cables. I rely on my Bush & Müller 701 rearview mirror but these automated alerts gave me greater confidence while I enjoyed keeping my attention and enjoyment focused more in front of me. Time will tell, but so far, I'm impressed!

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Ebiker01

Active Member
I use the LUPINE Rotlicht rear light /brake light. It has the most powerfull rear beam50-600lumens) with many dif. Settings for it. The Varia is just a distraction with their led’s, esp. in a busy city traffic, you will always have drivers behind you.
I see the only reason to know about passing vehicles coming from behind when i am about to make L/R or stop , change direction; so i use the mirror for this and then when i brake the Lupine does the brake light rivaling car rear brakes intensity. But new gadgets are nice , esp. If they are indee usefull , enjoy the Varia !
Update- i see now that thr Garmin Varia, it is only 60lumens at max. , priority is to have the cars notice a big bright red light when they approch the bike, where is the advantage if you notice them aproaching way too close ? It would keep me tense to have to monitor the red light on the Varia , for that price they should have made a Bigger battery to give it a powerful red beam. Or maybe like Tesla cars to swerve right away when detecting a dangerously too close vehicle. Auto e bike pilot...
 
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indianajo

Well-Known Member
Well, cool gadget. I have been unable to make a mirror work; the dancing images make me dizzy. Considering the probability of being run down by a cell phone addict in a large SUV, I should really consider one of these. I do ride in 55 mph stretches where I can't avoid it. I see drivers wandering onto the berm all the time, in front of me. People don't pay attention as well with dual wide lanes. In fact the whole electric bike purchase was to enable me to take alternate 30 mph routes on my 25 mile commute that have lots of steep hills. But you can be killed by an overtaking vehicle at 30 mph also. I had several close passes yesterday on back streets where I was riding way out in the lane because the edge of the street was all ice.
Welcome to the site, also.
Update, bought one.
 
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gadgetnut

Active Member
Hi, Angela, eBiker, inadianjo, thanks for the kind words and welcome. In the last week I've been on a few more rides with the Garmin Varia system.

I've had two or three false positive alerts. These occurred while I was turning a corner and I think it got fooled. Anyway, the alert flashed momentarily and then immediately disappeared and was barely a distraction. So far, the system has not missed a single car overtaking me. To clarify, it does not alert to cars going the opposite way, nor does it alert to a single biker behind you. In my experience it is tuned to alert to a larger target like a vehicle moving faster coming up behind you.

In regards to the visibility of its rear facing taillight, I find it plenty bright, almost blindingly bright, like a strobe. An order of magnitude more visible than the factory rear taillight that my Specialized Como came with.

I live on an island. My riding environment is trails, paths, country roads and small town neighborhood streets. We don't have dense traffic and I could see that this alert system would be distracting in a very busy urban environment with cars behind you constantly. That would be like putting a smoke detector in a smokehouse. Yep, still smokey. :) Where I ride there are occasional cars and I love the audible alert that a car is approaching. Speaking of Teslas, electric cars are so quiet you might not hear one coming up.

I still use my mirror. But the Varia allows me to enjoy the view forward while knowing I have a helper keeping an eye on the rearview. For my "country road" use, I can't imagine riding with out it. PS, they don't call me Gadgetnut for nothing! Happy Trails!
 
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indianajo

Well-Known Member
It's not that busy where I ride. Speeds can be 65 mph sometimes. Hope I can narrow the apeture to cover only vehicles in the bike lane, not vehicles in the lane left of me.
One question please. Does this unit require a smartphone to program? I'm not going to have a smartphone; google has too much control of one's life with a GPS position triggering customized "shopping opportunity alerts". It's bad enough erasing all the ads to refinance my student loan on my dumb phone. I paid cash in advance for college, 1968-72.
Another dumb question. Will the cable from rear unit to display stretch 74" from one end of my bike to the other. Plan to put the display up at the very front of my bike high on an angle so I don't have to look down all the time at the handlebars.
 
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Alaskan

Well-Known Member
Now that is what I call a true gadget! Thanks for the report. I have been eyeballing that one.
 

erider_61

Active Member
Will the cable from rear unit to display stretch 74" from one end of my bike to the other. Plan to put the display up at the very front of my bike high on an angle so I don't have to look down all the time at the handlebars.
The unit is wireless...

 

indianajo

Well-Known Member
I bought one. It does not require a smartphone to program. The taillight function is rechargeable via microUSB port and stays off long enough in blink mode that it will last much more than the 6 hours my previous taillight would last on a couple of AAA's. The radar function picks up any metal object approaching 5 lanes on either side of the rear vector, so it is not much use as to telling if you are in danger of being overrun or not. The nearest cars are picked up 20' on either side. Instead of mounting the display on the handlebar as suggested where I would have to look down at it, I put it on a 1/2" pvc pipe sticking up at the front of my battery mount. So I have a headup display.
 

gadgetnut

Active Member
Greetings, all. @indianajo, glad you got your Vario set up. Pretty slick that you have a heads up display! Sorry your earlier questions escaped my attention, I forgot to come back to this thread. Like you, I really like the effectiveness of the flashing rear taillight. It is long lasting on a single charge and very bright.

I've had very good experiences with the effectiveness of the alert system. My environment is bike paths and small town, 35MPH, two lane streets. Even though I have a really good rear view mirror and continue to rely on it, I find notifications on the handlebar-mounted Vario display (both audible and visual) instantly apprehensible, helping me keep focus forward.

There are no guarantees, are there? A distracted driver can still make a mistake and strike you from behind. A couple of recent experiences have heightened my awareness and understanding of how I fit in among all the moving parts on the street and I find this taillight system to be another effective piece in the toolbox.

Wishing all many safe and enjoyable rides.

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Rincon

Active Member
Typically the radar tail light would be mounted vertically on the seat post, but I needed to modify the factory fitments slightly to attach to the Topeak rack mounting plate underneath the saddlebag.
Thanks for this post. Very interesting product, especially if you already have a Garmin device. I can't believe how many absolutely elated reviews there are on Amazon. I ordered one and am waiting on delivery.

I have one question. How exactly did you modify the mount to fit your situation? I found custom 3D printed Varia RTL510 trunk/saddle bag clip mounts available on Shapeways that look like a solution.
 

gadgetnut

Active Member
Thanks for this post. Very interesting product, especially if you already have a Garmin device. I can't believe how many absolutely elated reviews there are on Amazon. I ordered one and am waiting on delivery.

I have one question. How exactly did you modify the mount to fit your situation? I found custom 3D printed Varia RTL510 trunk/saddle bag clip mounts available on Shapeways that look like a solution.
I used only the mounting parts that came with the kit. Rather than using the intended mount for the saddle, I used the second handlebar mount and drilled a hole so it would mount to the end of my Topeak rack. Thus, I've preserved the easy, fast, Garmin, twist-90° to detach convenience.
 

RetepBiker

New Member
I just want to confirm that the display unit that comes with the bundle does make noise when it spots something. I am planning on buying one but I am trying to determine if I need to get a computer or just the display unit. Thanks
 

gadgetnut

Active Member
Hello. Yes, the remote (wireless) display unit that comes with it does make an alert sound when an approaching object is detected. I really like that feature and rely on it. My eyes are forward, when I hear an alert sound, I look down to the display briefly and in my mirror to instantly bring up an awareness of what's coming up behind me. Incidentally, this alert sound can also be turned off, if you don't want the sounds.