Garmin Varia Smart lights - review - Road Cycling UK

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Garmin Varia Smart lights – review

Garmin's new linked light system works well, but does add significant bulk

Bottom line, what do you want from a set of lights? A bright output, good beam dispersion, and multiple functions? Definitely. Linking to your Garmin head unit so that it adapts the beam brightness and positioning relative to your speed? Now, that’s new.

Garmin are best known for their GPS computers, but have recently turned their attention to using their knowhow to improve rider safety through the Varia range. The Varia range includes these lights and also the Rearview Radar (read our review here), which can warn of vehicles approaching from behind.

We’ve put both through their paces, but here let’s take a closer look at the Garmin Varia Smart lights.

Garmin’s Varia lights adapt to your surroundings and speed. Ride faster, and the front light throws the beam further, slow down and the beam points nearer to your front wheel, while the rear light gets better to alert cars

Pairable via ANT+ with three of Garmin’s smart-bike-specific computers (the Edge 1000, 520 and 1000 Touring), as well as a the Vivoactive HR multisport watch, the front light is capable of shifting it’s beam further up the road the faster you ride – compensating for reduced reaction times. Slow down, and it points closer to the front wheel.

Additionally, with the Edge 1000, which has a light sensor built in, its power output automatically increases (up to 600 lumens) to compensate for darkening light. Likewise, if you’re an early riser, the light will steadily darken as daylight arrives.

In practice the functionality works well, automatically adjusting to the given conditions of your ride – if you have one of the compatible units – otherwise, you’re left to rely upon the minimal options of full beam or low beam.

I achieved three hours’ battery life in the high beam, starting in already dim light and finishing in the dark, which is slightly over Garmin’s estimate of 2.5 hours.

In the bundle you also receive a rear light, which has the same brightness-adjustability when linked to an Edge 1000 unit, and is formed of five central LED’s and two wider placed ones.

The result is a strip-style light, that is easily visible from way back down the road when on full brightness.

Attach two, and you can use them in tandem with the remote to use as indicators. Again, a nice touch, if you feel indicator functionality will help you.

If you don’t have a compatible head unit Garmin also supply this remote, which is also mounted via their quarter-turn set-up to manually control the lights.

However, it’s here that the bulk of the units becomes a problem – in that if you have a head unit that won’t link to the lights, as well as the big headlight (it weighs a not inconsiderable 222g), plus the mounted remote as well, the cockpit can become incredibly congested, not to mention feel sluggish if you like to put the hammer down on your night time rides.

The Varia Smart Lights bundle also comes with a remote. If you have two rear lights, you can fix them both to your chainstays and use them as indicators

Still, this can be somewhat remedied by an additional dual quarter-turn mount that sits out from the handlebars, but that comes at an additional cost of £30 – on top of the total bundle cost of £249.99.

Despite all the innovative features when linked to an Edge 1000 (itself one of Garmin’s most expensive head units), this is an incredibly expensive set up, without any game-changing benefits.

Conclusion

Garmin’s Varia Lights are an innovative light system that pairs with selected Garmin Edge devices. It puts out plenty of light, front and rear, and adapts well to your speed and surroundings, but it does come with a weight penalty and a hefty price tag.

Pros

  •  Integrated or independent system with Garmin Edge head units
  • Dual unit available to keep bars clear
  • Adaptable light beam

Cons

  • Heavy
  • Links only with latest, and selected, Garmin Edge head units

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