Garmin Varia – a smart light for your bike
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Garmin Varia – a smart light for your bike

Patrick Bardelli
Zurich, on 16.04.2021
How long do we have to wait for spring? I recently asked myself this question as I switched on the light on my bicycle in «broad daylight». It seems we’re stuck in winter. Time for an intelligent bike lighting concept!

I was ready for summer mode. Or at least spring mode. My softshell wind stopper come-rain-or-storm bike equipment all set to disappear in the cellar until next year. Adieu, see you next autumn. But somehow, April seems to have something against my plans and serves me a cold plate of winter. Oh well. I guess I’ll just be wearing my waterproof softshell jacket and co. for a bit longer.

Keeping me warm and dry when I’m out and about: the waterproof softshell jacket Pro SL by Endura. Watch this space for a review of the jacket.
Keeping me warm and dry when I’m out and about: the waterproof softshell jacket Pro SL by Endura. Watch this space for a review of the jacket.

Smart lighting concept

Warm and dry is all well and good. But what about visibility? Sure, the orange jacket is hard to miss. Nevertheless, I feel uncomfortable without lights on my bike. That's why I attach the Varia UT800 smart bike light by Garmin to my bike and pair it with my Edge 130 bike computer. Now, I can control it via my GPS computer. Of course, you can also operate the Varia UT800 manually, without a paired computer.

Once it’s connected to the Edge, the lamp turns into a smart lighting system that automatically adapts to your speed. More speed equals more light, less speed equals battery-saving light intensity. If the computer has an ambient light sensor, which my one doesn’t, the lamp automatically adjusts the brightness to it to save battery power. In other words, Garmin is promising no less than perfectly tuned lighting at all times. I will test this in more detail in the coming weeks and months. As I said earlier, you can also manually set the five available light modes: power (800 lumen), standard (400 lumen), eco (200 lumen), night blinking mode (100 to 300 lumen) and day blinking mode (over 700 lumen).

At its brightest setting, the Varia UT800 delivers a steady 800 lumen of light. This means you can be seen from up to 1.6 kilometres away in daylight, according to Garmin. Let me rephrase that. You would be visible from that distance if you were cycling on a perfectly level surface and nothing were in the way.

In power mode, your battery should last 1.5 hours. Standard mode manages three, eco and night blinking mode both reach six and day blinking mode manage 20 hours. I wonder if Nicole Reist uses Garmin. During the Race Across America, the ultracyclist would have to charge the lamp about twelve times in day-blink mode if she cycled at her best time from 2018.

Travelling at the speed of light. Or something like that
Travelling at the speed of light. Or something like that

The Varia UT800 weighs 140 grams and can be attached to the handlebar with an aero mount or to your helmet with a helmet or friction mount. I went for the handlebar version, as I don’t like extra weight on my helmet.

What about the back?

The rear can cause quite a bit of trouble, too. The solution for this is called Varia RTL516 and is also made by that Swiss-American company based in Schaffhausen. Everything from a single source makes sense. And is easily integrated into the Garmin universe. My colleague Michael Restin tested the smart Backlight with its integrated radar in great detail quite some time ago. It works perfectly paired with my Edge 130.

The Varia RTL516 rear light with built-in radar.
The Varia RTL516 rear light with built-in radar.

First impressions

Say what you want about Garmin. I realise that many of you won’t be happy with their products. Sometimes Bluetooth doesn’t work as it should and sometimes the navigation isn’t intuitive enough. Besides, Wahoo is better anyway. That may all be true. Nevertheless, this smart lighting setup consisting of the Edge 130, Varia UT800 and Varia RTL516 works just fine for me. Birds of a feather flock together. Everything fits, everything pairs, everything works. I might upgrade the Edge from 130 to 530 at some point. The latter will provide me with an ambient light sensor and some training data, which I can never get enough of. For now, I just want it to be spring and to be done with lights and long trousers until October.

I want spring. Now!
I want spring. Now!

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Patrick Bardelli
Patrick Bardelli
Senior Editor, Zurich
What matters isn’t how well you play when you’re playing well. What matters is how well you play when you’re playing badly.

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