Garmin Varia RCT715 Rear Light, Camera and Radar review

by 21

The Garmin Varia RCT715 camera and light will record footage of vehicles approaching from behind. It’ll also pair with a wide variety of devices, and can give you a warning sound that a vehicle is coming from behind.

  • Brand: Garmin
  • Product: Varia RCT715
  • From: Garmin
  • Price: £299.99
  • Tested: by Hannah for 6 weeks

If you spend any time riding on the road you’ve probably experienced some driving that you wish you’d caught on camera. This Garmin Varia RCT715 – sold as ‘Rear View Bike Radar’ – lets you do just that – as well as adding in some additional features to tell you what’s approaching from behind.

Image Quality

The key thing with a camera is that it captures footage that would be useful if an incident happened. You want to be able to read a number plate in a variety of conditions. On that score the Garmin Varia RCT715 is very successful, and even night footage is OK – still can be a bit vague, but moving images allow you to piece together enough information.

I’ve no real complaints on the image quality front – it’s just a bit of a faff actually getting to the footage and identifying the clip that you want.

Data showing – app activated when recording
Night footage.

Fitting to the bike

The unit is reasonably chunky (which is understandable considering its features) and comes with a fitting that is designed to sit on your seatpost, and shims to make it fit to a variety of seatpost shapes. You can fasten it there using two cable ties, or the rubber strap provided. An alternative saddle rail mounting kit is available at £32.99.

The rubber strap is rather thinner than many I’ve used for similar purposes, and lacks a handy tab to make it easy to pull on the rubber while slotting it into place. Given the cost of this camera I’d prefer something a bit more confidence inspiring and easier to manipulate.

A bigger gripe I have though is that – in contrast to so many bike accessories these days – it only has this single fitting in the box. Now yes, usually I might complain that the collection of plastic accoutrements that leaves the box with many a rear light is overkill, but here I think Garmin has been a bit short sighted. The fitting only really fits nicely onto a seat post (or saddle rail if you buy that kit).

I did manage to get it to fit on a pannier rack, but the angle was different to a seat post so the fitting needed some ingenuity, and if the camera is fitted to the very rear of your bike you miss recording close passes. I can imagine that many people considering a camera like this might be urban commuters with a child on the back – I don’t know how you would got about fitting this if you had a child seat on. Or a saddlebag, or substantial pannier bag. On a bike with a dropper post, it’s also a bit tricky since you need a fair chunk of seat post sticking out to fit the large mount onto.

A more versatile fitting design would be good in my opinion.

The Varia App

There’s a Garmin Varia app that goes with this light. You need to install it on your phone in order to access all the images you’ve recorded, as well as to make use of the rear approach function if you’ve not got a Garmin bike computer to pair it to.

Downloading the app and sensing the light was easy enough, but I found it very reluctant to connect to the Varia Wi-fi in order to access images. The help functions on the Garmin website were of little use, and the chat service took so long that I discovered a partial solution while they were still going through the process of diagnosing the fault.

Enabling the ‘local networks’ option seemed to give a partial solution, but even with that activated it remained hit-and-miss with actually connecting. I am not the world’s greatest lover of tech, and I found it was easier just to plug the thing in with a wire and connect it to my computer when I wanted to access images.

The files are recorded in fairly short segments, up to a maximum of five minutes, which I found a little frustrating when trying to identify a particular incident at a particular spot in the road.

Playback without downloading it to your phone is pretty slow to happen, meaning I found myself downloading footage that I didn’t actually need while trying to hunt for the right moment. Again, another reason to use a wire and a computer to review your files, in my opinion – playback is quicker.

There is only about two hours worth of recording capacity, meaning you need to download your footage regularly – don’t forget to keep your evidence on the day it happens or you might lose it as it gets taped over. You can save some recording time by setting the camera to only record when it senses a car coming, and for a minute after.

The rear sensor element of the app tells you when cars are approaching from behind. It splits them into orange – approaching – and red – approaching at speed. I couldn’t really tell the difference between a red or orange car in the real world out on the road, and I probably found the visual cue more distracting than helpful.

I never felt like it told me about a car I wasn’t aware of – although sometimes it missed telling me about one that was there. This seemed particularly to be the case when a car followed behind you, keeping pace. Then, the car symbol on the screen would sometimes disappear, even though there was clearly a car right on your tail.

If you’ve got a Garmin computer, you can connect it to that – which would save your phone battery. I don’t have a Garmin computer so can’t comment on how this performs, but using it should increase the accuracy of your speed data.

I can see the app perhaps being useful if you like to ride with headphones, or can’t hear traffic coming from behind you. Then it would, most of the time, give you an indication that something was coming. That said, on a busy road, there is something coming almost all the time, so perhaps this is most useful on a quieter country road, where you might not be expecting traffic every few seconds.

Note that if you run the app on your phone while you’re riding, the video recorded will include useful data like the speed you were riding at – but doesn’t if you’re just recording on the light without the app running. Once you’ve opened the app on your phone, you can close the screen down and it’ll run in the background, saving you a bit of phone battery power – if you don’t need to see the ‘approaching vehicle’ images.

Is it actually useful?

This was the question rolling round my head as a I rode along. It costs a fair chunk more than camera lights that don’t have the radar built in, so I was looking for clear functional benefit from the radar.

I think that if you struggle to hear traffic behind you but like to ride on roads where passing cars are an occasional feature, it might be useful. On busy urban roads, it’s probably easier to assume that there is a car approaching behind you most of the time than be distracted by constant warnings.

Were it not for its size and weight, I can imagine it could be handy when time trialling on roads. But these seem a fairly narrow range of application. To me, it feels like this is technology which could be useful were it to be developed further and applied to a slightly different use.

With the rear camera of the Garmin Varia RCT715, you do get great quality footage, and it can give you some information on close passes when it is fixed to your seatpost and you can see the vehicle in relation to your rear wheel. However, if you need your camera on the rear of your childseat (and therefore right at the back of your bike), then you don’t capture the close passes.

It obviously also doesn’t capture the person that pulls in too close in front of you, or overtakes and then immediately turns left in front of you. In my experience, there’s valuable information to be gleaned from a rear view camera, but what you really need is a pair of cameras (or a 360 degree camera) that will capture both the car approaching you from behind, coming alongside too close, and then passing you and pulling back in front of you.

If the radar technology was applied to sense cars passing close beside you, and then used that data to keep and flag up footage which likely contained close passes, I think that could be a genuinely useful addition.

Overall

If you struggle to notice cars coming from behind you, the Garmin Varia RCT715 will give you some added confidence, and the bonus of recording any incidents. But for me, I think that its price and relatively limited fixing options let it down, and misses the market for worried parents and cargo bikers.

Join our mailing list to receive Singletrack editorial wisdom directly in your inbox.

Each newsletter is headed up by an exclusive editorial from our team and includes stories and news you don’t want to miss.

Signing up to our mailing list is not only a great way to keep up-to-date on all things Singletrack but it is also a great, free way to support us.

Sign up to receive awesome editorial content from Hannah every week.

We appreciate how handing over your email address is a mark of your trust in us. Check your inbox for our confirmation email and click the link to activate your newsletter.
We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Check out a previous newsletter here

More Reviews

Last Coal V4 review

Last Coal V4 vital stats: full 29, 180mm fork, 165mm rear, 63° head angle, 77.1° effective…

The Grinder: Aeroe rack, Repente saddle, Madison glasses, Shimano shoes, Sinter pads, Muc-Off tool, Hyperlocal

Tools and tech for your convenience and comfort. Because suffering is overrated.

The Grinder: Zefal Bike Taxi Tow Rope, Continental Argotal, Fox Dropframe helmet, Zipp 1ZERO HiTop Wheels

Is that creak me or the bike? Real-world product reviews from real-world riders.

The Grinder: Wolf Tooth pedals, DMR cranks, Ceramic Speed SLT bearings, USE bar, Madison bib-trouser, Leatt knee pads

The only lateral stiffness is in our backs; real-world product reviews from real-world riders.

Review Info

Brand: Garmin
Product: Varia RCT715
From: garmin.com
Price: £299.99
Tested: by Hannah for 6 weeks
Author Profile Picture
Hannah Dobson

Managing Editor

I came to Singletrack having decided there must be more to life than meetings. I like all bikes, but especially unusual ones. More than bikes, I like what bikes do. I think that they link people and places; that cycling creates a connection between us and our environment; bikes create communities; deliver freedom; bring joy; and improve fitness. They're environmentally friendly and create friendly environments. I try to write about all these things in the hope that others might discover the joy of bikes too.

More posts from Hannah

Viewing 21 posts - 1 through 21 (of 21 total)
  • Garmin Varia RCT715 Rear Light, Camera and Radar review
  • 5lab
    Full Member

    I’m not sure many people outside of the Garmin ecosystem would be buying one of these, it’d be good to understand how well it works with an edge computer

    stwhannah
    Full Member

    @5lab Sorry, I don’t have such a computer, but I don’t know that many people shifting their kids around or commuting would bother with a computer, so I thought it still a relevant review.

    dudeofdoom
    Full Member

    It works with the Hammerhead Karooooooooo

    It shows cars on the left side of the screen with colour coding red means you probably want to be taking some action as its approaching fast, yellow somethings coming and goes green and disappears when all the traffics gone.

    TBH its for a specific ‘use case’.

    I have roads with very little traffic but what traffic you meet may be going fast so, its on you pretty quick and this does indeed give early indication before I can hear them.

    I ride alone and in the event of a hit and run I’d like a nice picture of the VRM, (assuming they don’t err scoop me up and bury me somewhere).

    If it all goes Pete tong there’s a slim chance that people will see what happened, if i’m not in a state to tell the tale.

    It’s actually one of those things that you’d poo poo until you’ve used it in the right environment, its good.

    (Interestingly Riding with headphones in Spain is a €200 fine)

    TiRed
    Full Member

    Seamless with Garmin Edge, but I think the sweet spot is the 515 rear light. The radar warning of rear traffic has been a revelation. I have a Fly 6, too, but leave that behind on road rides now (competition for seat post estate is tough). I also purchased the extra seat post mounts which are less bulky for the 515 than the 715 camera. I did however get a nice video from a club mate of my group riding from this device and it was good. You can take photos on the move from the Garmin too.

    Jeeble
    Full Member

    Paired with an Edge computer, the 515 has been a game changer for being able to relax a bit more on road rides. Nice and early warning of upcoming traffic from behind, and it even flashes them if they’re coming too fast at you.

    Not massively interested in the extra bulk of the 715 but like you say, sometimes it would be nice to have captured some evidence of the knobs endangering our lives on the road.

    winston
    Free Member

    515 is indeed great. Best used on country roads where cars are sporadic it helps in several circumstances:

    When turning off a major road to a minor and having to move out into the lane it helps you time moving across your lane  whilst you are looking ahead to oncoming cars in the lane you are turning across.

    When a car passes you on the road it normally obscures the noise of any subsequent cars behind it – the varia gives you warning there are say 3 cars behind you in a line so you don’t pull out after the first one passes thinking thats it. This is very useful on my commute as there are many narrow roads where I pull in slightly to let cars go by instead of holding them up for 3 km

    Helps when riding fast/downhill and the wind is obscuring car noise and you need to keep your eyes ahead for potholes etc and might need to ride round them into the lane.

    BTW almost everyone I know who uses one of these has a head unit, even on commutes or cycling to school with the kids. I’d completely forgotten it could be used with a phone!

    ratherbeintobago
    Full Member

    Reviews elsewhere suggest that the 715 is a bit crap as a) user-unfriendly app, and b) lack of image stabilisation meaning you can’t read the numberplates (which to me seems to defeat the object).

    footflaps
    Full Member

    2 hours of video is a bit limited, I had the Fly 6 and could record 6 hour rides on it (using a larger micro-SD card).

    scotroutes
    Full Member

    Call me a sceptic.

    I managed to buy a cheap 515 last year so thought it was worth trying out. I use it with an Edge 530.

    It works really well. Occasionally fooled in continuous traffic but it really shines out on the open road and will alert to approaching vehicles before I hear or see them. I use it to inform my road positioning.

    darlobiker
    Free Member

    <p style=”text-align: right;”>My mate bought one of these and has never looked back.</p>

    b33k34
    Full Member

    How long does the battery last? (did I miss that in the review?)

    I tried using a GoPro a few times but while you can easily and cheaply buy huge cards for recording, the battery life of a little over an hour meant it wouldn’t even cover my daily fake commute, let alone a longer ride. Which made it all a bit pointless.

    Bez
    Full Member

    Two hours’ recording capacity? So pretty useless then. My very old Fly6 takes SD cards that give absurdly large recording capacity, and has a battery life of something like 9 hours (as well as being able to run while charging), so it’s good for pretty much anything.

    I tried one of the non-camera radar units a few years ago and like you found it all rather useless. It didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know and was more of a distraction than anything. Besides, how are you supposed to respond? Jump into the hedge at every alert, or what? At the end of the day you have to ride as normal, but with more beeps. Which just gets annoying. I agree with you that they haven’t really thought about how the radar feature can add value. I’d like to see it record an estimated speed reading in the video, for instance: a speed differential between car and bike if there is no connected computer, else absolute speeds of both if there is. Your “close pass-o-meter” would also add value. Really the camera is a valuable tool for when things go horribly wrong and someone needs evidence to show a court and/or insurers; it has no other use really.

    Once again Garmin have some nice technology on their hands but don’t seem to be thinking enough about how the different facets of it can become greater than the sum of their parts. We’re nearly a decade on from the first Fly6, which was so obviously promising that I bought it on Kickstarter as soon as I saw it, and now that the big players are involved we’ve got something that it seems falls well short of that. Garmin eh?

    aberdeenlune
    Free Member

    The radar unit Varia 515 is brilliant, I don’t have the camera version. On narrow roads I can ride on the smoothest part of the road not worrying about what’s behind, knowing my Garmin will beep if anything is coming. I can then be ready for a car coming through.  It’s also great at showing the number of cars behind. Good to know it’s clear once they are all past. Before I had the radar I used to hate being surprised by a car coming past at speed seemingly out of nowhere. Not a nice experience.

    Duggan
    Full Member

    Another vote for the Varia 515 here, it really is great and not just for close pass warning. Its a bit like having an additional 6th sense and I really notice it if I have to ride without it for some reason.

    If I’m riding with a mate two-up on twisty lanes I can just get on with chatting with them and not constantly looking over my shoulder to see if we’re holding a vehicle up.

    Its also great for fast, long descents when you might want to move into the middle of the road at times but glancing over your shoulder can be more of a risk.

    Plus, everything people have already said up there^. Personally I hate my Garmin beeping at me so I just turn off the sound alerts for the Varia and use the visual alerts on my head unit.

     

    scotroutes
    Full Member

    It’s a shame @stwhannah wasn’t using it paired to a Garmin head unit. I’d be keen to see if her impressions changed any.

    Sandwich
    Full Member

    Besides, how are you supposed to respond? Jump into the hedge at every alert, or what?

    I use my older one with Elemnt units and they’re good for ensuring your road position is correct to deter the close pass out of town. In town I can see how many cars are coming up behind and then do a ‘lifesaver’ check after the last one goes past before moving to turn right. Like @Duggan mine is kept silent (commuting with noise on is a terrible experience).

    Depending on closing speed of the car the bar on the head unit turns orange or red.

    mogrim
    Full Member

    Where they’re good: quiet country roads. Fast descents where wind noise means you can’t hear anyone behind you.

     

    Where they’re crap: busy roads (country or town). Although it’s still a decent light, just overpriced (with features you don’t need) for the job.

     

    I love my 515. But then most of my riding is on relatively quiet country roads, and there it’s ideal.

    MiloBloom
    Full Member

    I have the light and radar unit (no camera) and its killer feature is that it flashes when it detects a car approaching. There is a huge difference in how people pass me (here in the US) when I use the Varia compares to when I don’t. I think the flash really gets driver’s attention.

    The notification by the radar on my head unit is very nice as well, but the pros and cons if that are summarized in the review. But for some reason no one ever mentions the flashing of the radar. Note that I use it in steady mode most of the time, I’m not sure what the radar does when it detects a car and is already in blink mode.

    As far as head unit vs. phone goes, I’ve never used the Varia with my phone but with an Edge 530 head unit it works exactly as described in the review.

    wait4me
    Full Member

    I’m not sure what the radar does when it detects a car and is already in blink mode

    The flashing speeds up the closer the vehicle gets to you. I use my 515 in this mode all of the time. I think it’s a great bit of kit. Always think a good indicator is if you’d replace something if you lost it or it died, and in the case of the Varia I’d buy another in a heartbeat.

    ahsat
    Full Member

    My dad has one of the rear light and radar units for riding round country roads as his hearing loss means he couldn’t hear cars over the wind noise, but could hear the beep (tbh riding alongside him, I found it damn annoying!). Worked really well for him and still uses it now as he doesn’t like riding in his hearing aids…due to the wind noise!

    MoreCashThanDash
    Full Member

    Couple of racers at our event yesterday were discusding them – one was hearing impaired and had found it really helpful, the other said it was the only thing that had kept her training out on the roads after too msny dodgy passes had rattle her confidence.

    Both race for amateur teams at national level, so not inexperience by any means.

Viewing 21 posts - 1 through 21 (of 21 total)

You must be logged in to reply to this topic.