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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.
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.
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.
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.
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|Tested:||by Hannah for 6 weeks|
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