Reviewed: Garmin Varia RCT715 Cycling Radar and Camera
The popular cycling rear-detection radar system from Garmin gets a big upgrade with video.
“Eyes” and “ears” in the back of one’s head
Tail light with claimed one-mile visibility
Works with some non-Garmin head units
Unit size and weight
Advanced video features only integrate with recent Garmin products
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I always ride with a radar, and the new Garmin Varia RCT715 improves on the previous Varia RTL515 with the addition of a rear-facing video camera. There are also some welcome incremental improvements, but being able to record audio and video brings a much-wanted feature to the innovative safety device.
The addition of the rear-facing video camera with a 220-degree viewing angle balloons the form factor of the Varia RCT715, and nearly doubles its weight compared to the Varia RTL515 with tail light. And the camera edition of the RCT715 is nearly three times the weight of the radar-only version (although both have about the same battery life).
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For comparison, the new Varia RCT715 measures 42mm x 106mm x 30mm and weighs 146g. The RTL515 is 39mm x 98mm x 20mm with a weight of 70g, and the smallest RVR315 is 39mm x 70mm x 20mm, with a weight of 50g.
How the Garmin Varia RCT715 0n-screen display works
Like the previous versions of the Garmin Varia, you pair it with a Garmin or Wahoo head unit (or an app) to get audible and visual feedback about traffic approaching from behind. To be sure, only the radar (and light network) features will work with non-Garmin devices; controlling and using video features requires a recent Garmin device with the latest firmware update.
On my Garmin Edge 530, objects detected by the Varia are displayed as white dots on an orange background for traffic closing the distance to me; on a red background when quickly closing the distance to me; and on a green background after passing me.
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While this on-screen visual can be displayed on either the left or right sides of my head unit display, I prefer the left side of the screen. An audible indicator for “all clear” can be toggled on or off, too, which allows me to keep my eyes up the road instead of on my Edge 530.
You can also configure the unit to beep or not when it detects approaching vehicles.
Reviewing videos from the Garmin Varia RCT715
Viewing and importing media saved to a Varia can be done with the app, or by connecting the Varia to a computer with a USB-C cable. This USB-C cable is also the means for charging the Varia. The firmware on the Varia sorts saved media to a separate directory, making the saved media files easy to find.
Playback via a Varia mobile app or an MP4 player (for example, QuickTime Player) is straightforward. The quality of still images and video taken with a Varia is on par with video and photos I’ve captured using a Garmin Virb action camera that’s several years old, and this is perfectly fine for Varia’s intended use.
One of the significant updates with the Varia RCT715 is the mounting hardware. With the additional weight in the new version, the ubiquitous quarter-turn mount — the same type that is used for attaching head units to computer mounts — is replaced with a much more robust system that locks the Varia in place. This mount is attached to my bike’s seat tube with a silicone band, which I opted for instead of zip ties to prevent any slippage. Getting this silicone band onto my frame was not quite as hard as mounting a tubeless tire onto wide rim (there was some swearing involved in the mounting process), and I feel confident that the Varia mount will not slip off my bike.
Garmin Varia RCT715 Configuration
The Varia RCT751 has two buttons on the left side of the unit. A larger button toggles power and the taillight flashing mode. In optimal conditions, the taillight is claimed to be visible up to a distance of about 1,600m. A second, smaller button acts to operate the video camera as well to snap still images.
Bluetooth and ANT pairing between the Varia RCT715 and other electronics is straightforward, and my Edge 530 stepped me through the process. Connecting the app to the Varia requires joining the device’s wireless network, which can be managed by the mobile app. The app provides straightforward configuration, as well as the ability to preview what the rear-facing camera will record. The app is also how you set things such as video resolution (1080p or 720p either at 30fps), GPS coordinates, timestamp, audio toggle, video duration, and more.
Video clips and stills are saved to the included microSD card. It’s much easier to look at both on a desktop than on the app. Once the card is full, the oldest files are automatically overwritten — a process that happens about once every 90 minutes when continuously recording. When the Varia detects an incident via an accelerometer, it will preserve the video recorded immediately before, during, and after it. The smaller of the two buttons on the side of the Varia allows one to manually lock a file so that it is not overwritten.
Garmin Varia RCT715 battery life
Battery life for the Varia depends on a variety of factors, including taillight flash settings, how often the radar detects an approaching vehicle and sends the data to a display, and how frequently and for how long a video clip is recorded. I get nearly 4.5 hours of use before I get a low battery warning.
The radar battery isn’t the only thing to look out for, though. I experience — and Garmin also acknowledges — an accelerated battery drain on my Edge 530 due to the constant signal exchange between the Varia and my head unit. This drain rate is also dependent on how frequently the radar and camera are triggered by objects closing the distance to me, too. My Edge 530 seems to handle this battery drain from the Varia RCT715 better than my Edge 520+ did with the Varia RTL515.
Garmin Varia RCT715 verdict
The only time I do not ride with the Garmin Varia is when I pin on a number. I most frequently ride in urban and suburban areas, so a video record of approaching traffic is a reassuring feature that I hope I will never need. Adding “eyes” in addition to “ears” in the back of my head provided by the Garmin Varia RTL715 offers another element of documentation, should I ever need it.
While $400 may seem on the steep side, the addition of the video is really nice to have for this bit of safety technology.