Garmin Varia lights get clever

Connected lights self-adjust based on rider speed and ambient conditions

So-called ‘smart’ bike lights have been launched before (notably, from Irish company See.Sense) but Garmin’s new Varia set is the first we’ve seen that pairs wirelessly with a cycling computer to automatically control its output based on rider speed.

When linked to a compatible Edge GPS-enabled computer, the Varia front light will actually adjust its aim with speed, pointing further up the road as you go faster and closer in front of you as you slow down. Garmin even includes a handy (albeit bulky) all-in-one mount that combines both devices on to a single stalk.

When paired with a compatible garmin edge computer, the varia front light will adjust its aim based on your speed: when paired with a compatible garmin edge computer, the varia front light will adjust its aim based on your speed
When paired with a compatible garmin edge computer, the varia front light will adjust its aim based on your speed: when paired with a compatible garmin edge computer, the varia front light will adjust its aim based on your speed

There's a sharp cutoff on the beam pattern so as to not blind oncoming drivers and riders

Like the new See.Sense Icon, the Varia front and rear lights will also adjust in intensity with changing ambient lighting conditions. However, whereas the Icon (and other See.Sense lights) uses onboard sensors to gauge its surroundings, the Varia requires a secondary Edge computer – and only the latest Edge 1000 model at that.

Of course, either Varia light can still be used on its own if you’re not already Edge-equipped. Simply tape the on-board buttons as you normally would or use the included ANT+ wireless remote. If you connect two Varia rear lights together, you can even use them as turn signals to warn approaching drivers of pending changes in direction.

The rear light boasts a claimed 22 lumens of output: the rear light boasts a claimed 22 lumens of output
The rear light boasts a claimed 22 lumens of output: the rear light boasts a claimed 22 lumens of output

The rear light's linear array of LED emitters cranks out up to 22 lumens in a variety of patterns

Claimed output for the front light is 600 lumens with a sharp upper cutoff so as to not blind oncoming traffic. Rear output is capped at 22 lumens. Run time for the front is 2 1/2 hours on the highest setting and four for the rear. Both lights are rechargeable via on-board micro-USB plugs.

All that technology does come at a hefty price – both in terms of weight and cost. The suggested retail price for the complete front and rear combo kit is a substantial $300 / £240 / €299 / AU$389, and at 392g all in (not including the semi-requisite Edge computer), the Varia will add nearly a full pound to your bike.

A wireless remote makes it easier to control the lights, plus you can even use them as turn signals if you have two rears mounted: a wireless remote makes it easier to control the lights, plus you can even use them as turn signals if you have two rears mounted
A wireless remote makes it easier to control the lights, plus you can even use them as turn signals if you have two rears mounted: a wireless remote makes it easier to control the lights, plus you can even use them as turn signals if you have two rears mounted

The included wireless remote is handy and tidy

In addition to the considerable weight and questionable value, we can’t help but also feel some reservations about the need to pair the Varia lights to a pricey Edge computer for full functionality.

As always, though, time will tell. Stay tuned for a full review in the coming weeks.

James Huang

Technical Editor, US
James started as a roadie in 1990 with his high school team but switched to dirt in 1994 and has enjoyed both ever since. Anything that comes through his hands is bound to be taken apart, and those hands still sometimes smell like fork oil even though he retired from shop life in 2007. He prefers manual over automatic, fizzy over still, and the right way over the easy way.
  • Discipline: Mountain, road, cyclocross
  • Preferred Terrain: Up in the Colorado high-country where the singletrack is still single, the dirt is still brown, and the aspens are in full bloom. Also, those perfect stretches of pavement where the road snakes across the mountainside like an artist's paintbrush.
  • Beer of Choice: Mexican Coke
  • Location: Boulder, Colorado, USA

Related Articles

Back to top