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.
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'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.
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.