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Garmin Varia Useful in Suburbia?

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Garmin Varia Useful in Suburbia?

Old 04-02-23, 02:41 PM
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Garmin Varia Useful in Suburbia?

I have been considering a Garmin Varia since it came out but have always wondered how useful it is for my riding environment.

I ride mostly on on-road bike lanes in Irvine, where (a) the speed limit is high (50 mph on most arterial roads) and (b) there is moderate traffic such that (on average) a few cars would pass me every minute. The technology looks promising, but I am not sure how useful a regular stream of warnings would be. From everything I have read the Varia warnings are only based on closing speed; it cannot distinguish erratic driving or poor lane discipline.

So what say you, my fellow Southern California BF'ers?
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Old 04-02-23, 03:05 PM
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I find it very handy in my own little piece of SoCal suburban hellscape. Most useful when needing to cross lanes to get into a left turn pocket - much easier to time my crossing. Similarly there are sometimes slight obstructions (like broken pavement or sewer grates) in the bike lane and the Varia lets me know whether I can do a quick swerve around or need to slow down and ride over/through the obstruction. Sure, I could do all of this with a helmet mounted mirror or by constantly craning my neck around, but the Varia just makes it much easier and more comfortable.

Also the Varia picks up all the individual cars approaching in a line while direct vision usually only shows the closest vehicle. This extra information is surprisingly handy when trying to anticipate one's maneuvers.

I've read the reviews that say bike radar is useless in a crowded environment because it's always pinging something, but for the reasons above that's where I think it's most useful. On uncrowded rural roads I can generally hear the occasional approaching car and the radar is somewhat redundant (though the speed information is nice).

Last edited by wayold; 04-02-23 at 03:13 PM.
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Old 04-03-23, 03:23 AM
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have one and swear by it but in a busy, socal environment, not so much. comes in handy on long downhills where the wind is attacking your ears and when doing a boonies ride.

have found that the farthest away the varia will pick up movement is approx 100 yards away. in roadie situations in orange county, that's essentially hwy 74, antonio parkway for

stretches, silverado rd, carbon canyon, a street or two in the anaheim hills and scr in either direction.


riding in socal for a few years, seems like the garmin comes in handiest in the sammos, angeles national forest, san bernardino national forest, san diego backcountry near julian, joshua tree np and death valley np.


in trafficked areas, it's true that the constant alerts lose their impact but they are a great reminder to just give your head (generally) a quick turn to the left (vs to the right) when in a dicey/crowded/high speed area.

usually slows down approaching vehicles since many of them think you're getting ready to move left (and just might be with body drift from the head turn). varia does a really nice job of showing multiple vehicles vs just the one you saw/can hear with a quick head turn. haven't had a single vehicle "registered" by varia that wasn't there in nearly 5 years of use.

do i think it's a useful and handy tool? definitely. would i purchase it again? definitely.

rarely picks up approaching cyclists unless they are riding a massive, self-propelled bike, bigger e-bike. or weaving and closing like a mutha. motorcycles are hit and miss.

Last edited by diphthong; 04-03-23 at 03:31 AM.
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Old 04-03-23, 12:18 PM
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ooga-booga might have purchased his after hearing mine chirp during rides

I believe the Varia is useless in trafficked environments. It would be so noisy that you will mentally shut it out. The boy who cried wolf. The only time I find it useless in traffic situations is when I am in the middle buffer lane, try to merge into two lanes and I do not have to constantly watch behind me for when it is safe to go. I'll watch my Garmin and finally look back when it says it is clear.

Works great in the open roads, like coming down a mountain road and you cannot hear well due to wind. And even it quieter situations, such as going up hill, you might hear a car, but the Varia will tell me there are actually two.

Mine has been triggered by cyclists.
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Old 04-03-23, 03:14 PM
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Useless in traffic but extremely useful when you are not in traffic.
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Old 04-03-23, 03:56 PM
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Thank you to everyone for chiming in on this. For my riding, it seems a Varia would be most useful for crossing from the bike lane to a left turn lane -- this sometimes entails crossing 3 wide lanes -- and not that useful the rest of the time.
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Old 04-03-23, 11:29 PM
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Originally Posted by SoSmellyAir
Thank you to everyone for chiming in on this. For my riding, it seems a Varia would be most useful for crossing from the bike lane to a left turn lane -- this sometimes entails crossing 3 wide lanes -- and not that useful the rest of the time.
and as Tycho Brahe alluded to above, it's extremely useful in tracking that 2nd or 3rd car out of your hearing/vision with a quick glance backwards. if a car/motorcycle is going the same speed/slightly slower than you,
vehicle will drop off/not show up. frequently, cars show up on the screen but then slow down to less than your current speed and are still behind you...it's still a tool but really handy to have

Last edited by diphthong; 04-03-23 at 11:33 PM.
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Old 04-04-23, 10:31 AM
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In general, I do not use the Varia to alert me when cars are coming. Instead, I will use the Varia when I want to see if there is a car. I will tune it out the other times unless it is quiet.
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Old 04-04-23, 10:38 AM
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Originally Posted by Tycho Brahe
In general, I do not use the Varia to alert me when cars are coming. Instead, I will use the Varia when I want to see if there is a car. I will tune it out the other times unless it is quiet.
That would be my use case too, but from the posts I have read in the Garmin forums it seems there is no way to mute the audio alerts with just one or two taps in either the Garmin iOS app or the Garmin head units.
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Old 04-04-23, 10:41 AM
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I do not have one or any interest at this time.
Out of curiosity, if you have good hearing, do not ride in heavy traffic, and usually do not cross lanes to hang a left turn without giving a long full head turn look, what does it offer to you that is worth the investment?
In other words, would ordinary cautious road skills do the same thing?
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Old 04-04-23, 10:54 AM
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Originally Posted by CAT7RDR
I do not have one or any interest at this time.
Out of curiosity, if you have good hearing, do not ride in heavy traffic, and usually do not cross lanes to hang a left turn without giving a long full head turn look, what does it offer to you that is worth the investment?
In other words, would ordinary cautious road skills do the same thing?
My current thoughts: From what I have read (above and elsewhere), this device tracks multiple closing vehicles, likely better than I can when riding on a road with a relatively high speed limit and moderate traffic. Thus, it is definitely worth the investment to me. I am just trying to determine whether it would be worth the annoyance the rest of the time.
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Old 04-04-23, 01:36 PM
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Peace of mind
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Old 04-04-23, 04:45 PM
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I just ordered an RTL515.
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Old 04-04-23, 04:50 PM
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Originally Posted by SoSmellyAir
Thank you to everyone for chiming in on this. For my riding, it seems a Varia would be most useful for crossing from the bike lane to a left turn lane -- this sometimes entails crossing 3 wide lanes -- and not that useful the rest of the time.
I used my Varia when I was riding in your area and it was very helpful, especially for the left turn reason. If I know I'm going to be in an area with a lot of cars, I turn off the audible notifications so it's not beeping constantly. The graphic display serves me just fine (YMMV).
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Old 04-04-23, 04:59 PM
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Originally Posted by Eric F
I used my Varia when I was riding in your area and it was very helpful, especially for the left turn reason. If I know I'm going to be in an area with a lot of cars, I turn off the audible notifications so it's not beeping constantly. The graphic display serves me just fine (YMMV).
Is there an easy way (one or two taps) to toggle the audible alert on and off?
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Old 04-04-23, 05:01 PM
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Originally Posted by CAT7RDR
I do not have one or any interest at this time.
Out of curiosity, if you have good hearing, do not ride in heavy traffic, and usually do not cross lanes to hang a left turn without giving a long full head turn look, what does it offer to you that is worth the investment?
In other words, would ordinary cautious road skills do the same thing?
It will show you a car on the led display before you can hear it. This has become increasingly valuable with the growing popularity of very quiet electric cars. Whether that's valuable to you or not is up to you.
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Old 04-04-23, 05:10 PM
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Originally Posted by SoSmellyAir
Is there an easy way (one or two taps) to toggle the audible alert on and off?
It might be 3 or 4 taps, but I can't remember if it's though my phone app or on the device itself (Wahoo Bolt, for me). I'm not near my bike right now.
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Old 04-04-23, 05:11 PM
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Originally Posted by Eric F
It might be 3 or 4 taps, but I can't remember if it's though my phone app or on the device itself (Wahoo Bolt, for me). I'm not near my bike right now.
No worries, I will figure that out when I receive my order.
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Old 04-04-23, 05:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Eric F
I used my Varia when I was riding in your area and it was very helpful, especially for the left turn reason. If I know I'm going to be in an area with a lot of cars, I turn off the audible notifications so it's not beeping constantly. The graphic display serves me just fine (YMMV).
I've had these since the beginning, and I never knew you could turn off the beep.
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Old 04-04-23, 05:20 PM
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Originally Posted by Polaris OBark
I've had these since the beginning, and I never knew you could turn off the beep.
I found that feature not long ago. I've found it useful.
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Old 04-04-23, 05:21 PM
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The options for audio notifications are: single-tone, multi-tone, or off. Do not remember the steps, but it takes several clicks on my Garmin unit.

If you ride with your display off (I only have my always on when I need turn-by-turn directions in advance), the display will turn on when you get a Varia notification. So if you are bombing down a mountain with your display off and wind blowing in your ears, you know a car is approaching when your display turns on.
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Old 04-04-23, 05:23 PM
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Originally Posted by Tycho Brahe
The options for audio notifications are: single-tone, multi-tone, or off. Do not remember the steps, but it takes several clicks on my Garmin unit.

If you ride with your display off (I only have my always on when I need turn-by-turn directions in advance), the display will turn on when you get a Varia notification. So if you are bombing down a mountain with your display off and wind blowing in your ears, you know a car is approaching when your display turns on.
Interesting. Wahoo interaction is different.
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Old 04-04-23, 05:26 PM
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Originally Posted by Eric F
Interesting. Wahoo interaction is different.
And the iOS app maybe different too; I will figure it out when I get mine.

One day, when I get braver and fitter, I may go ride in the boonies like ooga-booga and Tycho Brahe. Until then, at least the Varia will warn me about e-bikes.
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Old 04-04-23, 11:37 PM
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You can also connect the varia with a Garmin wearable. That way you receive feedback via vibration.
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Old 04-05-23, 09:09 AM
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Originally Posted by Spandex_fairy
You can also connect the varia with a Garmin wearable. That way you receive feedback via vibration.
One day, my Garmin wearable asked me if I wanted to connect with the Varia. Sure, why not. Quickly disabled it since while it might be easy to ignore on a head unit, it is way more difficult when on your wrist.
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