Garmin Varia RCT715 Review – Not Worth It For Most People
If you want the best bike safety device ever invented, the Garmin Varia RCT715 is it. If you want anything at all linked to a bike action cam…this really is NOT it.
I love my 2-year-old Varia RTL515 and if I’m brutally honest there is virtually no point in upgrading from that excellent bike safety product to this slightly newer and equally excellent bike safety product. Except the new one is twice the price with the Varia RCT715 coming in at a hefty $400/£350/Eu400 – for the extra price you get an incident camera thrown in for the rare occasions something bad happens.
Hey, I still bought one though. I buy all Garmin products with my own money. There is absolutely ZERO influence from Garmin and I have no relationships with them. I don’t even get a press release. Read on if you want to hear how good the Garmin Varia RCT715 is in every respect and in great detail. Although let’s start with a summary review of the Garmin Varia RCT715 as I know you are all busy. One final thing, please buy from one of the links here as it helps support the ongoing independence and months of real, in-depth testing on a whole raft of endurance tech products, thank you…you’re awesome!
Verdict: Best bike Radar, awesome smart bike light, passable video. Freakishly expensive.
Price - 60%
Apparent Accuracy - 80%
Build Quality & Design - 85%
Features, Including App - 85%
Openness & Compatability - 95%
Garmin Varia RCT715 Review - Summary
If 3 gnats were bearing down on you from behind at 50mph, Varia would spot them all, tell your handlebar device or watch to make you aware of the incoming gnats and then flash the bejesus out of the rear light to tell our fluttery friends to give you a wide berth. Well, kinda.
You get my drift.
The key to the greatness of the Garmin Varia rear light is its link to the radar.
The Radar would also tell the rear camera to start recording except, obviously, it’s not a good enough camera to spot a flock of gnats let alone 3 solitary ones travelling at 50mph. And if I’m honest the camera is not perfect at capturing number plates either, although it is passable.
Seriously, though the Radar and the tech wizardry it supports are sufficiently awesome to separately identify & record 8 approaching vehicles at any closing speed above 6mph.
Another great aspect of the Varia RCT715 is that it follows industry standards. Thus, just about any Garmin watch, Garmin bike computer or any competitive bike computer from Wahoo or Hammerhead will support the Radar and maybe support the advanced light control too. Heck, even the Ride with GPS app on your smartphone supports Varia and if you own none of that impressive list of tech then simply use the free Garmin Varia handlebar app. You can even use the Varia RCT715 all by itself with no tech whatsoever on your bike.
But none of the light and radar greatness is new. In that respect, the RCT715 is the same as the much cheaper, older version but now simply adds a built-in camera made with 5-year-old tech. Maybe the Garmin Varia team employed someone from the Garmin Car Dashcam team who just happened to bring along a few thousand old dashcams with them? Maybe.
The dashcam/bikecam does reliably record incidents. Bizarrely I had an incident the day before my Varia arrived, I’m still waiting for another rear impact to see if the Varia pieces together the footage from before and after the incident, apparently it does.
Forget about ever using this as an action cam. It’s a functional camera for incidents on the road that saves clips that might help prosecute someone else. That’s it.
- The radar is awesome and enables great safety features on the handlebars
- The light is very bright with smart flash patterns automatically dictated by the radar
- The bike cam reliably and automatically records incidents
- Battery life
- The app is poor at managing the clip gallery
Evolution of the Varia RCT715
Garmin’s bike safety products combine radar and light features to give you rearview graphics on your handlebars plus the ability to intelligently change the flash patterns of your lights based on cars’ positions. Alongside that Garmin’s automotive division has a series of Dashcams to record incidents with GPS and to check your car interior remotely. The RCT715 merges together all these abilities.
Garmin’s original Varia Rearview Bike Radar, the RTL500 (2015) combined a rear-facing radar and multiple flashing LEDs with a handlebar display as an alternative to an Edge 820 bike computer.
In 2018, Varia RTL510 significantly changed its visual appearance to a single flashing LED plus rear-facing radar. Two years later there were modest changes introduced with the Varia RTL515 (2020) which added Bluetooth Support, Varia app support, Peloton-flash mode and an extra hour of battery life in day flash mode.
The latest Varia RCT715 adds USB-C charging, increases in size and changes slightly in appearance with the addition of a 1080p video camera, which is similar in specification to the Dash Cam 47. Varia RCT715’s weight is doubled compared to the RTL515 and battery life is reduced by 30-50% if the video is used and depending on the flash mode used.
Garmin Varia RCT715 – What’s New?
The whole audio-visual piece is new. And thus the extra electronics increase the size. However there are several nuances that improve the RCT715’s user experience compared to the Varia RTL515, try these:
- Fits a greater number of seatpost sizes and types with the new rubber moulds
- The on/off button is moved from the top to the side and presses a tad better.
- Completely different quarter-turn mount and lock which is unique to the RCT715. Put another way the 715 will not fit a standard Garmin quarter-turn mount.
- The mount is still fastened to the seatpost with rubber bands that have two points of failure. However, the mount design is improved to allow the use of a cable tie as the 3rd point of failure.
- Superior USB C charging port.
- Slightly improved cover for the aforesaid USB port.
- Maintains compatibility with the Varia app along with the RTL515 (RTL510 is not compatible)
- Adds Private WiFi support for image transfer to the Varia app
- Adds removable micro SD storage for clips
Normally a new Garmin model looks essentially the same as the predecessor but with updated innards. This time it’s the innards that appear unchanged whilst the outside looks similar but with many subtle and not-so-subtle improvements.
Alternatives to Garmin Varia RCT715
There are alternative bike lights and bike cameras from the likes of CatEye, GoPro and many other brands.
However, the RCT715 and RTL515 that came before it are both unique products in the sense that no competitor bundles together smart, rearview lights and radar with a handlebar display & control. The further addition of video to the RCT715 enhances the uniqueness.
It’s a one-of-a-kind product.
Garmin Varia RCT715 Test Results
Here is a selection of 30-second clips from 3-hours of riding. The light conditions were perfect in the daytime and at night there was good street lighting.
Test notes: Virtually all the cars’ number plates were readable in all the clips the only exceptions being the ones that passed wide. At night, licence plate readability is mostly a result of reflected light from the Varia. Most of these clips are on bumpy UK roads (Windsor and Richmond) and one of the clips is at 60km/h on a bumpy road. The audio is affected by wheel noise from my 60mm Mavic CXR rear wheel, the thin tyre was pumped up to just under 100psi which adds to the bumpiness experienced.
Other reviewers report image stability issues on gravel. My tests use post-launch v4.40 firmware which contains stability fixes for the video clips.
Garmin Varia RCT715 – Install and Ride
To gt started with the RCT715 is easy. Let’s assume you want to fasten to your bike seat post, that you’re fine with the default settings of the camera and that you have a bike computer.
Fastening to your seat post
I easily attached the Varia to my Cervelo P5 and Cervelo R5.
The former has a 65mm wide, pear-shaped seat post and the latter has a seatpost with a D-shaped cross-section. Neither of these bikes would take the previous RTL515 without the purchase of another adapter. Both were fine with the RCT715.
3 alternative rubber mounts are supplied. They are flexible in construction and must fit a good range of bikes as they are OK with my non-standard Cervelos.
Two different sized bands are also supplied each having two points of failure. I wouldn’t trust either of them for an extended period and, so it seems, neither does Garmin as it also provides three cable ties. It’s an indictment of a poor design that cable ties are required to secure an expensive $400 piece of kit.
I was significantly disappointed that Garmin has changed the mount. The standard quarter-turn mount is no longer supported. Thus current Varia owners may have to fork out yet more cash to mount the RCT715 in unusual places. I guess the mount had to be changed to support a heavier unit.
The new mount incorporates a lever which very securely fastens the Varia into its mount. It won’t come out even on gravel.
Garmin Varia RCT715 – In Use
Using the RCT715 with your bike computer, watch or app is automatic once you’ve done the initial pairing. You will definitely have to pair the Varia as a Radar and you might also be able to pair it as a Light, both should have the same ANT+ ID.
Just go with the defaults.
The beeps can be disabled if they get annoying whilst commuting and the lights can be changed to avoid annoying others in your group ride.
The displays, even on a small watch, can usefully and accurately indicate how many vehicles are behind you and how fast they are closing down on you. The prettiest implementation of Varia is on the Hammerhead Karoo but Varia works well on every bike computer model.
A little piece of coolness: On the devices with colour screens, the vertical bar changes from yellow to red as vehicles approach and then to green once the danger has passed.
The Garmin Varia App
Now things get messy.
The free app has two purposes as a) an in-ride, handlebar display and b) a tool to manage the Varia and store clips
Varia App for daily use
Let’s start with the easy bit. Here’s what you might see on your handlebars evey day as you ride.
- Take a photo.
- Display radar information
- Display threat level of approaching vehicles.
- Varia battery status
- Access device and camera settings
- Open the gallery
- Customise sounds/alerts
- Record/Save a video clip.
- Change/Display Recording mode
That all works swimmingly well.
Varia App for managing the Varia RCT715
The app really is not great for its secondary purpose of managing the device. Actually, I’ll be more specific, it’s a perfectly fine tool to manage the settings but unusable to do anything associated with the clip gallery.
A: There are a LOT of clips.
Varia RCT715 records continuously and will override old clips once the micro SD card is full, only clips associated with incidents are kept permanently. I have 30-second clips with recording triggered by the detection of a car, so that means a LOT of clips will be recorded on a 5-hour Sunday ride. These are all stored individually unless there is an incident when my understanding is that some are combined into a single file and saved in a separate folder.
But if an incident or more specifically an accident did not happen, it’s difficult to, say, find the clip of the guy who passed you close and swore at you for either not riding in a line or riding in a line (you really can’t win).
Whilst you navigate the app when it’s linked to the Varia, it continuously prompts to establish a private WiFi connection between the two. That’s annoying in itself but it’s even more annoying that it takes up to a minute to view a single clip. I gave up trying and plugged the Varia into my computer to access the clips directly…MUCH better.
Garmin Varia RCT715 – Software Overview
I’ll backtrack now to the software setup as we’re getting to the bits hidden in the middle of the Garmin Varia RCT715 Review that few people read 🙂
Here are a few screen-grabs from the app to give a flavour of the options for the Varia and also to show that the app is also a pretty good tool by itself for using on your handlebars witha smartphone. The graphics depicting cars behind you are clear and to the point.
Garmin Varia RCT715 Specifications
- Dimensions (LxWxD): 4.2″ x 1.7″ x 1.3″ (106.5 x 42.0 x 31.9 mm)
- Weight 5.2 oz (147.0 g)
- Light modes: Solid, peloton, night flash, day flash
- Lumens: 20lm solid, 8lm in peloton mode, 29lm night-flash, 65lm day-flash
- Camera modes: Continuous, off, radar-activated
- Camera settings: 1080p/720p, with 30 FPS
- Battery life 4 hours solid, 5 hours peloton, 3 hours night flash, 6 hours day flash (all with 1080p recording)
- ANT+: Yes (radar, bike lights)
- BLE: Yes (radar, camera control)
- Wi-Fi: Yes (local network only)
- Water rating IPX7
- Viewing angle: 220″
- 16 GB SD card included
- Onboard accelerometer to automatically lock footage on incident detection
- Camera control of Garmin Edge® and select wearables
- Varia App provides a convenient radar display, camera control and video transfer
Garmin Varia RCT715 – FAQ
Q: How long does the Garmin Varia RCT715 battery last
A: It depends on the flash mode and camera mode, 6 hours will be typically possible
Q: Do Garmin Varia RCT715 support standard Garmin quarter-turn mounts
A: No, it has a proprietary mount
Q: What is the Garmin Varia WiFi used for
A: The Varia app creates a private WiFi connection to the Varia device for fast video transfers, it provides no access to WiFi internet while this is happening
Q: Is Garmin Varia RCT715 worth the upgrade from the RTL515
A: Yes, if you want a rearview camera I’d say it’s a good upgrade but otherwise stick with the RTL515/RTL510
Q: Do I have to use the Garmin Varia app
A: No, you never have to use it and the defaults are all sensible.
Q: How can I transfer the video clips from my Garmin Varia RCT715
A: You can use the Varia app, a direct cable connection or you can easily remove the micro SD card
Q: How can I tell if my Varia RCT715 is recording video/audio
A: Good question. I think that’s only possible with the app or with the camera-enabled Garmin devices ie Edge 530 onwards, Fenix 6 onwards and Venu 2 onwards.
Q: Why can’t I see GPS, speed and time/date on my video?
A: You’ll need to use the Varia app or a Garmin Edge for that
Q: I don’t have a Garmin so how will the Garmin Varia RCT715 incident detection work? (accident detection)
A: The Varia has its own incident detection algorithm based on an accelerometer, this works independently of any other external device ie it will always correctly save video if there is an accident
Q: Can I use Garmin Varia RCT715 on any kind of bike?
A: Yes Garmin Varia can be used on gravel bikes, TT bikes, kids bikes, whatever
Q: Does Garmin Varia RCT715 detect cyclists?
A: No, it usually does not detect cyclists as the closing speed must be more than 6mph, so it won’t detect others in your group but can occasionally detect a cyclist closing in fast.
Q: Is Garmin Varia RCT715 bright enough?
A: Yes It’s very bright at 20 lumens when solid and a whopping 65 lumens in day flash mode
Q: Can Garmin Varia RCT715’s camera avoid saddlebags?
A: Yes and no. You can see below that rear bottle holders easily obscure the line of sight and if you check out my YouTube videos above you will see my saddlebag partially obscures every clip – but never the number plates, so the clips recorded were OK in my case.
Garmin Varia RCT715 Opinion
I’d have paid more for an RTL515 with a better battery and been happy.
I did pay a lot more for the RCT715’s bikecam but I’m not happy.
At $400, the Varia RCT715 is too expensive to justify a doubling of the price over the RTL515. You get the extra video piece but the battery life is not improved one iota. It’s not worth the upgrade unless you really want the rear-facing camera dedicated to accidents which, let’s face it, isn’t going to stop you from getting killed. It’ll just help prosecute the person who did it. So it’s not even a safety feature.
The bikecam is not useful as any other kind of camera except for recording an accident/incident. This could be improved if Garmin decides to change the Varia app.
So if you want a safety device get the good old RTL510/RTL515, it’s still awesome.
If you want the rear-facing camera and are prepared to trust Garmin to improve the app’s clip gallery at some point in 2022 then go for it. It’s a good product that does the in-ride safety piece really well.
Buy Garmin Varia RCT715, Prices, Discounts & Availability
Varia RCT715 is available widely from launch. I got my Varia RCT715 with a sneaky GOLD Member discount from Wiggle. New Garmins are rarely able to be discounted.
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