Gear Mania got its first taste of the Varia (then known as ‘Backtracker’) in 2014. The radar system was the brainchild of iKubu, a group of Stellenbosch-based engineers, who developed the technology. At an international trade show, Garmin caught wind of the technology and were so impressed, they bought the rights from iKubu. Seven months and some tech tweaks later, they unveiled the Varia Rearview Bike Radar.
The radar unit, which detects rearapproaching cars, mounts on the back of your bike, ideally on the seatpost. It integrates with a small handlebar-mounted display unit (or compatible Garmin device) to warn you of vehicles approaching from behind. Both units attach via a quarter-turn mount, making it easy to transfer the Varia between bikes.
How does it work?
The unit searches for approaching vehicles, ignoring ‘false positives’ such as trees, poles and parked cars. It transmits information wirelessly, and can track multiple cars simultaneously. The rear-view radar unit also acts as a constant or flashing tail-light. It’s a traditional light when no cars are approaching, but as soon as the
radar identifies a car it flashes from the centre outwards, to warn drivers of your presence. The closer the car, the more vigorously it flashes.
Once the radar picks up a car, it beeps to let you know that the vehicle is approaching. Simultaneously, an orange light illuminates at the bottom of the display and moves upwards, indicating that the vehicle is getting closer – the light turns red when the car is about to pass. When no cars are approaching, it remains green.
Out on the road
The first time we took the Varia for a spin the system didn’t beep, giving us only a visual warning. In order to get the full benefit, we had to keep looking at the display unit – something that wasn’t practical, safe or easy. But when switching to an Edge 1000 and performing a firmware update, we were stoked to find a beep function had been included – an audible warning system makes sense in the real world (curiously, the Varia’s own head unit omits this feature). We found the Varia performed well in all conditions, having the biggest impact on riders who struggle to look behind them, such as tri-athletes in the ‘tri’ position – and people who just have stiff necks.
When looking back, riders often veer into the road; the Varia reduces the need to look back. The radar unit can talk to multiple display units at once, meaning that you and a training partner with a compatible device could use the same Varia Rearview Bike Radar. All in all, a valuable (albeit pricey) tool for reducing road-accident risk.
- Easy to install and use.
- Compatible with display unit supplied and Edge 1000; Firmware updates on the way for Edge 810, 510 and 25.
- Best for triathletes using tri-bars – and riders with stiff necks who find it difficult to turn their heads and look back at traffic.
- Firmware update installs beep function (inly on compatible computers) to indicate first detection of a car.
- Battery life could be longer.