The Garmin Varia Vision was the first exciting innovation in a new breed of wearable technology – a HUD (Heads Up Device) specifically for cyclists. In a nutshell, it enables you to look at information from your Garmin Edge bike computer or your Garmin Edge Varia radar – WITHOUT taking your eyes off the road to look down at your handlebars. For added safety, you can pair it up with Garmin Varia Rear Light Radar.
The information is projected on a tiny screen that connects to the side of your regular cycling glasses. This enables you to focus on the road all the time, and just glance over to the side to read your data. This video demonstrates how Garmin Varia Vision works:
The good news is that the price has been slashed on Garmin Varia Vision products on Amazon right now.
How the Garmin Edge Varia Works
At the simplest level, you can just pair the Garmin Varia Vision with your existing Garmin Edge bike computer. Then you can use it to see all the stats you would normally review on your bike computer on your handlebars as you ride. Such as your speed, heart rate, and elevation. And also you can use it to follow turn-by-turn directions sent by your Garmin Edge bike computer to the Varia Vision.
Plus, Varia Vision vibration alerts tell you when you’re approaching segments, completing laps, leaving a workout zone, or receiving a call or text. You can see the Varia Vision being used in most of these ways in this video:
How the Garmin Varia Rear Light Radar Works
At a more advanced level, you can pair the Varia Vision up with the Garmin Varia Rear Light Radar, so that you can tell if there are vehicles coming up behind you, without taking your eyes off the road. The safety benefits of this are obvious. Being hit from behind is the leading cause of cyclist fatalities in the USA.
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A Smart Tail Light
Garmin Varia Rear Light Radar is basically a smart tail light that aims to make motorists notice you, and to alert you to vehicles approaching from behind. For the motorists, it brightens and blinks when it detects a vehicle approaching behind you. For you, it shows you on your bike computer that vehicles are approaching from behind. The data displays on the side of your bike computer. It will display up to 8 vehicles behind you. A car shows up as a moving dot, and the dot’s position shows where the car is, relative to you. The light also issues audible alerts, if you want it to do so. You can see how it works in this video:
The Garmin Varia Rear Light Radar is available in two different sizes, as shown in the ads above and below. As you can see, both products are on sale right now. The smaller light gets great reviews, and is available at a really good price at the time of publishing this post.
Teaming Up the Varia Vision with the Garmin Varia Rear Light Radar
When your pair the Rear Light Radar with your Garmin Varia Vision, the dots showing vehicles display on your tiny Varia screen. This basically makes a safety feature even safer, as you don’t have to look at your computer on your handlebars to see where the cars are.
Why would you want a Garmin Varia Vision?
These are expensive gadgets, so why would you want one? Clearly, it is a safety issue. For example, one of the times I like to look at my Garmin Edge bike computer is when I am going really fast (to see how fast I am going). But that’s really not a good time to take your eyes off the road. Being able to check your speed – and other metrics – without looking down is a big safety plus.
What is Presbyopia?
Another reason is age-related. Did you know that by the age of 50, almost everyone has presbyopia? Yeah, I didn’t know that either, until it happened to me. It’s a fancy word for a normal part of ageing: the lenses of our eyes lose elasticity. When we are young, we can look from something nearby (like the bike computer on our handlebars), then immediately look at something far (like the next turn in a mountainous downhill road) – and our lenses will instantly adjust to enable us to see both clearly.
When we are not-so-young, our lenses gradually become physically incapable of doing this. We can correct our vision with glasses, but we cannot make our lenses elastic again. That’s why some people wear progresses, bifocals or trifocals, while others have one set of glasses for reading and another for cycling.
I have gone with the last option, because I could not get used to progressives. But there is a problem. When I am wearing my prescription Adidas cycling glasses (reviewed here), I can see the road perfectly – BUT I cannot read the words on my Garmin Edge bike computer. To actually read what it says, I have to stop and lift my glasses out of the way. That is really hard to do when wearing a bike helmet.
It’s Only a Luxury if You Don’t Need It!
One YouTube reviewer said that the price of the Varia Vision is way too much to pay for the luxury of not having to look down. I might agree with that (before they went on sale). But what he missed (probably because he is so young) is that it is NOT a luxury for those who are simply unable to read the words on their bike computers any more.
Over the last few years I have become a bit depressed about not being able to see my bike computer. In any event, I was thrilled to find that there IS still a way to see what my bike computer is trying to tell me, thanks to the advanced wearable technology in the Garmin Varia Vision.
The question was, would it work, or would it just be another distraction on my bike ride?
Fitting the Garmin Varia Vision
It was a cinch to fit the Garmin Varia Vision to my Adidas cycling glasses. One of the things that Garmin truly excels at are lightweight mounts that work, and work well. The device weighs 7 oz, which did not worry me at all. My head did NOT start listing to the right! Apparently, my neck muscles are still doing fine – better than my eyes, anyway. Also, it did not obscure my side vision much at all. Not enough to matter. Like all things, you adjust.
Using the Garmin Varia Vision
Most of the current crop of Garmin Edge bike computers work with the Garmin Varia Vision (with the exception of the tiny ones, the 20 and the 25).
Essentially, the Garmin Varia Vision will mirror whatever data is displayed on any of these devices. What I found was great was to put the Garmin Edge 530 into scrolling mode, so that I could see all of my relevant metrics, without having to change screens. I also liked just setting it to my primary display page, which has the five metrics most important to me.
Without a doubt, the most useful aspect of this setup is that you can follow turn-by-turn prompts without looking down at your handlebars. The prompts include a visual and auditory prompt (a vibration) to warn you when a turn is coming up. There is also a prompt if you miss a turn.
These are great if you have a Garmin Edge 1030 or 830, as both of those are optimized for navigation. You just select your destination, and the Garmin Edge 1030 or 830 will figure out a route and tell you how to get there. And with the Edge 530, there are also some turn-by-turn options now available. You can read about that in this post:
Quality of the display on the Garmin Varia Vision
The colors and resolution of the display on the Garmin Varia Vision are truly awesome. Super bright, even in blazing sun. I could not figure out any way to photograph it, but it’s better than any comparable display I have ever seen. You can see it in the videos above.
What it’s Like to Use the Garmin Varia Vision
This product has made me very excited about the future of wearable technology. I was thrilled to find that the Garmin Varia Vision was actually very easy to use. I could watch the road as usual, then just casually glance to the right to see data. It was wonderful to be able to see my metrics while cycling again. I was surprised at how natural it felt to have that little screen available to my peripheral vision.
Bottom Line: To Buy or Not to Buy?
This is a great device that works perfectly with the Garmin Edge 530 (and the Edge 1030 and Edge 830 and the Garmin Varia Rear Light Radar). However, it is expensive, especially when it is not on sale. Deciding to buy one of these safety gadgets will most likely come down to three questions:
- Do you cycle a lot?
- Can you afford it?
- Do you need it?
In my case, I could say “Yes” to all three of those questions. As with all these gadget decisions, it will come down to whether the item seems important enough to you to justify the price. And with the price of the Garmin Varia Vision, most buyers are likely to have to think about that one. Still, when it comes to safety, many of us are willing to spend some money. As mentioned, at the time of posting, the Varia gadgets were on sale. The ads below reflect the current price, so you can see at a glance if they are still on sale.
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