Garmin Varia RCT715 Review: The Varia Just Got Better

Garmin just released its new flagship Varia RCT715 radar. It adds a camera that will automatically save video if it detects an incident. We explain the new features and review how it works.

The Garmin Varia Just Got Better: Introducing the RCT715

Written by
Bruce Lin

Published on

Posted in
Road

After getting hit a couple of years ago, I’m always nervous riding around cars. I started wearing bright, highly visible clothing, left the headphones at home, and kept my head on a swivel, but speeding cars that pass too close still manage to surprise me and make my heart leap into my throat. That’s why I started riding with a Garmin Varia last year. It is a rear-facing radar device that watches out for cars approaching from behind. 

I’ve been using a Varia RTL515 for a long time now, and I won’t ride without it. But the new Varia RCT715 is now my must-have accessory. The RCT715 retains all the great features of the RTL515, plus it adds a high definition camera that continuously records footage and saves it to the Varia mobile app if it detects an incident. Here’s why you should consider adding a Garmin Varia RCT715 to your bike. 

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Garmin Varia RCT715 features

Garmin Varia RCT715 review

  • Radar that detects up to eight approaching cars 
  • 140-meter radar range
  • Rear tail light is visible up to 1km away
  • Rear-facing camera records in 1080p at 30fps
  • 16 GB MicroSD card included
  • ANT+ and Bluetooth connectivity
  • Up to 6 hours of battery life with camera on
  • 147 grams
  • $399.99

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Garmin Varia RCT715 vs. RTL515 vs. RVR315 comparison

Garmin Varia Comparison

Model

RCT715

RTL515

RVR315

Radar

Yes

Yes

Yes

Tail light

Yes

Yes

No

Camera

Yes

No

No

Weight

147g

71g

49g

Price

$399.99

$199.99

$149.99

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Garmin Varia RCT715 review

If you’re familiar with other models in the Varia family (the RTL515 and its smaller sibling, the RVR315) then there won’t be a ton of surprises. To turn the Varia on, you hold down a small button on the side. You can then connect it to any compatible head unit (Garmin, Wahoo, Hammerhead, and Stages) or smartphone app using ANT+ or Bluetooth. 

Garmin Varia RCT715 radar camera tail light reviewThe graphic on the side of the head unit screen indicates cars, as well as their distance and speed.

While riding, the Varia radar keeps an eye out for cars behind you. When it detects cars approaching, your head unit will give you an audible alert along with a graphic that indicates the car’s distance and speed. This feature sold me on the Varia. Having your head unit display this critical information enhances your situational awareness and allows you to react appropriately or ride defensively long before a car passes you, making you safer. 

Sure, you could ride with a mirror, but the Varia has more range, is always watching, and lets you maintain focus on the road ahead. Plus, the Varia RCT715 has a bright, 180-degree, rear tail light, which greatly enhances your visibility to motorists. 

Garmin Varia RCT715 camera radar tail light reviewThe new Varia RCT715’s biggest upgrade is the rear-facing camera, which is capable of recording video in 1080p at 30fps. The camera continuously records footage onto an included 16G MicroSD card while you ride and connects via Bluetooth to the Varia mobile app. Within the Varia app, you can easily access your footage, transfer videos, or customize camera settings to change resolution or even add data overlays. This makes it easy to grab footage right after, or even during rides. Different operation modes let you flex camera and tail light features to maximize battery life for longer rides.

If the Varia or your head unit detects an incident, The Varia will automatically save the footage from before, during, and after the incident to the Garmin Varia mobile app. Think of it as a dashcam for your bike. Should a crash happen (knock on wood that it doesn’t!), you’ll have video evidence if you need it. 

Notice: Some jurisdictions regulate or prohibit the use of the camera function of this device. It is your responsibility to know and comply with applicable laws and rights to privacy in jurisdictions where you plan to use the camera function of this device.

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Garmin Varia RCT715 new seatpost mount

Garmin Varia RCT715 seatpost mount reviewThe Varia RCT715 also comes with a redesigned seatpost mount. It’s still compatible with seatposts of all shapes and sizes, but instead of Garmin’s traditional quarter-turn mount, the Varia RCT715 uses a new locking mechanism with an easy-to-use lever. Installing and removing the Varia is just as quick and easy as ever, but the new mount keeps the heavier Varia RCT715 stable and secure, even in the roughest terrain. 

Garmin Varia RCT715 battery life

Day flash: up to 6 hours
Peloton: up to 5 hours
Solid: up to 4 hours
Night flash: up to 4 hours

Quoted battery life is with the camera set to record 1080p video. Set the resolution at 720p to extend battery life for longer rides. You can also choose from three camera modes to maximize battery life: always-on, lights and radar only, or radar-activated mode, which turns on the camera when an approaching car is detected

Garmin Varia RCT715 vs. Cycliq Fly6

Garmin Varia RCT715 vs. Cycliq Fly6There are a lot of bike-specific cameras on the market, but the most popular (and the one I have the most experience with) is Cycliq’s Fly6. Like the Varia RCT715, it incorporates a rear tail light to increase visibility.

Model

Garmin Varia RCT715

Cycliq Fly6

Video Modes

1080p or 720p at 30fps

1080p at 60fps or 720p at 30fps

MicroSD card

16G

32G

Incident detection

Yes

Yes

Tail light

Yes

Yes

Radar

Yes

No

Battery life

4-6 hours

4-5 hours

Weight

147g

77g

Price

$399.99

$229.00


Of course, the main difference between the Varia RCT715 and the Cycliq Fly6 is Garmin’s radar function. That is the most important and useful feature for me, and it’s why my Cycliq Fly6 now stays at home on most rides. If all you want is a rear camera/tail light, then you can save some money with the Cycliq Fly6. But I am a radar evangelist now, and think everyone on the road should have one. 

Final thoughts

Garmin Varia RCT715I've been using the Varia RCT715 for riding road, gravel, and even OHV trails. I always know when a vehicle is coming up behind me, even if I can't hear or see it. 

I’ve been riding with the new Varia RCT715 for nearly a month now, and I’ve taken it on everything from short lunch spins to 8-hour weekend epics. Functionally, the radar works just like the Varia RTL515 I reviewed last year, so there’s not much to report there. I love having an extra set of eyes in the back of my head, and it’s hard to explain how useful it is until you ride with one. If you have a riding buddy with a Varia, I suggest connecting to their radar (multiple head units can connect to the same radar) to experience how liberating and confidence-inspiring riding with radar is. 

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As for the camera function, it’s easy to use, and it’s quite fun to pull videos from group rides and races to share with my friends and post online. I hope I will never need to use any video saved during an incident, but there is some comfort in knowing it has this “black box” feature. 

I did mention taking the Varia RCT715 on an 8-hour epic. Well, its battery died in the last hours of that ride. It isn't the end of the world, but even with the settings at 720p and radar-activated mode, it probably won’t last past 7-8 hours. I could just turn the camera off, but if I’m going to do that for my biggest rides, I’d rather take the camera-less Varia RTL515 because it weighs less and lasts up to 16 hours in day flash mode. Of course, this is a more extreme use case, but something to consider if you’re hoping to use the Varia for ultra-endurance rides. If you can only have one Varia though, I think the RCT715 is all you’ll need and more. 

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