Garmin Varia RCT715 review – The cycling radar tail light adds a camera

Garmin Varia RCT715 increases the safety stakes, but does it work in the real world?

Garmin Varia RCT715 review
(Image credit: Charlie Allenby)
T3 Verdict

The Garmin Varia RCT715 is the latest iteration of the cycling tech giant’s tail light safety system that alerts you to fast-approaching vehicles and potential close passes. The addition of a rear-facing camera looks good on paper, but the device and accompanying app need refining.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Radar alerts

  • +

    Great light for day and night riding

  • +

    Good compatibility

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Expensive for what it has to offer

  • -

    Camera isn’t as good as alternatives

  • -

    App user experience leaves much to be desired

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Garmin Varia RCT715 review TL;DR: If you’re looking for a way to capture evidence of close passes and accidents, the latest Garmin Varia does its job well in almost all conditions. Unfortunately, it’s let down by its app’s poor user experience, which can make it difficult to find the offending footage.

The radar-camera-tail light (hence its RCT name) takes the brand’s well-received Garmin Varia RTL515 (which combined a warning system with a rear light) and adds a rear-facing camera into the mix. It is the range’s obvious evolution – being notified of potential dangers is all well and good, but if there’s no video proof of a subsequent incident, it can often be difficult to prosecute in a court of law.

During testing, I found that the new Varia model was up to the task in most conditions – including a damp, wet ride without a mudguard. It struggled when out-of-the-saddle and on rough terrain due to a lack of image stabilisation, but was clear enough for the job in all other situations.

Where it was let down was the accompanying Varia smartphone app. It was difficult to navigate footage post-ride, and the effort required to track down any offending clips (particularly the more minor close passes) was enough not to bother.

This leaves you with something that is way more expensive than the Varia RTL515 but doesn’t seem as premium as its price tag.

Garmin Varia RCT715 review: Price and availability

The Garmin Varia RCT715 was released in May 2022 and is available to buy now from Garmin UK, Garmin US and Garmin AU for a recommended retail price of £350/$400/AU$639.00. 

In comparison, the Garmin RCT515 can be bought (retailer link) for £170/$200/AU$340, although that model hasn't got a camera, only the radar.

Low-cost alternatives include Cateye's BM45 Bar End Mirror (retailer link) or stuff like the Hindsight sunnies (also a retailer link. 

Garmin Varia RCT715 review: Setting up

The Varia RCT715 can be connected to a head unit or synced via Bluetooth to the Varia app and attached to your handlebars using a phone mount if you want to use its features but don’t have a cycling computer.

Setting up was easy on both the Garmin Edge 830 and Hammerhead Karoo 2 head units that I used for testing, although it was only possible to control the radar and light settings on both (and each light setting had a different name to the one Garmin lists on its user manual).

To change the camera setting, I had to fire up the app, which seemed counter-intuitive – particularly when paired with a Garmin head unit. After navigating a number of different screens, you’re able to amend the recording mode, change the video quality and audio settings, add overlays like GPS and speed, and turn on incident recording.

The app is also where you can view the gallery of images and videos post-ride, although as mentioned, it wasn’t very user-friendly and was hard to navigate between each of the 30-second clips. I found it a lot more straightforward to connect the device using a USB-C cable and sift through the files like you would on a memory stick.

Garmin Varia RCT715 review

(Image credit: Charlie Allenby)

Garmin Varia RCT715 review: Fitting

After hitting on a winning formula with its Varia RTL515, Garmin simply expanded on the older model’s design so that it could squeeze in a 1080p camera above the light and radar system.

The result is a piece of kit that, while marginally longer, is twice as wide and weighs double, making it a fairly chunky addition in a world that targets being lightweight and sleek at all costs.

That said, mounting the Varia RCT715 to your bike is really easy and only weight weenies would notice the added bulk under the saddles. 

The box includes a mount, three different adapters that are curved for a variety of seat post shapes, two different size silicone bands and a couple of cable ties. The mount itself is an upgrade on the standard Garmin fitting and locks the unit in place securely, so you can trust that your investment isn’t going to fall off mid-ride.

I found that the silicone band was snug enough that I didn’t need to worry about securing with cable ties. The selection of adapters and bands also made it easy to transfer between different bikes.

Garmin Varia RCT715 review: The camera

The focus, rightly, should be on the camera, as this is the stand-out feature of the Varia RCT715 and is where the majority of your money is going. Able to shoot in 1080p or 720p at 30 frames-per-second and also shoot still images, it can be set to record continuously, can be radar-activated (where it records before, during, and after a potential incident), or can be turned off. This final setting negates the main selling point of the unit and you’d really only use if racing on closed roads or trying to conserve the light’s battery at all costs.

When used in continuous mode, the footage is broken down into 30-second long clips, which can then be watched, downloaded and shared post-ride – although it’s worth syncing with a desktop computer via the USB-C cable supplied if you’re trying to decipher a vehicle’s registration plate as I struggled to see it when using a smartphone.

The device’s 16GB of storage is only able to hold 90 minutes of footage. Anything that it thinks includes an incident is saved and protected, while any clips it doesn’t think include an accident is left ‘unsaved’ (which, confusingly, just means that it’s saved onto the storage but is free to be automatically saved over once the storage is full).

Alternatively, the radar-mode setting starts recording at any point where the Varia’s radar detects an approaching vehicle (more on which below). In practice, this was the most useful way to use the Varia RCT715 – after all, rear-facing footage isn’t the most inspiring thing to watch back post-ride, and this helps preserve the device’s battery for when you need it most).

The footage itself was clear enough to spot vehicle registration plates in most conditions and didn’t suffer too much from road spray from my bike’s rear wheel during a wet ride – ideal if used in the UK. One downside was its lack of image stability, which was noticeable when compared to other action cameras such as the latest GoPro Hero10 or Insta360 One RS.

Garmin Varia RCT715 review

(Image credit: Charlie Allenby)

Garmin Varia RCT715 review: The light

The light is the same as that on the Varia RTL515, and has four different modes – solid (20 Lumens), peloton (8 Lumens), night flash (29 Lumens) and day flash (65 Lumens). Garmin claims that the day flash mode can be seen up-to one mile away, and while I didn’t put this to the test, I was confident that drivers could clearly see me – in fact, the footage I captured showed the day flash reflecting in vehicle’s number plates, proving it was hard to miss.

Garmin Varia RCT715 review: The radar

The radar too is the same as the one found in the Varia RTL515. It has a 220° viewing angle and notifies you (via a head unit or the Garmin Varia app) when vehicles are approaching up-to 140 meters away. The radar helps provide a level of awareness of your surroundings that can prepare you for passes and fast-approaching vehicles, giving you enough time to alter your road position or make evasive action.

Like its predecessor, it’s not perfect (when you’re cycling faster than the vehicles behind, the alerts can sometimes drop away even if the car is still following you) and you should always take a look over your shoulder just to be on the safe side, but it’s a welcome addition if you prioritise safety at all costs.

It’s worth pointing out that not all collisions occur from behind, and even with 220° of visibility, the Varia RCT715 won’t notify you of obstacles or record any footage of vehicles pulling out in front of you from a minor road, vehicles turning across your path or vehicles coming in the opposite direction – a common instance on narrow country lanes. If you want to record video evidence of incidents in these situations, you’re best off mounting an action camera to your helmet or handlebars.

Garmin Varia RCT715 review: Battery life

The claimed battery life is the Varia RCT715 is up to six hours, and this includes continuous recording. While I didn’t complete any six-hour rides during our testing, I found that it could handle most three-hour weekend rides comfortably and not be in danger of dying on me. If the unit does run out of battery, any recordings made up to the point of expiring are saved and stored on the device.

It’s worth noting that it does significantly impact the life of a head unit or phone, so it might be an idea to carry a portable power bank with you on longer rides or if using during touring or bikepacking.

Garmin Varia RCT715 review

(Image credit: Charlie Allenby)

Garmin Varia RCT715 review: Verdict

For the RRP, the Varia RCT715 is likely to be out of most amateur cyclists’ budgets but is a welcome addition to the safety-focused cycling tech world from Garmin. If you already own its predecessor (the Varia RTL515), I wouldn’t bother upgrading.

In fact, for the same price, it would be possible to buy yourself one of the older versions and use the money saved to buy an all-out action camera, which would be able to record any incidents when on your bike as well as the fun parts – POV shots in picturesque places and general action sport snaps. 

Garmin Varia RCT715 review: Also consider

If you like the sound of Garmin’s radar system but don’t want the camera, the Garmin Varia RTL515 is a great set-up. At £180 less than the new Varia RCT715, it packs the same light and radar features and has a longer battery life too.

The Tooo Cycling DVR80 combines an 80-lumen rear light with a full HD action camera, keeping you safe and seen during rides while also recording what’s going on behind you – crucial when you need evidence of close passes or in the worst-case scenario of an accident. It's also less than half the price of the RCT715. Read our full Tooo Cycling DVR80 review.

The Apeman Seeker R1 is similarly priced to the RCT715 but has a much better camera. In fact, the Seeker R2 house the fully removable Seeker One action cam than can be used on its own for whatever you want. The only downside is that the Seeker R1 is a rather hefty unit that might be in the way for some cyclists. Read our full Apeman Seeker R1 review.

Charlie Allenby
Freelance Journalist

Charlie Allenby is a journalist with a passion for pedalling, and his first book, Bike London, the definitive guide to cycling in the UK's capital, is out now. He’s got a decade of experience in print and digital journalism and has worked as a writer and editor for many consumer and content marketing publications, including  The GuardianThe IndependentBikeRadar and others.