Garmin Varia RCT715 review: a rear light, camera & radar all in one; average, good and actually fantastic

The Radar functionality is the star feature of this impressive bit of tech

Image shows the Garmin Varia RCT715 mounted on a bike
(Image credit: Paul Grele)
Cycling Weekly Verdict

The RCT715 is a really impressive little unit capable of filming, providing a rear light and incorporating a radar. It will link to an existing Garmin Edge product or a bar mounted phone (via an app). It is well made and straightforward to setup and use. Whilst the camera film quality is excellent and the rear light is good, the radar is the standout feature. It gives the rider really accurate information to plan your movements on the road.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    All in one solution

  • +

    Really well made and designed

  • +

    Radar feature was exceptionally useful

  • +

    Choice of three products in the range, so that you can choose which features suit your needs

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Quite expensive

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The Varia RCT715 is the range topping device from Garmin's Radar series which also includes the RTL515 and RVR315. The RCT715 features a camera, rear light and radar, and it is able to link with either a cycling computer (a Garmin Edge device or others including Wahoo's Elemnt Bolt and Roam, and Hammerhead's Karoo 2), or your mobile smartphone for additional functionality. It weighs 147g without the bracket and measures 106.5x42x32mm (LxWxD). 

Garmin's Varia RCT715 is a device aimed at keeping you safe on the road by giving a visual warning to following vehicles (via the light), recording any incidents (via the camera) and giving the rider notice of following traffic (via the radar), namely the number of cars, their distance and approaching speed. It does not replace sensible riding and good all round observation, however! In conjunction with the latter, though, it is a really interesting and useful device.

We headed out to see how Garmin's 3-in-1 device compares to the best bike lights and best bike and helmet cameras

Garmin Varia RCT715: construction

Image shows the Garmin Varia RCT715 mounted on a bike

Showing the bracket, including the locking lever

(Image credit: Paul Grele)

The Garmin Varia RCT715 is solidly made and felt durable in the hand. The sides feature a lightly rubberised feeling plastic which helps with holding it securely. The mounting bracket comes with three shims for round, aero and d-shaped seat posts and is secured with a double loop band that goes around the seat post. The camera/light then fits into a slot on the bracket and is held securely using its locking lever.

The microSD card is located under a penny slot cover which has a weather seal, whilst the USB-C is under a weather cap near the bottom of the unit. Both seals appear to be well made and didn't allow water in on rainy rides. It has a water rating of IPX7.

As with all configurable technology there will be many permutations that you can select for your own bespoke setup, however you can expect the battery to last between four and 10 hours depending whether you run the camera all the time and have a rear light on solidly, or have the camera off and using a flashing light mode. The Garmin site has a good manual pdf download which is well worth a read, if you have very specific questions. 

There are four light modes; 20 lumens solid, 8 lumens peloton, 29 lumens night flash & 65 lumens day flash. There are also three camera modes to choose between too: Continuous, off, radar-activated with each able to record in either 1080p or 720p at 30 FPS. The RCT715 has ANT+ to control the radar and lights as well as BLE for the radar and camera control.

Garmin Varia RCT715: the ride

I have primarily used the Garmin Edge 530 head unit while riding with this camera/light/radar and whilst I have used the Garmin Varia App on an iPhone too, I didn't ride with it. 

I'll start with the fitting of the seat post mount. The bracket is well made and you have a choice of shims which are marked, for example, 73deg / 77deg to allow fine tuning of the bracket and ensure that it sits perpendicular (at 90 degrees) to the road. This is to ensure that the camera has the best angle of view as well as allowing the radar to be most accurate. 

The stretchy double band is a bit fiddly to fit but once fitted it does stay in place. I would quite like a bolt-on version or seat rail clamp bracket for a more permanent solution but it seems that this is the only option at the moment. The locking lever clicks home very securely. As the bracket is slim I found that there was also good leg clearance while riding.

Once the RCT715 has been setup, microSD card formatted, Bluetooth/ANT+ pairing done, then you can ride. 

Camera quality

The camera records pictures really clearly in 1080P and you can easily read car number plates. It also records sound. The ambient noise is fairly low when riding slowly but a rumble and 'shhhhhhh' increases as speeds get faster. My freewheel is clearly audible when coasting. It doesn't pick up speech particularly well, so if you're giving a commentary about unfolding events then it'll probably be lost. 

I settled on the radar-activated camera mode as opposed to the continuously filming one to save on battery and memory. 

It's worth being aware that the RCT715 does overwrite older footage as it records in a loop.

Rear light functionality

The rear light is pretty good even with 20 lumens in solid mode. It has edge windows either side of the light section to give out more light to the sides. As is it, it is a fine light but compared to the Exposure TraceR ReAKT and Knog Cobber Mid it gives a bit away - those two really are a benchmark for an excellent rear light.

Experimenting with the different setting I settled on the Day Flash 65 lumen for daytime use and Solid 20 lumen for night riding. As a vehicle approaches from behind, the light will automatically start to flash/change mode to alert the driver. Then, once the car has passed you, the light reverts to your chosen setting.

Radar use

Next is the radar functionality. Using the Edge 530, I had the screen showing the usual stats (speed, distance, timer etc) open, and with ANT+ operating I could see the connected symbol in the top right hand corner of the screen. 

When a car starts to approach from 140 meters behind you, the edges of the screen turn orange. You then see a white dot move from the bottom right side up the screen edge to the top. When it is near the top it means that they are right behind you. If they have slowed to your pace the screen edges flash green. Also if there are several cars behind you then you will see several white dots on the screen edge. Once you have been overtaken and the road behind you is clear then the screen returns to normal. There is also a red screen edge which is activated when a vehicle is approaching you very quickly. 

I really came to value this feature and used it a lot. Whilst nothing should replace a proper look over the shoulder, it gave me a heads up and extra information for planning my next section of road, and then I would use conventional observation skills. If you are in very busy traffic or commuting you may find that there is too much information, however in the country lanes it performed superbly.

Garmin Varia RCT715: value and conclusion

I think that there are different ways to look at the Garmin Varia RCT715. Firstly, if you want a single integrated bit of kit and need all three functions, then great, it works really well, and is nicely made with great integration. Sorted! 

You may not feel that you want or benefit from the camera part, in which case the RTL515 has the same radar and rear light functionality. It'll be a bit lighter and saves you some money. 

For me, I have been massively impressed with the radar section and as I already have a very good rear light I'd probably go that direction and get the RVR315 (radar only). It's nice to have the choice, though, isn't it!

Scoring-wise, I've broken the individual components down to the three parts. Firstly, the rear light is good but not as good as my benchmark for lights so give that aspect four out of five stars. Secondly, the camera is a really good quality unit but it doesn't record sound/spoken commentary too well so I'll give that 4.5. Finally, the radar is excellent and I'd give it a full five out of five star rating – a fantastic bit of useful tech.

Taking that all together, I've given this unit with the light, camera and radar a 4.5 star rating overall.

Garmin Varia RCT715: specs

  • 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: 20 solid, 8 peloton, 29 night flash, 65 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 convenient radar display, camera control and video transfer

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