Garmin Varia Smart Lights review

Garmin brings its considerable expertise in cycling computer technology to illumination

Cycling Weekly Verdict

Ultimately, it’s the software that lets the Garmin Varia Smart Lights down, with the front light crashing and the light network frequently dropping out. It could well be a case of waiting for Garmin to release a software update before these units reach their full potential.

Reasons to buy
  • +

    Good rear light

  • +

    Good variety of beam options

  • +

Reasons to avoid
  • -

    Light network drops out frequently

  • -

    Front light prone to crashing when on full beam

  • -

    Buttons hard to press

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The Garmin Varia Smart Lights sit within Garmin’s cycling ecosystem, designed as a way to pair your bike lights with your cycling computer.

On paper they should do some pretty nifty tricks. For example, when paired with your Garmin Edge you can program them to brighten or dim depending on speed, or the same can be done as the natural light fades away.

>>> Garmin Edge 820 review

In terms of modes, there are a few options on offer, including a pulsing flash, which I opted for when in traffic, or a super-bright high burn mode.

The latter could prove useful should your rides take you down unlit streets regularly.

People could well be put off by the weight of the front light. Granted, it does have to house a whole computer inside but it’ll still be off-putting for those riders conscious about lugging extra grams around.

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Likewise, they might do too much for those who simply need lights to commute, who don’t need to know how much battery they have left or the beam angle.

The Garmin Varia Smart light system

The light connection between the three parts often dropped out

Setting up the Garmin Varia Smart light

As with anything 'smart' there's a level of jiggery-pokery involved when trying to get them set up.

With the Garmin Varia Lights, most of the pokery comes down to getting the lights ready to connect – hold down the button until a blue light starts flashing. From here, you’ll need to navigate through your Garmin Edge’s device to connect the lights together.

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You should also be able to add a stem-mounted control into the network which, in theory, will let you cycle through the light options from the safety of your handlebars. In reality, it proved more difficult than this.

Watch: A buyer's guide to bike lights

Riding with the Garmin Varia Smart Lights

Unfortunately, riding them in the real world the 'light network' as it's called was very unstable, constantly dropping in and out.

While not disastrous – the light remains on despite the connection having dropped out – it does mean you’ll no longer be able to control the front light through the stem-mounted control.

In reality, though, I rarely used this anyway – partly because I struggled to get it to work and partly because I never felt the need to change the beam on the lights.

The Garmin Varia controll button

The Garmin Varia control button sits on top of your stem

There were times when I wanted to change from a solid beam to a flashing mode when entering traffic but was unable to do this easily thanks to the iffy light network. Of course, you could lean forward to change it manually on the body of the light, but where’s the 'smarts' in that?

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Joking aside, pressing the buttons wasn’t an easy option, either. A lack of feedback such as a click made it difficult to know whether you’d pressed the button properly, especially if you were wearing gloves.

The Garmin Varia Smart rear light

The Garmin Varia Smart rear light was an admirable performer

Sadly, these aren’t the most significant issues found with the lights. More worrying was the front light’s habit of overheating and crashing when connected to an Edge device and put in full beam mode.

Happily, the rear light is an admirable performer, combining good visibility with decent battery life. The out-front mount for the light is neat, too, which allows you to run your Garmin on top of the light, avoiding an overcluttering of the cockpit.

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