Garmin is trying to prevent cyclists from getting rear-ended with it's latest smart safety device.
The Varia rearview bike radar is a red rear "smart" bike light that also detects traffic on the road up to 140 metres, or about 153 yards, behind the cyclist and shows it on a display mounted on the handlebars.
The light increases in brightness or speeds up its flashing sequence, depending on the mode selected, as cars approach to help alert approaching drivers to the presence of the bike.
The display unit shows up to eight vehicles behind the cyclist and indicates increasing risk with a change in color. The radar is part of the Varia line of smart cycling devices that will also work with Garmin's Edge cycling computers and overlays the visual on top of the computer's data screen.
The Varia radar is the polished version of Backtracker, a radar developed by startup iKubu, which Garmin acquired in January.
Of course, some cyclists use another, lower spec piece of technology to see cars behind them, the handlebar-mounted side mirror. The problem with this, apart from looking stupid, is that it's more distracting and difficult to try and identify a car in the mirror than it is taking a quick glance back. While the Varia certainly looks cooler, it will suffer from the same problem. Cyclists using it to try to identify different color cars on a screen could likely cause more accidents than it would solve. It also just shows vehicles approaching in a vertical line and doesn't give the rider an accurate idea of the car's location on the road, the way a glance behind would.
Along with the radar, Garmin is releasing Varia smart lights. Based on the data coming from the Edge bike computer, the front headlight beam automatically projects further ahead at faster speeds during a ride and closer as a rider's speed decreases, lighting the road where cyclists need it the most. The rear light increases in intensity when the bike slows down to alert traffic, and a second light can be added to indicate turn signals from a remote control on the handlebars.
The lights seem like a more practical safety solution, although they don't come cheap. The three-light bundle with remote will cost $300, or separately the headlight will set you back $200 and the tail light $70. If you must have the latest gadgetry on your bike, the Varia radar tail light is available for $199.99, or $299.99 bundled with the radar display unit starting in the third quarter of the year. Alternatively, get some lights for less than $50 and keep your eyes and ears peeled.