The Garmin Varia Vision is the first in what is sure to be an explosion of brand new wearable technology – a HUD (Heads Up Device) made especially for cyclists. The Garmin Varia Vision lets you look at information from your Garmin Edge bike computer or your Garmin Edge Varia radar – WITHOUT taking your eyes off the road to peer down at your handlebars. The information is projected on a tiny screen that clips to the side of your cycling glasses, so that you can focus on the road all the time, and just glance over to the side to read data.
Cycling Safety in 3 Ways
Garmin offers 3 products that may help to improve cyclist safety: Garmin smart bike lights, Garmin Rearview radar and Garmin Varia Vision.
What Does Garmin Varia Vision Do?
These are expensive gadgets, so why would you want one? Clearly, it is about safety. For example, one of the times I like to look at my Garmin Edge bike computer is to see how fast I am going. But that’s not a smart time to take your eyes off the road. Being able to check your speed – and other data metrics – without looking down is a safety feature. That’s the focus of this video:
Another reason is age-related. Did you know that by the age of 50, almost everyone has presbyopia? Yeah, I didn’t know that either, until it happened to me. It’s a fancy word for a normal part of ageing: the lenses of our eyes lose elasticity. When we are young, we can look at something nearby (like the bike computer on our handlebars), and then immediately look at something far away (like the next turn in a mountainous downhill road) – and our lenses will instantly adjust to enable us to see both clearly. When we are not-so-young, our lenses gradually lose this ability to elastically change on a dime. We can correct our vision with glasses, but we cannot make our lenses elastic again. That’s why some people wear progresses, bifocals or trifocals, while others have one set of glasses for reading and another for cycling.
I have gone with the last option, because I could not get used to progressives. But there is a problem. When I am wearing my prescription Adidas cycling glasses (reviewed here), I can see the road perfectly – BUT I cannot read the words on my Garmin Edge bike computer. To actually read what it says, I have to stop and lift my glasses out of the way. This is pretty much impossible when wearing a bike helmet.
I watched the above YouTube video review of the Garmin Varia Vision, and the reviewer said that $399 is way too much to pay for the luxury of not having to look down. I would agree with that, but what he missed (probably because he is very young) is that it is NOT a luxury for those who cannot read the words on their bike computers any more.
Over the last few years I have become somewhat depressed about not being able to see my bike computer. This is yet another aspect of ageing that no one warned me about. In any event, I was thrilled to find that there IS still a way to see what my bike computer is trying to tell me, thanks to the advanced wearable technology in the Garmin Varia Vision.
The question was, would it work, or would it just be another distraction on my bike ride?
Fitting the Garmin Varia Vision
It was a cinch to fit the Garmin Varia Vision to my Adidas cycling glasses. One of the things that Garmin truly excels at are lightweight mounts that work really well. The device weighs 7 oz, which did not worry me at all. My head did NOT start listing to the right! Also, it was small enough that it did not obscure my side vision.
Using the Garmin Varia Vision
At this time, there are only three devices that work with the Garmin Varia Vision: they are the Garmin Edge 520 (reviewed here); the Garmin Edge 1000 (reviewed here); and the Garmin Varia Rearview Radar Tail Light (which tells you when cars are coming, and tries to alert motorists that you exist, by blinking red lights at them).
Essentially, the Garmin Varia Vision will mirror whatever data is displayed on any of these devices. What I found was great was to put the Garmin Edge 520 into scrolling mode, so that I could see all of my relevant metrics, without having to change screens. I also liked just setting it to my primary display page, which has the five metrics most important to me.
However, I have seen the Garmin Varia Vision used with the Rearview Radar Tail Light, and it works well.
Navigation Prompts on the Garmin Varia Vision
Without a doubt, the most useful aspect of connecting Garmin Varia Vision to a Garmin Edge 1000 or 520 is that you can follow turn-by-turn prompts without looking down at your handlebars. The prompts include a visual and auditory prompt to warn you when a turn is coming up. There is also a prompt if you miss a turn.
However, there is a bit of a catch 22 here. The Garmin Edge 520 is not optimized for navigation. So you need to first download a course to it, from Garmin Connect, or Strava (if you have a Strava premium account). Then you can use your Edge 520 and Garmin Varia Vision to be directed, and it’s pretty magic. PLUS, the Garmin Varia Vision has an integrated vibration motor. This really works well for me, as I often don’t hear the beeps (is my hearing failing too?). And seeing the visual prompt via the Garmin Varia Vision is really great.
Of course, it’s even better if you have a Garmin Edge 1000, as that is optimized for navigation. You just select your destination, and the Garmin Edge 1000 will figure out a route and tell you how to get there.
Quality of the display on the Garmin Varia Vision
The colors and resolution of the display on the Garmin Varia Vision are truly awesome. I could not figure out any way to photograph it, but it’s better than any comparable display I have ever seen.
What it’s Like to Use the Garmin Varia Vision
This product has made me very excited about the future of wearable technology. The Garmin Varia Vision is Google Glass for cyclists. Employees at Boeing now use Google Glass to build air planes, and that this has increased production and reduced errors. So clearly they are just fine with seeing two different visuals. However, those are skilled engineers. I was not so sure how well I would do. Especially since I tried and failed to master those little rear view mirrors that clip to your helmet. Even though I see lots of people using them, and they are a best seller on Amazon.
Bottom Line on the Garmin Varia Vision
This is a great device that works perfectly with the Garmin Edge 520 (and the Edge 1000 and the Varia radar). However, it is expensive. And of course, so far it only pairs with three devices, so if you don’t have one of those, it would not be much use. Obviously this situation will change over time, but it has not yet changed. Deciding to buy one of these will most likely come down to three questions:
- Do you cycle a lot?
- Can you afford it?
- Do you need it?
In my case, I could say “Yes” to all three of those questions. But ten years ago, when I could still see my bike computer by glancing down at my handlebars, I don’t think I needed it enough to justify the price tag.
As with all these gadget decisions, it will come down to whether the item seems important enough to you to justify the price. And with the price of the Garmin Varia Vision, most buyers are likely to have a long, hard think about that one.
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This post was originally published on Average Joe Cyclist.