Garmin Varia RTL510

I seem to have a constant battle with rear lights on my bikes. The main problem is that I use a saddlebag on my full-size bike, and attaching a bike light to it is a seemingly simple task, but tends not to be brilliant.

If you have enough seat-post showing, then placing the light below the saddlebag in such a way that it’s still visible to traffic, is probably the preferred option. But in my case, there isn’t really enough seat-post showing.

Topeak seem to have the popular saddlebag market sewn up, and I have owned several of their models. However, in many instances, when you then hook a light through the slot made for them, they hang backwards and downwards, meaning that the light isn’t as effective. Remember, a rear light is basically only there for you to be seen!

My preferred rear lights, for compactness, have been Lezyne’s Zecto Drive range. But they suffer this problem.

My recent solution has been to change my saddlebag to a use a Topeak Wedge Sidekick saddlebag. I have the smaller of the two sizes. That’s enough for a tube, a couple of CO2 canisters, a large multi-tool, tyre levers and patches. Importantly, it’s firmer than other Topeak models, so hooking a light on the rear keeps the light pointing higher rather than lower. I’ve been happy so far.

All of which brings us to Garmin’s new Radar Light. Now why might I want a radar light? Is that strictly necessary? The answer is clearly not, but it has immediately proved itself useful.

The light fixes to your bike via a regular Garmin quarter-turn connection. The box includes mounts for a seat-post, but as mentioned above, I don’t have room to place it on a seat-post. Fortunately, creative people who design stuff to be 3D printed have got solutions for you. I bought a Varia Saddle Bag Clip via Shapeways. They 3D print things that creators have uploaded to order. It’s an extra cost, and it’d be nice if Garmin packaged one in their box, but it does the trick. Alongside the Topeak Wedge Sidekick, the light stays firmly pointed in the correct direction.

The light itself is relatively basic. There is a single led light and it has four modes – solid on, night flash mode, day flash mode and standby mode (As far as I can see, standby mode is a bit useless since it doesn’t have traffic detection). The battery is recharged via micro USB and the battery life seems decent with 6 hours in solid mode and 15 hours in day flash mode. Fine for most rides, but you’ll probably need a backup light if you do, say, the Dunwich Dynamo.

So how does it work in practice? While a standalone device is available (RTL511), it’s perhaps most useful when paired with compatible Garmin bike computer. In my case I paired it with my Garmin 1000 which was as simple as adding a new sensor. In the top right hand corner you get an indicator that there is connection, and you’re ready to go.

It works by determining larger objects that are moving at a different speed to you. When it sees one, it gives you an alert and small dots appear on the side of your Garmin bike computer (the right hand side by default). The device can determine several vehicles at once, and you’ll see a series of dots. The closer the dots get to the top of the screen, the closer they are to you. If a car passes particularly fast, the screen goes red, but if it’s slower then you get green. The unit will also beep to alert you to this traffic.

I must say that in practice, it worked very well. You do get the concessional false positive, and if a car stays behind you, matching your speed, perhaps up a slow windy hill with few overtaking opportunities, it may lose the vehicle for a while. Other cyclists tend not to show up, but in general I really like it. Note too that it obviously only detects traffic behind you and coming towards you. You shouldn’t see dots tailing off towards the bottom of the screen!

The radar has a 40 degree wide angle which covers a decent chunk of the road. It also means it continues to work going around corners for example. Garmin says that it can detect vehicles up to 140m away, and I’ve no reason to doubt that in my usage.

And when the vehicle gets very close, the blinking on your light increases in frequency to make sure that the driver has seen you!

The only real downside is the impact on battery life of your bike computer. The Edge 1000 I use has never had amazing battery life, but I got the low battery warning after a 70km ride last weekend which is a bit early. Obviously, the number of sensors you’re using will impact on that, as will things like screen brightness and me using maps (which I was). But while the light itself will probably last well, you’ll need to keep your bike computer’s battery topped up.

I’ve not tried the light in the city centre, and I understand that it can be less useful – probably too much other traffic to cope. In any case, you nearly always have cars behind you, so there’s little added value. It’s best for those places where it feels like cars sneak up on you.

Even with only a couple of rides under my belt, I’m already a fan.

For a much better and more detailed review, DC Rainmaker is obviously the place to go.

Garmin Ride Out 2015

Garmin Ride Out 2015-9

Last Thursday was National Cycle to Work Day, an attempt to get more people to discover the benefits – both financial and to their health – of riding to work instead of driving or using public transport. I use a Brompton as part of my daily commute, but last Thursday I rode the full distance into work because I would be taking my bike down to the New Forest afterwards for an early start on Friday.

Garmin are co-sponsors of the Cannondale-Garmin World Tour professional cycling team, and suppliers to others including the Pro Continental British team, Madison Genesis. Because I own a Garmin device (more than one in fact), I was invited to apply to join their annual Ride Out – an event where some of the professional cyclists join amateurs for a ‘leisurely’ (ie not at full professional pace) ride. 6,000 applied and I was one of 500 or so riders who got in.

But it’d make for an early start on Friday. I calculated that I’d need to leave home at 4am to make the first train down to the New Forest to meet them for an 8am start. Not all of us own cars, and that was a bit too much even for me. So I booked myself into a Premier Inn in nearby Christchurch and planned to ride to the start the following morning from my hotel.

After a comfortable train ride down to Christchurch I headed over to the hotel and told the receptionist my name. Did I have my reservation number?

This was worrying. Premier Inns are pretty efficient – they want you to spend minimal time with their reception desks to speed the passage of guests in and out.

I took out my phone and searched for the confirmation email. I had a horrible fear that there might be a problem. And as I double checked my confirmed, non-refundable, booking dates, I realised that I’d manage to book the following Thursday!

This was embarrassing. Yes – she had my booking for the following week. OK, was there anything I could do to pay extra and change my booking.

“I’m sorry sir, we’re full tonight.”

What? Why would a Premier Inn be full on a random Thursday night? She said that there was space in nearby Bournemouth, and there was also a Travelodge nearby as well as a B&B. It was by now gone 9pm.

I walked away, mobile phone in hand and instantly brought up the Travelodge site. A few taps later, and I discovered that they were full too. Furthermore, the Premier Inn in Bournemouth had a single room left, and the price had bumped up to £100. Quite a price for a stupid mistake (How I made the mistake I’m not sure, since when making the booking earlier in the week, I’d repeatedly entered the correct dates into a number of sites’ booking engines).

Then I opened TripAdvisor. Bournemouth was only ten minutes away by train, and there was a train due. So I hurried to the station and on the platform, via a combination of TripAdvisor and, managed to book myself into a cheaper, and actually very nice looking hotel quite near the station in Bournemouth but tucked away a little. The receptionist instantly found my reservation and had me into a very pleasant room.

Not a great start to my ride.

The following morning I took the train back from Bournemouth towards the New Milton in the New Forest, where I found another rider heading out to the event. We rode the short distance to the holiday site where the ride was being organised from.

Garmin Ride Out 2015-5

There I was quite surprised to discover how large the event was. There was a big field with a large marquee at one end, a series of tents to allow you to register in, and a number of trade stands. A food tent was serving breakfast, and there were some tables and chairs laid out. I duly registered and received an actually pretty smart sponsored jersey and goody bag. Although there had been a donation to charity (the very worthy Action Medical Research), everything laid on, including the cycling jersey and food was completely free.

Garmin Ride Out 2015-6

Then the professional teams arrived. The Tour of Britain was starting in North Wales on Sunday, which explained the timing of this event, but first stop for them was their promotional duties with us. Madison-Genesis had a decent sized vehicle with a rider area towards the front and a kind of portable workshop towards the back. Cannondale-Garmin has a full-sized bus. Although they have a big presence in Spain at the Vuelta, most of the World Tour teams have at least two buses to cater for being in multiple races at the same time. Indeed it’s not uncommon for teams to have representation at three races simultaneously.

Garmin Ride Out 2015-1

We gathered in the marquee where Daniel Lloyd was to be master of ceremonies. An ex-pro himself, these days you mostly hear him doing commentary and interview duty on television, and as one part of the really excellent GCN team on YouTube. The GCN guys were there for the Ride Out and I saw them shooting at least one video while they were there. Then we had Q&A sessions with both the Tour of Britain teams who proved decent interviewees. Lloyd was well-prepared and had questions for each of them. Then there was a charity auction. I’d bought a couple of tickets. But I didn’t come away with a new Cannondale bike or anything else in the draw.

Garmin Ride Out 2015-3

Garmin Ride Out 2015-4

Finally it was time for the ride. We would be going out in groups, and each group would be accompanied by a couple of riders. The groups weren’t organised by any particular categorisation, and I headed for an earlyish group if only to give myself a decent opportunity to get around the 47 miles without ending too late.

Garmin Ride Out 2015-7

At the start I was safely in my group, but the pace was fast for me, and I found myself towards the rear of it. At one point I was dangling off the back a fair bit with a couple of others. I worked hard to get back on, but just after I finally had, a major road intersection got in the way, and I was no longer with the larger group. The group wasn’t a formal train and throughout the event, people were riding at their own pace. As such I wasn’t with a pro rider for any significant amount of time. I later learnt that this wasn’t just the case for me. Lionel Birnie of The Cycling Podcast related how he hadn’t stayed with the pros either.

Although I’d applied individually, it was clear that a decent number of others were riding in groups with their clubs. I guess that if a lot of them applied, a handful had got in. But there were solo riders like me as well. It’s one of the issues you face when you join a ride like this that’s been over-subscribed.

We’d been told the course was essentially flat, with the only significant hill just before a drinks area about mid-way around the route. But that didn’t take account of some long, quite exposed heathland drags. I found myself slogging through this area, often alone.

This was the first ride on my new Ultegra cranks. The Giant Defy 0 I’ve had for a couple of years was mostly an Ultegra groupset, but my cranks and bottom bracket were FSA – I assume to save a bit of money to meet a price-point. Recently however my bottom bracket had been making noises when I put it under force riding up a hill or something. On a sportive in Norfolk this had finally ended with a fatal popping of the bottom bracket that caused me to withdraw completely from the event. I decided that I was going to go fully Ultegra, and with a deal on at Evans on Shimano cranks, I replaced my FSA set with Shimano ones at the same time as replacing the bottom bracket. This was my first big ride on the new combination, and things were going well.

Garmin Ride Out 2015-8

The drinks stop was just beyond halfway and was well-stocked with energy gels, bananas and other treats. I didn’t hang around too long as it was clouding over ominously. Although the app on my phone said we’d get around dry, I wasn’t so sure looking at some of the clouds. So I was keen to get things over quickly if possible.

I headed out with a handful of others, and having drafted for a little while behind one guy, I decided to take my turn at the front. Somehow I dropped him though, and so I found myself alone again – or rather separated from others. I headed onwards, and kept up a better speed. Those gels were kicking in.

The last part of the ride went fairly quickly and we were soon back at the base where lunch was being served. A good day’s riding, and nice to see a part of the country I’ve managed to never visit my entire life!

I headed back to the small local station, aware that the trains back to London were infrequent and only carried six bikes officially. I stood with the bike one stop before we reached Southampton and I found a permanent space. Carrying bikes on trains is always “fun.” Some operators make you book which at least guarantees a spot. But others run on a first-come first-served basis. Fine if you get on at the start of the line, but not so great otherwise. Back in London I heard a guard tell another one that she’d stopped two bikes getting on at one point.

It was only 4:30pm in London and my next problem was that I’d not be able to take my bike on a train home until 7pm. I wasn’t going to hang around that long, so even though I had a rucksack full of work clothes and shoes, I rode the 14 miles or so home through London traffic. I chose the less hilly but much busier route home, because I was pretty knackered. I’d managed to the Ride Out at a fast speed for me, and now I was feeling it in my legs.

Still, a fun event, and I’ll definitely try to do it again.