Our recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We may earn a commission when you purchase a product through our links. This helps support our work but does not influence what we write about or the price you pay. Our editors thoroughly review and fact check every article.Our process
'ZDNet Recommends': What exactly does it mean?
ZDNet's recommendations are based on many hours of testing, research, and comparison shopping. We gather data from the best available sources, including vendor and retailer listings as well as other relevant and independent reviews sites. And we pore over customer reviews to find out what matters to real people who already own and use the products and services we’re assessing.
When you click through from our site to a retailer and buy a product or service, we may earn affiliate commissions. This helps support our work, but does not affect what we cover or how, and it does not affect the price you pay. Neither ZDNet nor the author are compensated for these independent reviews. Indeed, we follow strict guidelines that ensure our editorial content is never influenced by advertisers.
ZDNet's editorial team writes on behalf of you, our reader. Our goal is to deliver the most accurate information and the most knowledgeable advice possible in order to help you make smarter buying decisions on tech gear and a wide array of products and services. Our editors thoroughly review and fact-check every article to ensure that our content meets the highest standards. If we have made an error or published misleading information, we will correct or clarify the article. If you see inaccuracies in our content, please report the mistake via this form.
Last month I spent a few days with Garmin and several others from the cycling and running world. The mountain bikers were excited to try out the new Garmin Edge 530 and Varia RTL510 since this pair added some advanced metrics to track and record data while traversing the trails of Western Montana. In addition to mountain bikers, these two new devices are also perfect for daily bike commuters and road bikers.
I ride my bike six miles a day to and from the local Sounder train station, as well as regular longer commute rides of 32 to 38 miles a day. My typical daily short commute ride takes place on busy city streets so I have a mirror mounted to my helmet to help me track those approaching me from behind. The Garmin Edge 530 and Varia have proven to serve this role better with accurate tracking of vehicles and active warning being shown to those vehicles so that I am kept safer than ever before.
Despite my efforts to show my wife that I am diligent about tracking approaching vehicles with my mirror (I have not yet been hit by a vehicle), it wasn't until I showed her how the Edge 530 and Varia detect, track, and warn vehicles and their drivers that she felt better about my commute. Unfortunately, too many people are distracted by phones today while they are driving and biking on the roads is risky business. Sidewalk biking is not advisable in my town with uneven pavement and efforts to make it illegal so bikers must trust that people driving are actually paying attention to the road ahead. These two devices help raise that awareness for both bike riders and car drivers.
The primary hub of this bike computer system is the Garmin Edge 530 that displays data captured from the Varia and controls the light of the Varia while also providing metrics it captures from GPS. You can use the Edge 530 without the Varia as a full and complete bike computer or use the Varia itself as a rear bike light.
Display: 2.6 inch 246x322 pixels resolution, color
Storage capacity: 200 waypoints/locations, 100 routes, and up to 200 hours of history
Garmin released a couple of bike computers this year, the Garmin Edge 530 and Edge 830. The primary difference between the two is that the Edge 830 has a touchscreen interface while the Edge 530 is fully controlled with buttons along its sides and bottom. There is a $100 price difference to add the touchscreen capability of the 830.
The Garmin Edge 530 has an oblong form factor with much of the front being taken up by the 2.6 inch color display. The Garmin label is found below the display while an ambient light sensor is above the display.
On the left side you will find three buttons. The top button has a center red line in it and is offset near the top. This button is used as the power button or to enable sleep mode. There are two other buttons along the bottom half of the left side that are used as scroll buttons to move up and down through lists.
On the right side, we find two buttons positioned at the upper and lower edges of the Edge 530. The top one is used as the selection button while the bottom one serves as a back button. You can hold the bottom button to go back to the home screen.
There are also two buttons along the bottom of the Edge 530. The left one is used to mark a new lap and was never tested during my riding. The bottom right one is used to start and stop the activity timer. Between these two buttons is a silicon cover that keeps the microUSB charging port protected from the elements.
Mounts are included in the retail package so find an acceptable place to mount the Garmin Edge 530 using the mount, disks, and bands.
Garmin Edge 530 and Varia RTL510: in pictures
Device and smartphone software
Garmin has an interface on the Edge 530 that is fully controlled by the buttons and it only took me a couple of minutes to figure it out and use the bike computer. There are options on the display that you can move through with the left side up and down buttons while the upper right button serves to select the highlighted option. The bottom right side button serves as a back button to take you back one screen on the Edge 530.
When you first start up the Garmin Edge 530 the home screen appears with a row of indicator icons along the top. These show battery status, connection status to other devices and sensors (satellites, Bluetooth, WiFi, heart rate, light, and more) with the time at the far right side. My default is to start with commute as the main center activity. An arrow up lets you switch to status and a selection down brings up the menu. Available widgets include notifications and segment explorer, which are available from the status page.
A move down to the menu brings up options for training, navigation, history, my stats, Connect IQ, and settings. You can select each of these and spend lots of time exploring everything you want to customize your entire Garmin Edge 530 experience. Settings available include activity profiles, sensors, safety and tracking, connected features, battery save mode, extended display, and more.
While I primarily used the Edge 530 so far for my daily commute, there are a ton of options for training on your bike and I look forward to exploring this more in the future.
When I commute, I have the display setup to show speed, time expended, distance covered, and time of day on the main display with maps on a second display. You can customize your entire training experience, including even setting the ride type up as an ebike.
Garmin Cycle Maps are preloaded on the Edge 530, which includes turn-by-turn directions and navigation alerts. Garmin states that popularity routing chooses from the roads and trails most traveled by cyclists so that you know if your route is valid.
Mountain bikers will appreciate the Trailforks app that is available in the Connect IQ Store as it provides trail map content on trails from more than 80 countries. These maps include trail conditions, heatmaps, and much more.
The new ClimbPro feature shows you the remaining ascent and grade when you are on a route so you can plan your remaining effort with hydration and more.
The Garmin Edge 530 is a complete bike computer with the ability to monitor performance metrics, including VO2 max, recovering, training load, heat and altitude acclimation, hydration, and much more. I have yet to see anything missing on the 530 and find it to be a valuable accessory for cycling.
Mountain bike dynamics are also tracked on the Edge 530. These include jump count, jump distance, hang time, grit, and flow. I captured a few of these metrics during my bike ride in Montana, but need to spend many more hours in the woods to appreciate all it has to offer.
There are several safety features in the Garmin Edge 530, including a bike alarm, group messaging and tracking, incident detection, and its connectivity with the Garmin Varia radar. I have the incident detection capability on my Garmin Foreruner 945 and given that I commute daily on roads it is an important functionality that offers my family piece of mind.
The Garmin Edge 530 also connects to your smartphone through the Garmin Connect app so you can see all of the details of the data captured by the Edge 530. In addition, the Garmin Connect website provides you with all of the collected data and lets you run reports to your heart's delight.
Garmin Varia RTL510
The Garmin Varia RTL510 radar tail light unit is a four inch long device with the red LED light and radar sensor positioned at the top of the back while the rest of the back panel houses the rest of the battery and sensor in the unit. A power button is located at the top of the RTL510 with a silicone cover over the microUSB charging port on the bottom left of the back. A small indicator light appears adjacent to the G in Garmin on the lower right side.
The top half of the back is where the Garmin quick connect mounting system plate is attached. With this mounting system, it is easy to set and rotate a quarter turn to lock the RTL510 in place. I ride an old 1994 bike and a 2017 RadCity electric bike at high speeds so there is a lot of movement on my bikes. The radar tail light has never fallen off and stays securely connected to my bikes.
Dimensions of the RTL510 are 98.6 x 39.6 x 19.7 mm and 71 grams. It connects to the Garmin Edge 530 via ANT+ and has an IPX7 water resistant rating so can stand up to daily usage in almost all conditions.
The battery is rated for six hours in solid or night flash mode and 15 hours in day flash mode. So far I have only used it in day flash mode due to riding in the summer months. As a vehicle gets closer to you, the light switches to flashing mode to bring attention to you on the right side of the road. Hopefully this flashing extremely bright light is enough to get a driver to look up from their phone long enough not to hit you.
You can use the light in stand alone mode as a tail light too. Once you press the power button to turn it on it will be in a default solid red mode. Press the button again to go a slow pulsing mode, again to go into a double flash mode, and one more time to turn off the light.
The Varia RTL510 connects easily to the Edge 530 and then on the display of the Edge 530 you will see an amber light when a vehicle is approaching, a red light when one is approaching at high speeds, and a green light when the vehicle is past you and all is good to go. When there are multiple vehicles approaching, they will appear as dots along one side of the Edge 530 display that show relative positions of the vehicles. This has proven to be one of the most useful features of this combination as it lets me keep accurate track of vehicles coming up behind me.
The Garmin Varia RTL510 will not function as a radar unit by itself, but can be connected to a number of other Garmin devices. Compatible companions include other Edge bike computer, Garmin Fenix line of wearables, Garmin Forerunners, and Garmin Vivoactive devices. A bundle option, priced $100 more, is available that includes a basic radar display unit with dots that show the relative position of approaching vehicles.
With a connection to the Garmin Forerunner 945 setup through a typical external sensor connection you then choose to start a bike session on your comptabile Forerunner and off to one side you will see the same vehicle circle icons moving up the display with colors changing as conditions change, similar to the Edge 530. Thus, you can indeed purchase the Varia and use it as a tail light and radar unit without having a full bike computer on board. It's easier to see the bike computer mounted on your handlebars, but then again you can mount your watch up there instead if you desire.
The Varia RTL510 is advertised to provide visual and audible alerts for vehicles approaching from up to 153 yards away, which is further than I typically notice through my small helmet-mounted mirror. The tail light is also advertised to provide visibility up to a mile away with visibility of 220 degrees so that you are well illuminated with the tail light system.
Daily usage experiences of the combo
The Garmin Edge 530 is priced at $299.99 while the Varia RTL510 is $199.99. A sensor bundle for the Edge 530 includes a speed sensor, cadence sensor, and heart rate monitor for an additional $100. A mountain bike bundle, $70 additional cost, includes a mountain bike mount, Garmin Edge remote, and speed sensor.
In the past I used my GPS sports watches to help record data from my bike rides and as a small screen portable bike computer. It is much easier and more functional to have a handlebar-mounted bike computer with a large display and long battery life monitoring my ride. The large buttons are easy to access for controlling the experience while biking while the 2.6 inch display is also large enough to easily read while riding and maintaining your focus on the road ahead.
The radar and vehicle tracking capability of this pair is reason enough to purchase and use these devices. My awareness of approaching vehicles has increased dramatically with the radar detecting vehicles and the Edge 530 showing the number and relative location of these vehicles. I now use my mirror primarily to identify and check on the closest vehicle that is detected well in advance of its arrival by the Garmin Edge 530.
With my recent installation of a headlight powered by my electic bike's battery, see the RadCity bike review, I no longer need to charge gear up nightly. The Garmin Edge 530 and Varia have long battery life ratings and I only have to charge up the pair every other week. Low power notifications appear well in advance of the devices running out of power so I have never run the pair down and they have served as excellent safety devices for daily commuting.
The Garmin Edge 530 captures all the data I want for biking and while I did not get a chance to test out its advanced mountain biking capability I had a blast trying out a mountain bike in Montana and may get into this sport eventually. The data it captures on my daily commute that I find interesting includes the speed of my typical commute, the amount of calories I burn even on my electric bike, and the elapsed time to get from one location to the other.
There is also a bike alarm feature that requires you to pair the Edge 530 with your phone. Then if the bike is moved, with the Edge 530 mounted and your phone in Bluetooth range, an audible alarm will sound and a notification will appear on your phone that requires a PIN to turn off the alarm.
The Garmin Edge 530 is a solid bike computer for commuters, road bikers, and mountain bikers. With the easy mounting system and various mount options it is also easy to move the pair of devices around between different bike platforms. It's a bit awkward to work around the device to press various buttons and the bottom button to turn on and stop the activity requires a bit of angling to accurately hit the button.