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Garmin Varia RTL510 Radar/Cycling Light In-Depth Review

Garmin-RTL510-Radar

Yes, it’s a bike radar. But no, it’s not the first bike radar Garmin has made.

And yes, I can hear the comments about ‘why not buy a $15 mirror’ already being furiously typed into your keyboard.

Except here’s the funny thing I learned in the 3 years since Garmin released the last radar: People actually like it.

Or more specifically, people that bought one like it and find value in it. I don’t think I’ve even seen a single purchaser complaint posted about it posted on my first gen review, or any other review on the Varia Radar (trust me, there are plenty of other Garmin complaints instead).

Which is a long-winded introduction to the RTL510 cycling light and radar.  This modest upgrade essentially takes the hardware of the past and refactors it into a different design with a more visible bike light component, while also making some minor internal tweaks.  Said differently: If you were a fan before, you’ll likely be a bigger fan now.  And if you were a hater before, you’ll probably still be a hater.

But if you were on the fence? Then this review is probably for you.

Now, I’m going to try and keep this review relatively streamlined. Partially because at the end of the day it’s essentially a blinky light that also blinks dots on a screen. Sure, it has really cool technology inside of it, but there’s not a ton of features like a watch or a bike computer.  Also, I’ve got half a dozen other reviews and related posts to write this week and not enough cookies to power me through all of that.  So, let’s get to it!

Oh, wait – wanna overview of it all in a quick video? Ask no more, here ya go:

Finally, note that I’m using media loaner units for this review. They’ll go back to Garmin shortly and I’ll go out and get my own stuff via normal retail channels. If you find this review useful – hit up the linkage at the bottom to help support the site.

What’s in the box:

There are technically two methods you can buy the RTL510. One being just the unit/mount itself. And the second being in a bundle with a small display (see my later comments on that).  In this case, I’ve got just the normal non-bundle one.

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Unpacking all the goods on the table is pretty simple, complete with enough plastic bags to house your lunch contents for a week.  Once we get rid of that, we’re left with this:

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First you’ll find the mounts. These include both a round seatpost mount as well as an aero seatpost mount, the third piece is what those first two pieces attach to. Plus some rubber bands to hold it in place.

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Then we’ve got the unit itself. It’s roughly the height of a tall red apple, but only about as wide as a carrot.

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On the back, you can see the quarter-turn mount to attach it to the seatpost mount.

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Also, you’ll find the micro-USB charging port atop, along with the cable in the box. The unit states 15 hours of battery. Though that varies on the mode you’re in (flashing vs solid on).  For solid-on, it’s 6 hours.

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And finally, you’ve got some paper stuff that says despite this being a safety device, you shouldn’t depend on it 100%.

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Overall, a pretty straight forward list of parts, so let’s get right to setting it up.

Getting Setup:

The RTL510 has two core purposes:

A) Detect vehicles overtaking you from behind
B) Be a rear-facing bike light (that’s also visible from the side)

It doesn’t directly try to be anything else, though indirectly it has other features.  For example, it connects via ANT+ to your bike computer or watch, enabling you to view that vehicle approaching data on your screen.  And it detects how fast things are approaching, and how far away they are.  And it even blinks a bunch when a vehicle begins to overtake you – hopefully making you more visible by drawing attention to you.

But first, let’s start with the basics – getting it paired up to your bike computer. I’ve listed all the compatible units down below in the FAQ section, but in short, if you have a Garmin bike computer made/announced in the last 2 years, it’s compatible.  If you’ve got a watch made/announced by Garmin in the last two years, it’s also likely compatible.

Also, to briefly illustrate the changes made since the first Varia radar, see the below photo. On the right is the old Varia radar, and on the left is the old taillight.  In the middle is the new combo unit:

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To pair, you’ll simply power on the RTL510 by holding the top button down. Don’t worry, it’s the only button, so as long as you find a button, you’ve got the right one.

DSC_3657

Then, go ahead onto your Edge unit and dig into the settings followed by sensors menu.  For the fun of it, I’m using an Edge 520 Plus, but it’s pretty much all the same.  You can select to search for all sensors, or, you can search for just radar units.

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You’ll shortly get back a list of radar units found. Unless you operate a bike shop and have a stash of them, it’ll only find one. Choose that one.

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At this point, you’re basically done in terms of setup. There’s only two options you can configure on it, which you’ll see in the sensors menu. The first shows the colors on the Edge itself (more on that later), and the second selects which side of the screen the vehicle dots will appear on.

DSC_3654

However, you can also pair it as a bike light too. By doing so you’ll be able to have the unit automatically turn on and off when you power on or start your Edge device (and the same goes for powering it off). To do that you’ll hold the button down briefly to enter pairing mode for the light portion (it does this so that other people can’t control your lights).

Further, you could also rename the sensor in the list, giving it something unique in the event you do actually have multiple radar units. Though, I don’t know anyone like that…cough…no..nobody at all.

DSC_3652

Next, we can get it hooked up on the bike.  In the box, there was a rubber/plastic piece with three parts.  The first part is the portion that contains a standard Garmin quarter-turn adapter.  Basically, it’s the same adapter you use to put your bike computer on the handlebars.  It’s the one at the right below.

DSC_2951

Whereas the other two pieces above (aside from the bands), are the rubber inserts for it.  One is for a traditional round seat-tube post, and the other for an aero seat.

Then attach it to your seat post in a place that doesn’t block the view:

DSC_3530

If you’ve got a bunch of saddlebags or similar blocking a clear path, you can get creative with the mounting solutions.  This is also where some people in the past have used extra Garmin quarter-turn plastic mounts (the ones that came with your Edge unit) to permanently attach it on the back of rear bike racks and such. You can buy a baggie of a few of those for under $15 (or just ask your friends who probably have them lying around). That’s kinda the cool part of it being standard quarter-turn mounts, flexibility to do creative things.

At this point you’re ready for the pavement.

Out on the Road:

With everything all setup, it’s time to get pedaling. Once you turn on the radar (it won’t turn on automatically like other Varia lights do though, oddly enough), you’ll see a small WiFi looking icon in the upper right corner. This means the unit is working and paired:

vlcsnap-2018-04-18-05h14m18s553

And on the radar itself, the red light will stay solid lit until cars pass. But more on that in a moment.  The red light is visible from the rear, as well as via light bands on both sides.  The red light is not visible from the front (as that would be confusing to cars).  The light is up to 60 lumens, and Garmin states that is has a viewable range of 1 mile (1600 meters).  I’ll have to take their word for that, but some brief testing on my block certainly indicates it’s very easily seen a few hundred meters away.

Next, as a car approaches you from behind, the Edge unit will beep at you notifying you a vehicle has entered range of the Varia radar. Garmin states that range is 153 meters, and that seems about right from when I see vehicles trigger on my unit (I’ve actually seen it further than that in flat conditions).  At the same time it beeps, the Edge will show on the side of the screen a little white dot, representing the car, that will start moving along the track towards the top.

You are represented by the white WiFi-looking signal icon. That’s your position. When the white car dot reaches your WiFi looking dot, the car is passing you. You’ll also have noticed that the bands along the side of the unit change color to indicating the ‘threat speed of the vehicle’.  For most vehicles, that’ll simply be a yellowish color, indicating normal speeds.

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However, for high speed vehicles, you’ll get a red alert.  I’ve seen this if cycling alongside a highway or such.

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Also, note that you’ll get a single white dot for each additional car. The unit will track multiple vehicles at once. Meanwhile, back on the radar itself, it’s actually blinking now – indicating to vehicles that they should pay attention to someone.

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Once the car has passed you, the unit will briefly display green on the sides of the Edge unit.

DSC_3436

And then a couple seconds later, it’ll just be back to normal:

Brief Sidebar: This is a good time to point out that Garmin does make a standalone handlebar display unit. I’m honestly not sure who actually buys that thing, since you could almost buy an entire cheap Edge 25 bike computer from Garmin for less than it costs.  But, just in case you wanted to see it…here it is:

Note that the latest generation handlebar unit now has audible alerts. The first generation didn’t have an audio alert, it was only visual.

So how well does the radar setup work in practice? Pretty darn well, as long as you’re not in a city. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t work in a city…but it just works so well that with constant traffic it quickly just becomes white noise that you forget to pay attention to.

As with before, I find the Varia Radar is most useful in countryside environments where cars are more sporadic, and thus a great way to pull you back into paying attention. Especially on a long training ride.

vlcsnap-2018-04-18-05h08m42s422

My most useful instances of the radar though have actually been in the mountains (Alps specifically) where it would do a better job at detecting cars coming around swerving mountain passes while I descended, because I couldn’t hear those cars due to wind noise.

I can’t remember any case where a car ‘snuck up’ on me. It’s always detected vehicles.  Same goes for motorcycles. Mopeds are a bit trickier, primarily if they are slower moving (similar to a cyclist in speed).  Again, depending on the size. But most of the time it does detect those, especially if they are overtaking you at any meaningful speed.

So then…what about false-positives?

It depends. While not increda-frequent, you do occasionally get false positives if a cyclist overtakes you from behind.  Or an entire pack of cyclists for sure.  In fact, you can see when that occurred during the video.  In most cases, the alert for an overtaking cyclist occurs if that cyclist is overtaking you at a high rate of speed.

It will *NOT* trigger for your buddy riding directly behind you.  Nor will your buddy meaningfully block the radar. When I went riding with a friend last week and he was directly on my rear wheel, it still chirped at all the cars that passed me, just like it should.

And finally, it never triggers for cars approaching front the front. It’s only a rear-facing radar.  And the battery life? Garmin states it as 15 hours in blinking mode. I’m not exactly sure how many hours I’ve had on each ride – but I’ve done a few days worth of riding between charging as I normally think of it, and I rarely remember to turn it off immediately after a ride.  I haven’t run out of juice yet on any ride.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Here’s a round-up of questions that I commonly see around the Varia radar.

Will the Varia prevent a car from hitting me?

Simply put: No.  But, it may prevent a car from hitting you if you’re the one that’s not paying attention.  It won’t prevent a car from hitting you if you’re on the side of the road minding your business and a car crosses the line and hits you.  But if you’re out in the middle of the lane on a quiet road somewhere and don’t realize a fast approaching car is behind you – it may give you just that little bit of warning to get out of the way and onto the shoulder area (or edge of the road).

Can Varia be used as a standalone taillight?

Sure.  In fact, that’s one of the changes with the Varia RTL510 compared to the older Varia Taillight, it’s brighter and more visible as a standalone daylight.  In fact, you can actually pair it as a ANT+ light in addition to an ANT+ radar unit. That has the advantage of then accessing it within the ANT+ lighting control center, which in turn means you can have the unit turn on/off automatically when you power on/off your Garmin.

Can you change from blinking to steady-on mode?

Yes, you can change to and from either mode by using the button on the Varia radar.  If in the default mode of solid-on/red, then pressing it once will go to a very slow/faint pulsing.  Pressing it again will go to a double-blink of sorts. Pressing it one more time will power off the light, but leave on the radar.  And pressing it one last time will bring it back to solid red.

Can Varia be used with more than one display unit at once?

Yes, you can actually pair it to more than one Edge unit (or an Edge + the Varia Display unit).  I did that for all my rides with the new RTL510 – it was paired concurrently to an Edge 1030, Edge 130, and Edge 520 Plus. Even an Edge 520 at one point too.  This could also be interesting for tandem bikes where each rider has their own head unit.

Can you put the radar on the front of the bike?

Sure, but it’s going to basically just show you traffic that you can already see.  And it probably would be rather in-aerodynamic facing forward.  Also, with the red light aspect, you’d be confusing cars that believe they’re overtaking you – especially at night when it’s harder to know the direction of travel of a cyclist in the dark.

Summary:

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While the bulk of folks look at Garmin’s major products like the Edge series as their likely next purchases, Garmin continues to chip away at the accessories side of things with products you didn’t know you needed…but then can’t do without once you have them.  I’m not entirely sure the RTL510 falls into that camp – but it does seem to do a pretty good job at being a radar, and a solid job at being a taillight.

Obviously, people will have different needs for taillights and the lumens (brightness) associated with them.  But for most commuters out there, this will probably fit the bill quite well – and at a cost not terribly much higher than you’d spend for other higher quality bike lights (sans-radar and without connectivity).

And of course, where you ride most will dictate whether or not a product like this makes sense for you. If you’re primarily a city rider, it’s just not that helpful as a radar (but fine as a bike light). Whereas if you’re more in the countryside or on sparsely populated roads – I think you’ll find more value in this product, primarily in reminding you when that occasional car zips past.

The RTL510 is slated to ship todayish (perhaps tomorrow, but basically now), so if this is up your aisle, you won’t have to wait long.  Also, the fact that virtually all of Garmin’s cycling lineup supports it today is a boon for those that don’t want to purchase a new head unit just to take advantage of new accessories.

With that – thanks for reading!

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Hopefully you found this review useful. At the end of the day, I’m an athlete just like you looking for the most detail possible on a new purchase – so my review is written from the standpoint of how I used the device. The reviews generally take a lot of hours to put together, so it’s a fair bit of work (and labor of love). As you probably noticed by looking below, I also take time to answer all the questions posted in the comments – and there’s quite a bit of detail in there as well.

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Garmin Varia Radar RTL510 – select dropdown for model/bundle [North American Folks]
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Thanks for reading! And as always, feel free to post comments or questions in the comments section below, I’ll be happy to try and answer them as quickly as possible.

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146 Comments

  1. Jordi Backx

    “Brief Sidebar: This is a good time to point out that Garmin does make a standalone handlebar display unit. I’m honestly not sure who actually buys that thing”

    A Wahoo user? I’d like this integrated onthe ELMNT (+BOLT). But until this ever happens, this display unit might be OK?

    …. Although handlebar-cluttering is evil.

    • That’s a valid point. Hopefully we’ll see Wahoo add support for it at some point. After all, it’s been an available standard for about 15 months now (and was even available to them earlier than that too given their ANT+ status).

    • Tommy

      I messaged them and they said the have no plans to support ANT+ lights whatsoever, let alone radars. Which is a shame as its why I switched back to Garmin head units. I’d be back to Wahoo in a flash if they supported these.

    • Matt oneill

      Is the battery life better than the first generation when they using at the track cars. On mine I could only get 5 hours out of it. Riding in traffic

  2. Nathan B

    Hey Ray,
    Nice to see that Garmin have updated this line.

    Two things:

    1. I believe the old Varia light would increase/decrease brightness based on the light sensor from your head unit, or based on the speed you were travelling. Does this still do that?

    I have a 935 with the QR Tri kit, and use it as my bike computer after getting rid of my 520.
    2. Any change you could add a photo of how the traffic screen looks on a 935? Obviously the screen is a lot smaller, so I’m curious to see how it displays the car icons.

    • 1 – Wasn’t that the front light that did that? I’d have to double-check.
      2 – Yeah, I can head out to the road and take one today sometime.

      Cheers!

    • Both I believe.

      From the Garmin website re the previous gen rear:
      “Rear light unit brightens and flashes to notify approaching traffic of a cyclist ahead”

    • Tommy

      1. No it doesn’t do this (i’ve got one). That’s the UT800. By the way, if you are a road cyclist then it will be on full pretty much constantly (15mph), which makes it pointless

    • What the first unit did is increase or decrease the number of LEDs that powered on (and it’s power) so it would alert incoming traffic.

      That doesn’t depend on the light sensor, but on cars comming towards you.

    • Husain

      In daylight (and light network mode). The older model wouldn’t flash until a vehicle approaches.

  3. Hrvoje Sertic

    Is it functionally any different than 1st gen Varia Radar? Are there any improvements?
    My 1st gen works great.

    • Andrew

      I have the same question. If I have and like the old varia, is there any reason to upgrade?

    • Virtually identical there, except one area – which is that they’ve tweaked the algorithms around cars that matched speeds with you disappearing from radar (so they don’t now, they remain on the screen).

    • chukko

      This sounds like could be made available to use v1 users via firmware upgrade. Did you hear any plans to do so? Sounds a bit silly to upgrade just to get this.
      Personally i would love the option to show trailing cyclists too (maybe using smaller dot?)

    • So the changes I see are:
      -Shape/size (kind of useful as the old unit does rub a bit against my legs)
      -the light (brighter and better side visability but no change with cars coming from the rear
      -battery life (5 hours before now 15 hours on blink mode so finally good for long rides)

      Ray, I thought the firmware change to detect matched speeds was in 3.00 of the firmware of the old unit:
      link to www8.garmin.com

      ant+ radar profile hasn’t changed so guessing the data coming off is the same to the head unit

    • Correct, they made improvements in the older unit, but the newer unit has further enhancements.

    • chukko

      Eli – v1 radar had 10hr battery life in flashing mode (unless you bought a version which did not allow flashing) – which already is rather sufficient except for ultra-long rides or forgetting to switch the mode.

  4. Scaredy Cat

    Mainly mountain biking lately, what I’d be more interested in a rear mounted mountain lion and chupacabra detector.

  5. Tommy

    Hi Ray,

    Thanks for the review.

    I cant see much in the way of details on the light aspect here or online anywhere. A couple of questions:

    1. I assume the light mode switch automatically depending on the conditions. I.e. if the head unit supports a light sensor, can it switch to day flash\night flash automatically?

    2. Does it support the “braking function” that the other Garmin rear lights support (deceleration)

    3. I assume this will give visual alerts to the driver behind when approaching, much like the gen 1 did?

    Thanks

    • 1) Correct, you can control it like any Varia light via the lighting control panel. There’s two elements there. The first is the mode: Auto, High Visibility mode, Trail, or Individual. And the second is within that being Low/Day Flight/Night Flat/Off. Depending in what you set in the first one, it controls the second.

      2) Not that I’m aware of, but I’ll double-check again

      3) Correct, same there, it blinks as you approach. I show this a bit in the video.

    • Tyler

      If you put the light in a blinking mode, does it still change the frequency or brightness of blinking as a car approaches? And then revert back to default blinking?

    • +1 … I have the same question.

    • Tommy

      Thanks for the reply Ray

  6. I’ve used the Varia Radar since its introduction. I never ride without it, (unless I’m on a large group ride, i.e. a large group century event, because you will get a lot of false positives).

    My only problem with original Varia Radar is that it has a limited battery life. I appears that the RTL-510 solves this problem with the 15 hour battery life.

    For riders that use a wedge pack or saddle bag, look up Shapeways (3D printing) for a solution to be able to hang your RTL-510 on your saddle bag.

    Thanks for the review.

  7. Sylvester Jakubowski

    Ray do you have still have your Bontrager Flare R/RT ? Can you do a comparison on brightness?

    The old radar was too bulky for me, but this looks like a winner if it can match the Flare in visibility.

    • Not with me at the moment, but back home I do.

    • Sylvester Jakubowski

      Ah yes, Sea Otter, enjoy!

    • Patrick

      Garmin Varia RTL510 Specs: Lumens: 20 solid, 29 night flash, 65 day flash.
      Tail light offers daylight visibility up to a mile away and is visible within a 220-degree range,

      Bontrager Flare R – A daylight-visible tail light with 65 Lumens of balanced light visible up to 2 kilometers away. 270 degree visibility.

      I was curious too regarding the daytime visibility since two week ago I purchased the Flare R during TrekFest for 20% off the list of $59.99 US.

  8. Vladimir Gorbunov

    Excellent piece of technology! Unlike the first model (with 8 hours of battery life and tiny LEDs), I could consider purchasing of this one. But it looks like there’s no native way of attaching the radar to a rear rack, helmet or a backpack. Generally the options for attachment are limited to a seatpost. Which makes it quite useless for a bicycle tourer, like myself…

    In a dream world there would be a version with rack- and gopro-mounts, compatible with touring GPS units (64s, eTrex, Oregon etc.), not only cycling-specific.

    • Yup, see Charles/Tom’s solution two comments above yours. A bit of creativity solves it.

    • Grego

      Shapeways makes 3D printed brackets for Garmin…they have clips, and all different kinds of mounts. Works great for saddle bags.

      A little brittle and sometimes the tolerance on the screw in a tight, but they have great customer service. I have 5 of them

    • Dean

      Whoa that shapeways is pretty cool. Go there, search for Garmin, Varia, whatever … here is one that might work for you but there are others link to shapeways.com
      I didn’t have enough mounting space for my varia on my seatpost so i made a mount using a piece of pvc and the supplied mounts, but i would have tried something from shapeways had i known.

    • I read DCR religously but rarely post, I was looking at my Goggle Analytics report for the past month and it directed me to this page. I am the designer of that rack mount and I have a lot of stuff for the Varia to mount it in all manner possible, most different than any OEM mount. I am not a business or a Shapeways employee, just a retired cyclist that loves this sport. I started this because I needed a seat post mount for a GoPro and Cannondale Synapse (when it had that funky aero seat post). I had to design one myself since no one sold anything that was even remotely usable. That was three years ago. Now I take requests for unique mounting solutions for bicycle accessories, I spend most of my time on WeightWeenis and BikeForums.

      Anyway, I want to say thank you for posting that link in your comment.

  9. L. Derek

    Seriously cannot live without mine….it is without a doubt the next security feature I reach for after my helmet. Like DCR said I live and ride in a more rural area, and this serves as a “wake up” call when you get into the monotony of a long effort or you are just out enjoying the ride. I would say that given that the unit doesn’t play nice with other head units, it has been a nifty way (and I think Garmin knows this) to keep people in the Garmin ecosystem despite my wanting to try other products/head units. So again consistent with what DCR said, no bad comment for me on this product, and I am liking the improved form factor as well.

  10. John

    Two and a half questions:
    * Does it support all of the normal solid/blinky modes (day flash/day solid/night flash/night solid)?
    * Does it support ANT+ light networks? And, if so, can I control modes from a Garmin head unit?
    Thanks!

  11. Right now the list of compatible devices on Garmin’s website is pretty short. Do you know if they plan to include compatibility with either the Forerunner 935 or the older Edge 810?

    • Fred2

      I’m pretty sure I’m using the older Varia Radar with my Edge 810, so I can’t imagine that the RTL510 wouldn’t be compatible. Ray probably won’t be able to confirm this until he gets back home, though. I’m another very satisfied user, by the way.

    • Stephen

      The Forerunner 935 is now listed as a compatible device on the Garmin website.

    • Fred2

      I’ve confirmed that my older Varia Radar works with my Edge 810. As a side note, while the 810 doesn’t support the Varia Vision, the Vision will work as a head unit for my Varia Radar. Considering the cost of the Vision, I don’t expect anyone to use this combination, but it’s there if you have these two devices.

  12. Vladimir Gorbunov

    By the way, does somebody know, how Varia Radar works with sports watches? There the screen is not always visible, so there should be beeping and/or vibration.

    Also there’s a question, is it possible to “mute” the receiving device, so it doesn’t beep constantly in dense traffic?

    • Grego

      It works with my 935x just fine and buzzes the watch. Much prefer the headunit beep though

    • Vladimir Gorbunov

      Thank you! But as far as I see in old DCR review, the dedicated Varia head unit (not Edge computer) does not produce any sound, doesn’t it?

    • chukko

      v1 didnt buzz, this v2 seems to buzz.
      My F5x shows the dot on the side of the screen (similar to E520) but also shows a text alert.

  13. Grego

    Ray…does the new head unit work with the older radar now that it beeps? I want to give the old radars to my inlaws who dont have garmin computers and just buy the new tail unit for our 1130’s?

    Any idea?

  14. Fabian

    I own the previous version (alway on my TT bike. I’ve bought the bundle version because i only use a garmin 920xt so i need a dedicated display. is the the display bundled with the previous version the same of this new one ? if not, are the old ones compatible with the new light?

    Thx Ray

  15. AD

    Thanks for the review Ray. I’m a big fan of the original. I see some websites are saying that the new Varia is compatible with the Edge 1000 – any definitive view on this? I didn’t see the list of compatible head units on the FAQ which was referred to earlier in the article.

  16. Will it mount on a seat stay? My seat post is frequently blocked by a saddlebag.

    • Gregor

      Depends…the mounts work fine and they make angled ones to have them point upright. They also make saddle bag clips (see shapeways) to have it lay on the hook on the bag, which I find the best route and most visible to cars

    • I don’t need them to point upright, since pointing up is fine if you have them low on the seat stay. What’s important is that they shouldn’t flop or fall off. Having the light on the bike permanently is best, because then you can’t switch saddlebags and forget to switch the light.

      Now that I think about it, what I should really care about is the tandem with the rack. I’d definitely want to have a rack mount for the radar as well, since with little kids screaming you might not hear the car coming.

    • Grego

      Agreed, i put mine on the Thule Charriot Bars or the Attach behind bike seat post. The range is not an issue and closer to the source

    • JMG

      i have the original version and have that mounted on my seat rails with a shapeways gopro mount and varia adapter. i run a fly 6 ce on my post that was converted to garmin mount with another shapeways adapter.

  17. The N’imp

    I rely a bit on the audio cues as well, and with a 520 it’s not very loud. Is there any way to alter this, or are there any after market add-ons which responds to the Vario. I think the Garmin specs comes up with a HUD warning, but that is a steep price if that’s all you want.

    • Dean

      Agreed, I would like the beeps from my 520 to be louder. I miss alerts at speed. I searched and found no way to increase volume on that model (not plus).

  18. Chris

    Has Garmin announced the cost yet?

  19. Cory

    My wife got me the old model for Christmas. I absolutely love it. I just bought a used EDGE 510 for $90 off eBay and use them on my commuter bike. It works amazingly, I’m very dry impressed and sound like a shill when anyone asks about it.

    I love my Wahoo products, especially both ELEMNT models I’ve used in the last few years. But this thing seriously has me contemplating switching from the BOLT to the 520.

  20. Bsquared

    Great piece of safety kit that I’ve found of high value on local rides on lightly traveled country roads, and on group rides that need to make occasional use state highways with cars/trucks zooming by at 55+ mph.

    I’ve repeatedly asked Wahoo if they would support, and the answer is that adding support for power meters is more important. So I’m sticking with Edge 520, which overall has served me well.

  21. Daniel

    in the previous units, the leds in the unit would go from 1 to full bar indicating a car approaching. This was extremely useful for other riders in the group that sat behind the rider with the unit. you almost did not need one as long as they did and rode in front of you…

    Does the new blink pattern replicate this in a useful way?

  22. Chip C

    Edge 1030 not listed as a compatible device??? link to buy.garmin.com

    • Just an error. I think in my video you see it used with the Edge 1030 (I had tri-paired it to the Edge 1030, 520 Plus, and 130 on all my rides).

    • Chip C

      Good, because I pre-ordered it from CT without waiting for your answer :). I figured it should work with the 1030. Thanks for your reply!

  23. Goncalo

    I’ve decided I need this during the last rides in the countryside, especially in descends, where I cannot hear cars due to the wind. My HR skyrockets when I notice that a car from nowhere is on my side. A great added bonus would be put a Virb camera on the Varia, effectively making a Varia+Cycliq all-in-one light-radar-camera.

  24. Kevin

    Is it compatible with the old Edge 520 (not the 520 plus)? Ray mentions in the FAQ it was connected to an Edge 520, but it’s not listed as a compatible device on the Garmin website.

  25. I really love my RTL500 … especially since I started commuting to work (when the #$*&^@#$*&^ weather in Chicago is cooperating).

    I had resisted getting it for quite a while due to the price … but when I saw it it for below $150, I got it. I might do the same with the new model if only to get a brighter light.

  26. Anthony Anicete

    Will this work as turn signal lights to work with dura ace shifters?

  27. Dennis Jones

    small fix needed…

    for cars approaching front the front

    … should be…

    for cars approaching from the front.

  28. Dennis Jones

    This tech from Garmin has become (for me in Bay Area CA) and must have, so much so I just upgraded my head unit and stuck with Garmin b/c of the need to continue to have this tech protecting me, for me it is simply that good.

  29. Steve Kanefsky

    I don’t suppose you could use a pair of these as turn signals like you can with the standalone tail lights?

    I have the original unit along with the dedicated head unit. One big advantage of the dedicated head unit is that it uses bright LEDs which are extremely easy to see in any lighting conditions, whereas the LCD display on the Edge head units is much harder to read in bright light.

  30. Marc steingrand

    Hello ray

    I understand it will work with fênix 5X as well correct ??
    I was wondering if you could adapt it for running ? I am running sometimes. Quiet lonely roads early in the morning and listing to some music having a beep or something like this would be great to not geeting surprised by a car
    What are your thoughts that ?

    • Phil A

      Just a note, but since you should be running against traffic it should not really help you much there, because your eyes should see the car before the Radar goes off.

  31. Peter

    If the LIGHT on the Varia is turned off, but the RADAR is turned on, do you know if the light still flashes to alert cars as they approach?
    (I understand the unit does this when the light is on steady, but I’m unsure about other flashing modes)

  32. Justin

    After thousands of miles with the radar, in my opinion, what it does the best is allow you to ride a bit more into the lane of traffic. Doing this accomplishes two things really well:
    1. Allows vehicles to see you more easily as you are more in their way. Ie, you are where they expect other vehicles to be.
    2. Allows you to stay out of the gutter of the road and all the debris that comes with it a lot more.

    Regarding 1., since you can now ‘see’ the vehicles coming up being you while you’re riding more center road, you can easily scoot over as they approach.

    Of the thousands of cars that have passed me with the radar, I have not felt threatened and the majority give me plenty of room.

    In located in the NE US, which is not the friendliest place to ride.

    • Scott E

      Agree on all points yet one benefit not mentioned is how well it works off angle when on curves. Ray’s comment about mountain climbs comes to mind. Typically climbs will have tight curves and it is pretty awesome to see the radar light up when a vehicle is coming up high speed around a sharp corner. Awesome device.

      Oh, and like the comment below, adding a camera would be worth an extra 30g of weight and price of admission.

  33. Storrance

    Great writeup Ray. I have enjoyed my Varia Radar v1 thoroughly for over a year now in combination w/ an Edge 820, Varia Vision as well as a Cycliq Fly6(v). Correct me if I’m wrong, but the way I see it, the new elongated profile of the v2 Radar will make it very difficult to mount above or below the Fly6(v) due to limited seatpost real estate. Any ideas?

    FWIW, I wish Garmin would either acquire Cycliq or come out with their own Ant+ combo radar/taillight/cam. That would really clean things up as I cannot ride on the road without either item.

    • Nick

      I was thinking the same thing but my fly6 is under my saddle bag so it seems attaching it to the saddle bag is the go.

    • Martin

      I have the same setup. Measured and the new unit and cycliq6 wont fit on the seat post. At least not on my bike.

  34. Brad

    I’ve had the original unit for 2 years now and I literally can’t ride without it. It is the best thing I’ve purchased for the bike (and I’ve spaffed a lot of money lol) It’s a strange though, no one knows about here in the UK. It is poorly advertised. I’ve only ever seen one other person with one in the ‘wild’ and most people I speak to about it look at me blank faced and ask what it is/does!
    This new one looks worth an upgrade just for that massive jump in battery life.

  35. Giles Roadnight

    Am I wrong for having 3 Varia lights then???? :-)

    I really like the fact that they all (and my 2 Virb cameras) turn on and off based on my head unit. Also I can easily switch both headlights from flashing to solid when going through dark bits of my route.

  36. John

    Ray, do you get an audio prompt or alert in your Coros helmet audio when the radar detects cars or just a beep from the Garmin head unit?

    • Robert

      John, I have the Coros and the V1 and there is only a beep from the head unit and not the Coros audio, the V2 is the same.

    • John

      @Robert, thanks, it would’ve been nice to be able to set an audible alert via Bluetooth audio. Seems like a missed opportunity on Garmin’s part, since they’re already sending audio for turn-by-turn directions.

  37. Walter S

    “I’ve listed all the compatible units down below in the FAQ section […]” – scans FAQ, no list of compatible units.

  38. Jack Toland

    Hi Ray,

    Is there any way to temporarily turn off the beeping without un-pairing the unit? For example – turn the beeping off while riding along the highway, but turn back on for later mountain roads? Too hard to turn off then turn back on and repair while riding with a group.

    Thanks!

  39. Hank

    I have had the original unit for about a year and a half, and cannot overstate how much you appreciate it after you ride with it. I could see if you were a bike messenger and always in traffic, but in any kind of intermittent traffic it’s great.

    I bought it through a classic but of bike shopping. First, read DCR. Second, you think “hmmm thats cool tech, not sure it’s really needed though.” Third, found out the price point was $200. Hmmmmm again- thought it would be much more. Fourth, it works. Fifth, I thought “if I get hit by a car, just one car, that this thing would have picked up, would my last thought on this earth be: hey I saved $200!” Sixth, walked back into the bike shop and bought it.

    So I when Ray said everyone he has seen who has one loves it, add me to the list.

    And let me put it this way, of course it’s no substitute for active safety measures. But as it works so well, and requires nothing from the rider to make it work, it’s additional, accuate information. If the battery runs out I miss it instantly.

    For me, it’s really up there with a helmet. You may never need it, but what’s the counter argument?

    And before someone adds the “helmets make you feel safe so you take more risks argument” you can save it. Helmets make you feel like you forget you have them on until you fall and ding it. This radar by the way, picks up cars way, way before you can see or hear them. Whether this info is critical or not depends, but it depends on the CAR not you, and certainly not on the unit.

    $200, it’s a simple choice. The only reason they haven’t sold millions is the weird attitude cyclists have towards risk. And by that I mean that many think it’s more down to fate.

  40. Tristan

    Legacy micro USB? In 2018? Are you f… kidding me? Is there some USB-C version, which can use same cable as nearly every mobile phones nowadays?

    When is Garmin planing to start make devices with USB-C connectors?

  41. Gary P

    On head units with monochromatic display (such as the new 130), is there an alternate method of indicating the relative approaching speed of cars other than color coding? If not, would you find the lack of this information a concern?

    • Hank

      I would not worry at all about the color coding. Whether the car is approaching fast enough to make it red v. yellow is a nice feature, I suppose, but the main bit of info is that there is a car in the first place. There isnt’ really an opportunity to behave differently based on how fast the car is approaching from behind.

      And the cars are picked up 300 feet back, so you have a similar amount of “warning” no matter how fast its approaching. If you are on a road where cars are going 70mph — well, radar or not you ought to get off that road as soon as you can.

  42. Can you see the battery level of the light on your head unit?

  43. Marc Steingrand

    I got. an Apert once from local Brazil Police that I should NOT run against tragic but with them…

  44. Dave Nguyen

    Can you charge the Varia RTL510 while using it?

  45. Adam

    Ray: Were there rumors in the ANT+ community about how much iKubu was acquired for or any other details of the transaction?

  46. Egon

    hi Ray, I always loved your Paris pictures in your review articles. Strange to see you in the Netherlands standing next to the provinciale weg in the rain. I hope you enjoy our Dutch weather :-)
    Egon!

  47. David

    Hi Ray – great reviews as always!

    If you were forced to choose and only have one device pointing backwards from your seatpost (gasp) would you choose this Garmin RTL510 or the Cycliq Fly6? (I suppose this might boil down to – are you a glass half-full or half-empty person, i.e. do you want to avoid being hit, or see who just hit you?)

  48. I get a whole lot out of your reviews.

  49. Jeff Klinkenberg

    I enjoy this website.

  50. Jeff Klinkenberg

    Does anyone know if either of the Varias will work with a Karoo? Or is it compatible only with Garmin devices?

  51. Eric

    As always nice review!
    Question though can you turn the sound off? For example If I use my 820 on silent will it mute the sound from the radar?
    Regards!
    e.

  52. Chris Barber

    Ordered from clever training UK and payment was taken around 25th April so was expecting delivery soon after. Received an email today saying mid/late May for delivery. Is it usual that they’d take payment so many weeks before delivery and not at the point they despatch? (not sure as can’t remember last time I ordered something which wasn’t in stock)

  53. Armin

    FYI, there is also a variant of the Garmin Varia RTL510 lacking the flash/blinking mode. It is called RTL511 and is sold in Germany. The RTL511 has the “StVO-Zulassung” for Germany, thus it has been officially approved to be used on public roads in Germany. The RTL510 cannot legally be used on public roads in Germany.

  54. Mr Michael Smedley

    I have the version 1 and love it. I ride solo on country lanes and do lots of climbing. On decent you cannot hear traffic because of the wind in your ears. With the Radar I can ride the middle of the road without having to constantly look over my shoulder for traffic. Does not sound like much, but once you get using it you wonder how you did without it. In the city its not so essential as there is always a vehicle behind you so it beep constantly.

    Version one light is pretty poor so I also have a Exposure Blaze on the back and a Cat Eye Mini on my helmet. So three rear devices.

    I would be interested in purchasing this new version if people could confirm how effective the rear light is. The burn time appears to be a solid improvement. What the light like?

    • Jonathan Woo

      The 510’s light is very bright. I’m trying to find out if the 510 has a flash mode where the light stays off (to save battery life) and then comes on only when a car is approaching. There seems to be a ‘LED off’ mode however the Bluetooth is also disabled in the ‘LED off’ mode. So I haven’t really tested the ‘LED off’ mode. Does the 500 have a ‘LED off’ mode but with the Bluetooth enabled?

  55. Volker

    Can you have the radar view displayed on the map page on a Fenix 5x (like on the above shown picture on an edge)?

    I don’t want to discuss, if it is useful…

    Thanks

  56. Mark U

    Does this unit support use with an external charging source for extended operating time for longer rides?

  57. Brian

    Ray, in your opinion, is the 510 unit worth an upgrade from the 500? I just got my 500 unit last month and love it. But I’m a little disappointed to find out an upgraded version was released a few days after my purchase.

  58. Myriam

    I’m a bit disappointed with the rtl510, as I have a lot of false positive (around 15-20%), even a door fires it!
    I upgraded from the rtl500 (varia) for ergonomical reasons, but I’m seriously considering using the old again.

    • JONATHAN WOO

      A door from a parked car should’t trigger it. Per Garmin the vehicle as to be moving faster than your speed for a positive trigger. I did my first ride with the 510 today and I didn’t notice any false positives. I will keep an eye on this issue on my future rides.

    • Myriam

      Thanks for the feedback. I emailed Garmin support, there is definitely something wrong with my unit. A still door triggers it, even while lying still on a bench, the rays of the sun trigger it.

      I have a feeling the sun light (or a light reflection) triggers it. May be a faulty unit.

    • BillD

      I’ve seen false positives when passing a large crane parked just off the road, but at least not when passing parked cars. Got one on a ride today, and no idea what triggered it. Also today, after bringing the bike in and leaning it on the counter about 2 ft from a metal door, I noticed that opening and closing the metal door triggers a brief false positive! Despite this, the unit still does a fine job of letting me know when a vehicle is approaching me from behind. Hopefully Garmin will continue to refine its detection algorithms to eliminate these minor annoyances.

  59. Paul

    Does anyone know how easy it is to turn the warnings on/off? I have a mixed commute country lanes then city. Would be a great feature if the head unit had a pop up to silence the beeps if there are to many. Wonder if that info/Control is available via the connect API

    • Jonathan Woo

      The beeps don’t come on as often as you think. It’s not one beep per car. But rather one beep when the first car is detected from a ‘safe’ state. If you get a stream of continuous traffic all you hear is one beep. To turn off the sound you have to go to the menu setting on your Garmin GPS.

  60. JONATHAN WOO

    I did my first ride with the 510 but something seems odd. I believe there are four diff. flashing modes, solid, variable, flash, and LED off. But when I turn the LED off the bluetooth is also turned off. Is this a bug? I know the unit is still on because the blue LED flashes twice indicating the device is still active. Also, I wish there’s a light mode where the LED stays off until a vehicle is detected. Why waste battery life with a flashing LED when there are no cars behind? Does anyone know if the older 500 operates the same way as the 510? Maybe there’s a way to get this message to Garmin.

    • JONATHAN WOO

      I found the LED off mode in the user’s manual. It’s called a standby mode and it doesn’t detect cars. I don’t know what’s the use of the standby mode. I recall reading about having the Edge head unit automatically turn on the Varia when the Edge is turned on. Maybe that’s what the standby mode is used for but nothing is mentioned in the user’s manual nor can I find the option on my Edge 520. Here’s the excerpt from the user’s manual.

      Taillight Modes and Intensity
      The Varia RTL510 default light mode is solid. You can switch
      the device to night flash and day flash modes by pressing the
      device key. You can switch the device to standby mode by
      pressing the device key. The device does not detect vehicles in
      standby mode.

    • Scott E

      I have had the RTL510 for a couple weeks with an Edge 820. It works great for me. Garmin has a light network and page that controls the headlight, tail lights and radar. To get the radar and the light network to work, you pair the first time with the radar. You then can pair a second time with the light. On the Edge 820, if you have selected a light network page, that page will be displayed when you turn on the radar after the edge unit. Then, you will have access to the mode where the the radar works and the light is off. You can change whether the light is on continuous, night, flash or off on the light network page, as you are riding.

  61. Andrew Linquist

    For those wondering if the RTL 500 would be updated with the new algorithms DC mentions, I emailed Garmin and got this response:

    There were changes in algorithm to the RTL 510 as stated on DC Rainmaker’s site. However due to the physical design of the RTL500, it is not likely the algorithm can be applied to this device.

    On the other hand, the RTL 500 can be had for only $150 right now.

  62. BillD

    I’ve had 2 rides with the RTL510 so far. Previously, I relied on sound and a mirror to detect overtaking cars, but now really appreciate the consistent early warning and no more unexpected surprises. I use my unit with a much brighter tail light (Dinotte Quad Red), so I operate it in light-off/radar-on (blue light flashing) mode. The aero adapter allows me to mount the unit on the seat stay to free up seat post space. I shimmed it to get it to point more straight out, and it seems to work ok.
    Regarding false positives, passing a large parked crane just off the side of the rode triggers a false positive as I pass and pull away from it! This happened both ways. I’ve experienced 2 minor glitches so far – both after turning the radar off for a while, and then turning it back on when resuming my ride. In one case, the unit did not reconnect with the Garmin 1000, and I had to manually connect it from the sensor settings screen. In the second case, the unit was stuck in some sort of power up loop whereby the Garmin 1000 screen showed a vehicle endlessly overtaking me. Turning it off and back on again solved this problem. Overall, I appreciate the unit much more than I expected to, and it’s definitely a keeper. I do wish that Garmin had provided an eyelet to attach a tether.

    • JONATHAN WOO

      Thanks for the report. I also just finished my second ride on the RTL510 and I really like it! I haven’t seen any false positives thus far but I will keep an eye out for it. One question for you if you don’t mind. When I put mine in the ‘standby mode’ or ‘blue light flashing mode’ the bluetooth is automatically turned off. I read the manual and it says that this mode is a ‘standby’ mode and the radar is turned off. How are you able to turn off the red light and still keep the radar and bluetooth active? Does the red light turn on when there’s a car detected? I wish to have a red flashing light however I’d prefer to have the light be turned off where there are no cars (to save batter) and have the light be turned on when a car is detected. Thanks.

      By the way I’m using an Edge 520 although I did manage to pair it successfully with an Edge 510 as well. The Edge 510 is not listed as one of the compatible devices. I haven’t done a ride with the 510 yet but it probably will work OK since it was paired successfully.

    • BillD

      Hey Jonathan, I can confirm that in standby mode with LED off and blue light flashing every 5 seconds, that the Edge 1000 radar icon shows connected and that I am detecting approaching cars. As far as configuration settings, I did enable the Light Network with Radar enabled. On the Network Options screen, Light Mode is set to ‘High Visibility’ and Light Beam Activated set to ‘Device Power Up’. On the Light Network Radar screen, Radar Enable toggle button is green (on) and Light Mode shows as ‘Off’ since I manually turned it off. It will show as Low, ‘Night Flash’, or ‘Day Flash’ as I repeatedly click the button on the 510. Hope this helps.

    • JONATHAN WOO

      Thanks Bill. I can confirm that my 510 has the BT turned off when in standby mode. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have a separate Varia light paired. I do like the flashing light for day time visibility. I was just hoping that the flashing could stop when no cars are behind. By the way I can’t find the Light Network under settings. Perhaps I don’t see one as I don’t have a Varia light paired.

  63. Bart

    Your right Ray, not many want the RDU head unit most vendors have it in stock while the light only keeps getting pushed back, should be a no brainer.

  64. Alberto Fabiani

    Dear all,
    has anyone tried the compatibility with the 810 edge. I know that this unit is compatible with the previous version rtl 500 but I do not see the 510 into the garmin compatibility list.

    Thanks in advance,

    Alberto

  65. JONATHAN WOO

    Today I did my third ride on the RTL510, this time on a tandem. I have the Edge 520 for me as well as the Edge 510 for the stoker. Both computers worked as designed but something weird happened on the Edge 510. At the finish the 510 has two miles less than the 520. This has never happened before. Both GPS showed the exact same riding time but the 510 doesn’t accumulate miles correctly. The average speed was also lower. The 520 showed 34.4mi and the 510 showed 32.6mi. We do this ride all the time and we know 34.4mi is the correct figure. I believe this is due to the Varia RTL510. I ride with both the Edge 510 and 520 all the time on the tandem and the two computers are never off by more than 0.1mi. So for those with the Edge 510 out there you might run into issues with the Varia RTL510. The Edge 510 is not listed as being compatible with the RTL510 but it does pair OK and functions correctly, except that the mileage is wrong. How weird.

    • Alberto Fabiani

      Hi Jonathan,
      was the edge 510 connected with the Speed/Cadence sensors?

      Ciao

      Alberto

    • JONATHAN WOO

      Hi Alberto,

      No. Both the Edge 510 and 520 have GLONASS and I get very good GPS tracking results. I do have a speed sensor but it’s not installed as I don’t really see a need for one.

    • JONATHAN WOO

      I just finished my second ride with the RTL 510 on the tandem, and I confirm the mileage discrepancy happened again on the Edge 510. It’s weird that the radar works perfectly with the Edge 510 but the GPS on the 510 is hosed. So if anyone has an Edge 510 and wish to buy the RTL 510 you need to be aware of this. I don’t expect Garmin to fix the problem.

    • JONATHAN WOO

      Today I disabled the RTL510 on the Edge 510 and the mileage discrepancy problem went away. I wish to post a topic about this on Garmin’s forum but I can’t reply or post a new topic. I do have a registration on Garmin’s forum. Does anyone know why I can’t make a new post there? What’s the best way to bring this to Garmin’s attention? Thanks.

    • Bart

      The best way is to call them direct, the forum is mostly user to user with occasionally a Garmin employee weighing in.

    • JONATHAN WOO

      Thanks Bart.

  66. John L

    Just got the bundle set. I noticed if I long-press on the RDU (display unit) device switch, it switches itself off, and also turns off the rear light, but the status led on the rear light still flashes blue. It looks like turning off the RDU only activates the standby mode on the rear light (i.e. similar to the mode you can switch to on the rear light’s device switch itself, after the solid, pulsing and flashing modes), but doesn’t switch off the rear light completely.

    Is this a bug? The previous version turns off the rear light unit completely when doing the same thing.

    • JONATHAN WOO

      When you do a long press on the RDU does it turn the radar back on? I wonder if the radar needs to be on a standby mode for it to be turned on automatically via the RDU. On the previous version does the radar come on automatically while in the shut-off mode? I don’t have the RDU and I’ve wondered what’s the purpose of the standby mode. In my case in the standby mode doesn’t do anything- no radar and no BT. Another user reports that on his the radar and BT both works in standby mode. This is quite confusing. It seems that the standby mode does different things depends on what head unit you have.

  67. Joe Wray

    I have the current unit and in the wind or with traffic, the audible alert is very difficult, if not impossible to hear. I know others are having this problem and I assume that, because the alert sound depends on the head unit, there is no improvement in sound volume of the 510. Comments, please, from those who have the 510. Thanks.

  68. David C

    I enjoyed your comments and thoughts on the garmin 1030 / 520 also RTL510
    Think I will buy the RTL & 1030