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Friday, October 26, 2018

First Impressions: Garmin RTL-510

My brother gave me a RTL-510 for my birthday. It's a safety accessory that I've been seeing more and more on bikes around here, and while it may not be a sexy piece of equipment, I felt that it would be the one thing that would bring me back to Garmin.

The device comes with a single Quarter Turn mount. One would think that for a $200 device, including a few more rubber bands and pieces of plastic wouldn't kill Garmin, but I suppose shelling out $20 each is better than buying a whole new unit each.

The only head-unit that I have which was new enough to pair with the RTL-510 was Bowen's Garmin Edge 25. The unit paired easily with the 510, and automatically recognized it as a light so it would turn on the tail light every time the computer was turned on. After a few rides, my Vivoactive HR automatically paired with the RTL-510 as well (without me prompting it to do so or anything), so that was great! The Vivoactive HR will only pair with the RTL-510 as a radar unit, not as a light, so no automatically turning on the light when you start a ride, but for now that's enough to stave off any desire for me to buy a new head unit.

When mounting the unit on the tandem, I discovered that the wheel would block the radar, since Bowen's seat post was so low. Fortunately, the quarter turn mount also lets you flip the unit upside down, and that seemed to do the trick. Of course, what this means is that I can no longer use a trunk bag with this bike and still have the radar working, which sucks. As with all bicycle accessories, the most important part of the accessory is the mounting, and Garmin clearly has a ton more work to do. Cateye/PlanetBike have all done a great job there for their lights with a wide range of rack-mounts, etc., and I don't understand why Garmin which is vastly better funded can't do the same.
One of the problems I'm encountering is that the triplet is long enough that on a fast descent I can't hear the chirp when the Edge 25 (mounted at Bowen's position) signals that a car is coming up. Obviously, that means that I'll need to get a head unit or watch that's compatible with the RTL-510. On a busy road (say, Foothill Expressway), the chirping is almost constant, but on a country road without much traffic, the occasional chirp served as a good warning. Fortunately, with the Vivoactive HR, the unit would send a vibration to my wrist whenever it detected a new car. This wouldn't do much good if you're on a bumpy descent, but on a smooth road at high speed it's a great warning and a glance at the unit would tell me how far away the car was!

When mounted on my single bike right side up, the radar appears to have a little more range (since it's higher), and would could detect and display multiple cars coming at me. The vibration alert would only activate for the first car, so if you're on a busy road, you wouldn't get a constant buzzing on the wrist annoying you.

The device is not magic. On a twisty descent or climb, a car can round the corner and be almost immediately on your tail. The radar will pick it up, but probably too late to do you any good. Then again, on a twisty descent I'm going to take the lane and the visual warning that something's behind me is a good idea as I won't be able to hear it.

All in all, this is a device that does what the advertising says it does, and does it without drama. I appreciate that. Recommended.


Peter said...

I have a SON hub with a wired headlight and taillight, which are always on. Plus a rear-view mirror. What advantages does the RTL-510 have over my setup?

Piaw Na said...

The RTL-510 will beep when traffic is coming, remind you to look in the mirror. The RTL-510 will broadcast to all your stokers on the bike with a compatible head unit, reminding them to keep quiet while the ginormous truck tries to kill us all. I've long given up on the wired head and tail lights, having broken all of them. I even sold my hand-built SON wheel. :-(