“How much? For bike lights!”, said pretty much every non-mountain biker when asking how much the super bright torches attached to our bikes and helmets cost us. It wasn’t always like this: the first time I ever rode a mountain bike in the dark was with a £10 Chinese LED torch from Tesco attached to my helmet with a couple of cable ties. Of course I couldn’t see anything, and back then riding a bike at night felt like an adventure into the netherworld where tree branches jumped out at you without warning, rocks materialised out of thin air, and small drops looked like yawning chasms of darkness which would swallow both bike and rider.
Nowadays we don’t have these problems. Thanks to modern LEDs and batteries, bike lights now resemble the sort of thing dodgy countryside types in pick-up trucks use to spot wildflife for their nefarious hunting activities. Unless you’re my Mrs that is, who uses my expensive precision engineered cycle specific 2000 lumen headtorch for lighting up local ponds to observe the newts and toads. Which is a good thing, as it helps justify future bike light expenditure. If only I could get her to go on wildlife spotting excursions on a top of the range full suspension xc bike.
Anyway, wildlife spotting aside, these Alpha and X2 lights are the latest models on offer targeted at the mountain biking market from globally established Kiwi outfit Gloworm. The Alpha is a new model released in 2018 and targets the lower spec, less expensive end of the lights market, retailing at £129. The X2 on the other hand has been updated from its previous 2017 incarnation, and is at the higher end of the Gloworm range in both spec and price at £225.
Both lights can be used on their own as both helmet or bar mounted lights, and both come with helmet and bar mounting kits included. The helmet mount employs a go-pro style system with a thumb screw for adjusting and securing the angle of the light. If like me you are a constant tinkerer it allows quick and easy adjustment, and once you’ve got it right you can tighten it so that it won’t move. This is especially useful if you forget it’s there and catch it on tree branches or other obstacles.
The light is attached to the helmet by clipping it into a plate which is secured using an elasticated velcro strap. This allows the helmet to be attached to pretty much any helmet configuration as long as there are some vents to slot the strap through. It’s fairly easy to attach, but the plastic buckle does have a habit of rotating if you pull it too tight. You’ll also need an iron forefinger and thumb grip to separate the strongest velcro I’ve ever encountered once it’s attached.
The bar mount consists of a 31.8mm quick release bracket which screws into the side of the light body. This enables the light to be positioned above, below or in front of the bars (even behind, although that would be a bit stupid) and allows simple removal so you don’t have to leave a couple of hundred quid’s worth of lights on your bike when sat in the post-ride pub.
As nice as the bar bracket is, it may have been more useful to have a plate attached to the bars similar to the helmet attachment which would have allowed a simple switch between bars and helmet if required. As it is though, you need to decide in advance which configuration you prefer as switching from the bar mount to helmet involves involves some fiddly messing around with tiny hex bolts to attach the helmet clip and you certainly wouldn’t want to be doing this out of the trail.
The battery for both lights can be mounted to the bike using an elastic velcro strap which threads through a buckle to enable the strap to be tightened. The strap is designed to stretch around both the battery and the frame, and there is a rubber strip on the opposite side of the battery from the strap attachment which provides some cushioning for the battery and prevents slippage and frame scratches.
One issue is that depending on where you mount it, the connecting cables between the battery and light are not very long, which means that if your frame prevents fitting the battery very close to the bars, you’ll need to use the extension cable. This results in having to wrap the excess cable round the frame or some other solution to keep it tidy and prevent it catching on trail furniture or bits of the bike or rider.
Another slight gripe is the fact that the wire on both models inserts into the light body on the right hand side at right angles to the direction of the light. This provides opportunities for catching it on low hanging twigs and branches, and generally just looks and feels a bit messy. If the wire were attached to the rear of the light, this would prevent this and also make the management of the trailing wire a little easier.
Other common features which come with both sets of lights are a battery extension cable, which is required if using in helmet configuration so that you can store the battery in a pack or jersey pocket, and the novel feature of spare optics, allowing you to change the light configuration in various combinations between flood, spot and wide beams. This is a very nice feature for tech geeks or the obsessive although it does require a fair bit of experimentation. It’s fairly easy to swap them over though and only takes a few minutes with the supplied hex key.
The Alpha weighs in at a lean 69g for the light body and provides 1200 lumens in high power mode from two Cree XP-G3 LEDs. Power is supplied from a 2 cell 3.4 AHr Li-Ion battery and weighs 120g, which in total makes this a lightweight setup. The combination of lower power and weight makes this the ideal helmet light of the two models, and will be attractive to riders who are new to night riding or who do shorter rides on less technical terrain.
As well as MTB duties, the Alpha also doubles up as an ideal commuting or road light when attached to the bars. The translucent front lens spreads the light out to the sides making this a very visible unit for any car drivers or pedestrians who aren’t directly in the line of fire of the main beam.
The battery has a claimed 2h burn time at full power. It’s difficult to measure the actual run time of the battery due to the light automatically lowering the power to regulate the temperature when operated in constant high power mode. However tests on the trail and on a recent 24 hour race suggest that the run time of the battery is as claimed. Charging is provided by the supplied smart charger with the an LED indicator on the battery which turns from flashing red to green once the fully charged.
Up A Notch With The X2
The X2 light ups the ante in terms of both power and function. Its two Cree U2-XM LEDs provide 1700 lumens and the four cell 6.8AHr battery supplies the extra power required for the brighter LEDs and a claimed run time of three hours at full power, which again was exceeded on tests due to the temperature regulation circuit managing the brightness and power output.
The X2 body is CNCed from a single block of 6061-T6 Alloy and weighs in at 89g, which is only slightly heavier than the Alpha and as such is again suited to either helmet or bar duties. Unlike the Alpha, the X2 doesn’t have a translucent front lens but that’s not a disadvantage as you wouldn’t really use a light of this power for commuting or road duties.
As well as the extra power, the X2 comes with a wireless remote which mounts on the bars. This is a pretty nifty addition which allows you to cycle through the power modes of the light without removing your hands from the bars. Some may think this is a superfluous gadget, and it doesn’t help if you like uncluttered bars, but for extended all-night riding or racing it’s an invaluable function which allows you to easily change the mode to preserve battery life without risking a crash.
The wireless remote also has two buttons so you can control two lights. It doesn’t interface with the Alpha unfortunately, but if you’re flush enough to buy two of the X2 lights, you’ll only need one remote. It’s very easy to set up too, as it automatically links to the light when the battery is connected and the remote button is pressed.
Let There Be Light!
Both lights employ something called ‘Intelligent Mode Technology (IMT)’ which allows you to fully control and customise the functioning of the lights. This is not a misnomer either, as you have to have your wits about you to keep track of what the light is doing depending how many times you press the single control button and for how long.
I won’t give a full description here of how this works, as it will require another 500 words and some flowcharts. The short version though is that there are two modes – trail and commuter – which are accessed by clicking the button once or twice. Once in each mode, you then cycle through three brightness settings for trail, and two for commute. Unless you press the button for two seconds, which will put it in dim mode on trail, or flash if on commute. Confused yet? It sounds simple now that I’ve written it down but out on the trail in a howling gale and horizontal drizzle it’s anything but. Thankfully Gloworm provides a nice flowchart on their website explaining it all. I highly recommend you study this and commit it to memory.
You can also program the individual light levels on each setting. This involves sitting down with a beer or three, careful reading of the brightness matrix, and then patient execution of the multi-step process which involves pressing the button in a specific sequence like a morse code operator and then hoping it’s all worked. Or you can just stick with the factory settings.
Out on the trail, both lights on their own provide ample illumination for general xc or trail duties. Out of the box the Alpha optics are set to a narrower spot pattern which further encourages its use as a helmet light for picking out detail down the trail. The X2 comes with a flood pattern which while brighter, spreads the light out far more evenly over a wider area, and is a slightly softer, warmer colour than the alpha which is a piercing white with a blueish tinge.
Used together, with the Alpha on the helmet and the X2 on the bars they complement each other very well and with the various brightness modes provide a light configuration to suit pretty much any scenario. The main dissappointment is that you can’t control the Alpha with the remote button. Whilst this would add to the cost of the Alpha it would be a welcome addition for those thinking of buying both lights for the complete setup.
In conclusion these two lights offer an excellent package to either the amateur or experienced night rider. Yes, they are still at a price point which will invoke the ‘How much?’ exclamation of those who don’t know that riding a mountain bike at night is a thing. But considering it’s not unusual these days to see midweek casual night riders sporting lighting setups which are probably a significant percentage of the value of their bikes, these lights provide excellent value for money, especially in the form of the Alpha model.
For more committed night riders, or those who need all-night coverage for crazy stuff like bikepacking or 24 hour races, the extra punch of the X2 or both lights in tandem would be the preferred option, and even then these are still cheaper than many other lights on the market. Add to that the solid build, the remote control and the multitude of configuration options and you have a setup that is difficult to beat, and to top it all off, they also work well for wildlife spotting.
|Product:||Alpha & X2 Lights|
|Price:||£129 Alpha, £225 X2|
|Tested:||by Daz Hall for 3 months|