Last time I was conscripted to review a bike light, it was January. Thankfully, the temperatures were well into the 40’s or 50’s F, even after dark. This time however, despite being late March when I started it, the temperatures have had highs of the low 30’s to even as bad as the upper teens. This definitely changes the dynamic of how much time is spent actually on wheels.
Meat and Potatoes
The Xtar BK12 is really designed to be more than just a bike light. This is a general purpose torch as well. Powered by a 3100mAh 18650 that was included in my package, the BK12 easily squeezes 600 lumens out of a Cree XM-L LED. This diode is centered in a deep, highly polished smooth reflector that focuses the light into a tight, throwy beam, beyond the expectations of its size. There’s still a fair amount of spillbeam but the spot is quite well defined with little corona to assist the transition. This does tend to create a little more tunnel-vision than I would prefer for racing down the trails, but it’s nothing unforgivable.
Using the same general format as most 18650 lights, the BK12 really has only one standout feature. Sporting 3 constant brightness outputs, as well as a signalling feature (the slow blink of a bike light intended strictly for visibility to oncoming traffic, not rider visibility) the BK12 doesn’t stand out particularly in available modes. The tail mounted selector ring however is a somewhat novel idea, not seen on many lights thus far. Now when used as a standard pocket torch, in the usual “tactical” ice-pick hold, the mode selection ring is nearer your thumb and fingers where you might actually be able to adjust output without changing your entire grip on the light. Also, when mounted on the handlebars of your favorite motorless 2-wheeled vehicle, it places all of the light controls closest to you where you can easily adjust them without taking your eyes off the road or trail. If you’re the hipster type choosing monowheeled transportation in the form of a unicycle, then I guess you’re probably out of luck. What are you doing riding that thing at night anyway?
The three constant output modes are relatively well-spaced, though none of them comes close to what I would call a true Low mode. Ranging from that blazing 600 lumens down to a 60 lumen low, the BK12 lets you choose mostly your runtime, rather than marketing the light to vastly different tasks. The downside is that though most of the documentation I have seen clearly states constant current regulation, there is clear evidence of PWM in play in my light. It hasn’t proven too distracting during daily use, but it is still noticeable. The speeds involved in biking make it even a little more obvious to my eyes, but again, I think it really doesn’t seem to interfere with use.
Speaking of the package deal however, this light has some incredible inclusions. Inside the beautiful hardside case, beyond the flashlight itself, is a bevy of extras that make this a very attractive collection. As I mentioned, there is a 3100mAh 18650 cell (actually, it’s an 18700, but what are a few mm between friends), a USB powered Li-ion charger, both a 12V car and 110V AC USB adapters, a basic style bike mount, and a handful of o-rings and simple lanyards. This is a very useful setup, with the only notable object missing being a holster. I guess that makes sense when you’re aiming at being a bike light.
Fit and finish of the light is 90% great. It is thick walled, and heavy feeling, with a beautiful unblemished anodizing. All of the machine work is incredibly precise, especially the mild knurling around the midsection and head. It has a relatively understated crenellation to the bezel that has just a touch sharper edges than I would prefer, but it looks intentional. Thankfully Xtar has chosen not to straddle the fence when it comes to tail-standing. The BK12 has a thick, fully encompassing tail-standing ring around the switch. It’s about as stable as any similarly sized light I own. I always appreciate it when a company picks one thing, and does it well.
Of all the good that comes from the magnetic ring selector switch, especially located tailwards, it still needs to be backed up with solid construction. This particular model has some issues that prevent me from truly loving it. First and foremost, the ring is too loose. It just has a rattle or at least mushiness that doesn’t indicate quality to me. Quite often when I take it out of my pocket or the holster I stole from another light, I would hit the switch and find it stuck randomly between modes, giving me nothing but darkness until I fiddle with the ring. Also, because it offers so little resistance, it’s often unpredictable which mode you will have when you first turn it on.
Also, adding to the confusion as to mode is the choice of silver coloring for the selector ring. I appreciate their attempt for unique aesthetics, and it achieves that. The light looks good to me. However the white laser etched indicator blends into the silver ano and makes it a little difficult to immediately see which mode is selected. This is an unfortunate combination, because the laser etching is very crisp and sharply defined on the entire remainder of the light. I carefully colored mine in with some black to boost the contrast enough to be seen.
I think this light is close to being truly excellent. There’s nothing wrong with the concept, that’s for certain. I think a few iterative improvements will bring it along nicely to an all around torch, but even in its current state, it will perform quite nicely mounted to the handlebars of your favorite 2-wheeled trail runner.
Provided for review by the kind folks at Xtar.
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