ALPINA BONFIRE & RAM HR GLASSES REVIEW
Review by Robert Johnston | Photos by Adam Lievesley
With over 30 years in sports eyewear, it’s safe to say that Alpina are well experienced in creating products to enhance and protect the vision of athletes across a range of activities. For 2022 they had an overhaul of their eyewear lineup, and we were able to test a couple of different pairs with different lens technologies that should enhance the experience of riders out on the trail. Read on to find out how they performed.
Alpina has a large range of lens technologies in their portfolio which can be a little confusing to decipher initially, each with a specific focus to enhance the vision of an athlete during their activities. We tested the Bonfire Q-LITE and RAM HR Q-LITE V glasses, coming in at €79.95 and €149.95 respectively.
Alpina’s Quattroflex tech features strong contrast enhancement, aiding the rider in seeing the details in the track ahead. The Q-Lite tech we tested is a slightly pared down, “light” version of this, still offering enhanced contrast but to a lower degree than the full Quattroflex version. Varioflex is Alpina’s name for Photochromic technology, where the lens will react to the ambient light and adjust its tint between a category 1 and category 3 lens. Q-Lite V signifies the presence of both Q-Lite and Varioflex tech, which should offer riders with vision improvements across a range of light conditions from cloudy to bright sun. Q-Lite and Q-Lite V lenses are mirrored, available in a range of colors and tints to tailor the vision preference to the conditions.
As standard, all of the Alpina glasses lenses come with 100% UV A, B and C protection to keep your eyes safe. The shape is tailored to offer optimized airflow, with a heavily domed design allowing the lens to sit closer to the face to reduce wind rush into the eyes, as well as reducing the chances of fogging. Boosting the fog-prevention further is their Fogstop antistatic coating, which gives the surface of the lens a roughness on a microscopic level to prevent the formation of a closed layer of water which could obscure the vision. They are shatter proof; the frames are designed with flexible TR90 material to resist breakage in use, and adjustable nose wings allow the fit to be tailored to the individual rider. The Bonfire and RAM HR are just two of a vast array of different frame designs by Alpina, sitting in the middle of a range from ultra-sporty to very casual, so everyone should be able to find a style that fits their preferences.
Getting two pairs of quite different glasses from the Alpina range meant I got a good taste for their design and performance. The full-frame Bonfire glasses have a fashionable, quirky look to them, whereas the RAM HR takes a much more stripped-back lightweight approach. Regardless of the lens and frame choice, the anti-fog and water shedding properties proved to be effective, making the vision in humid and saturated rides tolerable for the majority of the time and remaining active throughout the test period.
RAM HR Q-Lite V
The light weight of these is immediately apparent, with the minimalistic half-frame giving fragile notions, until you feel the resilience of the TR90 material and lens. They’re not stiff, instead having a huge amount of flex to prevent breakage, which also allows the glasses to conform slightly to the user’s face and sit more comfortably. Once the nosepiece is adjusted, the thin legs will slide into any helmet comfortably and the silicone grippers help them sit tight. The adjustable nosepiece means getting the right fit is easy and quick, and it didn’t need readjusting save for one time I caught the nosepiece and messed up my fit. The RAM HR is a seriously comfortable set of glasses with good coverage, but I found it difficult to get the lower portion of the lens close enough to my cheek to make them impenetrable for mud being flung towards my eyes. It’s not that the gap was vast, only that I often find myself riding in ultra-sloppy conditions without a mudguard, so they have their work cut out. The wide lens with minimal frame has a good amount of wrap around the head, and almost totally uninterrupted field of vision aside from a touch of the frame creeping in at the absolute widest extremities, putting them right up at the top of the list for field of view.
The unfortunate matter of fact for Scottish mountain biking is that many of the trails in the woods are dark year-round. Real dark. This isn’t necessarily because of the poor weather that Scotland is renowned for (which is only partially accurate), but instead due to the density of the trees in the plantations that often make up the hillsides, where trails are typically prevalent. This means that anything except for a clear or extremely lightly tinted lens (such as a yellow or specific low-light lens) is nigh-on useless for the majority of the year in many areas. The Alpina photochromic lens, dubbed Q-LITE V, is effective in the right conditions and switches relatively fast, but for the densely wooded trails in Scotland the minimum category 1 level tint proved to be too dark all too often. This was especially notable when first entering darker woodland, but even once my eyes and the lenses had adjusted, I was still left with slightly less clarity of the trail ahead than I’d like. It’s frustrating that this is the case, as a lens that went down to perfectly clear would be so handy for the common trails that switch from open hillside to dense trees and back multiple times along the descent. When the day was a little brighter, or the woods less dense, the Q-Lite V lens was a pleasure to use, with a slightly warm tint giving some enhanced contrast and taking bright sunlight down to an acceptable level, and no distortion to be found. As with just about every pair of glasses I’ve used, bright light punching through the trees would cause them to flare up slightly from side-on, but they dealt with these testing conditions better than many.
Opting for the clear lens for the majority of the test unfortunately lost the contrast-boosting properties of the Q-Lite tech, which is a shame, and made for some hardcore squinting in the autumn sunsets. Thankfully the Fogstop and hydrophobic tech still remains and is very effective, so they performed relatively well as a basic eye protector. Similarly, the lenses proved to be adequately resilient to scratching, showing little signs of wear after being coated in a layer of gritty mud countless times. Without making use of one of the fancier Q or V lens technologies though, the value proposition goes out the window with the need to purchase the RAM HR Q-Lite glasses and a separate €39.95 clear lens. The Scottish woodland makes for uniquely dark conditions, and in brighter lands the Q-Lite V lens may be worth every penny.
The frame of the Alpine Bonfire has a more hipster-esque, geek chic style, which may not be to everyone’s taste. They’re okay in my eyes (or on my eyes), and certainly don’t look half the price of the RAM HR’s. On the head, the thicker, longer and less flexible legs resulted in a bit of fouling against some helmets, which led to some discomfort at times and would allow them to shift under hard compressions, so be sure to try them on with your helmet before you commit to buying them. On helmets without interference, the thickness added by the lower frame closed the gap to my cheek slightly compared with the RAM HR, meaning they were more effective at preventing mud from reaching my eyes. The shape was also comfortable for my head, with the nosepiece allowing the fit to be dialed into a good spot. The overall field of view is acceptable but did feel a touch more imposed than the more minimal RAM HR’s utter lack of interruption, with some more frame creeping in at the widest edges and the lower frame preventing vision straight downwards. If you’re looking straight down when on the trail you’re in for a bad time, so it didn’t prove to be an issue at all when riding.
What’s even worse than a variable Cat.1 to Cat.3 lens in dark woodland? A solid Cat.3 lens. This made testing very tricky indeed, only seeing action on a few trips out of the country to sunnier and less wooded lands. On these blessed sunnier rides, the Q-Lite lens proved to be pleasant to ride with, taking the sting off of the harsh sunlight and helping to separate the good dust from the bad. No distortion or funky glare to be found here either. Similar to the RAM HR glasses, the clear lens was satisfactory, but does leave your vision susceptible to stress in particularly bright conditions. These lenses were similarly fog-free for the duration and held up well to the test of time. At €80 with the tinted lens the price seems about right for some high-performing eyewear, but they begin to get expensive when you add the €39.95 clear into the mix.
The Wolf’s Last Word
The Alpina eyewear is high quality, packing some effective features throughout. Looks are subjective, but I’m a fan of the RAM HR whereas the Bonfire frame is neither here nor there for me. The Q-Lite tech performs as claimed, giving a subtle boost to the contrast to improve the clarity of the trail ahead, but since it’s only available in a Cat.3 tint it’ll only be reserved for the brighter days on more open trails. The Q-Lite V Photochromic lens helps matters considerably, but still proved to be too dark for the densest Scottish forest trails. That said, on the brighter days when the trees were lit up enough, life with the RAM HR Q-Lite V glasses was oh-so-sweet.
€79.95 – Bonfire Q-LITE
€149.95 – RAM HR Q-LITE V