Last year, a couple of MIT grads took to Kickstarter to raise production funds for their just-about-everything-proof bicycle light, the Defender. Made mainly from a solid block of aluminum, the light was reportedly tough as nails, waterproof, and very theft-resistant. It was also designed to look like the cylinder of a revolver. Well, the Kickstarter project was a success, and the light is now available for purchase. I got my hands on one, to see if it actually lives up to its makers' claims.
First of all, the 232-gram (8-oz) Defender does indeed look cool. This is particularly true if you get the black model, as opposed to the chrome version. It's made by Massachusetts-based Fortified Bicycle Alliance, which was formerly known as Gotham Bicycle Defense Industries – as a result it still has the word "GOTHAM" emblazoned on its side (or at least, mine does), which makes it look just that much more like Batman's bike light.
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As far as its toughness and waterproofing go, I can attest to the facts that it survived being repeatedly hurled point-blank into the dirt and getting placed under a running kitchen faucet. I could have tried smashing it against the sidewalk or leaving it in an aquarium overnight, although I thought that doing so might be a tad excessive.
Its mounting clamp is tightened onto the handlebars using an included security screwdriver, which looks a bit like a hex wrench, but with weird non-hex bits on either end. This is what makes the light theft-resistant, as the average opportunistic parts thief isn't likely to be carrying such a specialized tool when they happen upon your bike. They could always go out and buy one if they decided to make a point of stealing someone's Defender, although such a scenario seems pretty unlikely.
When mounting my light, I found that the screwdriver didn't engage the corresponding clamp bolt nearly as satisfyingly as would be the case with a hex wrench. There was less of a feeling of the bit "popping" into place within the bolt head, and the wrench still wiggled from side to side even when completely engaged. Fortunately, though, the idea with the Defender is that you install it once and then leave it on your bars forever, rain or shine – it was certainly possible to tighten it down the one time using the security screwdriver, and the benefits definitely outweigh the slight hassle.
On both my mountain and road bikes, the handlebars are skinnier at the ends, and fatter in the middle. Given that the ends are already home to the brake levers and shifters, this meant that the Defender had to be mounted close to the middle. Even when using the thinner of the two included clamp grip pads, however, I found that the longer of the two included bolts still couldn't bridge the gap between the top and bottom of the clamp. Fortunately, replacing the pad with a strip of an old inner tube served as a very simple and effective solution. It's something that would be easy for anyone to do, although Fortified Bicycle Alliance might want to start including an even thinner pad in the package.
Once the light was mounted, it was time to do some riding in the dark.
Despite its six LED bulbs, the Defender has an output of just 50 lumens. If you're someone who ultimately goes only with numbers, then you likely already know that commuting lights with an output of up to 150 lumens are no longer that uncommon. Fortified is even developing one of its own, known as the Aviator.
The fact is, however, that you shouldn't just go with numbers. The arrangement of the Defender's bulbs give its main spotlight a 30-degree spread, but also add an 80-degree peripheral "ring" of bright light to its conical beam. That ring produces a bar of light on the road, perpendicular to the bike's front wheel, making it highly visible to motorists. The light itself is also pretty hard to miss when seen from the front, particularly when set to flashing mode.
That said, when riding in an unlit back alley, I found that the Defender's spotlight just wasn't bright enough to illuminate the road as much as I'd like. If you're sticking to the streetlights and don't need a light in order to see the road, though, it makes an excellent "be-seen" headlight.
The Defender runs on three included AA batteries, that provide a run time of 50 hours on steady or 100 hours in flashing mode. It's priced at US$65 for the black model, or $59 for the chrome.
Product page: Defender Bike LightView gallery - 8 images