Bicycles

Review: Defender Bike Light

Review: Defender Bike Light
The Defender, in place on the handlebars and ready to go
The Defender, in place on the handlebars and ready to go
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A view inside the Defender's battery compartment
1/8
A view inside the Defender's battery compartment
The Defender definitely looks tough, if nothing else
2/8
The Defender definitely looks tough, if nothing else
A close-up of the included security screwdriver
3/8
A close-up of the included security screwdriver
The various bits of the Defender package, including two lengths of mounting bolt and two thicknesses of clamp pads
4/8
The various bits of the Defender package, including two lengths of mounting bolt and two thicknesses of clamp pads
The Defender, in place on the handlebars and ready to go
5/8
The Defender, in place on the handlebars and ready to go
The Defender's spotlight is adequate for lit roads, but perhaps a little weak to be your one and only source of road illumination
6/8
The Defender's spotlight is adequate for lit roads, but perhaps a little weak to be your one and only source of road illumination
The Defender is highly visible from the front, producing a bar of light on the road perpendicular to the bike's front wheel
7/8
The Defender is highly visible from the front, producing a bar of light on the road perpendicular to the bike's front wheel
The light is indeed waterproof
8/8
The light is indeed waterproof
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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.

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.

The light is indeed waterproof
The light is indeed waterproof

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.

The Defender's spotlight is adequate for lit roads, but perhaps a little weak to be your one and only source of road illumination
The Defender's spotlight is adequate for lit roads, but perhaps a little weak to be your one and only source of road illumination

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.

The Defender is highly visible from the front, producing a bar of light on the road perpendicular to the bike's front wheel
The Defender is highly visible from the front, producing a bar of light on the road perpendicular to the bike's front wheel

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 Light

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7 comments
Slowburn
How does it keep jackwads from turning on the light when you are not there?
Denis Klanac
someone could Just steal the whole handle bar, 50 lumens is piss poor for that price.
Mayhem
Sure my TK45 is heavier, but there is absolutely no way an oncoming motorist will drive toward me unless they are a human-moth hybrid. When I first saw a picture of this , I was thinking it would come in at 400+ lumens. It looks to me like the innovation here is a fiddley wrench-thingy. Bravo.
moreover
50 lumens is way too little. Who cares if it's indestructible if it does not illuminate the path properly?
Intellcity
Only 50 lumens ?
I recently upgraded from a barely adequate 300 lumen single LED to an 1800 lumen single LED light for about $30.
I like the security aspect but why only 50 lumens ? I like the looks but nearly useless at only 50 lumens.
Hi-power LCDs are not that expensive so why go to the effort to make a nice light but only have 50 lumens?
You need to do some real world city riding where you go from well lighted streets to streets with no lights; with cars coming up from behind and from the front and then try to see where you are going with only 50 lumens.
With 6 LEDs some could be steady and some flashing at the same time. All 6 could be at least 300 lumens each. Battery life should not be a problem. Not many people ride more than a couple of hours at night. Midnight century rides ? I ride 15 miles home across town. It takes about an hour. I don't have to recharge every night, more like once a week but I expect battery life to go down eventually and need to recharge every night, Then new batteries.
50 lumens? Why bother?
RoyCrisman
I was one of the kickstarter backers, the light is a great light for visibility in the city. I've had multiple losses of other lights and light attachements (WTF? Why would you steal a plastic mount? Someone must be stealing plastic to melt down for their 3D printer.) to thieves, but the Defender (and the follow-up Aurora/Afterglow) has never disappeared and left me light-less. I've even seen evidence a couple of times that someone was screwing with the light where I came out and it was pointed differently they were trying to work it off. Someone could still steal your handlebars (or, like duh, your whole bike) and your light will be gone. People can still turn them on and run your batteries down I suppose, but I haven't seen that happen.
unklmurray
I generally read all the comments before I write mine, butt this article is 3years old [about that] and I noticed a price of $65.00 for the black one I got mine from a place called ''Touch of Modern''' for 19.99 + $2.00 shipping, I LOVE mine the batteries that came with it have lasted 3 months I used it mostly as a flashlight and when I mounted it on my handle bars ,Not only did I have the security screw to make it harder to steal,But I made a custom leather cover for it and now you can't tell what it is when not it use,As soon as I can find more I will buy them,the last place was sold out the last time I tried 2 buy from them.........LOL :-)