Review: Aviator and Afterburner "theft-proof" bike lights
Bicycle commuters who regularly ride at night would no doubt appreciate having lights that could be left on their bike all the time, with little chance of them getting stolen. That's why Fortified Bicycle Alliance first introduced its Defender headlight, which can only be removed using a specialized tool. Putting out just 50 lumens, though, it's certainly more of a "be seen" than a "see the road" light. That's why Fortified more recently introduced its considerably brighter Aviator headlight and Afterburner tail light. We gave them a try, to see how they stand up to real-world use.
The Aviator and Afterburner actually come in two versions – standard and Boost. The standard head- and tail lights put out 150 and 30 lumens respectively, while the Boost models are good for 300 and 60 lumens. Going with the principle of "more is better," we decided to review the Boost light set.
Installing the lights is quite a straight-ahead process, if a little fiddly. They each have a bracket on the back, that is held onto the rest of the light by two screws that feature a unique type of head. All you have to do is take out the screws using the included product-specific Allen key, hold the light and the bracket on either side of your handlebar or seat post, then screw the two pieces back together with the bar/post in between. Built-in rubber pads provide grip and protect the bike's finish.
Keeping the two parts in place and aligned while also turning the screws did prove to be a bit of a challenge, however. We certainly had screws fall out on us more than once, and it definitely would have been a hassle if we'd lost any – keep in mind that they're proprietary, so you're not just going to whip out to Home Depot to get some more. With that in mind, we definitely recommend having someone help with installation, plus we think it would be a good idea for the company to include a couple of extra screws with each light.
Operating the lights was easy. You turn them on and switch between modes simply by pressing on the lens, then hold the lens down to turn them off. The Aviator features bright/steady and bright/flash modes, along with less intense battery-saving eco/steady and eco/flash modes. The Afterburner is the same, minus the eco/steady option.
Each light is powered by its own USB-rechargeable 850-mAh 3.7-volt lithium-ion battery. According to the company, one charge should be good for up to 40 hours of use, depending on the light model and mode used. They certainly lasted for the duration of our test period.
To get the batteries out for charging, you twist a collar which runs around the middle of the light. This causes the front section to come off, hanging on a hinge to reveal the battery inside. It is worth noting that would-be thieves could likely figure this out if they messed with the light for long enough, and would then be able to take the battery. Given that the battery was custom-designed for the lights, they wouldn't be able to do anything with it, but you know how people can be. The Defender has a tiny set screw that needs to be backed off before its battery can be accessed, and it would be nice to see a similar feature on these lights.
Additionally, because the battery is product-specific, buyers had better hope that Fortified will still be making them once their existing batteries stop holding a charge.
Riding with the lights attached, we found them to be snug and solid – no rattling, and the headlight didn't gradually start pointing farther and farther down, the way that some will after being jiggled for long enough. Additionally, the Aviator did a great job at lighting up the road, while the Afterburner was highly visible from a long distance back.
We also appreciated the stealthy look of the lights, along with their water- and shockproof aluminum construction.
The Aviator/Afterburner Boost set that we reviewed can be ordered for US$129, which is pretty decent. The standard lower-output set will cost you $99, plus the lights can also be ordered individually.
Product page: Fortified Bicycle Alliance