Gotham Defender Review
My previous headlight died in its prime, of complications from a fall. Coming back to my bike on a wintery night with thick gloves on, I misaligned the slot on the handlebar mount when attempting to slide it into the bar mount and dropped it on the sidewalk, at just the right angle to snap one of the dainty plastic tabs that hold the bits of the light together. It’s safe to say that such things would never happen with the Gotham Defender, which my wife got me as a replacement, for two reasons. First, it’s designed to be as theft-resistant as the bike is, and doesn’t need to be taken along when the bike gets locked up. Second, even if you did take it off the bike, it’s hard to imagine a mere 3 foot drop injuring it; you could probably drive a nail with it if you had to.
The light clamps onto your 22 – 32 mm bars (or other protruding horizontal part of the bike) with a pentalobe nut, which makes it impossible to remove without the included mutated hex wrench tool; a hidden and recessed screw locks the battery compartment closed. While it’s still possible that a thief could have the necessary wrench in their gear, and also possible that they could bypass the clamp entirely by stealing the bars, the law of the jungle is such that your gear doesn’t need to be completely theft-proof, just more so that the other possible targets. This also makes it tricky for the rightful owner to adjust or open, though, unless you’re willing to tempt fate by bringing the tools with you or are methodical enough to replace the batteries before they run dry.
The build quality on the $60 Defender is impressive. Unlike most battery powered lights, it’s made of solid aluminum and has the 230 g of weight to match. It claims to be waterproof to 1 ft, and while that has not been verified by me, it certainly does fine with thunderstorms and heavy snowfall. Despite its size, it doesn’t rely on reflectors to amplify its light — the optics, such as they are, are six LEDs which protrude slightly above the face of the light. The downside to this indestructibility is that this is more a light for being seen than seeing by; the throw from the light, when adjusted to oncoming-car height, casts barely enough light on the street to identify potholes and hazards in a city. When tilted down, the Defender provides decent vision when street lights are absent, but makes visibility to cars that much less. Probably not the thing for country roads, but fine for city use, and the beam will reassuringly reflect in street signs a couple of blocks away.
Some may prefer a light that’s smaller or more efficient, but being able to leave your headlight on your bike without worrying about theft or abuse, especially during the cold and dark wintery months, is worth the price of admission for me. The weight penalty, as it usually is, is largely psychological, and considering its ostensible indestructibility, it is priced fairly. Sure, it would be great it if the light quality was better, but if the so-so light quality is necessary to make it smash-proof, I can live with that. If anything, I’ve found myself desiring a similar tail light, which is coincidentally being developed by Gotham and is planned for release later this year. See more at www.bikegotham.com
Review written by Dan Goldberg, Urban Velo riding buddy and sometimes tech consultant. Read other reviews by Dan.