Kimber PepperBlaster II
“We're renting a bulletproof car!” So a friend giddily reported. He and his betrothed were going on vacation to an international hot spot, either the Balkans or a former Soviet state in Asia, and he thought it a prudent investment. Going to a failed or collapsing state has its appeal, but going somewhere where there is a decent chance of getting shot at seemed crazy: unless they were also arming themselves or hiring bodyguards (or are actually employed in the shadowy world of “import-export”), it appeared like they were fully cognizant of planning on going places where travel is not wise. Sure, they might not get hurt by someone shooting at their windows or doors, but their tires could still get shot out and at that point, they might need to get out of the car.
This is what we thought about as we eyed the Kimber PepperBlaster II package. Is it prudent to go places where you think your safety is compromised sufficiently that you need arms to go? And once you have it, is your point of view altered so that you're almost seeking out the risk. Taking greater risks because you might feel safer seems absurd, but such considerations seem to have an influence on driver behavior (SUVs are involved in more crashes per mile driven than subcompacts).
Even the manual Kimber packages with the gun, nestled nicely inside what seems to be a decorative tin, warns about the limitations of their product. “REMEMBER: Your best self defense is to avoid or deter attacks, rather than to rely on any self defense product…Use common sense and reasonable precautions to avoid situations where self defense may become necessary.” They go on to recommend taking a self-defense course, something you can find about through your local police department or the National Rifle Association. The NRA has a video they've produced to convince you to take a safety course; seems alarmist, but it's also a pitch for their association and their point of view.
Before getting into the specifics of the PepperBlaster II, we'll note that Competitive Cyclist cannot ship the products to New York, Michigan, or Hawaii. Further, many states restrict use of pepper sprays and the concentration of pepper in the spray and the quantity of pepper in the spray. Here are links to ordinances posted by the Pepper Spray Store, Self Defense Products, and Safe Ready. But as there's no guarantee on these sites, your best bet is to call your local law enforcement office to find out if there are any restrictions in your village, town, county, and state. Check with the Transportation Security Administration before attempting to travel by air or train with pepper spray.
The PepperBlaster II is different from the Pepper Blaster in that the II is shaped to fit your hand like a small snub-nosed gun. Dimensions are 4.7 inches long by 1 inch wide by 3.3 inches tall. It weighs 120g. It also has a front and rear sight so you can line up your target in between the sights. Like the original Pepper Blaster, it carries two shots of a 10% oleoresin capsicum (OC) solution that itself contains 2.4% capsaicinoids.
Just think of red pepper powder in a solution and propelled by a piston and pyrotechnic charge (kind of a liquid bullet). It comes out of the "gun" at 90mph to a distance of up to 13 feet (they report the minimum distance is two feet). Just think of it coming at you at 90mph. If the stuff gets on you, it doesn't only affect your eyes, but your nose, your mouth (your mucous membranes), your skin. OC burns. And does so for up to 60 minutes.
There's a safety protecting the trigger from accidentally depressing, and it swings back into place if you just fire one shot. But accidents have been known to happen. First, know that Kimber claims it is unlikely that their device will crack under impact. But it is possible it will; if it does, chances are the shots will not be triggered as they are not under pressure as an OC solution is in a pressurized canister. You still should be able to fire them off if you need to.
Likewise, extreme heat or cold shouldn't affect the PBII. Kimber has designed the device to operate at temperatures between – 4 degrees Fahrenheit to 176 degrees Fahrenheit. So it's safe to leave outside in most winter conditions and safe inside most locked cars in the middle of the summer.
Another essential piece of safety knowledge is knowing what to do if it accidentally gets discharged into a bag, clothing, or onto a person. A Kimber representative told us, “Decontamination involves water and fresh air. If the pocket or bag is washable, I would suggest washing the item separately with water and detergent. Additionally, if the pocket was a pants or shirt pocket, then immediate decontamination of the skin with water (no soap or detergent) and fresh air would be a priority.”
Not being a shooter by trade, practice, or hobby, we are concerned about hitting our target on our first or second attempt. Kimber has a training gun, which is actually the PepperBlaster II filled with blue ink. Still, they claim the sight is pretty idiot-proof; all you do is "align the sights to that the front sight post is visible and horizontally-centered between the notch of the rear sight. Sights should point in the center of the assailant's face."
And this brings up another issue. Do you need to be ready with two shots all the time? We carry one tube, but have a patch kit in case there's a second flat. To wit, should we ever head out with the PBII if there's only one shot left? Our inclination is to, but mostly because we're loath to waste, loath to spend unnecessarily, and lazy.
We put it in our jersey pocket and did some rides with it over the fall. Getting the Pepper Blaster out of our pocket quickly if the pocket is filled with other items like warmers or food is not easy. Getting the PepperBlaster out with a hand covered in a winter glove is hard and slow. Operating the PepperBlaster while our hand is covered in a winter glove is just about impossible.
We've never really felt the need for riding with a weapon, especially when on the street. The times we've vaguely considered a weapon like the PepperBlaster is mountain biking when hunters shooting out of season or hunting in prohibited public spaces crossed our path. Not that they threatened us directly, but a feeling of being at the mercy of someone who has already demonstrated they're willing to break the law.
And yes, we can see where if we had it, we might find our behavior changing to the point that we'd need to use it. One day we were riding without the PepperBlaster we came across a furious argument taking place in a bike lane. As we listened, we realized it was more of a profanity-laced harangue. A burly guy was yelling at a skinny cyclist and acting in a threatening fashion. We stopped to observe, believing our presence might give the burly guy pause. Turned out, the yeller was pissed that the cyclist had yelled at the guy and swatted the guy's car, which was parked illegally in the bike lane. Our presence did deter the big guy, but if it hadn't, would it have been wise to brandish the PBII? On the one hand, he would have almost certainly stopped. On the other, if we didn't use it, he could get back in his car and mow us down.
We're not comfortable carrying the PBII for use against people. Animals are another story. Being chased by a large dog is never a good thing, and it's hard to tell whether or not the dog is ready to attack or when they're ready. We could probably learn to better read canine behavior and signs an attack is impending and how to win Fido over with treats, but when the fangs are out and the dog is getter close enough to get a grasp on our ankle or leg seems like a good time to have pepper spray handy. Some places this is a much more common occurrence, if it is, then there seems to be good reason to have the PBII in a easily accessible jersey pocket.
As we were writing this review, we decided to we need to shoot the PBII to better learn how it worked. We found a quiet dead-end street with some graffiti we could use as a target. Stood about ten feet away, sighted carefully, and squeezed the trigger. The pressure to squeeze is hard enough to mean it's unlikely you'll accidentally fire it. The OC goo is a thick orangey syrup. Despite sighting carefully, it appears the strong wind from our left moved the stuff a bit to the right of the target. We also got a splotch on our hands. While it didn't feel hot on the skin, we wiped it off on our tights just in case. Then, we put our tongue to the clean finger. Burned. Then rubbed that finger on our nose. Ouch!
The Kimber PepperBlaster II seems like a smartly designed and safe self-defense option, provided the user wields it wisely. We didn't use it at all during the test period; it just sat there in our jersey pocket until we took the two shots against a wall. Maybe it's a personality trait, maybe it's the result of accurately assessing the dangers we routinely face, but we don't see much of a need for it. Maybe we'd feel differently somewhere else.