Dynamo lighting on all the bikes!

Its winter, so bike lights are essential for riding. I first delved into the world of dynamo lighting way back in 2011, when I got a dyno setup on my Raleigh Wayfarer. After that, I got a dynamo setup for my Surly Long Haul Trucker.

Back then, LED was just becoming “standard” when it came to dynamo lighting. Up until the turn of the century, incandescent bulbs were it. While they give a “warmer” light, they are not as powerful as the LED lamps as they need more juice. Plus, the bulbs were fragile and prone to break, either from impact or blowing out if too much power went into them. Most importantly, the concept of a “stand light”, where the light stays on for a few minutes after the wheel stops turning did not become a thing until the advent of LEDs.

At the time, the lights on the Wayfarer and Long Haul Trucker were great! But those light were pretty basic and low-powered compared to what we can get now. When I bought these first two lights in 2011, due to budgetary restrictions I didn’t spend a hell of a lot: $42 for the Spanninga and $55 for the B&M. There really wasn’t anything else available in the $100 and under range then. The two aforementioned lights put out about 10-15 lux.** Now I can easily find a 40 lux dynamo light for about $45, like the B+M Avy, which I have on two of my bikes.

Having a bike where I never had to worry about whether my lights had charge was a revelation. And I didn’t have to be as concerned about theft, as dynamo lights are “hard-mounted” to the bike.*** It was hard to have bikes that had battery lights after going dynamo. Over the years, I’ve slowly upgraded all the bikes. With the reimagining of the Heavy Duti in summer of 2018, now all five of my bikes have some sort of dynamo lighting!

And how does it all play out?

  • Bantam. This one has the nicest lighting setup: For the hub, a Shutter Precision, the sweet spot between the utilitarian-but-ugly Sanyos and Shimanos and the really nice and expensive SON. For front light a Spanninga Nomad XD, which puts out 40 lux. I got this one because it has a USB port built-in for charging phones and the like. Handy for touring. (You don’t get a heck of a lot of “juice” out of it, but it’s enough to keep your devices topped off.) For rear light a B+M Secula that mounts to the mudguard.
  • Raleigh Superbe. The dynohub on this bike is a true Dynohub! Meaning: It is the Dynohub produced by Sturmey-Archer from the late ’30’s until the late ’70’s, the first dynamo hub ever (as far as I know.) This hub was extant to the bike, so it was made in 1968. And it still goes strong! The front light is a B+M Eyc with about 50 lux output, the rear a rack mounted B+M. Now the old Dynohubs don’t put out as much power as a modern hub, 1.8 watts vs the typical 3.0 watts. But modern LEDs are so efficient and don’t need a lot of juice. So, it doesn’t matter that much. It flickers at speeds below 7 mph and would probably be a bit brighter with a modern hub, but it works perfectly for city riding.
  • Raleigh Crested Butte. No dynamo hub on this bike right now, we do it with a bottle! I have on here an AXA HR, which I feel is the best of the modern sidewall generators. It has a nice big rubber runner that doesn’t have as much drag as that one you got from Kmart in 1978 and put on your Gitane. Also, it doesn’t wear out the tire sidewall either. For the light, a B+M Avy at about 40 lux. For the rear, a Spanninga Pixeo fender mounted light.
  • Robin Hood Path Racer. This one of my “mullet” setups: dyno in front, battery in rear. I have a Sanyo hub (which is as inexpensive as dynamo hubs come) with a B+M Fly in front. The Fly is probably my brightest light at 60 lux, even brighter than normal since there’s no draw from the rear light. As for the rear, it’s a battery Spanninga. It runs on 2 AAA batteries, which I replace maybe once a year.
  • Schwinn Heavy Duti. Another “mullet” setup: AXA HR bottle with B+M Avy in front, a battery-powered Spanninga rack mounted light.

Over the past year, I haven’t had to worry about charging lights. The only thing I worry about are replacing the runner on the bottle dynamos and the yearly replacement of the rear light batteries. All of my lights are decent for in-town use and some country use I wouldn’t use them for night-time off-roading adventures, though. But those are few and far between.

Dynamo lighting in 2020 is so good. LED lights are strong. There are many options for reasonably priced setups. True, you’ll spend time and/or money getting them set up. But I’ll take that outlay for years of worry-free lighting!

Shutter Precision Dynohub on the Bantam
AXA bottle, B+M light on the Crested Butte
Original Sturmey-Archer Dynohub on the Raleigh Superbe. (Light has been changed.)
Older bottle setup on the Heavy Duti
Sanyo Dynohub on the Robin Hood. (Different light now.)

*Before then, the only way to really get the standlight function was with a complicated and heavy battery backup system.

**The lux (symbol: lx) is the SI derived unit of illuminance, measuring luminous flux per unit area. It is equal to one lumen per square metre.

***I’m not saying theft can never happen, but it is rarer for dynamo lights. I still have a backup light or two (usually my older lights) in case of theft.


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