Schmidt Dynamo Hub & Edelux II: the TDR review

During the last few years, MG and I have seen a growing number of our randonneur brethren adopt generator hubs and connected lights for our night-time events. The trend started taking off in the 1990s when German company Schmidt (a.k.a. Wilfried Schmidt Maschinenbau) came out with their very high quality, low drag SON generator hub.

The early adopters in the rando community paired the SON hubs with focused halogen-bulb lights, which were good, but not quite as powerful as higher-power battery systems from NiteRider and others. The tradeoff in unlimited runtime was worth it for them.

I held off for a long time on a generator system. On the tandem, where we achieve high speeds on downhills, we need bright lights with a really long throw. I felt battery lights gave us what we needed.

At Paris-Brest-Paris with Ixon AA-battery lights. Courtesy Michael Hansmann.

At Paris-Brest-Paris with Ixon AA-battery lights. Courtesy Michael Hansmann.

The advances in LED technology have changed everything, and this year I started thinking about making the switch.

We moved to LED lights a few years ago via the powerful Ixon line of 4xAA-battery LED lights from German company Busch and Müller. Two of these on the handlebars (and a rapid battery recharger in our drop bag) got us through brevets and long randonnees, including Paris-Brest-Paris in 2011.

In the last couple of years new LED headlights for hub dynamos began throwing amazingly bright and focused light on the road.

Our friends with these lights were outshining us, and giving nary a thought about batteries beyond carrying a backup light.

The drag of the latest generation SON hubs with LED lights is so low that they run their lights all the time. Like motorcycle riders, the lighting is bright enough to give daytime drivers notice of a bike on the road instead of blending into the background.

Lane and his Supernova light. Courtesy MG.

Lane and his Supernova light. Courtesy MG.

Schmidt also slimmed down their hubs and came out with an ISO 6-bolt disk brake model. This grabbed my attention because we use disc brakes on our Co-Motion Java tandem.

The only holdup was the cost — about $750 for a built wheel (rim, spokes, labor, SON hub), a top-quality B&M or similar headlight and wiring, a tail light and shop labor.

The Start

This spring Erik Kugler, co-owner of the BicycleSPACE DC shop in Washington, approached us with an offer. He wanted to build some business for the shop in generator wheels and asked me if I’d buy one at a sale price and write about the experience.

Here's Erik. No lights on this one, yet.

Here’s Erik. No lights on this one, yet.

Erik didn’t ask me to write a positive review nor ask to see anything in advance. In fact, he has not brought it up since then. This is the first time he or anyone at BicycleSPACE will see the review.

So, with that disclaimer, here’s our take on our generator system after 3,075 miles ridden since installation in May.

We’ve ridden the wheel exclusively on all our tandem rides and run the light full time. Those include local jaunts such as the Seagull Century, overnight rides to Shepherdstown, W.V., and randonneur brevets in the Shenandoah Valley and Pennsylvania hills.

We took it on a 1,000-mile lightly loaded tour of high passes in Colorado in July with some gravel roads, and a 1,000-kilometer hilly randonnee in August, also in the Shenandoah.

Edelux II in the fading light to Kremmling, Colo. Courtesy MG.

Edelux II in the fading light to Kremmling, Colo. Courtesy MG.

The bottom line: this is a fantastic setup. The lighting is powerful and reliable. We’re converts.

The Process

First off, I’ll back up and describe our interactions with BicycleSPACE. They were uniformly pleasant and professional.

I worked with Tony P. on the sales side at the shop to put the package together. We chose our go-to tandem rim, the workhorse Velocity Chukker, and picked out the parts from Peter White Cycles, the main U.S. distributor of hi-performance German lighting systems.

The ever-friendly Tony P. got the order squared away.

The ever-friendly Tony P. got the order squared away.

We settled on the following spec:

— SON28 Polished silver 36-hole disk hub
— Velocity Chukker black 36-hole rim and silver spokes
— Schmidt Edelux II silver headlight
— Busch & Müller Secula Plus seatstay mount tail light
— front rack and handlebar mounts, wiring and connectors.

Schmidt has yet to make a 40-hole tandem disk hub. We’ve been using 36-hole front wheels for years without problems, so that was no setback.

The Schmidt 36-hole disk hub, in polished.

The Schmidt 36-hole disk hub, in polished.

There was some delay in availability of all the parts, however. It took about a month from our first conversation for everything to arrive at BicycleSPACE and for the building of the wheel to commence.

So, if you want the system for the winter darkness, start the process right away, just in case Peter is out of stock on something. But it’s also a great setup all year long — both as a daylight running light and a ready-to-go night light.

Tony kept in good contact with me throughout the process and answered all my questions. I felt like he was intent on getting the order right and was happy to confirm everything with me before we proceeded.

After the parts arrived, veteran mechanic and wheelbuilder Jerry and I had a good talk before he built the wheel. He understood it was for tandem use and that we regularly head for the hills, which puts added stress on wheels.

Once the wheel was built we took the tandem to the shop and left it there for fellow mechanic Dave to install everything. The wiring was the big challenge here, because the tandem is so long.

We needed a lot of extra wire, with quick-disconnects added, to reach the taillight while allowing us to separate the frame for airline travel via the built-in couplers.

Jerry and Dave. Excellent hands taking a break outside BicycleSPACE.

Jerry and Dave. Excellent hands taking a break outside BicycleSPACE.

The Results

Jerry built a beautiful wheel, straight and strong, and Dave did a clean and thorough job with the wiring. We had him mount the light on a handlebar mount to start. We also wanted to put it on our front rack if needed, and Dave left us enough extra cable from the hub to do either.

Picking up the bike at BicycleSPACE, a nice clean install.

Picking up the bike at BicycleSPACE, a nice clean install.

It took me awhile to settle on the right mounting point for the front light. To eliminate shadows from the front bag and front wheel, I moved it to the forward edge of the front rack. I was glad Dave bundled up some extra cable.

Mounted the front of our Nitto front rack.

Mounted the front of our Nitto front rack.

There was some vibration from the hub through the fork legs at first when braking. I found that I was not tightening the hub skewer enough. A little extra clamping force eliminated the vibration.

In terms of usability, we’re very pleased. Blown away would be more accurate, actually!

First off, we don’t sense any penalty in terms of rolling resistance from the hub. I can turn it off at the headlight and there’s no difference in our speed. The Schmidt folks have figured this out, folks.

I angled the headlight for a long and wide throw, giving up some near-distance intensity. It delivers a nice even beam that has the feel of the low beam on a car. The Edelux II gets up to full brightness very quickly, and then we have many yards of visibility ahead of us.

You can see see what I mean at Peter White’s site, where he compares headlight beams.

The one drawback to a light fixed to the bike is that it points straight ahead all the time, which isn’t the best for downhill turns. The Edelux has excellent full road coverage, but obviously can’t see around hard turns. I use a helmet light in the hills at night, which lets me see into the turns until the bike straightens out.

In terms of reliability, our system has been excellent. We’ve had no issues, even after disconnecting and reconnecting the cables for our Colorado trip and regularly disconnecting the hub to put the wheel into the car trunk. Both the front and rear lights have been rock-solid in the rain.

Lighting the way around our Colorado tour.

Lighting the way around our Colorado tour.


I won’t kid around: generator lighting isn’t cheap. But you’re getting more than just lighting. You’re getting peace of mind whether on the open road or riding in the city.

When we were invited out for dinner in Durango, Colo. by the guys at the bike shop, there was no wondering if our batteries were charged. The lighting front and rear was there at the ready and we just went.

During daytime riding I feel like drivers see us more readily. And at night, we have some of the brightest lights on the road.

Of course, we have the folks at BicycleSPACE on 7th Street Northwest to thank for making this a painless experience in getting set up. I would have spent hours trying to get the wiring just right and making mistakes. It was money well spent to have Dave complete the installation, and Jerry built us a wheel that has been problem free.

If you are on the fence about dynamo lighting, I would say the hub and headlight technology is there now to make the leap. You’ll be glad you did.

Mike R. with a dynamo setup on his Velo Orange. Courtesy MG.

Mike R. with a dynamo setup on his Velo Orange. Courtesy MG.

Comments? Please ask questions and I’ll do my best to answer them. Thanks again to Erik and the gang at BicycleSPACE.


Brooks Cambium C17 Saddle: A real Brooks?

The new Brooks non-leather saddle, the Cambium C17, caught my eye recently during a stop at one of my favorite local bike shops, BicycleSpace in downtown Washington.

The off-white woven fabric cover and rubber base was certainly different than the traditional Brooks saddles MG and I use on most of our bikes. The British company is synonymous with leather and has been on a roll in recent years with the growth in urban and non-competitive cycling.

Test model had promotion text by Brooks.

Test model had promotion text by Brooks.

I’m among those who were skeptical when they announced the Cambium line that it would be more than just another uncomfortable racer saddle.

Handling the display model, the quality was higher than I expected. I offhandedly asked if they had a loaner and I was offered a C17 to use for a week. In a few minutes I installed it on my Rivendell SimpleOne singlespeed bike and off we went.

Quick verdict: The C17 is surprisingly comfortable! Brooks managed to get the feel of their mainstay B17 leather model into this saddle, while offering features that should appeal to riders who might not ride leather.

The price is a little steep, however. Would I buy one? Read on.

Cambium atop my Rivendell SimpleOne at the Lincoln Memorial.

Cambium atop my Rivendell SimpleOne at the Lincoln Memorial.

Looks: Let’s address appearance and construction first. I’ve gotten a few questions about what Brooks calls the “organic cotton canvas” cover. It looks coarse but is mostly smooth to the touch and there is nothing noticeable about it when riding. They’ve put a waterproof coating on it, so rain and sweat are not supposed to be an issue.

In any case the cover is bonded to a slightly flexible natural rubber underlayer that can’t be hurt by water, so I’d consider this an all-weather saddle. Brooks includes their signature rivets at the rear and on the nose, and builds in bag loops into the rear frame which I confirmed allow the attachment of a Carradice saddlebag — a nice touch.

Form: Along the top the shape is similar to the leather B17, with a long flat nose and raised rear heel when the nose is level. The widest portion is about 160mm, which is narrower than the 170mm B17 (and equivalent to the Brooks Professional) but the Cambium did not feel much narrower than a B17 when riding.

Brooks B17, left and Cambium C17 right.

Brooks B17, left and Cambium C17 right.

Side skirts are cut away, however, giving this saddle a racy look.

Silver rivets, cut-away skirts, longer rails, rubber base.

Silver rivets, cut-away skirts, longer rails, rubber base.

Comfort: The other similarity to a B17 is flexibility. With a firm downward push, the C17 flexes vertically the same way as a B17. Tooling around downtown urban streets, I found it felt like I was on a nicely broken-in leather Brooks. I think they worked hard to get this right because unlike leather you can’t turn an adjusting bolt to tighten the saddle tension.

Big differences: Besides overall appearance, and the lack of side skirts, the biggest change for current B17 owners is that the saddle is not as tall and the rails are slightly longer and set farther forward.

Different rails: B17 on left, C17 on right.

Different rails: B17 on left, C17 on right.

That means you have to raise your seatpost about a half-inch, and can push the saddle back more than a B17. There is at least 5 mm more rail length, but Brooks appears to have positioned the usable rail length closer to the nose, which allows a little extra rearward positioning.

Finally, the Cambium weighs in well under the B17. I did not weigh mine, but Brooks claims 415 grams for the men’s C17 and 405 grams for the shorter-nose, slightly-wider women’s C17 S. Those weights compare to the B17’s 540g listed weight.

Purpose: Who is this saddle for?

Do you wear form-fitting jersies from a certain apparel maker based in England and ride a spotless racing bike? On appearance alone, the Cambium line should fit your aesthetic. Brooks also makes the Cambium line in a dark slate gray that is more sober if you are into the bike-ninja look.

More seriously, if you don’t use fenders and worry about a Brooks getting destroyed from wheel spray, there is no such concern with the Cambium. On any bike you can still ride in the rain or soak it in sweat without worrying about covering the top.

If you have a hard time getting a B17 or other Brooks far enough back on a given bike, this saddle may also offer a solution.

And, if you don’t want to break in a leather Brooks, the Cambium is ready to go out of the box.

Fears about breaking-in can be overblown, however — Brooks are generally comfortable for us from the first ride and get nicer over time.

We are more likely to encounter our Brooks saddles getting stretched out too much from hot summer rides, brevets and multi-day touring. The Cambium presumably won’t get scooped like our B17 models after a few seasons.

Conclusion: Will I buy a Cambium C17? Probably. I’m put off by the $160 pricetag, but the value of a saddle with the same comfort as a B17, rear bag loops, longer rails and weatherproofing has its attractions.

If Brooks runs a promotion that gets the price down I’ll probably take the leap.

I like that they are trying to create a new saddle that expands the Brooks line and replicates the comfort of leather without some of the care considerations and weight. At last they tried to resolve the issues that come with the short-ish rails on the leather models.

The C17 may find a home on my Ritchey Road Logic racing bike where saddle setback has always been an issue.

See more photos of my test saddle at my Flickr page. Please leave comments on your experience if you have purchased a Cambium.

I want to extend my thanks to BicycleSpace for loaning me the saddle to test. They have an extensive range of Brooks saddles and other fine urban riding gear and a solid service department. If you are in the D.C. area they are definitely worth a stop.

Randonneurmas Day 11: Reflective Vests

We like to decorate Christmas trees and light Menorah candles during the holiday season, which shine brightly during the long nights of December. Why not help your favorite cyclist stand out in the night just as much?

In addition to lighting, a bright reflective vest works wonders in getting us noticed after dark. There has been a renewed interest in reflectives among randonneurs since last year, when the Paris-Brest-Paris organizers required everyone to wear a vest that complied with a visibility standard called EN 1150.

That led to the purchase of EN 1150 vests by USA randonneurs for the big event. These would make a perfect holiday gift.

One of the brands that meet this standard is the Mavic Vision Vest. As vests go, it is pricey, but owners love the construction and the reflective quality.

Randonneurs USA is also selling a similarly compliant vest made by the French L2S company called the Deluxe Reflective Wind Resistant Vest. You can see it in the RUSA store.

Here’s our pal Chris N. wearing the Mavic vest.

Chris looking good and visible in the Mavic Vision Vest.

Chris looking good and visible in the Mavic Vision Vest.

Here’s one of Steve, left, with Nigel and MG, wearing the RUSA vest.

Steve, on the left, has the RUSA deluxe L2S vest. Nigel has the previous RUSA vest, also from L2S.

Steve, on the left, has the RUSA deluxe L2S vest. Nigel has the previous RUSA vest, also from L2S.

Finally, this photo shows me and Jon wearing the waterproof L2S vests we bought at PBP last year. I’d like to see these brought into the USA — right now I think you need a friend in France to send one to you. If anyone knows how to get them here, please leave a comment!

Me, Jon and MG at Brest. We've got the L2S waterproof vests.

Me, Jon and MG at Brest. We’ve got the L2S waterproof vests.

Even if your randonnuer or cylist has a good reflective vest, you can’t go wrong with the L2S from RUSA or the Mavic Vision. They are made to higher standards and will work well in wet and dark conditions.

Tomorrow: Another 12 Days of Randonneurmas wraps up.

Tubus Disco Disk-compatible Rear Rack

Rear racks have been problematic for those of us who like disk brakes. If your bike has the disk mount on the chainstay, most if not all standard racks will fit. But if the mount is on the seatstay, as on our Co-Motion and Cannondale tandem, then the only really good racks have been the Old Man Mountain Cold Springs and Sherpa. We have used a Sherpa with good results on both bikes. The drawback is that both mount via the skewer which makes wheel removal cumbersome. They also have an unconventional look if that matters to you.

I’ve posted more photos at my Flickr page.

Topeak also makes disk-specific rear racks, the Explorer and Tourist, which use built-in offsets at the eyelet to space the rack beyond the disk caliper. I have used the Explorer and it’s OK for a $35 rack, but not elegant. There are some threaded spacers out there from Jandd and others that allow you to mount a standard rack outboard of the disk caliper, but the rack ends up off-center and is dependent on the spacer.

Venerable rack maker Tubus recently came to the rescue with their Disco rack. It uses curved tabs at the lower legs to position the rack behind the caliper rather than outboard. Tubus includes a skewer to mount the rack through the hub if needed, but the rack mounted normally to our Co-Motion dropout eyelets. I mounted the fender stays to the same eyelet between the rack and frame for now.

The only downsides to me are the top shelf, which is narrow for a large racktop bag, and the $154 price tag (at least until Wiggle starts stocking it). The Disco is rated to a maximum of 20 kg. or 44 lbs., which might be a problem for some folks. We’d rather not carry 44 lbs. in the rear panniers so it’s fine by us. We’ll still use an Old Man Mountain Ultimate Lowrider front rack, by the way.

We’re going to test this rack on our upcoming honeymoon tour of Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway, and I’ll follow up. For now, here’s a review from Bike Radar.

Lights: Because The Night Belongs To Us

Those in North America were struck by the return of standard time over the weekend. Those of us in fair Britain have already been oppressed by its tyranny for more than a week. Because of our northerly latitude I’ve been riding with lights quite a bit for a month now–and with the return to Greenwich Mean Time, our sunsets are almost as early as the earliest sunset in the Lower 48 states–affording me a chance to try out some new purchases.

For a taillight these days, I’m sticking with the DiNotte taillight that has served me well so far. On the front, for simplicity’s sake, I’ve put aside the DiNottes–which require me to faff about with recharging AA batteries all the time–and have gone to the NiteFlux Vision Stick Photon 4 Enduro. It’s a fairly ingenious design. The rechargeable lithium-ion stick battery attaches to the frame with a bracket that screws into your water-bottle bosses, like a mini-pump. The bracket can hold two of the stick batteries, one on either side of your water-bottle cage. A partially-coiled cord then runs up the downtube to your light on the handlebars. And if you need it, you can screw the stick battery directly into the light, making it a very useful flashlight.

At its brightest, the four-watt LED lamp has a claimed runtime of six hours. With a second battery, that would be easily enough to get a rider through a full night of riding, making it a useful light for events up to 600K. I plan on using it in the 250-mile ultras-sportive I’m entered in next July, when the night hours will number only seven.

It’s a sad fact that winter nights curtail our riding so much. The good news is that we get to test out theproducts that make summer playtime so much fun.

Dunwich Dynamo: Final Notes

You may remember that a few months back I completed a project to extend the runtime of my DiNotte AA lights. I can report success with them. For both my two front lights and my rear light, the doubled battery backs driven by lithium AAs made it easily from sunset to the food station (approximately 50 miles/four hours), with the rears on strobe high/low setting and the fronts on low. They had plenty of life in them but I changed them at the food stop anyway, thinking it was better to do it there than on the roadside. Then the second set of batteries made it the next three-plus hours until daybreak. To be honest, I think they could have gone all night. I supplemented with the DiNotte helmet light on a strobe high/low setting, and it went all night on a single battery pack loaded with lithium AAs, although that light was visibly weakening as dawn approached. Although neither cheap nor without some hassle, it may be the ultimate lighting set-up for the long brevets.

Dunwich Dynamo: Ride All Night, Play All Day

Dunwich Dynamo Start

Originally uploaded by jamboi

While some of the mid-Atlantic cyclists are huffing up Piney Mountain at the end of the Warrenton 200K, I’ll be rolling out of London with a couple hundred like-minded cyclists for an all-night 200K ride to the East Anglia coast called the Dunwich Dynamo. As is described on the Dynamo faq page of the Southwark Cyclists, the legend of the Dynamo is that in 1993 “a few half-civilised City couriers just headed east after work one balmy Friday evening…and kept going till they hit the sea.” It was run for awhile as a entry-fee ride, but now exists as a show-and-go event–that is, if you have a bicycle (or other pedal-powered contraption), just show up at London Fields park at around 8 or 9 p.m. and take off with one of the groups that slowly filter out. It’s £1 if you want a route sheet. Not everybody asks for one, I guess. You can have a pint at Pub on the Park if you like, but I tend to save that sort of thing for afterward.

I did this in 2006. It’s much more of a party than an audax ride, although the all-night aspects of it make for good randonneuring practice–how many lithium batteries will I need to get through eight hours of darkness? And it’s said that some of the audax riders who take part turn around after a breakfast at the beach cafe at Dunwich (pronounced “dunnich”) and ride all the way back to London. Others pay Southwark Cyclists for a coach ride home. For my part, I intend to ride another 30 miles back to the mainline rail station in Ipswich and take a train back to London.

Right now the forecast is calling for light rain in the evening, tapering off during the night, with a low of 13C, and, sadly for us, a bit of a northerly vector to the winds.

ADDED: A flickr pool of DD photos is here.

Extending The DiNotte AA Runtime

I gathered the raw materials, not always in the most convenient fashion, for the project I mentioned here. It wasn’t too hard, except that I learned that I’m pants at soldering and therefore decided to dispense with the soldered part of the project. The wires seem pretty secure with several twists, and with some shrink tubing (or as it’s known here, shrink sleeving or heatshrink), it’s even more secure. The first one I secured with electrical tape, but the rest I secured with a second layer of shrink tubing and left well enough alone. Not sure how the whole operation would work in rainy conditions–would water creep in and short out my circuits?–but I made four, so I have some redundancy. If all else fails, I can revert to using the DiNotte as originally designed.

The Raw MaterialsThe Raw Materials

Half FinishedHalf Finished


Batteries into the bento boxBatteries into the bento box

et voila! C’est un DiNotte avec deux fois la runtimeet voila! C’est un DiNotte avec deux fois la runtime

Lighting: About That DiNotte Runtime

A few days ago I wrote about my AA-powered DiNotte light, saying how much I liked it but expressing some doubts about its runtime. So I did the geeky thing: I actually tested it. Simple protocol, really: Fully charged batteries, the same ones that were supplied with it. The light was turned on high, installed as it would be on my bike, with a fan blowing on the light because the housing is a heat exchange device and gets very hot. And then I had a Timex Ironman watch with a continuing alarm going off every five minutes so I could check on the light’s status.

Results? The light lasted longer than I did. Between 115 and 120 minutes, the light went from high to energy-saving low mode, and then kept cranking until 255 minutes, at which point it was time for bed and I ended the experiment.

I assume that a fresh set of lithium disposable batteries would last at least as long as the rechargeables (though I have no evidence either way on that). But if nearly two hours on high and four hours 15 minutes of total life without changing isn’t quite enough for you, you can try tinkering (see here and here). I’ve laid in nearly all of the supplies necessary and plan to make it a winter project.

Wednesday Commuteblogging — Tikit Edition

This week’s installment brings us Kirk, who recently moved to D.C. from the Berkeley area in California. He is here with his Tikit, the new folder from Bike Friday. He was walking through Eastern Market on Saturday when I ran into him on an outing with MG, Super D, Comics DC blog author Mike Rhode, and his daughter Mighty C. Kirk showed us the bike’s quick fold feature, which does not require throwing any levers — just bop the seat forward from behind, which releases cables holding the head mast upright, and then grab the handle behind the cranks and lift.

Kirk and his TikitKirk and his Tikit

Bike Friday created the Tikit to serve a different purpose than the traditional Friday, which is designed more to be a packable travel bike rather than a true folder. The Tikit has smaller (moreso) 16-inch wheels, where Fridays generally have two flavors of 20″ wheels. The Tikit is also a little less rigid, which Kirk confirmed. Kirk said he was used to seeing Friday commuters relatively often in the Bay Area, but not much out here. MG and I commute on our Pocket Rockets from time to time, and I see a few folks coming across the Memorial Bridge, but he’s right, they are not that prevalent. Yet.

Kirk with his Tikit, Folded.Kirk with his Tikit, Folded.

The Tikit sports some neatly bent metal.The Tikit sports some neatly bent metal.