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.

Wrap-Up

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.

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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

Finished!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.

Night Rider

Unlike Ed, I’m not welcoming the onset of standard time. The days are far too short around winter solstice on this side of the Atlantic. But it does give me an excuse to try out some shiny new products that can help a randonneur, however.

My approach to safety this year is motivated by the following three names: Benny Vansteelant, Simon Doughty, and Vince Golding. One is a world champion, no longer with us. One is an experienced long-distance cyclist, coach and author, who, if I’m recalling correctly, had been moved to a nursing home at last report. And one is a top age-group triathlete, who we’re thankful is now on the mend. I have no knowledge of the role visibility or lack thereof played in their particular mishaps, but I think I’ve gone into the winter with the desire to make clear to motorists that they’re not to hit me, and if possible, not even come near me. In other words, if it shines brightly and can be seen from a long way away, you are likely to see it on me or my bike.

Like Ed, I’m trying out the DiNotte lights–in my case, the ones driven by rechargeable AAs, for their versatility. I’ve amassed quite a collection in a short time: Two headlights, two taillights, and the helmet light. I was persuaded by Peter White that having one on the helmet is a good thing to have when riding at night to “look back” riders coming in from the side. I think it’s probably also very useful to switch on in flashing mode while riding during gray days to alert drivers turning across your lane (right-turners here, left-turners there). Just that added bit of safety against drivers having a momentary lapse of attentiveness.

There are a lot of things to love about these lights. They’re simple to mount: No special not-compatible-with-any-other-light mounts, just two rubbery bands. They’re bright. The taillight is piercing. I run it on “steady pulse” mode, which is about medium intensity with a maximum-brightness pulse. Seriously, as Peter White says, if somebody can’t see you with this thing on, they may be legally blind. Lightweight and small, the headlight throws out a pool of light wide enough and bright enough for nearly any setting. Two, or a single with a helmet light, I think would be more than adequate for audaxes of 600K or longer. Since I started randonneuring using the venerable Cateye HL500II (and still have some knocking around my parts closet), these things represent a huge advancement in battery-driven lighting technology.

I have two concerns. One is runtime. I’ve read runtime ratings of 100 minutes or two hours with their rechargeable batteries. I’ve not tested their runtimes with either the rechargeable AAs they come with or lithium AAs. Assuming the lithium AAs have an equivalent runtime, stretch that over three nights of a 1200K, and you can see how you could run up some serious dosh using these lights. My other concern is the relatively open architecture of their power cell. After an hour of rain, I think these will be wet inside and out, potentially leading to short-circuits. It seems like you’d have a couple of options: Stowing the battery in a bag, or smearing the battery connections with dielectric compound. Or both. Or maybe wrapping it in plastic.

Another item I’m using is the Exelite Lumisash. It’s a lightweight, self-illuminating Sam Browne-style belt driven by AAA batteries. Its manufacturers claim the sash is visible for 800 meters, which, if true, gives a motorist plenty of warning you’re on the road. I don’t know how randonneur safety officials would feel about this, given that you could run down the batteries. For safety’s sake, maybe you can just put it over a reflective waistcoat.

There’s risk in anything, even getting out of bed (or going to sleep, for that matter). But whatever I can do to limit my risk and still enjoy this sport I plan on doing.