Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Generator lighting, my history

In the winter of 2012/2013 I moved from battery powered lighting to generator powered lighting and I did it slowly.  I made the move because I was doing early AM rides (have kids, get up early or don't ride, for the most part) and some times the batteries didn't last and sometimes they weren't charged in the first place, which meant I didn't ride. I remember one late night/early AM when I woke up quite early but couldn't leave for an hour since my fully charged light wouldn't make it to sunrise.  Yes, I could have bought more battery powered lights that lasted longer but I didn't want the worry.  And I wanted lights that didn't blind people riding, walking or driving towards me.  Patria from Ride Studio Cafe once told me that it looked like a train was coming towards her when it was me with my light on low. The first time she told the story she said that she thought I was a car so maybe there's some exaggeration here.  In any case, that's reason enough for me to change to generator lighting.

So I had Harris Cyclery build up a wheel with a Shimano 3N80 hub laced to a Mavic Open Pro rim, matching the rear rim.  I also bought a last generation Busch and Mueller IQ CYO headlight and a Spannigo Pixeo taillight.  I mounted all of this on my commuter/dirt road bike.  This has been a great combination for both commuting and recreational night rides.  I did a number of late rides last spring and a few in 2014 and the lights worked well for fun and certainly great for commuting.  It isn't quite enough light for rough dirt roads but my small battery powered light fills in enough to feel safe.

My only complaint was that I didn't want to use the same wheel on my road bike, which I thought was possible.  But that meant that every time I wanted to ride my road bike at night I needed to unmount the tires from both bikes and remount the road tire on the commuter dyno wheel.  I soon bought a second set of lights (same headlight, BM Secula Plus for the road bike's tail light) because switching lights could happen only once before you wanted a second set of lights.  But the time for moving tires between the wheels was eating into my riding time.

The next step, in the summer of 2014, was to get a new wheel.  I wanted a hub to match my custom built road bike and the current rear hub and I wanted to minimize weight and friction when the lights weren't on so I went with the Schmidt SON Deluxe, mounted to the a matching rim.  This setup works quite well.  I now always ride with lights on for safetly, with one exception: I was barely making it up the east side of Hurricane Mountain Road, near North Conway, NH (the road tops out at a 17% grade).  I have no regrets about this.  The Deluxe shouldn't be able to charge a device (like a Garmin) while running the lights but I'm on the very low probability for riding a 600 KM brevet so that won't be a big concern.

If I had to do it all over again, I'd do the same thing with both bikes.  The Shimano hub has been a workhorse, with about 4000 miles on it without any complaint.  I know that Brad, then from Geekhouse and now with Seven, put a Shimano Alfine hub on his beautiful bRad  touring bike.  I got to ride with him on the 2013 Diverged ride and he still had it on the bike for off road use.  I saw him in the late fall and he still has it on the bike, which is now built up as a commuter (and it's still a beautiful bike).  If I were to put a generator hub on an inexpensive commuter, that I might leave at Alewife, then I would look at the stock generator wheel sold by Harris Cyclery and the BM EYC, which Peter White recommends as a great commuter light.  I'd worry about the lights but I've been parking my commuter at work for a couple of years with the slightly more expensive lights so I don't think I'd worry that much more at Alewife.

(added 3/5) One potential significant difference between the Shimano and Schmidt hubs is the Schmidt's claimed resistance to internal rusting.  The potential circumstance - taking a warm bike into cold rain.  The temperature difference would draw moisture into the hub, ultimately causing corrosion.  Schmidt claims to have solved this. The solution for Shimano hubs is to get the bike outside, under cover, before the ride to allow the temperature of the hub to cool.  I'm not sure if this is still the case but it's worth researching if you can't leave your bike outside to allow the hub to cool to the ambient temperature.

Having said that I prefer generator lighting, I do continue  to carry and use battery powered lights for front and rear (USB charged in a couple of cases) and set the dimmer front light to blink when the traffic doesn't seem to notice cyclists (which could be most of the time in urban areas).  In total, I use up to 3 lights in the front and rear.  No sense in not doing everything reasonable to be seen.

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