Dynamo Lighting Systems

Aug 22, 2009

While I don't recommend riding at night, there are times when it's simply unavoidable. For us eight-to-fivers, night rides are the only way to get out during the work week. There are those moments where a wrong turn or mechanical issue will set your arrival time back, and there are other times where you just don't want to finish your ride. Whatever puts you in the dark, you want to make sure you're safe, and prepared.

Dynamo lighting systems are aimed at the rider who understands that they will be out on the road when the sun goes down, and use the wheel to generate electricity to power your headlight and/or taillight. There are two popular modes of generating electricity. One example would be the Bauch and Muller sidewall dynamo. This unit incorporates a small rubber roller that mounts to your front fork and rubs against the sidewall of your tire to power your lights. The roller is soft enough that it doesn't create excess wear on your tire, and will not produce a large amount of friction to slow you down.

Another style that is used by Shimano and Schmidt Dynamo is the dyno hub. The electricity is generated by the rotation of your hub, which keeps the electrical conducting drag to a minimum. You will have to have your front wheel built around this hub, making this option is a little more expensive than a sidewall generator, but it is more durable in the long run. Just make sure you switch off your light when you're riding during daylight hours. You can't release the generator, so if you leave it on, it will run as long as your riding. Shimano is pretty limited on their hub selection, so if you have a specific spoke count, or flange width in mind, check out Schmidt Dynamo.

In terms of the actual light that will be illuminating the road ahead, you have quite a few options. Some bulbs offer excellent visibility directly ahead, and others are better suited for peripheral vision. The light intensity for all of these units is very consistent as you ride. At slow speeds, say 5mph or less, you will experience a flickering of the light. Once you speed up, it will maintain a constant beam.

While these systems are very reliable, it's never a bad idea to carry a backup. There are few things more frustrating than squinting your way through country roads, just hoping that you will catch a glimpse of the dead skunk on the side of the road before you make contact.

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TOURING GEAR AND TIPS is written by Joshua Tack, a part Adventure Cycling's Member Services department. It appears weekly, highlighting technical aspects of bicycle touring and advice to help better prepare you for the journey ahead.

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