Pedal powered bike lights
So, here’s the thing. I want to be really, really excited by dynamo bike lights. But, unfortunately, I don’t think the reality matches up to the hype.
Read the literature and you’d think that they’re like some sort of magic the way that you pedal along and the lights burst into life shining a powerful beam of light out in front of you, piercing the darkness and lighting your way.
Sadly, the actual experience is usually quite different. I remember the dynamo bike lights of my youth (back in the 80s), they were clunky, they gave off a feeble light, and the friction of the dynamo rubbing against the tire made it hard to pedal and gave a decent chance of causing a blowout as the sidewall was ground down.
Have things changed?
Not really. Those old skool dynamo lights? Well, they’re still available and sadly they’re not much improved (although they do have LEDs instead of incandescent bulbs). There’s a couple of other fancier options available these days. These have fairly fancy prices, but they don’t seem to be much of an improvement in terms of the lighting.
We’ll take a look at the options for pedal-powered bike lights in a moment. Before that I’ll give you a recommendation for what, I think, is a much better option in terms of light, value-for-money, and goodness for the planet.
Shall we take a look?
Best dynamo bike light
Broadly speaking there are three main types of pedal-powered bike light: rim mounted (or bottle dynamo), hub mounted, and a new type that uses magnets attaches to the wheel rims.
Let’s take a look at these now. But first, we’ll take a look at my preferred choice for bike lights.
Bike lights, in general, have come a long way. As a kid, I remember having a set of huge bike lights, that used ginormous batteries and hardly gave off any light. Not only that but you were forever replacing the feeble batteries and that could soak up your meager pocket money fairly quickly.
Today, it’s a different story. Have a look at this set of bike lights from Victagen. They’re a prime example. They’re super-powerful at 2400 lumens (!) They’re also easy to fit, very light, and waterproof.
For me, one of the best features is that they’re USB-rechargeable. Use the included cable and you can plug them into the USB port of your laptop or a suitable wall socket and you can top up the battery to full in a couple of hours. So there’s no need for regular trips to the store to buy not-exactly-eco-friendly disposable batteries.
So, a set of USB charging bike lights is my preferred choice. But, in the interests of fairness, let’s take a look at the available dynamo bike light options.
This is the modern version of the dynamo bike light from yesteryear (like this one).
Frankly, I think they’re feeble and not particularly safe. Look at the images on the Amazon listing and you’ll see that the DL10 is the upgrade from the DL05. The DL05 had a maximum output of 100 lumens (going at 30km/h or 18mph – which is quite fast!) vs the DL10 which has a max output of 200 lumens. That sounds great but, if we compare this to the Victagen at 2400 lumens, then it looks very weak indeed.
Because the light is also connected to the dynamo it has to be positioned very low down on the bike by the top of the wheel (vs the Victagen lights which can be anywhere on the bike). I prefer bike lighting to be higher up as I think this has more chance of being noticed by other road users.
In contrast to a rim-mount light, this generates power with a special hub dynamo (like this one). The advantage here is that it won’t cause damage to your tire sidewall. But there are a number of disadvantages that I think blow this out of the water.
First up, you have to fit the hub in place of your existing hub and this is quite a challenging job for anyone. Second, having a built-in hub means that the lights aren’t transferable between bikes – for example if you have a road bike and a mountain bike. Thirdly? Well, that would be the cost. This system requires a hub dynamo (expensive) and a dynamo bike light (also expensive). Compare this with the low investment needed for a quality set of USB-chargeable bike lights.
To my mind, these lights are kinda okay, but fall into the category of “What’s the point?”
Powered by magnets attached to the wheel rims, these lights blink every time the magnet passes the sensor as the wheel spins. Fine. But there are problems with this.
First, it means that the lights are positioned low down so may not be noticeable. Second, they won’t give the option of continuous light (or light when the bike is stopped). And, third, it’s a lot of money for lights that are just okay.
How to install dynamo hub
If you’d like a bit more in-depth info on the process for installing a dynamo hub on your wheel, then check out this video below.
Dynamo or USB?
Thanks for joining me to look at bike dynamo lights today. I hope that this article gives you the information you need to make the right decision for you and your bike on which way to go with bicycle lights.
There are always arguments for and against something. For my money though, the cons of bike dynamos outweigh the pros and I’m happy to keep using USB-charging bike lights. That being said, if I was far away from a power socket for a long period of time (multi-day bike trip, for example), then it might be worth looking for the best dynamo hub for bikepacking. More on this another day.
Have fun ya little dynamo.
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