Photo by David Niddrie
Dynamo-powered LightingThe Shimano DH-3N20 6V 3.0W front hub (left) provides efficient power to light a front headlamp (right).
By Jeremy Towsey-French
For decades, the symbol of the serious city bike has been the dynamo light (or dyno). A specialized generator hub draws energy from the rotation of a bicycle’s front wheel, which means that dyno lights don’t need batteries and require little to no maintenance. Standard fare on bicycles throughout Europe, dynamo lighting is gaining popularity among urban lifestyle riders in North America.
Today’s dynamo lights are trouble-free compared to dynamos of old, which either didn’t produce enough usable light, or caused too much drag from the rollers of tire-mounted bottle generators or poorly designed hubs. What’s more, costs were typically high and access for North American buyers was limited.
Fortunately, refined quality and economies of scale mean that modern dynos have well-designed optics, nearly drag-free hubs and a reasonable price tag.
Modern dynos are also available with built-in daylight sensors, activating the light according to conditions; you’ll never flip a switch again. Additionally, dyno lights are typically hard-mounted to the bicycle’s frame or fork, making it far more challenging for a thief to lift the lights from your bicycle.
It’s now easy to add a dynamo lighting system to nearly any bicycle. In Portland, OR, urban cycling outfitter Clever Cycles offers a variety of new bikes featuring generator-powered lighting, as well as a wide array of aftermarket dyno lighting options. To simplify the transition to dyno lighting, the shop offers new, pre-built 26-inch or 700c wheels featuring a Shimano dyno hub for $99 USD. According to Clever’s Martina Schrenke Fahrner: “If wheels are pre-built with the generator hub already integrated, it helps a lot of people get over the hump of having a wheel custom-built … the hesitance goes down a lot. If more of the big suppliers offer pre-built wheels with dyno hubs, the uptake (from cyclists) will continue to increase.”
Jeremy Towsey-French writes about self-sufficiency as well as practical and recreational cycling, splitting time between his home in the scenic Columbia River Gorge and the bustling streets of Portland, OR.