Sunday, March 20, 2011

Night lights part 2

For the last year, I used Planet Bike Blaze lights for night riding. Two one-watt lights mounted mid fork and one two-watt light mounted on the handlebar. Together, the three lights made an adequate amount of light to ride by, but the set up was far from ideal.  The lights could illuminate reflective signs at a reasonable distance but lacked the ability to light the road far enough ahead to allow for fast riding. The circular beams made a small patch of rideable light to follow at a slow to moderate pace but, on long unlit stretches, they also created a feeling of riding through a tunnel. All in all, they are good lights for urban riding and commuting, but noticeably underpowered for distance riding and descending. I wanted to upgrade before the season began.

Since the September 2010 ride where Len gave me a rolling presentation of some options for better lights, the idea of a getting a LED light powered by a hub dynamo appealed to me. I like the thought of converting some of the energy of the ride into the light used to ride. Advances in LED technology also mean that a hub powered light now can be comparable to some HID lighting systems in terms of the light they put onto the road. They can certainly put out more than enough light for night road riding.

The hub powered system starts with a dynamo hub. Research turned up a number of options in a wide range of prices. Velo Orange had the Novatech for $35.00. Sram make a hub. Rivendell sells a Suntour dynamo wheel for $184.00. Then there are the Shimano high end hubs, like the 3N72 and 3N80 for about $130.00 and last, but definitely not least, the Schmidt Dynamo front hub or SON (Schmidt's Original Nabendynamo) which has the lowest  drag of any bicycle dynamo and the highest price.

Drag is the potential downside of a dynamo. Drag refers to the energy the dynamo takes from the rotation of the wheel. For the rider, the drag amounts to additional resistance. The drag difference between the Shimano and the SON is 0.7 watt. The difference in weight is 105 grams (3.7 ounces). The advantage goes to the Schmidt on both points. However, to get the advantages of 0.7 watts less drag and 3.7 ounces less weight, you have to spend almost twice as much money for the SON ($245.00) as for the Shimano.

In the end, I decided to go with the Shimano and put the money saved into getting a high end light, since that would be a difference I should be able to see. I was not convinced that I would notice 0.7 watts of drag and 3.7 ounces of weight, especially since I have never ridden on a Schmidt. It's hard to miss what you never had. I had REI build the hub into a Velocity Dyad rim.

Choosing the light. After a bunch of research, the Edelux and the E3 Supernova emerged as the leading contenders for best dynamo powered light. I went with the Edelux based on a few factors including, among other, availability, head to head reviews and value. I mounted the Edelux to my Nitto Mini Front rack using a Velo-Orange rack to light bracket.

Test ride: After setting up the light, I went for a brief test ride in the neighborhood. The light difference was dramatic. At least one lane's width of bright light that extended far enough down the road to allow for comfortable fast paced riding. Peter White gives a good description and picture on his beam comparison page.

As for the drag concern, if you hold the front wheel off the ground and spin it, you can feel the small vibration and drag in the hub. However, when riding, I could not feel any vibration or drag at all.

Looking forward to using this upgrade. Having this light is not only going to improve the night portions of brevets, it will make it far more possible to use night rides for training. Bring on the night!

November 2011 - Edelux Review update - I completed a full Randonneuring season, with rides up to 600k in length with this set up. In the process, I rode hundreds of miles at night and through the night on multiple occasions and did so on roads with no other sources of light. The Edelux light and Shimano hub combo exceeded my expectations. 
As for the hub, the drag is virtually unnoticeable to me when riding (to the point where I wonder if my having any sense of the drag is just as a result of knowing that it exists as opposed to it actually affecting the ride). The Edelux light provides exceptional light. The tapered beam fills the road with a square of bright light that reminds me of car headlights. The "throw" or ability to illuminate at a distance is terrific. There is no "outrunning" the beam even on fast downhill descents. In rides where I had the opportunity to have head to head match ups with the E3, the Edelux easily stood its own and arguably exceeded the E3 because of the shaped beam which put the light on the road where it was needed. The output of the light, coupled with the fact that no batteries are required, makes it feasible to run the light in rain, fog or other adverse weather without being concerned about draining the battery. 

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