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Old 10-30-12, 01:05 PM   #1
Hydrated
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The Evolution of Bicycle Lighting

With the days getting shorter, I suspect that we'll find ourselves riding in the dark more often. After all, we are the crazy ones who see nothing wrong with riding a bike through the night.

I was in my shop last night rummaging through 30+ years of bicycle stuff, and I came across a bunch of my old lighting equipment. As I looked at the stuff, I was amazed at the advancements that have been made in bicycle lighting. I've been an engineer for 30 years... and that means tinkering is part of my psyche. I've been messing with bike lights across the years and I started thinking about the time line of the developments and how it has impacted my riding and cycling in general.

The first light system that I had was a Union bottle dynamo and light combo that I bought in 1983. I bought that setup for my new Trek 520 with commuting and touring in mind. The yellow tinted light that the tiny lamp put out was sort of like putting a lit candle on front of your ride and expecting to see where you're going. But the battery powered lights of the day ate up batteries like candy, so the little dynamos were the best option for continued light for more than an hour or two. The paltry amount of light output meant that your night rides were slow and careful. I really found that the better option was to ride under clear moonlit skies when possible and rely on the lights to be seen more than to see by.

Then advancements in bulbs and batteries brought along the next phase of lighting. Halogen bulbs coupled with rechargable lithium ion and nickel metal hydride batteries made really bright bike lights possible. But they were expensive in the early days... some of the best systems ran upwards of $1200. I built a homebrewed system that used motorcycle fog lamps fitted with 20W MR16 bulbs and a 4 lb 14.4V rechargable battery. I used a digital control board that gave me three light levels and an overvolt setting. In the overvolt setting, it ran the 12V bulbs at 14.4V and nearly doubled the light output of the halogens. Oh yeah... it also cut the life of the bulbs by about 80%. But that system put out so much light that it was scary. It also generated so much heat that you could hear raindrops sizzle as they hit the bulbs at night. And it drained that big battery in about 45 to 60 minutes on the overdrive setting.

Then LED technology started changing things... first by making battery powered systems brighter and smaller. But then LEDs started bleeding over into dynamo lighting. This was the dramatic paradigm shift that we'd been waiting for. Dramatically bright lighting for a bicycle without heavy batteries or limited runtimes. And dynamos were getting better and more available too. I have two bikes fitted with hub dynamo/LED lighting setups. I use IQ Cyo lights because I love the bang for the buck that you get with them. I hardly see how you could need more light for road use. Maybe if you like 50MPH night time descents, I guess.

But things are changing again.

LEDs are getting even more efficient and batteries even smaller and more efficient. That means that battery powered lights are viable when it comes to providing long duration lighting. There are many lights out there that take up little handlebar room and weigh hardly anything... yet provide hours of light sufficient to ride by. That used to be possible only in a light with a big strap on battery pack. And many of those high quality rechargable lights can be had for far less than I paid for my SON dynamo hub alone. I'll still opt for dynamo lighting on my distance and commuter bikes (just flip a switch and there's light), but these new generation battery lights are great for turning any road bike into a night time machine.

All in all... this has changed my riding habits. I ride with no worries about when sunset is. I live out in a rural area, and I love riding at night. It is a world all its own.

How has improved bicycle lighting changed your riding? What do you use and why?
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Old 10-30-12, 01:48 PM   #2
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Yeah, back around 1980 we were using the Sanyo generator that fit underneath the bottom bracket. I got quite good at reaching down to flip the unit on while coasting with one pedal down. We'd wire these to the standard 4" Union headlight and any small taillight.

Now, for riding thru the night, it's the Schmidt SON dynohub wired to the B&M headlight and rear "standlight," but my recent night rides have only gone a couple of hours, so I used a Planet Bike 2W Blaze for PBP, and my last Cali Triple Crown ride (Knoxville) was started and finished on a L&M Urban 300, since I was very confident I'd finish before the battery died (and it gives much better light than the PB).

One thing about the LED lights is that, although they appear very bright, the illumination they actually provide is not that great (unless you're using the overdriven L&M LED lights). LED illumination is just sucked right up by wet blacktop; it's like your lighting is being sucked into a black hole when it rains!

Luis
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Old 10-30-12, 05:02 PM   #3
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when I first heard of PBP back in the '70s, the issue of lighting was probably the biggest complication that I had. I hate to think about the lighting system I used back then. I had a lot of reflective tape on my commuter, that's for sure.
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Old 10-30-12, 07:51 PM   #4
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Some time in the late 90s or early 00s, I rediscovered bicycles and clipped an AA powered CatEye to my BSO for use on my short commute. As you know, the technology was already way beyond that by then, but my checkbook still hadn`t desensitized to allow "good stuff" on the bike. Now, after several over the counter upgrades and one homebrew MR-16 systems, I use a 3N71, a 3N72, and two Cyos for the same short commute that I managed just fine with my $30 CatEye, and I`m considering lacing up a 20 inch dynowheel just in case I ever "need" to ride my Bike Friday or my recumbent in the dark

More darker = more better!
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Old 10-30-12, 08:04 PM   #5
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On a vintage Schwinn Super Sport I'm running a Schwinn Approved bottle generator powering a Schwinn Approved pre-halogen light. Another vintage Schwinn - my daily commuter - has a modern Sanyo hub dynamo with a B&M LED headlight. The difference in drag and light output between the two is enormous.

In the RUSA newsletter after PBP, there was mention of the need to address too-bright lights for 2015. Oncoming motorists and oncoming cyclists complained of being blinded. I doubt that was an issue in previous years.
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Old 10-31-12, 12:49 AM   #6
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I didn't see that about lights in the Rusa newsletter, but I know it was a problem. Some of the riders I was with had lights that lit up the tops of the trees -- like it was daylight. Hate to face that in an oncoming car. I got the impression that this was mostly Europeans.
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Old 10-31-12, 12:57 AM   #7
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It used to be that the best light you could get was a Sturmey Archer hub generator and a quality headlight with a good quality bulb... light polluiton was not what it is today and these were fine if you were riding at lower speeds at night.

My first really good high speed light was a bb mounted Sanyo with a halogen headlight that turned night into day but it was very expensive.

Now I run modern battery powered LED lights and can connect a modern LED to a vintage Sturmey Archer hub generator or bottle dybano and get incredible lighting at a very low price.

The issue with LED lights is the wavelength which is not spectrally complete, combining an LED and halogen gives off a very very balanced light that is good for all conditions.
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Old 10-31-12, 12:58 AM   #8
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And the Supernova E3 is another step in the evolution of dynamo lighting beyond anything offered by B&M. Straight ahead power is about the same as the IQ Cyo, but you get a much wider beam with the E3, which makes seeing around corners a bit easier.
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Old 10-31-12, 06:36 AM   #9
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And the Supernova E3 is another step in the evolution of dynamo lighting beyond anything offered by B&M. Straight ahead power is about the same as the IQ Cyo, but you get a much wider beam with the E3, which makes seeing around corners a bit easier.
I agree, the Cyo beam is a little too narrow.

Although B&M has a new contender...

http://www.bumm.de/produkte/dynamo-s...iq2-luxos.html

Beam images on the website suggest that it's low beam is quite wide.
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Old 10-31-12, 07:11 AM   #10
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Some of the riders I was with had lights that lit up the tops of the trees -- like it was daylight. Hate to face that in an oncoming car. I got the impression that this was mostly Europeans.
Interesting. I would assumed that StVZO compliant headlights would be more popular amongst randonneurs from Europe than amongst randos from the States and elsewhere.
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Old 10-31-12, 09:45 AM   #11
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Speaking of the evolution of bike lighting, I am wondering how this will turn out? I hope it is a product that actually comes close to being what they claim as I would like dynamo lighting but do not want to build another wheel. http://www.bikerumor.com/2012/10/23/...er-wo-the-hub/
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Old 10-31-12, 12:47 PM   #12
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Speaking of the evolution of bike lighting, I am wondering how this will turn out? I hope it is a product that actually comes close to being what they claim as I would like dynamo lighting but do not want to build another wheel. http://www.bikerumor.com/2012/10/23/...er-wo-the-hub/
i like the concept, especially with a small battery pack. you could have a very low drag system mildly charging the batteries and run off the batteries for consistent power. could be the best of both worlds, or not.
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Old 10-31-12, 04:44 PM   #13
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you can buy the sunup thing on ebay from the same place that sells the SP dynohubs. I haven't heard of anyone that has it. I see no advantages over a dynohub. Flats are stressful enough without having to worry about rearranging something like that
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Old 10-31-12, 05:04 PM   #14
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I didn't see that about lights in the Rusa newsletter, but I know it was a problem. Some of the riders I was with had lights that lit up the tops of the trees -- like it was daylight. Hate to face that in an oncoming car. I got the impression that this was mostly Europeans.
I just looked and it was actually the ACP results publication, not RUSA. I noticed more lighting I considered inadequate than too bright, particularly Wednesday night.
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Old 10-31-12, 07:49 PM   #15
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I agree about the inadequate lighting. On longer descents I had people who were obviously following me. My headlight is pretty good, but not that good.
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Old 10-31-12, 10:40 PM   #16
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One thing about the LED lights is that, although they appear very bright, the illumination they actually provide is not that great (unless you're using the overdriven L&M LED lights). LED illumination is just sucked right up by wet blacktop; it's like your lighting is being sucked into a black hole when it rains!
It's the same in incandescents.

On the last BMB to be held, the conditions were wet one evening, and we rode over freshly laid blacktop with no line markings. We could hardly see, but another rider came up the hill behind us with one of those new-fangled LED lights that gave out such a wide and strong beam, that he had three other riders sticking close behind him.
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Old 10-31-12, 11:52 PM   #17
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you can buy the sunup thing on ebay from the same place that sells the SP dynohubs. I haven't heard of anyone that has it. I see no advantages over a dynohub. Flats are stressful enough without having to worry about rearranging something like that
The advantage would be that it is cheaper than a dynohub and you do not have to build a new wheel. It is likely not a perfect system but could be a good solution for some cyclists.

Thanks for the link btw, looking at the directions it seems changing a flat would just add one 5mm bolt you have to remove from the torque arm and unhook a wire.
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Old 11-01-12, 12:28 AM   #18
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Thanks for the link btw, looking at the directions it seems changing a flat would just add one 5mm bolt you have to remove from the torque arm and unhook a wire.
well, this is the long distance forum. I think I'm pretty normal in that if I have to pull out a 5mm wrench, it's a bit of an operation. And I would hate to lose that bolt in the dark when I want to get to an overnight.
Pretty sure I could build a dynohub equipped wheel for what the sunup generator costs. Start with a Sanyo hub and you are well on your way.
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Old 11-01-12, 12:31 AM   #19
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The Sunup Eco was reviewed here (in German). It didn't look very good. Not only is it heavy (693 g), it also produced little power:
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With only 0.3 W it puts out less at 10 km/h than regular hub dynamos at 4 km/h. Even at 50 km/h with 2.5 W it stays far behind what others achieve at 15 km/h.

(my translation, JW)
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Old 11-01-12, 01:18 AM   #20
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The Sunup Eco was reviewed here (in German). It didn't look very good. Not only is it heavy (693 g), it also produced little power:
Thanks for that, I think my opinion just changed on wanting to try it. I would not mind pulling out one 5mm bolt in most cases but that may change after 24 hours of riding in the dark and/or rain.
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Old 11-01-12, 01:40 AM   #21
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Also, from what I hear the SP dynamos are pretty efficient and reliable and almost the same price as the Sunup Eco (though you'll need a couple of spokes + labour for a wheel rebuild).

You can buy a Shimano DH-3N80 for less than the Sunup Eco and it weighs less than half of the Sunup Eco + regular hub combo. The N80 gives you Ultegra-grade bearings.

I see nothing really that speaks in favour of the Sunup Eco.
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Old 11-02-12, 12:47 PM   #22
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Originally Posted by lhbernhardt View Post
One thing about the LED lights is that, although they appear very bright, the illumination they actually provide is not that great (unless you're using the overdriven L&M LED lights). LED illumination is just sucked right up by wet blacktop; it's like your lighting is being sucked into a black hole when it rains!

Luis
The lower you can mount your lights, the better they'll emphasize the relief of the road. I mount one of my lights on my front axle quick release (using something like this except I didn't pay $25 freakin' dollars for it...) and it's great for showing potholes, etc.

Last edited by kenl666; 11-02-12 at 12:48 PM. Reason: fixed typo...
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