Friday, January 21, 2011

self-lighting: generator systems

Since I work at a shop that's known for espousing these lighting systems, one would wonder why I haven't used generators until now. I did use a generator on my bike in high school and college, but it was a side-mount "bottle" generator -- lower-quality, prone to shorting out in the Oregon rain and having what I always felt was excessive drag on the wheel. So when the thing finally died in my freshman year of college, I ripped it from the bike, installed battery-powered lights and called it done. In recent years I'd switched to rechargeable batteries but still wondered about the generator option. With my decision to hand off the buyer's reins and return to wrenching next fall I've begun to gather tools and knowledge in various area where I feel my know-how is lacking. So I pestered co-worker Nate into teaching an internal class on generator systems, and in advance of the class I installed one of the generator wheels from a recently de-commissioned rental bike.

There are fits and starts and unexplainable moments where the headlight stops working, but overall the result has been pretty good. Since this is a learning tool for me, I will struggle and putter and fidget with the system until it feels dialed in. Last night the headlight went out without warning, for nearly a mile, and then just as suddenly turned back on. I have no idea why. I will do some reading over the weekend and see what I come up with. The headlight I originally chose may have to be replaced with a more compatible model.

One issue that came up was how exposed my taillight would be, affixed to the rear fender too far from the rack to be sheltered. I decided a bashguard was in order, and made one from a broken Master "cuff" lock bracket. It's not nearly as funky-looking as I'd feared, and looks like it will do the trick.



It's been nice to putter on my bike again, and I plan to make time for this on a weekly basis before stepping into the mechanic's role next fall.


SKT said...

Generator lights are handy, but I gave them up for similar reasons. There was a time when we were able to buy new old-stock generator lights directly from Bauer's Cycle Supply in downtown Minneapolis, together with random other dusty scraps, and at one point I had the old incandescent generators on a couple different bikes. But they don't work at all in the snow, as it turned out.

Do you pick up any resistance from the generator hub?

Curious to learn you're moving from desk to bench. What was the inspiration?

bikelovejones said...

I tried to go back to being a mechanic once before, when I'd been in the buyer's chair for a little over two years; but at the time no one else in the co-op was really in a position to consider stepping in. I am hoepful that this time someone will step up. I want to be a mechanic again because I don't want my wrenching skills -- and hand strength -- to atrophy beyond remedy. I still enjoy fixing things, and interacting with the public; and being the buyer has taken me away from that too much.

Interestingly, I remember the drag from the old side-mount "bottle" generator being nearly intolerable; but my hub generator offers considerably less drag and it is almost unnoticeable while I'm riding. Once I figure out which headlight will work best on my bike I think I'll be happy with the setup.

EvoDavo said...

The bashguard rocks ! It gives the light instant cred and subtly says, "keep your distance...." Keep rolling..

Marcy said...

When I built up some a few months ago, I was seriously considering a Shimano Nexus dynamo hub or a Schmidt dynamo hub. In the end, I didn't go with a generator hub and I've been second guessing my choice ever since. Your post made me question my decision even more. I opted for the rechargeable Cycgo Mitcross 400 light and I'm very happy with it. The one drawback is that every time I park my bike I have to remove the light and battery pack. If I had generator hub with locking wheel skewers I wouldn't have to remove so much stuff every time. Oh well, guess I have to build some more wheels...too bad :-)


bikelovejones said...

So far I've been using the same cheap skewer that was originally in my [non-generating] wheel. No problems with theft; but then I don't ever leave my bike locked up anywhere for more than an errand's worth of time.

I'm told the Pitbull skewer system is excellent, if you want locking skewers and seatpost bolt.

I think that any move away from disposable batteries is a positive one. I still use a battery light with rechargeables on my race bike (for when I have to ride home from 'cross races at dusk). But for my daily commuter, going all the way to a generator hub has so far been a good move.

Marcy said...


I guess I was thinking faster than my hands could type. I was, of course, talking about the wheels that I built up and the light I was speaking of is the Cygolite Mitycross 400.

I'm using Hublox security skewers and I know they're not the most secure, but they certainly add a level of protection that I think will work to stop the great majority of thieves.