16 January, 2007


Recently hub generators have drawn a lot of current in the bike blogs, but there is good reason to favor the old bottle generator. A good sidewall dynamo creates only a very tiny bit more drag than a hub generator, but only when in use. Unlike a hub generator, it creates no additional drag when in the "off" position. You can change wheels without loosing power. And bottle dynamos cost a lot less. I also like the retro look of a bottle generator.

On the down side, they can slip in wet conditions if not carefully set up. And some add can wear to the tire. Of course it is also possible to set them up to run on the rim.

We found some new-old-stock Soubitez 89 dynamos with golf "ball lights". What's cool about these is that the light can be detached and mounted on a fender or on a rack. Or you can leave it attached to the dynamo for an uncluttered look, as David did on his Peugeot. These put out just as much power as a hub generator, but the bulbs are 1950 technology so they are not as bright as a modern light. I'll have some of the little rubber caps for the generator wheel soon.

We've just started stocking Busch and Muller generators and lights. We currently have the two 6 volt dynamos as well as two styles of lights. The cool aluminum retro light below is on order.

The B&M Dymotec S6 is particularly attractive as it has about the same efficiency as a good hub generator, is virtually silent, and reaches full power at only 6 mph. We also carry the very affordable Dymotec 6.

We'll have them in the store within the next few days. And I think our prices will be among the lowest around.

Also, we have the hard to find SALSA water bottle cages again.


Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff. That B & M Retro headlight is lovely. Will you be stocking the switched models for dynamo hubs, too? I think my black plastic Lumotecs are in trouble.


Velo Orange said...

We've ordered the retro-light with a switch. I can get the other lights with a switch, but I'm not sure if there is a demand for them.

Anonymous said...

The only problem I ever had with B & M lights was that they were too, well, German.

The Retro light really goes above and beyond the call.

My custom camper is coming with a braze on for a dynamo. I think I know where I am getting my light and dynamo.

With luck you will get the retro light in stock around the same time as you get the constructeur front rack (need that for my city bike, not the camper). Hey, every penny saved on shipping is a penny for components.

Dad said...

The only problem I'm aware of with the bottle dynamos is they're just not very bright and they make a bothersome buzzing sound. I suppose those fancy B&M dynamos must be fine though.

NB you absolutely, positively need to have a "dynamo track" on your tire sidewall else it will slip when things get the slightest bit moist. And those little rubber or plastic caps help immensely.

I believe the light I now have on my bike is a Schmidt brand. It's silver, not too ugly although it's kind of portly, but it really puts down a billion times more light than those old Soubitez setups, and it seems bombproof. That old French light I had on the fork of the Peugeot looked mighty cool, but when it was really dark and rainy, the pucker factor was pretty high.

I don't care for the aesthetic of dynohubs much, but they're simply a better mousetrap. With the light off, the drag isn't at all noticeable although for fast rides I do swap in another front wheel. It's sort of horrible to have German parts, not that I dislike German people at all but the feng sui of their bike parts is wrong ...

At any rate, lights are so important if you ride at night. Having a crummy one, and a long way to go, is just such a bummer.

Anonymous said...

The Schwalbe Marathon line have a dynamo track. I like the Schwalbes so much, I have not looked around to see if any other brand does the same as well. I imagine there may be a few that do.

Agree on your comment about feng shui. There are some positively nice bike components (and bikes for that matter) coming out of Germany. They just look so odd!

Velo Orange said...

Umm David, It's not the dynamo,it's the bulb. The old Soubitez put out 3-watts just like a B&M (well I never tested one but that's the rating). The difference is that B&M uses modern halogen bulbs and the reflector is bigger.

By the way, they also put out just as much juice and are just as bright as a hub generator if you use the same light.

But using those old bulbs builds character.

Anonymous said...

As far as the wider dim light vs brighter discrete digital, one person made a good comment that the broad light gave them better balance than just a bright beam piercing into a dark hole in the distance.

Below 15km/hr you are screwed though. Maybe a combination of the two would be best.

Do you brave souls ride bicycles at night? On big roads with business strips lit up, its hard to see anything. It almost seems unique situations cars would expect someone on a bicycle at night and see them clearly.



"Did you hear something Harriet? I didn't think so."

Dad said...

Geez Chris, not my experience. I went through all sorts of bulbs, the best I found were the halogen bulbs from Reflectalite. Still not even remotely as good as modern German setup, at least until you were really moving. I suspect it's a combination of the modern units' greater efficiency (they reach peak voltage at a much lower speed) and, as you say, vastly improved reflector design. I agree that hands down the bottle dynamos are infinitely cooler, but if you're really going to rely on it, they're not so fun. They also eat bulbs if you do a lot of fast riding, as the cheap setups didn't have a voltage limiter.

One ultra-hardcore randonneuse feature was the bottom bracket dynamos that could be pulled up to the tire via a third shift lever mounted up at the top of the seat tube. Those setups are simply killer!

Andrew said...

Having used both a modern sidewall dynamo (Litespin) and the Schmidt hub generator, I have to disagree that there is little difference in drag. The sidewall dynamos generate drag both from the internal mechanism and from the drag against the tyre and it is very noticeable.

I've been riding with the Schmidt during the day and haven't even noticed that I'd left the light on. No chance of that with the bottle dynamo...

Anonymous said...

I'm a great fan of velo orange (from the other side of the atlantic), and congratulate Chris on what he is doing.

I think old French dynamos look great, but having tried every kind of bottle dynamo (French, German, Dutch, Swiss and probably others) plus a few bottom-bracket dynamos over the last 30 years, I changed to a SON hub dynamo with two E6 headlights recently. It has changed my life (or at least my 10 mile commute in the dark in winter!). Feng shui is maybe in the eye of the beholder, but I love its bomb-proof performance, and I haven't noticed any significant drag.

As to whether it goes with a generally "french" aesthetic, I think it can - see:


but I accept that we are into questions of taste here!

By the way, if Chris or anyone else can unearth a stock of NOS TA Zephyr cranks (as on the Beaudette bike in the link above), they would make themselves very popular. I know they aren't as pretty as the Cyclotouristes, but they are a stunning piece of engineering, and it is a great pity they are no longer made.

Keep up the good work,


Anonymous said...

The TA cranks are certainly nice, but the sugino alpina is 90 percent as nice at less than half the cost. Its a triple but comes sans granny.
image here:


I say this as an owner of TA zephyr cranks, cyclotouriste cranks, sugino xd cranks, ect.

As to bottle generators: my only problem with the current BandMs is that they only come in black, and certainly dont gibe with the lack of plastic on the rest of my bike. That being said, they offer numerous
differences, if not advantages, over hub generators: cost, weight, lack of drag when they are off (my philosophy: buy parts/bikes that work for 90 percent of your riding, not the other relatively rare ten, which I think rides that last past nightfall fall into) They basically never slip with a brush roller, and you dont need a switched headlight, which in my opinion is one more thing to fail. I've ridden an old bottle generator and light, and they work fine between 12-20mph on darkish streets with minimum traffic. If the bulbs could be switched to something not ness. brighter, but more reliable, I would be fine with them on at least 70 percent of my rides. (I live in a pretty rural area)

Anonymous said...


I don't know the correct answer to this, but I seem to recall Peter White mentioning on some list posting in the last 6 weeks or so that the retro B&M lights have chrome plastic housings, rather than alloy. Can you verify this either way? They're still way cool looking, either way.

Velo Orange said...

Hi Don, I'm not sure now that I see that the web site says the Retro light has a "chromium casing". I thought it was alloy, but I apparently misunderstood.

Anonymous said...

you can chrome plastic. sort of. it chips, but not alot, if its done right. I'd rather have a silver plastic housing than a black plastic housing.

Anonymous said...

A lot of technology has gone into plastic standards, so its light and should hold up. Threads are a concern over time but silicone seal, not silicone thread lock, affixes and reduces vibration as well so helps that problem. But any China plastic processes not babysat by Western interests 24/7 are suspect.

Anonymous said...

I thought B&M manufactures all of its products in Germany?

Anonymous said...

It probably is. But every material is suspect since I found BMW F650 motorcycle get their SS disc brakes from China. The low level SS is for ginsu knives, pits, warps, and does not handle heat well. Material was grandfathered under off road bikes and somehow ended up in road bikes.

So if anywhere in world made cheap material parts, it would be cheap as well given no Chinese tariffs. I always verify materials on Google now as a result of new world according to GW Bush.

These parts are most likely fine, even if made in China. Germans know how to overlook processes better than most, given the materials are satisfactory. Hard to verify plastics since millions of differnt grades/uses, proprietary and all.

But my cheap Bell Blackburn digital plastic head/tail lamp have held up extremely well: better than many items I buy today.

Anonymous said...

How 'bout that?

You hate to think BMW would be farming out work on something as important as brakes.

I checked the B&M site. They mention doing some work in house and suggest other work may be done elsewhere. Not clear where.

I would say the B&M products I have seen all appear to be pretty well made.

My tool box is a mid 1980s US sourced Rubbermaid I bought when I bought my first multi-speed bike in college. The thing has always been overloaded. I've used it as a stepping stool. Dropped it more times than I can count. Stored it in the trunk of my car for a number of years when I was still driving. It still looks new and works fine. I doubt the new versions are half as durable.

Anonymous said...

Well those lights look pretty nice, and I wanted to have a good one. When I get me a front Rack, will definitely pick one of these up. Digital flashing in day, and also at night with one of these lamps to see by.

Chris, don't delete this blog so I can review the expert commentary at a later date if possible :-)


Anonymous said...

"The TA cranks are certainly nice, but the sugino alpina is 90 percent as nice at less than half the cost."

Been using the Alpina for a while now. I previously had a TA Zephyr.

If anyone wants to see the result of a weak bike lighting system, I have an ugly three inch scar I acquired twenty years ago to show you.

Anonymous said...

I reacently found a rusty Soubitez in the basement of the shop I work at and decided to put it on my winter commuter. Worked like a charm once I cleaned the connections. One thing I don't like is that with the light mounted to the bottle, the right side of my path is in darkness and oncoming traffic from that side probably has a hard time seeing me as well (if they didn't notice all the reflective material on me). I might mount the light up at the fork crown as I have no front rack yet. The drag is hardly noticable over the humm of my studded tire.

As for BMW's F650, the brakes tend to squeal a bit, but my girlfriend and I completed a 10,000 mile trip from Boston to San Diego/Baja to Madison (There and Halfway Back Again) last summer. Two up and over loaded, the brakes were fine, though I took it easy on them in the mountains and used the engine a lot.

Good stuff

Greg said...

Just waiting on the switched Retro Lumotec plus. Gonna look good on my P/R built up as a P. Heck, as an R too. Greg.

Anonymous said...

David nj said:

It's sort of horrible to have German parts, not that I dislike German people at all but the feng sui of their bike parts is wrong ...

I beg to disagree, at least when it comes to the Schmidt SON hub. It is a thing of beauty - it'd be attractive if it were nothing more than a high flange hub. You seldom find a part that works so dependably and well and looks so very good. The Shimano generator hubs, on the other hand, have a rather weird profile.

Anonymous said...

Here's an idea. Could the VO Rando frame be ordered with a custom bracket to mount a bottle dynamo?

Anonymous said...

Is this Busch & Müller lamp comperable to their round headlamp? Does it use the same optics? Standlight?

Velo Orange said...

We can put generator mounts on VO Rando frames. In fact there isone going on my city bike.

I think the light in the Retro Light is the same as the B&M round headlight. We have some with switches and stand lights on order.

Anonymous said...

Are you planning on selling taillights? The 4LED toplight sensio multi is about as bright as a taillight gets, but doesn't seem to get much attention. I don't think I've seen one a bike in this country. Bikes with shimano dynohubs, a mediocre headlamp and no taillight are quite common though.

Velo Orange said...

Several people have asked us to carry tail lights. I'll look at the various models and we'll stock a couple of types.

Anonymous said...


Is there any chance you could look into a Nitto front wheel skewer that mounts a light? I have a Schmidt that is terrific on longer brevets, but I transport the bike in the car and take the front wheel off - connecting/reconnecting the hub wires has led to some sloppiness and I wonder if a light mounted to the skewer would be useful. Or better connectors?
By the way, I have used a low (low fork) mounted light before and liked it.
Thanks. Richard

Kevin Foley said...

I hope I remember to go back to this blog to hear a response. One thing that nags me w/ my E6/E6z/SON hub is that the lights are not detachable from the wires, once they're ziptied to the frame. This is a problem for me because I have to lay down my frame in my truck when I go to rides. Any solutions?

Kevin Foley said...

One problem I have is I cannot detach my lights (E6/E6z/SON hub--each light is on a fork) from the fork once the wiring is all ziptied down. This is a problem for me cuz I have to lay down my bike in my truck to get to rides which are far away and I don't want to damage the lights. I would love to be able to leave the wiring on the frame.....

DYG said...


If you want to mount a light to your hub, use a BOB quick release skewer: http://www.bobtrailers.com/acsories/accessory.php?accessories_id=15

I am doing this with my Kogswell Model G commuter.

David Greenblatt
Madison WI