Tech Dynamos, lights, USB charging on the road

Half-Fast Mike

Half-Fast Mike

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#1
Am considering a bike camping trip this summer, unsupported, along a chunk (t.b.d.) of the Japan sea coast. Perhaps 7 days. Given my dependence on electronica, I'm thinking about USB (re)charging on-the-go.

I'm attracted but not wedded to the idea of a front dynamo light featuring a built-in charger. For the long term, it would be great if the setup could be swapped between my Timtanium road bike and carbon CX/adventure bike – both 700C, disk-brake on the front – with relative ease. For the rear, a battery-operated flasher is fine.

I've been reading this and similar articles, but would be delighted to hear any experiences, suggestions and/or recommendations regarding dynamo hubs, lights, chargers, batteries and their myriad combinations.

 
A

andywood

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Apr 8, 2008
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#2
Cat eye volt lights are really good.

Mine came with a spare battery cartridge. Though I've never had to use it.

You can buy cartridges too.

キャットアイ(CAT EYE) カートリッジバッテリー BA-2.2 VOLTシリーズ用 ホワイト 5342711
They are USB charged so can be charged up easy at an onsen or conbini.

Andy
 
Buckaroo Banzai

Buckaroo Banzai

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#3
joewein

joewein

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#4
I've used both Shimano and Shutter Precision dynamo hubs on my bikes. Currently both my Elephant NFE and my Bike Friday use a SP PL-8 (center lock, disc brake) hub. The non-disc brake hub I had on the Bike Friday before got recycled for a 650B wheel for my son's Araya Federal. I've never used SON, but SP comes very close in spec for basically Shimano money. All of them are virtually bullet-proof.

With a dynamo hub and matching front light you can go anywhere, any time without ever worrying when your headlight might give up on you on some mountain. On 300 km and longer brevets I have ridden through the night. Many battery lights force you to choose between good visibility and more than a few hours of battery life: You can have a bright light, but it will only last for 3 hours or you can have 5 hours but it will only work well enough where there are street lights, unless you carry spares. With a dynamo hub you can have both, at all times. You just don't think about light any more than you would in your car or motorbike. With the light sensor on my B&M Lumotec IQ Cyo Premium I don't even flick a light switch as I enter tunnels, it simply comes on as it gets dark!

For tail lights (especially in blinking mode) batteries are still acceptable. I used to charge the rear light of my Bike Friday once a month and that was fine for my distances (600-1000 km a month). You can always find a conbini that sells AA or AAA batteries. I used NiMH Eneloop rechargable ones. On the NFE I have a wired tail light (B&M Secula Plus).

Now on to USB charging: I gave up on that. I don't go camping, so my use case is anything up to 48 hours away from a wall socket as in a 400 or 600 km brevet or a 360 km coast to coast ride or a 360+ km Fleche ride. I have attempted 600 km brevets 4 times, never completed under the 40 hour time limit but always spent a whole weekend on the road with two smartphones and one GPS to keep charged. A single 10,000 mAh buffer battery has been enough for that. I have several models of them now. My latest has a bidirectional USB-C port, which will accept as much as 9V/2A = 18W of charge current, so it's pretty good at topping up whenever you can find a wall socket.

Back in the days I tried three different USB power converters that ran off the dynamo hub. One fried a buffer battery, one fried the USB port of a smartphone, the other failed. I am sure there are better models out there nowadays. The Sinewave Revolution seems to have got good reviews. I have heard not such good things about the B&M Luxos U headlight with builtin USB port. The idea is appealing, but it does not seem to stand up well enough to the elements. People report all sorts of problems.
 
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Karl

Karl

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#5
Good thread. Interested to hear about lighting options.

I have no experience with dynamo lights. They look really nice and useful. If you aren't planning to do a lot of night riding though, but may be away from an outlet for a day or two, the solar panel solution might be an option. I have an Anker Power Port. I haven't used it for bike touring yet, but it does recharge my battery charger nicely when it is in the sunlight. It has to be draped over a rear rack or seat bag and isn't an elegant or convenient solution, but is cheap (5,000 yen) and transferable to another bike. Probably best only if you won't be around an outlet for over a day.
 
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joewein

joewein

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#6
Lights on my Elephant NFE:
  • B&M Lumotec IQ Cyo Premium (head light)
  • B&M Secula Plus (tail light)
Lights on my Bike Friday Pocket Rocket:
  • B&M Lumotec IQ Cyo N plus (head light)
  • Cateye Rapid 3 – TL-LD630-R (tail light)
In addition I use with both:
  • Cateye Omni 3 – TL-LD135-R (helmet rear light)
The Lumotec lights have a well defined light cone that can be adjusted not to dazzle oncoming traffic or pedestrians. I hate the lights on many electric assist mamachari that are lit up like a squid boat. More is not always better.

On the BF I mounted the light to the fork crown bolt (where a caliper brake would go). On the NFE it's attached to the front rack. The NFE has internal cable routing for the dynamo, i.e. the dynamo cable runs inside the right fork arm where it's well protected. My NFE rear light is attached to the rear fender for best visibility (not obscured by a seat post bag). On the Bike Friday I have the battery light attached to the seat stay.

The Shimano dynamo hub connector is easy to unplug when you want to remove the front wheel for packing. If the little connector that slides onto the plug on the hub should ever break, you can buy replacement parts for a couple hundred yen. Between my two bikes I have put about 60,000 km on them since my first dynamo hub and have yet to have any problem with a hub or connector or light. They seem indestructible.
 
joewein

joewein

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#7
I'm a little skeptical about solar battery packs. I think in most cases the solar panels on buffer batteries are just to make the customer feel good about their purchase. In practice most of the power will come from the charge stored in the battery, which will primarily be recharged from a wall socket.

A solar panel the size of an iPhone (0.01 m2) is capable of putting out a maximum of about 1.5 W when facing directly into the sun on a cloudless day. That's 300 mA at 5 V (USB), less than the most basic USB port output of 500 mA. If it's cloudy and/or the collector is not facing directly into the sun, the output may be a fraction of that. With 300 mA, a 10,000 mAh buffer battery will take at least three days (3 x 12 h) to charge under the most ideal conditions. Unless your panel exactly tracks the sun from sunrise to sunset and the sky remains clear, it will be a multiple of that.

You really would need a much bigger solar panel than what you find on the average "solar charger".
 
Kangaeroo

Kangaeroo

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#8
This is kinda low tech, but I have a battery charger in a top tube pack and plug in cords to my light, speaker and phone whenever they need charging. I then charge the battery pack overnight.
 
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DanBell

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Apr 26, 2010
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#9
I recently completed a long bike tour from the Pacific Northwest of the US to Chile. I had my bike for the trip built up with a Schmidt dynamo and headlight, and the Sinewave Reactor USB topcap. I also bought a 20,000mAh battery. I used a rechargeable tail light mainly because getting one wired to the dynamo wasn't an option with the company I purchased the bike from and I didn't have the time in between receiving the bike and leaving on the trip to wire it myself. In any event, I bought a daytime bright rechargeable tail light that I'm very happy with so it all worked out.

The dynamo, headlight, and USB topcap all worked flawlessly throughout the whole trip. I have no real complaints about any of them. The dynamo starts charging at about 16kmh though, so I found it better to use it to charge the battery, then use the battery to charge my electronics. When plugged directly into the Garmin, for example, everytime I'd hit a small rise I'd get the "lost external power" message on the Garmin screen. On an average day, I had enough time at or above 16kmh to charge up most of the juice I had used the previous night charging my Garmin and phone from the battery. So there was a very slow drain on the cache battery over days and days, but I had access to outlets frequently enough to recharge everything when I needed to. I think I read that the new version of The Plug USB topcap has a small built in battery to provide constant charge even if your speed dips.

The Schmidt dynamo, headlight, and Sinewave package was what was offered from the company who built my bike, so I didn't actually choose those over The Plug or SP dynamos. I've heard good things about the SP dynamos, and the better Shimano models as well (i.e. not the mamachari hub dynos they make) though.

I had read some really positive things about a product called the Forumslader which is a cache battery with USB output that connects to a dynamo hub. It seems like it's just made by some German dude in his house, but from what I've read it's one of the most efficient ways of turning your dynamo power into a recharging station.

All that being said, prior to my big bike trip I had done a lot of touring in Japan, and believe that a 20,000mAh battery should really get you through most outlet free stretches that you'd be able to find here, without the need for a dynamo hub. I think dynamos are great, and 'always on' lights on a commuter/daily driver is a great idea, but it's a fairly substantial investment that I don't think is totally necessary for bike touring in Japan.