Creatures of the Night

As others are noticing, summer is slowly ending and darkness is descending earlier and earlier each day. Today I spent most of the daylight hours working on a difficult photo shoot (nothing to do with bikes) that in the end may or may not have been successful. Let me tell you... even if you love photography, it can be frustrating. Spontaneous pictures are fun, but when you have to get something just so or the whole project is no good, and there is a timeline, and you are working with medium format film photography... well, it can get just a tad stressful. I got home after dark and with every fiber of my body felt that I had to ride the Gazelle to clear my head. So I rode in slow motion to a cafe, drank coffee while staring out the window, and rode back. I felt better.

The bottle dynamo lighting on the Gazelle is not the brightest, but for now I think it will do. And I like the soothing, barely audible swishing/hissing/whistling sound that the bottle makes as it rubs the tire. Riding along and listening to it, I feel such a direct connection between myself and the light that illuminates the road. That's me, making light with my feet... how nice that is.  (And when such thoughts run through my mind, I know that I must be tired!)

From a more practical perspective, I will eventually need to either supplement the existing dynamo with LED lights, or upgrade to a stronger system. I have been considering the Dymotec 6. Any experiences with it or suggestions for alternatives? Autumn is coming, and increasingly this bicycle will become a creature of the night. Just imagine the tire sidewall singing this to the dynamo bottle...


  1. I suggest a Sturmey Archer X-FDD dynamo hub 3w with drum brake like pashley... I don't like dynamo bottle...too resistance... and other battery systems are annoying. It's more expensive than other systems but it solves the problem forever, more speedly and without discomfort.

  2. I had a Dymotec 6 for a few years on my bike. It is very reliable because you can adjust the contact pressure if the dynamo doesn’t get enough grip (e. g. when the tyre is wet). But it makes quite a bit of noise and that’s why I was very happy when I finally switched to a hub dynamo.

  3. Dymotec 6 is okay. Drag's a bit high. I prefer the Basil Nordlicht; might even look better on a classic bike.

  4. Heh, I had it running through my head as soon as I read the title of this post. It was then replaced with "Over at the Frankenstein Place". :)

    I'll be interested to hear what others have to say about dynamo lighting. I would like to get the lighting on the Kettler fixed/upgraded and have been wondering about other systems.

  5. Oh, a tranquil twilight ride sounds so lovely! I'm in a phase of life when I can indulge in a love of bicycles, but my love of cycling is somewhat unrequited. I have four young children, so I go on "real" rides very seldom, and when I do it always involves lots of planning and usually paying a sitter. I do however, have the joy of biking with them, even if it does involve a lot of "Evie, don't crowd your sister! Henry! For Heaven's sake, mind the stop sign!" Already my oldest daughter (who is 9), is deciding what sort of vintage bike she wants me to have ready for her on her 14th birthday. My, how I've digressed! All that to say that your description of an evening ride to the cafe sounds divine, and while I will never wish to speed my kids' already-too-fast childhood along, the first time I get to just hop on my patiently-waiting bike for an evening ride will definitely be a balm for the bittersweetness of not having "little" children anymore.

  6. i have two bikes with bottle dynamos, and i have to say, i'm not a fan. it's not that they don't generate enough output-- i've measured the output and they generate full power. for me, it is a matter of efficiency. they just seem to create too much drag for my tastes. hub generators are much more efficient, and waste less energy to friction. plus, i'm not a fan of that variable whirring sound, especially as it flutters over bumps.

    if this were my bike and i were considering upgrades, i'd splurge for a front wheel rebuild around an SA X-FDD dyno/brake hub, and i'd get front and rear dyno lights with standlight functionality as well.

    what's that stuff on the chaincase in your photo? is it a light artifact or is it dirt/mud?

  7. Thanks for the feedback regarding Dymotec 6. The Basil Nordlicht definitely looks good, but they don't seem to sell it in the US and I will try to figure out if I can get it from Europe.

    Marc & somervillain - Aside from not wanting to rebuild the wheel on this bicycle, I actually prefer good bottles (made in the 90's or later) to the dynamo hubs that are typically put on these kinds of bikes. The amount of resistance from my bottle dynamo is imperceptible, and it's not much dimmer than the SA X-FDD hub on my Pashley was (which I did not consider bright enough either and supplemented with an LED headlight on the fork). Hubs are also much heavier than bottles, not to mention more expensive to upgrade. The only dynamo hubs I think are worth it are the really good ones like Shimano Alfine and Schmidt SON - but those are super expensive.

  8. I use a Supernova E3 with an Alfine generator hub on my Surly. It produces an amazing amount of light, even in the German "safe for use on highways" version. Unfortunately, the E3 costs more than an Alfine generator wheel ($200+) and the standlight functionality is in the optional $70 taillight. It's an amazing light, though.

    BTW, Peter White has beam comparisons of a bunch of different lights on his website.

  9. Velouria: I've used the AXA HR bottle dynamo on a couple of bikes (including currently on my wife's Raleign), and it has been fantastic. It's not particularly noisy, it's quite low drag, and it works even in torrential downpour, which is much more than I can say of some other bottle dynamos I've had.

    I really don't mind bottle dynamos either, I'm not riding in order to hit peak efficiency on a city bike anyway, so the very minimal drag really doesn't bother me at all, I don't really notice it.

  10. regarding LED lighting advice, a couple of Christmases ago, I built a generator hub wheel for my girlfriend and also gave her a Lumotec IQ Fly. The IQ Fly is much more reasonably priced than the top-tier stuff like the E3 or the Edelux, and, no, it's not quite as blindingly bright as either of those, so I wouldn't use it for, say, a nighttime mountain descent, where I need to see what's three seconds in front of me when I'm doing 40 mph; but for city riding it's perfectly suitable.

  11. Dutch Fietsersbond tested several headlights and dynamos some years ago. They rated the Dymotec 6 best although they found it to be somewhat expensive (30 euro :-)). The Basil Nordlicht came 3rd mainly because water can creep in from below and corrode the electricals. They are guaranteed for 3 years but the Fietsersbond doubted that they would live through 3 winters - which I suppose is true for the neglect Dutch cyclists practice on their bikes. Price is 24 euro at the moment (HQ HR in rubberized black).
    The tests were not very recent (2006) so things may be better now.

    As for lights: a good companion to the Dymotec would be the Busch & Muller Lumotec Retro, with a 17 lux LED lamp. Suitable for bottle dynamo.

    I read somewhere that Gazelle still supplies the "old" headlights but with upgraded interiors, i.e. halogen or LED. I'll dig a bit deeper and let you know.

  12. Portlandize - the AXA dynamo is what I have on the Gazelle. I really can't complain, except that ideally the headlight would be just a tad brighter and the tail light would have a standlight.

    Frits - Thank you for the suggestions; and it is funny about the 30 euro vs 24 euro. I will not store my bicycle overnight in the rain or snow, so I think the Nordlicht would be fine. The headlight on the Gazelle is stamped "Gazelle", but I am pretty sure it is a rebranded Lumotec; it looks just like it.

    Regarding hub generators - I do know about them, and have the marvelous Shimano Alfine dynamo hub on my Rivendell touring bike, together with a Busch&Müller Lumotec IQ Cyo headlight and a 4DLiet Plus tail light. Now that is a real dynohub set-up, and I do not feel that I need supplementary lighting on this bicycle, even when I cycle on dark, winding, hilly country roads. But for a transportation bike that I ride mostly in the city, that would be overkill - both power-wise and financially.

  13. Actually the headlight on the Gazelle needs to be repaired or better yet replaced with a similar/identical looking retro one w/ LED light. The copper spring contact inside has corroded and snapped. I made a temporary fix, but it is not 100% perfect, and the light is fairly dim anyway.

    The reflector is very floody, I think more so than even the retro Lumotecs on the Pashley.

    The dynamo on the Gazelle is some kind of AXA. I wonder how modern lights would react to using the fork and frame in the electrical circuit. The internal wiring on the Gazelle is very clever.

  14. MDI-- there shouldn't be a problem in using the frame/fork as a conductor in the circuit. and you gotta love the dutch-style internal wiring, eh? all the way through the rear fender stay to the taillight, it's internal. clever, indeed.

  15. Another option, all AXA:
    T5 halogen headlight, chrome over brass, E10 screw-in bulb (included), 18 euro.
    Traction HR bottle dynamo, to be fitted on the left, 20 euro. Extra rubber wheel 2.50 euro (2nd in the test I mentioned earlier, provisos on the way the wiring should be attached).
    All available off the shelf.

  16. Frits B said...
    "...All available off the shelf."

    Unfortunately, not around these parts! I wish I could just walk into a shop and browse shelves of dynamo lighting equipment, pondering the pros and cons of each and trying to find the best deal. Sadly, that is just not a reality in the US (and not even in Austria, where I have never seen a bottle dynamo sold in a bike store).

  17. I'm sure you know this, but in the US the go-to guy on bicycle lighting is Peter White. He's the importer for all B&M products, the Schmidt hubs and lights and, I believe, Spanniga. He's in Hillsborough, NH, so he's not that far away from you. Why not give him a call (or pay a visit) and see what he suggests?

  18. "all available off the shelf"
    I went into a bicycle shop this afternoon, aptly named Bicicletteria and run by a local organisation which employs people with a slight handicap, for the sole purpose of looking at panniers and bags. They didn't have much in that field but I then mentioned your question about bottle dynamos and headlamps, so half an hour later I had seen their entire inventory and heard all about pros and cons - and they don't even have much stock (their main business is running a bike parking plus repair shop).

    Taillights tend to be ever more of the battery type. If they have to be fed from a bottle dynamo *and* have a LED with standlight, I only find two right now: Spanninga Vector Xs, 22 euro, and Busch & Muller LED, 15 euro. Both to be fitted on the rear carrier, though.

    Anyway, if I can help just let me know. I could always arrange with Anna in Vienna to keep them for you until you visit there next.

  19. Hi Velouria,

    Most dynamo hubs and bottles put out
    very similar power. The difference is
    the drag (and noise, for bottles).

    If you want to Stay On The Bottle,
    just get a B&M Cyo or Fly.

    One of my favourite things is to ride
    on an unlit road in the winter while it is
    snowing, with a good bike lights.

    John I

  20. Phil - I will be visiting him next week to pick up the wheels he made for my custom mixte : )

    Thanks Frits, I will send you an email.

    johni - "stay on the bottle"! I love it : )

  21. B&M just released a budget LED light that uses some of the newest technology in optics and emitters. At $47 I consider it to be a bargain and will be using it to replace a couple of older halogen units that I have.


  22. Hey V.
    in a hurry, but I have a dynotech (not sure what #) that I'm not using I'll lend it to you to try, and if you like it I'll sell it cheap- email me.


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