By Mike Dayton
www.nabendynamo.de (site is in German)
In a head-to-head matchup of 2 new LED headlights made for 6-volt dynohubs (generators) — the Schmidt Edelux vs. the Supernova E3 — the verdict is in.
Well, my verdict anyway. In this reviewer’s humble opinion, the Edelux emerges with a narrow victory. It was a close fight, and I know there are people who will dispute my scorecard. That’s fine. The fact is, if you do a lot of urban riding or
live in an area where the roads are pocked with potholes, the Supernova may be the better choice.
But in terms of brightness, weight and engineering, I give the edge to the Edelux.
I’m one of the 5,000-plus members of the U.S. randonneuring community, a cycling group that is deeply passionate about their lights, and for good reason. Randonneurs participate in long-distance events called brevets that often span multiple days — and
nights — covering as many as 1,200 kilometers (750 miles) in a single ride. With so much night riding in our schedules, reliable lighting is a must. Half-past midnight on a jet-black country road is no time to have a headlamp fade or fail.
Many randonneurs rely on the German-made Schmidt dynohub, which serves as the hub for the front wheel and powers a 6-volt headlight as it turns. The beauty of this setup is that no batteries are required. When the dynohub is paired with
Schmidt’s own E6 halogen headlight, randonneurs can count on dozens of hours of worry-free lighting.
The downside is that the dynohub itself weighs nearly 1.5 pounds (0.7 kg), considerably more than most battery-powered systems. And it adds a smidgeon of rolling resistance. But in the view of Schmidt owners, these drawbacks are well worth it. The firepower
of the Schmidt/E6 combination easily outshined most of the competition, making it the benchmark by which other lighting systems were measured.
LED Lights the Way
At least, that was the case until a new generation of battery-powered LED lights hit the market in recent years. They were small, they were relatively bright, they didn’t have a bulb that could burn out after a few dozen hours, and they were exceedingly
stingy on power consumption — 4 AA batteries could easily get you through the night. The first wave of these LED headlights weren’t quite as bright as the E6, but they were catching up fast.
We dynohub users could see the future — and it appeared to be lit by an LED.
Thus, Schmidt owners were delighted in early 2008 to hear that2 LED headlights were being manufactured in Europe to mate specifically to our dynohubs. Both makers claimed illumination vastly superior to our beloved E6s.
The Supernova E3 reached the U.S. market first, becoming widely available in spring 2008. Schmidt’s Edelux arrived in limited quantities in late June.
I ordered a Supernova in the spring and put it to an early-season test. The light threw a white, pear-shaped pattern on the road, providing excellent visibility in front of the wheel and good peripheral lighting along the road edge. The Supernova also
threw a fair share of light upwards — enough to illuminate street signs, a true bonus for nighttime navigation.
Although I did not do a side-by-side comparison with my halogen E6, I had the distinct impression that the Supernova’s output was both wider and brighter. But how would it stack up against the Edelux?
As good fortune would have it, riding buddy Branson Kimball got an Edelux just in time for our 200-mile (322-km) ride from Raleigh, North Carolina to Richmond, Virginia on July 4. We departed at 6 p.m. and pedaled many of the miles on
dark back roads — the perfect testing ground for a head-to-head match-up of these 2 lights.
I was fairly confident that my Supernova would take top honors. After all, it had actually been banned in Germany. Its manufacturer boasts that “German traffic laws don’t allow cyclists to have such a bright light.”
Here are features shared by these 2 fine headlights:
- Both have sleek aluminum housings with an LED that should last thousands of hours. In fact, one website estimates a 100,000-hour lifespan — more than 11,000 all-night rides.
- Both are compatible with modern 6-volt hub generators and use 2 spade connectors similar to the ones on the halogen E6 headlight. If you own a wheel with a Schmidt dynohub, it’s plug and play.
- Both power up to a useable brightness at around 4 mph (6.4 kph). The E6 is not as effective until almost twice that speed.
- Both have stand lights — a nice safety feature on any dynamo headlight because it ordinarily goes dark when the bike stops rolling. The stand light charges while the bike is in motion and switches on when you stop, providing several minutes of light
— great at dark intersections so motorists are aware of your position.
- Both manufacturers back their lights with 5-year warranties.
- Both headlights will set you back about $200. They are made in Europe, where the U.S. dollar has been hammered by the exchange rate. If you don’t already have a front wheel built around a Schmidt dynohub, expect to pay around $300 for the hub only and
perhaps $100 more for a complete wheel, depending on rim and spokes. The price page at Peter White Cycles will give you an idea of selection and cost.
As for the differences:
- The Supernova is tube-shaped. The Edelux resembles a miniature kettle drum.
- The Edelux, at 85 grams, is noticeably lighter than the 140-gram Supernova.
- The Supernova has an on-off push button at the rear of the light. The Edelux uses a magnetic reed switch with a setting that automatically turns on the light as darkness falls.
- The Supernova’s beam is like that of a traditional light, shining directly forward. The Edelux LED is mounted at the top of the light and faces rearward, reflecting off a half-parabolic mirrored surface.
The Supernova offers more mounting options, including fork and handlebar mounts. The Edelux can be mounted in various positions but needs an aftermarket bracket.
- Since the Supernova’s beam is symmetrical, it can be mounted upside down. The Edelux must be upright.
The Edelux features a watertight switch and housing. Not so for the Supernova in its current configuration — at least when it’s mounted in an inverted position. The manufacturer states: “The sealing of the entry points of the cables into the housing
need to be reinforced with silicone sealant if the light is installed upside down. A version specially designed for inverted installation will be offered soon.”
Perhaps the most significant difference between these lights is their beams. I’ve already described the Supernova’s beam pattern — hot white center, good visibility in front of the wheel, diffuse illumination on the periphery. Meantime, the Edelux throws
a focused, shovel-shaped pattern reminiscent of the trapezoidal beam of the E6.
In my opinion, the Edelux provides a sharper definition of the road surface. On our overnight ride, I found myself relying on Branson’s beam as much as the one cast by my Supernova. However, be aware that the Edelux leaves a dark area just in front of
the wheel. This could be an issue in urban areas or where poor road surfaces require constant last-second maneuvering. For these conditions, the Supernova may be the better choice.
See the beams for yourself on the Peter White Cycles website. Peter is a valuable source for expert lighting information and he sells all types, including wheels handbuilt around
the Schmidt dynohub. Shortly before I finished this review, my very own Edelux arrived in the mail. That has allowed further experimentation with the setup of both lights. I recently moved the Supernova to a handlebar mount, and it appears to perform
better at that height than at wheel level.
But in the end, my vote goes to the Edelux. It’s lighter, it’s brighter and it’s watertight. However, this may only be the first round in the ongoing competition between these 2 great products.
Reportedly, you’llsoon be able to choose between 2 types of focused beams for the Supernova. Also, Supernova says it has designed its light so that the LED can be switched out as newer, more powerful versions become available.
Clearly this contest is not over. But one winner is known for sure — every night rider who invests in one of these lights.
Mike Dayton is an experienced long-distance cyclist who serves as secretary and newsletter editor for Randonneurs USA, the national organization of American randonneuring.