By Ed Pavelka
As this is written in early November, it’s getting late early (as Yogi would note). Darkness is falling upon the northern hemisphere just about the time the workday is done. For safe training or commuting, a bright and reliable headlight
is worth almost any price.
But $383? That’s what I paid for my Schmidt Dynamo SON generator system, including shipping, from Peter White Cycles, a specialty shop in Hillsborough, NH.
The price includes a front wheel built around the plump silver generator hub (using a 36-hole Mavic MA-3 rim and Wheelsmith 14/15 spokes), a Schmidt E6 headlight with front-brake bracket, and five spare bulbs.
In my opinion, this system is worth every cent as an investment in my cycling career and on-road safety.
The bright, reliable, all-weather headlight may need a new $4 bulb every 100 hours or so, but it never needs a battery. The German-made generator hub is virtually maintenance free. Its service interval is 31,000 miles or about 2,000 hours — hundreds
ofnight rides if you use the wheel only when you’llbe out after the sun is down.
In the Black
Last season, the Schmidt system lit my way through 50 hours of darkness, including three nights of Paris-Brest-Paris.
I didn’t see a brighter beam at PBP. The hub is rated at 6 volts and 3 watts. The 2.4-watt E6 headlight throws more light than the other lamps that run from the Schmidt hub. The basic Lumotec headlight, for example, costs about $50 less than the $86 E6
but does not light the road with the same authority. The E6 beam is shaped like a long keystone with the wide side at the top. Remarkably, the distant portion is nearly as bright as what’s closest to the bike.
The hub weighs 1.5 pounds (42 ounces/1,180 grams), eight times more than a typical front hub. However, the weight is at the wheel’s center rather than on the circumference, where it would be much more detrimental to performance. And it’s offset by the
fact that no hefty batteries are needed.
My former best light, the Nightsun Team Issue, required two 29.5-oz. rechargeable NiCad batteries to get me through a summer night. That’s a total battery weight of 3.7 pounds (1,650 gm). Plus, its dual-beam headlight was a bit heavier than the 4-oz.
(64-gm) E6 lamp.
Clear weight winner: Schmidt. Plus, the E6 can mount to a fork leg or the front brake’s fixing bolt, saving handlebar space. When no night riding is in the immediate future, you can remove the E6 for safe keeping by unscrewing one small bolt.
A Bit of a Drag
The Schmidt hub axle is difficult to turn by hand, such is the resistance of the 26 internal magnets. It immediately makes you fear rolling resistance. However, when the wheel is installed and spun, it turns much more freely. The drag is said to be the
equivalent of climbing one foot per mile. Switching on the headlight increases drag to five feet per mile. You may hear a slight hum and, at very slow speed, feel a slight pulse.
it’s hard to say how much this drag reduces speed. Night riding is always slower anyway, due to several factors.
A huge benefit of generator power is that you can burn the headlight at times you’d probably keep a battery light turned off. For example, in the hours of dusk and dawn. I once burned the E6 all afternoon for safety on a rainy, dark-gray day, unconcerned
about having enough juice to last the night. At times like that, the Schmidt system is a bargain.
There’s a bunch of options with this lighting system. The basic 32- or 36-hole Schmidt hub costs $179. But Peter White is an excellent wheelbuilder so it makes sense to buy the hub laced into the rim of your choice. And the choices are many. Same goes
for headlights and taillights. (Like most Schmidt owners, I choose to use an inexpensive, battery-powered LED taillight and not run wires to the back of the bike.)
Peter White’s website explains the Schmidt system and options in great detail, with photos. it’s a terrific source of technical data and opinions about lighting systems and other equipment, with emphasis on gear for randonneuring, touring, tandems and
commuting. I’ve made several purchases from the shop over the years. Service has been prompt and professional. White-built wheels are as true and durable as any I’ve ever ridden.
One drawback of the E6 headlight: The beam goes out when the bike stops. Then you’re in the dark, which isn’t good when traffic is around. Two solutions: the Lumotec Oval Plus headlight ($54) with a generator-charged LED that’ll remain on for several
minutes. Or, a small battery-powered headlight you can switch on when stopped.