Dynamo-Powered Lights

Dynamo Hubs

Many people have successfully done self-supported, ultra distance bikepacking races without a dynamo hub, instead using battery-powered lights, backup batteries, and wall chargers. However, the majority of racers prefer to have a dynamo front hub to power their lights so that they have no concerns about charge levels. Compared to using a standard hub, the slight extra drag caused by a dynamo hub decreases predicted average speeds by about 0.1 kph when no lights are on and no devices are charging, and by about 0.4 kph when something is connected (see the Mechanical Resistance page). Specific models of dynamo hubs are discussed on the Wheels page.

Dynamo-Powered Headlights

There are several good dynamo-powered front lights available. The most popular models are the SON Edelux II, the Supernova E3 Pro, Exposure Revo, Busch & Müller (B&M) Luxos U (pictured below), and B&M Lumotec IQ-X.

I’ve used the Supernova E3 Pro, B&M Luxos U and B&M Lumotec IQ-X, plus a couple of more basic models. The Supernova is very bright, but I don’t like the narrow beam shape. The Luxos U has a much wider beam, which I prefer, but doesn’t have as much reach to light up more distant objects. The Lumotec IQ-X is supposed to be better and more powerful than the Luxos U but I didn’t like the narrower beam shape and it constantly flickered in the near-field (even after getting it replaced under warranty and trying it with multiple different wheels). See Peter White’s website for images showing the beam shapes of many dynamo-powered lights.

Supernova have sponsored the Transcontinental Race since 2014, and typically give participants a 40% discount on their products. Contact Supernova directly to benefit from this. One downside of using either the Supernova or the Exposure front lights is that you can only use their matching taillights (see below).

In addition to Supernova selling the E3 Pro front light, they also sell the E3 Triple v2, which is brighter but is designed for mountain biking so there is no beam cut-off at the horizon, allowing the light to be projected in all directions. It therefore doesn’t pass the German laws for bike headlights as it may bother oncoming drivers. The other lights mentioned here all have a very distinct upper cut-off.

The B&M Luxos U has one feature that the other lights don’t have, which is an integrated USB output. Separate dynamo-powered USB outputs can be combined with any of the other lights (see below), but having an integrated light and USB output simplifies things slightly and may save some money. The Luxos U also has a remote button that can be mounted to the handlebars to turn the light on and off, and also switch it temporarily into a higher-power mode.

Each of these headlights has failed during use for some people. There doesn’t appear to be any model that has significantly better reliability than any other, particularly because the frequency of such reports for each model needs to be combined with the number of people using each model, which is difficult to know. The main thing to learn from these reports is that you should be equipped with a backup plan for lighting and device recharging in case all or part of your dynamo-based system fails.

Most dynamo-powered headlights use the same style of mount and many different mounting brackets are available (except that the Exposure light is only compatible with the Exposure handlebar mount, no fork mount is available). A particularly adjustable and rigid model for mounting the light at the top of the fork is sold by Supernova, but B&M also sell a large range of shapes, including one designed for handlebar mounting.

Dynamo-Powered Taillights

The Supernova light can only be used with their E3 taillight and the Exposure Revo can only be used with their Red Eye taillight. All other lights can be used with any brand and model of taillight. Some dynamo taillights are quite compact and sleek, but still bright (e.g., Supernova E3, SON, and Busch & Müller).

Unfortunately, the more compact taillights don’t provide a very large illuminated area, which is something that can help drivers to more easily just distance. The best light for that criterion is the rack-mounted version of the Philips Saferide (shown in the image), which also has a version that can be mounted on the seatstays if no rack is used. Busch & Müller also have a large range of taillights, including the Secula model that can be mounted to the seatstay, which I’ve been happy with, plus the TopLight View model has worked well for me. My overall favorite rear light is the Philips Saferide mounted to my rear rack.

Battery-Powered Lights

Battery-Powered Headlights

There are many options for bright, long-lasting, battery-powered lights, but I have far less experience with them. Many battery-powered lights are more intended for mountain biking and so project light in all directions; the more road-based models restrict the amount of light projected above the horizon to avoid blinding oncoming drivers. If I did choose to use a battery-powered light then my first choice would be the Exposure Strada (shown on the right) due to the quality construction, light output, and battery life, but there are certainly cheaper options. It should be easy to find websites that compare the multitude of battery-powered lights.

As mentioned above, any lighting system can fail, so it is sensible to have a backup. I therefore carry a moderate-strength battery-powered headlight, the Exposure Sirius as a backup for my dynamo lighting. This is a reasonably-good standalone headlight, but can also be used together with a dynamo headlight, for instance on twisty descents. I normally keep it on a handlebar mount, but I can also put it on my helmet mount, where it works well to illuminate the insides of corners on descents and to light-up road signs or other items on the side of the road. In addition, if I have a bike problem that needs to be fixed or I need to setup camp in the dark then the helmet-mounted light is extremely useful. It also has a flashing mode that I use in towns to attract attention better than a solid light. There are many similar lights available from other brands, with the range of mounting options often being an important differentiating factor.

Battery-Powered Taillights

On the rear of the bike, I like to keep a flashing taillight on at night that attracts attention in addition to having a broad, solid taillight that allows drivers to judge my distance and position. There are many good taillight options available. I prefer to have everything USB rechargeable, and have tried the Planet Bike Superflash USB (Amazon), which is OK but can fail in heavy rain (Planet Bike lights are also sold under the brand Smart). I’ve also used the similar PDW Aether Demon USB (pictured left), which has survived a lot of poor weather.

Because I’ve had taillights fail more than anything else (battery-powered and dynamo-powered) and because it’s not possible to be immediately aware when one does fail, I like to always have two turned on in the dark and have a third in reserve. It’s also good to have another reserve headlight, so a good option is a Lezyne Zecto Drive Pro light that can actually be used as a front light or a rear light, depending on which fails first (you can switch between the one red LED or the two white LEDs).

Another impressive attention-getting device is an illuminated, wearable, fiber-optic “vest” called the Noxgear Tracer360. I’ve found this to be impressively bright, and it runs for a long time on a set of AAA batteries. In France and some other countries, all cyclists must wear a reflective vest when riding at night and the Noxgear greatly exceeds anything that a reflective vest can achieve.

GCN share a lot of information about night riding and lighting in this video:

USB Chargers

As well as keeping lights charged, bikepackers normally also need to power Navigation Devices and phones. Three methods of powering USB rechargeable devices are described here: dynamo-powered chargers, battery-powered chargers, and wall-powered chargers.

Dynamo-Powered USB Chargers

Dynamo power can be converted into USB power using various devices. Whereas the Busch & Müller Luxos U front light that was described above has an integrated USB output, all other options are separate devices. The Plug by Supernova is quite popular but it doesn’t work in many carbon forks because you need to have a hole in the bottom of the steering column to pass the cable through and the special expansion plug is too large to work with some forks without modification; in addition, many people have had these fail during use. Other options include the SineWave Revolution, B&M USB-Werk, BioLogic ReeCharge, and PedalPower+; see here for even more options.

Battery-Powered USB Chargers

Using a dynamo-powered USB charger may not be ideal because there are many high-capacity reserve battery packs now available that are a lot cheaper than dynamo-powered chargers. Since I’ve had the Anker Astro v2 6400 mAh (Amazon), I’ve stopped using my dynamo hub for charging and only used this battery to avoid having extra drag on the front hub, which decreases average speeds by about 0.3 kph when in use (see the page on Hub Resistance). These chargers can be useful even for people who prefer to use a dynamo-powered charger most of the time because dynamo-powered chargers don’t work well at night when powering the lights and it’s always good to have a backup charger in case of a dynamo system failure.

Mains Socket-Powered USB Chargers

When staying at a hotel, you’ll want to recharge all of your gadgets and lights from a wall-socket USB charger. People who save space by bringing a small, single-output USB charger often report having to wake up during the night to switch between charging different devices. I therefore recommend bringing a wall charger with at least 2, preferably 4 outputs, a good option being the Anker PowerPort 4 (only available on Amazon.de, the version sold from other countries has a different plug). The “Europlug” shown on the right is a plug style that works in sockets throughout Europe except the UK and Ireland, so is sufficient for doing the Transcontinental Race. See Wikipedia for information about socket styles in other countries.

Cables

Ideally, many of your devices will use the same charging cable, but you should have a sufficient number of cables so that you can charge the maximum number of devices at the same time based on how many outlets your chargers have. Devices are often delivered with medium-length cables, but to save space you can easily get some shorter, 30 cm long cables. In addition, small adapters are available to convert one type of cable to another, for instance taking a micro-USB to Lightning adapter is much smaller than taking a specific Lightning cable.

As mentioned on the Navigation Devices page, the Garmin Edge 1000 and Explore 1000 models have the cable port in an awkward position underneath the device, which often causes problems. Bikepacking veteran Chris Bennett offered a solution for this that involves using a charging cable with a 90 degree bend in the head and a rubber strap to hold it in place, but you need to make sure that the cable you buy has the plug oriented in the correct direction so that the cable points away from the device. If you have an Edge 1000 and you aren’t already bringing a second similar cable for another device then bring an extra cable because I know of many cables that have been damaged due to the charging location on that device.

Batteries

If you need to use standard AA or AAA batteries, then although they are significantly more expensive, Lithium batteries last a lot longer than regular batteries and so fewer spares need to be carried and less time is spent changing them. The Spot trackers that are used to monitor racers’ positions during most bikepacking races only work properly with lithium batteries. For a useful comparison between the amount of power given by different brands and models of batteries, see the Battery Showdown website.

prevnextThe next page about bike accessories is on Navigation Devices.