> The Bakfiets Cargobike: Generator Lighting Rules

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Generator Lighting Rules

Driving home these dark fall nights I often see cyclists in my area with barely flickering LED taillights, the batteries nearly dead, or clip-on blinky lights strapped to backpacks or messenger bags pointing up into the air where only the airplanes and birds can see them. Are the dim lights just another case of the "frugal" nature of cyclists or are riders simply unaware how hard it is to see them?

Generator lighting is something I'd nearly forgotten about before starting to use the Cargobike recently. For me generators were a thing of the past, and always brought to mind an old Huffy yardsale rattletrap with dim or burnt out lights, wires torn loose and an ill adjusted generator barely turning on cracked rubber tires. You rarely, if ever, see a high end bike equipped with a generator in shops anymore (though REI has started to build a couple city bikes with them). Good lighting systems, as currently presented in US bike shops, are typically powered by heavy battery packs and temporarily mounted on helmets or handlebars with removable clamps. Meanwhile, Europeans have been developing intergrated generator lighting to parallel the best American made battery units. The new generator-based systems are bright, sturdy and (duh) never need batteries. The generator can be the familiar type that runs off friction contact with your tires or can built into the front hub where it turns silently and with little or no perceived extra effort on your part. Taillights and headlights often even have a "standlight" feature that keeps them on so you are visible even while stopped.

Check out Peter White's site for a wealth of information and wisdom on generator lighting systems. Then give one a try on your own city or commute bike. Having lights built into the bike turns the machine into more of a road-ready vehicle somehow, you just grab it and go without having to charge batteries or dig through your bag looking for lights, clips, etc... Supplement a generator system with a battery powered LED or two in case of generator failure or for increased visibility on rainy, dark nights when it's particularly hard for others on the road to see you.

Worried that a tire driven dynamo will wear out your tires? Not so - Schwalbe and many other city, commuter and touring tires already have a special generator strip on the sidewall to increase friction and reduce wear!