SON dynamo hub and Edelux bike light review
It seems slightly odd to be posting a review of bike lights in the depths of summer, but this is going to be a long term review so I thought I would get started now with some initial thoughts. The review will cover the Schmidt SON XS dynamo hub and Edelux light primarily, but I will also outline my other findings on bike based electricity generation for powering and charging other devices such as iPhones and USB external batteries.
(Disclaimer - I am sponsored by Riese und Muller and they have provided me with the SON dynamo hub and Edelux lights as part of my sponsorship. Hopefully the engineer in me will manage to remain objective.)
Schmidt Edelux light
Despite it being summer, the typical British weather means we are blessed with our fair share of dull days and so bike lights still have their place. And on my little adventures I am often cycling into late evening or early morning. And there is one feature of the Edelux light that differentiates it from most other bike lights and gives it real fit and forget usage. That's the built in ambient light sensor. When the ambient light drops below a certain level the light will automatically come on. And turn off once things get bright again. On very dull days, cycling through a tunnel, travelling through dappled woody shade and of course into the evening as light levels drop the light just does it's own thing giving me light when I need it. It's not only useful and easy, it's a great safety feature as ordinarily I wouldn't bother to turn on my lights in say a tunnel or tree lined avenue, but the light comes on and makes me more visible. Most of the time I just put the light in S(ensor) mode and leave it there.
The Edelux also has a useful beam pattern. A small pool of light is cast right in front of the front wheel making it easy to navigate rough roads or tracks. The main beam of light shines a large bright area approximately 10meters in front. (I could of course angle the unit up but the light falls of quite quickly and the front wheel pool would then be in the wrong place.) It's not the most powerful beam and there wouldn't be enough power for fast mountain biking, but for commuting and touring the amount of light is more than good enough. Certainly on a par with my Exposure Joystick light.
The construction is solid and reassuring. The Edelux came with a high quality mounting bracket that will presumably affix to a standard mount on most bike frames. However the Birdy doesn't have such a mount, so I fabricated a mounting bracket from a front mech bracket and used this to attach the light to my bike.
Not much more I can say at this point. Sometimes a good product is like that, things that just work as desired are often hard to write/speak about as there is little to say other than it works.
Schmidt SON XS dynamo hub
The Schmidt SON XS dynamo hub (Birdy specific version as the disc brake rotor is on the 'wrong' side on Birdys so a special hub is required that rotates in the 'wrong' direction) is pretty similar. I fitted it to the bike, wired it into the light and iPhone battery electrics and I've barely thought about it since.
It is a little noisy, as all dynamo hubs are, but I've got used to that. On a laden touring bike the extra resistance is negligible. It's ended up quite scratched as when the Birdy is folded the rim of the dynamo hub rubs on a protruding part of the bike. I don't think this is a reflection on the quality of the hub, which is very high, it's just my Birdy has a tough life.
It seems to have plenty power. I regularly run the Edelux light and charge a USB battery at the same time without any issues. It's been used in mixed UK weather, nothing too extreme so far to be sure, and has worked fine.
Charging an iPhone with a bike dynamo hub
This has been a real gear saga, and a bloody expensive one at that. I'm pretty dependent on my iPhone for so many things now that it seemed like a good idea to charge it using the dynamo hub rather than carrying a large USB battery or trying to find power sockets in wild camp spots lol I also thought it would be pretty cool to have the iPhone mounted on my bike. Kind of a gadget lust sort of cool.
After a bit of research a couple of options presented themselves:
I went for the Dahon system as it was a bit cheaper and had a cool handlebar mounted iPhone case. It looked cool, but that was about it. Once the iPhone was in the case it was difficult to access some functions (e.g. volume) so it had to be taken out. The case also interfered with the iPhone light sensor so the screen was always really dark. Pretty annoying.
Then there is the warning on the voltage regulator that the voltage regulator must be disconnected from the hub if you are not charging the battery. A bit awkward when the light and the battery system are wired into the same plugs.
Then there is the charging LEDs on the battery. It's not very bright so in sunlight it is impossible to see if the battery is charging or not. This wouldn't be a problem, except for the soft touch feel button that needs to be pressed on the battery to turn charging on or off. The button isn't actually soft touch, but it is hard to tell which position the button is actually in. Simply put, it is hard to tell if the battery is charging or not unless you are cycling at night.
Then, there are a lot of thens, on the second day of using the system I plugged my iPhone into the battery and it wouldn't charge. Maybe the battery was flat I thought, so I tried my Just Mobile battery which I knew was charged. Still no iPhone charge. I stopped for lunch at a cafe and asked them to plug the iPhone in to the mains using the Apple mains charger. Still no iPhone charge. DEAD.
It is unclear if the Dahon system caused this fault, or maybe I had done something else to my iPhone. It leads a hard life in my pocket, but it had been faultless for 18 months and they have a reputation for a low fault rate. However, once I got a replacement (not with Oranges help, bloody useless customer service, but direct from the Apple Store who were exceptionally helpful and significantly cheaper than Orange, think £55 for a brand new phone versus the £180 that Orange wanted) I did not want to take the risk of killing another phone. I have returned the Dahon Biologic system to the distributor for their comment.
Next up was the Busch und Müller e-werk system. It's costly, but has been proven on many serious bike tours and being a voltage regulator with settable voltage and current it could be very versatile.
I expected a slightly higher build quality when I first unboxed it. It feels robust and the fittings are all secure, it just looks a little cheap. The instructions are clear and it comes with many different cables, connectors and plugs so it should fit many phones and USB devices.
First use was not great. I tried charging my Just Mobile USB battery, and it wouldn't charge. I contacted Just Mobile, but they wouldn't comment on this usage. Understandable. So I took the plunge and spent another £80 on the Busch and Muller cache battery. BTW to charge the iPhone you need an external battery or other stable and precise voltage supply or the phone won't charge. I love my iPhone, but I wish Apple would stop making it so hard to charge the thing.
The cache battery is well sealed and the charging LED is fairly visible in direct light. I charged it up with a long ride (takes about 8 hours!), plugged it into my iPhone, nada. Checked connections and another battery, iPhone OK. Look on web and find that as of iOS 4.3.3 the cache battery will not charge the iPhone as Apple tightened the charging voltage input spec. C'mon Apple! Apparently Busch and Müller are working on a fix. I could make the system work by plugging the cache battery into the Just Mobile USB battery to charge that, then using the Just Mobile battery to charge the iPhone! Total faff.
I decided to return the cache battery (service at www.sjscycles.co.uk is superb) and try a Powertraveller Powermonkey USB battery as it has been used successfully with both iPhone and e-werk according to the guy at SJS Cycles. At £30 it seemed like a cheap experiment. It is also double the capacity of the cache battery and less than half the price.
So far so good, battery charges from hub, iPhone charges from battery, well almost. When I first plugged the Powermonkey in to the e-werk I had forgotten to change the voltage from 5.6V for charging the cache battery to 4.9V for USB devices. (The current setting also needs changed.) The Powermonkey charged fine. Realising my mistake and not wanting to toast the Powermonkey I dropped the voltage to the recommended setting, and no charge. wtf. Turned the voltage back up and the Powermonkey charges. I should really get my voltmeter out and check the e-werk output voltage, but life is short and I'm lazy. At £30 if I toast the Powermonkey with over voltage (it does have protection circuitry built in) then it is no great loss.
So, that's where I am right now. I'll update this report once I've had the Powermonkey and e-werk on a proper tour.
Like I said above, not much can be written when things work, but when they don't …. If you have any experience with the e-werk I would love to hear about it.