The Case for Dedicated Lights

Scenario 1. You meet friends for an early dinner, expecting to arrive home before dark. The food is good, the conversation is better, and before you know it the sun is going down. You have to excuse yourself early and run home before it gets dark because you didn’t put your lights on your bike.

Scenario 2. You’re running up against a deadline at work and you end up staying two hours late to get the project out the door. By the time you leave it’s dark outside. You gear up, take your bike out of your locker, and when you turn on your headlight the battery is dead.

Scenario 3. The train is delayed an hour due to construction on the main line. By the time you reach your stop it’s dark outside. You don’t give it another thought because you have a generator hub and dedicated headlight and tail light. You flip a switch and ride home, fully illuminated and safe.

35 Responses to “The Case for Dedicated Lights”

  • Karl McCracken (twitter: @KarlOnSea) says:

    I’ll take Scenario 3 please! Top tip to make it an absolutely bomb-proof solution: spare batteries for the rear light and a spare bulb for the front somewhere at the bottom of your pannier bag.

  • Roland Smith says:

    That’s a no-brainer: scenario 3. Or, what I’d like to call scenario 3a: as soon as you drive away, your lights switch on automatically (fed by the generator hub, of course) if their sensors detect low ambient light levels.

  • Justin says:

    Scenario 1….Oh how embarrassing!
    I mean sure, we all forget spare batteries on occasion, but a bike with no light?!?!
    That is like…..(cue in Trojan Man).

  • Jim says:

    To each his own. I have a couple bikes with generators, and at least one roving wheel with a SON hub. I definitely use them when I anticipate long night rides or for multi-day trips. But I also have a couple of Nite Rider MiNewt headlights that are easy to toss in my pannier or saddlebag when I’m running out the door, and easy to take with me if I have to lock up my bike in a sketchy place. That said, in general, I believe in redundancy. If I’m anticipating the chance of night riding, I bring two or three headlights.

    I’m not as much a fan of dynamo taillights. Battery lights last a long time, are very bright, and don’t have the issues associated with wiring.

  • FR Mahony says:

    Scenario 2 happened to me. Rode by ambient light. Hit a shopping cart in a very dark underpass. Broke lots of stuff. Now my backups have backups. Saving up for a hub generator.

  • No says:

    > spare batteries for the rear light
    but dynamo lights don’t need batteries? You mean for an extra rear light? Or were thinking dyno front light only (why?).

  • Ows says:

    @ Karl
    Re: the spare bulb – yes, but preferably in robust casing. No one wants shards of glass at the bottom of their panniers! ;-)

    I ride a Specialized Globe City 6, and the generator lights are brilliant, although I always have a set of Smart Polaris lights to hand, as the front headlamp tends to extinguish when I stop (although it starts again once the bike is moving!).

  • Luke Elrath says:

    Great post!
    As the product manager for Breezer Bikes, scenarios like the ones above are what I think about when I design our transportation bikes. Our guiding principle is that if you have a fully equipped bike (fenders, rear carrier, kickstand, bell and dyno-powered front and rear lights) then a rider will be ready for any conditions. Day or night, rain or shine, whenever you want to ride your bike is there with no need to think about dead batteries.

    Lately I have been wondering if it would be worth pursuing legislation like in Holland and Germany that dictates all transpo bike be sold with dyno lighting systems. Would the US consumer take bikes more seriously as viable transportation if they were sold with everything you needed to be safe?

  • Ows says:

    @ Luke
    Re: “Would the US consumer take bikes more seriously as viable transportation if they were sold with everything you needed to be safe?”

    I’m no US citizen, but I cannot fathom a reason why that would not be so.

  • Ows says:

    @ Luke

    Just had a quick look at your website. What beautiful bikes – love your work!
    Do you ship to the UK?

  • cyclepete says:

    Sadly, more equipment on my bike just means more stuff that could get removed from my bike when I park it in urban areas. I do fantasize about a light that is integrated into the frame so it is not easy to remove. With LED lights it could probably last for the life of the bike.

    What I do instead is I always have a small battery-operated LED light in my luggage. Plus a vistalight attached rather firmly to my rear rack – the bolt that holds it on is glued into place – plus these type of taillights aren’t high theft items where I live. My backup light for this is a reflector that is part of the rear fender.

    In the winter I use a rechargeable medium power LED headlight. Works much better, in my opinion, than most of the generator lights I’ve seen. I can go a week or so on one charge and I have the battery light in my luggage as backup.

  • AbrasiveScotsman says:

    I’m not putting no generator on my lowracer recumbent! ;)

    I’ve got 2 Fenixes up front with 2700mah batteries that I recharge after every single use (NiMh doesn’t have memory so this is OK).

    I also carry half a dozen fully charged spare batteries ranging from 1300-2100mah, in case I need em.

  • Alan says:


    “I’ve got 2 Fenixes up front with 2700mah batteries that I recharge after every single use (NiMh doesn’t have memory so this is OK).”

    This is essentially what I’m doing on my LHT, but I’m starting to tire of the constant battery swapping. Interestingly, it’s more of a problem in the spring through fall when I’m not using the lights as much. In the winter I’m on top of it because I’m running the lights for hours every day. In the summer months the lights don’t get used nearly as much so I get lax on the charging routine and that’s when I get caught with a dead battery or the wrong combination of lights on the wrong bike, etc.

  • Val says:

    How about scenario 4: the sun has actually come out (briefly) a total of five times in the last six weeks, and the normal grey lighting conditions mean that some of the more sensitive street lights stay on all day long. You realize that visibility is problematic in these conditions, and ride with lights on at all times, never even thinking about turning them off. It’s not an issue, because you have a dynamo front hub, LED head and tail lights, and standlight capability. Spring in the Pacific Northwest can be a bit wearing.

  • Duncan Watson says:

    On my current bike I have a SON generator, and the darn light mount broke so at the moment I am using my backup battery driven light. (which I had at the time of the mount breaking). On my new lowracer I will be using rechargeable battery packs on my dinotte 400L, and it comes with 2 of them. So I charge one while using the other and swap weekly. On long rides I have the option to run with both packs.

  • Alan says:


    “Spring in the Pacific Northwest can be a bit wearing.”

    I lived in Seattle for 10 years Val — I feel for ya’…

  • Josef says:

    no question: a commuter bike needs generator light (SON if you want to do it right) — that is my choise on my two wheelers. On the trike and on the velomobile I run battery lights — double back lights (one will always be working) and the IXON battery system in front on the trike.
    The Quest has two battery packs — so plenty of reserve. If you take good care of your equipment, scenarios 1 and 2 won’t happen to you.


  • Cliff says:

    Well, when I lived in Germany (US Army) you would get a ticket from the cops for riding at night w/o lights. I’ve never heard of cops issuing a ticket to an unlit rider here in Memphis. We had friction generators in Germany- they were not very good, and they often quit working in snow or rain, but this was 20 years ago.

    I like the dependability of hub lights but I heard they are not that bright. Don’t own one yet.
    For now I like Dinotte lights- expensive but bright, and mine run on AA’s. I live in the city. If I plan poorly and my batteries die, I can find AA’s at any 24 hour convenience store.

  • ksteinhoff says:

    That’s why I have a SON hub with two headlights and a taillight running off it. I was telling some folks over the weekend on a charity ride that “I have lights as long as I have legs and when I don’t have any legs left, I don’t need the lights.”

    I just took off my NiteRider Pro-12E to see if the weight-saving was worth it, but it’s going back on. I like the NiteRider taillight and it’s nice to have the ability to go high-power if I want to.

    I also have a cheap LED headlight I keep in flash mode as a be-seen light. You can see my taillights at

    Overkill? Yep. But I like redundancy. If I had to park my LHT in an urban environment for long periods of time I’d have the same concerns of cyclepete, but I usually stay pretty close to my bike.

  • Don says:

    Redundancy is a good strategy. I use a hub generator with An E6 headlight and a Planet Bike Blaze 1W in the front and two rear LED rear flashers then carry two sizes of extra batteries and extra bulbs for backup. This has seved me well over the last couple of years of of yearround commuting. I have had to rely on backups on more than one occasion where if hadn’t been prepared it would have been a safety issue.
    All this has been a culmination of years of fumbling in the dark, hitting unseen rocks, potholes,etc.due to inadequate or non existing lights and dead batteries.

  • brett says:

    I’ve experienced all 3 of your scenarios over the years. A real commuter bike should allow you to just jump on and go without having to deal with batteries, rechargers etc.
    The only drawback to my Dutch bike is the lighting system: instead of an integrated hub dynamo, it came with one of those old fashioned friction generator lights, which isn’t very bright and is mounted too low (on the wheel instead of the handlebars) for some drivers to see, espe ially if they’re pulling out of parking spaces, and which is a drag, literally. But I’m glad it’s there for exactly those times you mention above — as a backup for when my Planet Bike clip on LED light isn’t available, for whatever reason.
    I did check into getting a hub dynamo system installed, but it’s nearly $300 when done after the fact. My next bike — not that I ever expect to get another one — will have the hub system when I buy it! I like Breezer’s system a lot. I hope someone will design a cheaper system that would accomplish the same thing for bikes that didn’t come with an integrated dynamo, maybe like those Reelights powered by magnets, but mountable high up on the handlebars.

  • Joel says:

    I need to get back to option 3. My short-distance commuter/city bike has generator-driven front and rear, my long-distance commuter/tourer has ReeLights and a blinky, but nothing serious. Sometime in the next month or so I hope to get a new front wheel with a generator and start hunting for some stylish lights.

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    I absolutely love my SON system (with IQ Fly and D-Toplight XS rear) and have sold several people where I work on dynohubs as well (one SON, two Shimanos). They’re expensive, but at the end of the day they’re the way to go, and not all that much more expensive than a high end battery system. I also use Pitlocks to keep the front wheel from going anywhere without me :)

    The real downside is that more bikes aren’t sold with them, and having a wheel built up isn’t cheap. Consequently only one of those three folks (the one with the SON) had a wheel built; the other two own Novara Fusions (a new one and an older one). Therefore I say bravo to the few companies offering them (Breezer, Novara, Civia, etc) right off the bat.

    For those who think that hub-lights aren’t bright enough, check out the recent models. My IQ Fly is brighter than most of the battery systems I see out there, and they keep getting brighter (IQ Cyo for example). I find it more than bright enough for my needs. In fact, I’m often lighting the way for anyone in front of me in dark areas.

  • Roland Smith says:

    And don’t forget reflectors as well. Experience has taught that not everybody keeps their lights in perfect working order. Here in the Netherlands bikes therefore have to be equipped with a red colored rear reflector (which can double as a rear light). On most modern bikes the front light also works as a reflector as well when not in use. These are essential safety backups.

    Wheels also need to have either two side reflectors between the spokes or reflection stripes on the sidewall of the tire. I think this is especially important, as a cyclist even with front- and rear lights is pretty much invisible from the sides. Reflectors help a lot with that.

  • todd says:

    riding in the work today, i spotted my wife coming my way from a little more than half a mile away in broad daylight. she’s running a B&M Cyo dyno-driven headlamp. it’s not even angled up: even the spill light is that bright. resistance un-noticeable and should last basically forever, so why not? compare to the initial and ongoing bother cost of remotely comparable battery lights, plus some high-viz clothing, and this is a safety bargain.

  • ksteinhoff says:


    Having a wheel built isn’t that bad. When I put together my LHT, here’s what my wheel cost.

    A wheel set up for 32 instead of 32 spokes: $34.98 (otherwise identical to the stock wheel)
    Spokes: $35.20
    Spoke nipples: $3.84
    Labor to build wheel: $30.00
    Total, not including shipping and tax: $104.20.

    The SON, which I already had, runs about $150. I already had the headlights and taillights, so that didn’t cost me anything.

    Overall, I spent on it about what I spent on the NiteRider lights I have and I’ve had to replace the bottle battery on it at least twice.

    I don’t have to charge the SON lights and I don’t have to worry about carrying spare batteries.

    But, it sounds like I’m preaching to the choir.

  • Adrienne says:

    My Battavus has a generator light in the front (with a capacitor that keeps it on at stop lights and a sensor that turns it on automatically) and a battery powered rear light built into the rack. Both lights are VERY bright. I love that they are just there and have no issue with changing the batteries in the rear light every now and then (you can tell it is getting to be time because the lights start to get dim). My other bike has Planet Bike light sets on it, front and rear. I change the batteries on those as needed. I never take them off because they are cheap and easily replaceable. I have had the same set for two years.
    For the most part, we live in a pretty accessible country, here in the US. The one time my light battery gave out at night, I went a couple of blocks out of my way and bought some new batteries at Walgreen’s (5 minutes out of my life).
    This does not seem that complicated an issue. They are just lights, after all : )

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    Yeah, It’s not so ridiculous to build up a dynohub wheel, but given that most people pay around $500 total for their bike, asking them to build up a dynohub system (~$250 for the wheel and another $150 for lights) is kind of a lot to ask. In my case I was already building up a Rohloff bike so it was a drop in the bucket.

    And yes, you’re preaching to the choir ;)

  • hamilgs says:

    I agree with scenario #3. My Tour Easy is set up for commuting and touring, and has A SON hub dyno, plus two IQ Flys (senso with standlight, always left “on”, think daytime running lights) in series (mounted about 6″ apart), plus a wired 4D Toplight (with standlight), a rear Reellight, and two each Planet Bike Super Flash blinkies. When riding with the tailsok, I turn on a PB Blaze in blink mode inside the sok. I also have a Princeton Tec Apex zip tied to my helmet, and usually run it in flash mode while riding. Its also a great work light for repairs (so far, mostly for other cyclists!) or camping. I want to be seen, and redundancy is the watchword.–george

  • dwillis says:

    My always-on blinky is the Reelight SL120, white in front, red in back. $50 for the pair, mounts in 10 minutes if you’re a clutz. No batteries, runs from the magnet inducer mounted on the spokes. I also use battery powered lights (white LED front light on handlebars, white blinking LED on helmet and red LED flasher on rear rack), but if my batteries fail the Reelight is always on. I had a motorist pull over the other night to thank me for being so visible.

  • doc says:

    I like to ride for fitness and recreation, but with three kids, my evening time can be limited. I started with an Ixon IQ and ran that for a summer, until I was able to score a used dynohub wheel and IQ Fly. I run a PB Superflash on the back. Since I don’t have to worry about charging or running out of light, I find myself riding after dark more and more, through most of the winter (wool is king!) The Ixon is now on my grocery bike, tucked in the Barley, but I rarely use it anymore. Errands, fitness rides, day tours that run into the evening…a dynohub setup lets me do it all with no worries.

  • Steve Fuller says:

    A SON generator hub would be nice (and I’m thinking of getting one built for my LHT), but I switch bikes around too often to make using anything but battery powered lights practical for myself. I have had weeks where I’ve taken a different bike to work every day. Obviously, I’m in the minority, but for my case, the battery powered lights work better.

  • brett says:

    dwillis: I love the idea of reelights, but when I looked at them, I was told they were only mountable down on the wheel, not up at handlebar level. Do they Reelights that mount up high? Also, if they mount in 10 min, does that mean they’re easily stealable?

    I don’t think the wheel mounted lights alone provide enough visibility, especially for drivers pulling out of parallel parking to the right, so in addition to my wheel mounted friction light (which I seldom use because of the drag), I use a clip on Planet Bike Blaze on the handlebars. but I’d rather just have a permanently mounted set up.

  • brett says:

    oops, sorry, left out a word. That’s “Do they MAKE Reelights that mount up high?”

  • abe says:

    Re: spare halogen bulb protection (@ Ows, @ Karl), I embed them in cotton balls in an old 0.9-oz McCormick spice container (the small one). E.g. . An old film canister would work well, too, though those are harder to come by nowadays.

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