F***ing Generators - How Do They Work?

Raphael Cycles full-dress tourer Raphael Cycles full-dress tourer

The Insane Clown Posse apparently does not know how magnets work, as versed in their song "Miracles" from a few years back. That begs the question if they would know how generators work. Probably not. They likely could not explain how torque works, or what cadence is, or why gear ratios are important and what they mean. Maybe were I a little more creative I too could produce a video with hopes of it going viral on Youtube. I'd like to go into detail about all of these things but I must digress.


I'm fascinated by generator hubs and lighting systems. If I were to suggest any advanced reading I would point people to Peter White's various articles. In fact, most of the lights we carry are ordered from his shop. While he claims to be the "home of the Schmidt dynohub" we at Box Dog Bikes are also well versed in the technology and jump at the opportunity to diagnose, install, and set folks up with such systems no matter the budget or other limitations. My post here is not intended to be a mechanical or scientific exposition on hardware but more so a highlight of the gear I use and work on here in the shop.


My first personal interaction with generator systems came with the acquisition of a used Shimano Dynamo hub. A wheel came into the shop on donation and after it sat around for a while I yanked it and cut the hub out. I had an unmatched Campagnolo Atlanta '96 hoop sitting in my closet with the same hole count and decided to build it up with the Shimano unit. Next I needed a light so I browsed and browsed and decided on the Supernova E3 Pro. My sport touring rig was set up with a front rack and proved to be the suitable bike for the wheel. The E3 Pro can be placed on the handlebars with the appropriate mount or bolted somewhere else. Up on top is an image of a possible solution.


After a few months of use I can honestly say the relationship between those two bits (hub and light) were not optimal. Granted, the dynamo was used and I wasn't about to explode the thing, "overhaul it and cross my fingers. The output was at times inconsistent. Flickering here and there, deciding when to go on full blast and when to transition into mood lighting. Think of it like a derailleur out of adjustment which might ghost shift and slip gears. Don't get me wrong - when the light worked it surprised me how well it covered the road in front of me. It's got a simple on/off switch behind the head to conserve lamp life. The unit is hardwired, runs directly to the hub and includes a set of wires for a rear light. I opted for the matching E3 Tail Light. Take note, without a rear light, the E3 Pro leaves you with a hardwired rear string just dangling and awaiting to be laced up. Both of these things can be special ordered and are comparable in price (roughly $200 and $50, front and rear, respectively) to the other products we rep hard.


Soon it was time to upgrade. I wanted a fail-safe system that I didn't have to worry about. I picked up a SON Wide Body hub, very similar to the SON Deluxe up on our webstore. This thing rolls so smoothly and quietly that it feels no different than a well-adjusted loose ball hub. The drag on Shimano product I mentioned earlier is noticeable, more so at low speeds, but basically unnoticeable on the Schmidt. Like with many things, you get what you pay for. I'll go right out and say it - the extra cost on the Schmidt is totally worth springing for. While I suck up the weight penalty on a heavy front wheel I'm confident it'll spin for years before anything out of the ordinary happens.


My advice to anyone looking to enter the generator market is to do it right the first time - buy new and have it installed professionally. That's what we're here for. Noteworthy is this - for the rest of December, Box Dog Bikes is discounting complete generator wheels, hubs, and lights by 20% and slashing labor charges in half! The days are shorter this time of year. Just think of it! A new lighting system to run year-round without the hassle of batteries and recharge times. To quote Arnold Schwarzenegger from Predator, "Come on... Come on! Do it! Do it! Come on. Come on! --- Come on! --- Come on! Do it now!"


December 05, 2012 by Geoff
Tags: journal
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