I've had a Schmidt hub dynamo up and running on my commuter bike (tourer) for a few months now. It is the first dynamo I've ever owned. Until I learned about hub dynamos (and the Schmidt in particular), they didn't appeal to me. They were noisy and slowed you down too much. But after hearing many good stories about the Schmidt, and seeing how much my boyfriend liked his Shimano hub dynamo, I decided to go whole hog and get the Schmidt.
The hub comes in at least 32 and 36 hole versions. You can get it from the CTC in Britain (£125 including a Lumotec headlamp) and Peter White Cycles in the US ($185 by itself, or $215 with Lumotec headlamp). (The Peter White Cycles page has quite a bit of additional information on the Schmidt dynamo and Lumotec lamp, including pictures). Installing the hub, once you've got it made into a wheel, is easy. The hub has two prongs sticking up out of it near the fork end. The Lumotec lamp that comes with it has a switch on the back that turns the light on and off, and it has a wire attached that ends in two metal sleeves that fit over the prongs. Thus it isn't grounded through the frame. If you use the dynamo to power only the front light, then no further wiring is required, just replace the 6V 2.4W bulb (included) with a 6V 3W bulb. The Lumotec has a standard (for dynamo lamps) socket for attaching a bracket. The most common way to mount it is to get a bracket that puts it above the front wheel.
My first impression, when I got it on the bike was: so what? I have a dynamo. After all, dynamos really aren't very exciting. But as I got used to it, I began to appreciate many things about it. I never have to worry about having lights. I can't forget them at home, and I don't have to take them off when I park the bike outside. I don't have to worry about batteries (about buying new ones or about recharging them). I do have a spare bulb on board at all times, taped under the saddle, so no worries about spares either. It doesn't make any noise when I use it, and I don't notice the drag when it's on. If I'm riding it and switch it on and off, I think I can feel a difference, but it's little enough that I wonder if it's my imagination.
Last week I took it out for a serious lights test. My setup has the Schmidt hub dynamo powering the Lumotec front light (loaded with a 3W bulb); I use LED lights for the rear. I compared this against quite a few other lights. Before describing the results, I must say that it wasn't an ideal night for testing lights, as the moon was out and full, and there were plenty of clouds reflecting the nearby city and village lights. So it wasn't a very dark night.
The first comparison was against was my boyfriend's Shimano hub dynamo powering a Soubitez front light. He normally uses a 2.4W bulb in the front light, as he has a dynamo-powered rear light. For the test we removed the bulb from his rear light and put one of my spare 3W bulbs in his front lamp. The resulting light was less useful than what I have, but I think that this is mainly a comparison between the Lumotec and Soubitez lamps: I couldn't say for sure that one setup produced more light in total than the other. The light from the Soubitez produced a beam that spread out quite a bit more (in the horizontal direction) than the Lumotec, and there were lots of vertical stripes along the sides of the main beam. The Lumotec produced a tightly concentrated beam, with very little striping above, below, or to the sides of the main beam. The Lumotec beam was more useful for illuminating the road surface ahead of you, although perhaps the Soubitez beam would be better for making autos aware of your presence.
Second was a Cateye Micro Halogen (Cateye HL500 II) with new batteries. This give out a wider and taller beam than the Lumotec/Schmidt setup, but much dimmer. I got the impression that there was less total light as well. It wasn't as useful in picking out road irregularities. I like this little light (the Cateye) a great deal, and I was surprised that it didn't measure up better against my setup.
Third was a VistaLite 400 loaded with a 6W 6V bulb. This put out much more light than the Lumotec, but even when it was focussed as tightly as I could get it, it was less bright at the center than my Lumotec/Schmidt setup. With the VL400, the dimmer region away from the bright area was somewhat useful in picking out road features, and would clearly help in being seen by motorists. However, the rings in the beam made for a less pleasing beam pattern. I'm not really sure which I would prefer for general night riding on unlit roads...
Fourth was a VistaLite 500 lighting head with a 10W MR-11 bulb. This was better than the Lumotec/Schmidt setup in all respects. The central area was brighter, the dimmer area off to the sides was useful in seeing what was going on at the sides of the road, and the beam was smoother and whiter than my Lumotec/Schmidt setup.
In summary, the Lumotec/Schmidt setup is an effective light that can point out the features of the road well enough for you to avoid them. They are all I need for cycling to and from work (my route is reasonably well lit along most of the length).
When I'm out doing longer rides at night I'll probably add a VistaLite 400 with 6W bulb. The spot of the Lumotec is so narrow that it leaves me with a sort of tunnel vision: I feel uncomfortable seeing so little of the road surface. When used with a VL400, I'll see a much wider area of the road, and the Lumotec will help smooth out the beam of the VL400 and will add light just where I need it: on the road in front of me. However, if for some reason the VL400 stopped working (the bulb blew, for example) I would just complete my ride with the dynamo setup, as it's plenty sufficient. And I would feel comfortable doing a ride without any other lights if for some reason my battery-powered lights weren't available.
I started out using Reflectalite 6V 3W bulbs, but they burn out very quickly when powered by my Schmidt hub dynamo (lasting about 10 hours!). Phillips/Narva make 6V 3W bulbs that are much better suited to a higher powered dynamo. I got a couple of them as samples from Andreas Oehler (Andreas.Oehler@gmx.de), and I haven't blown one yet. The CTC were sent a few of these bulbs. They tested them carefully and just stocked a small number.
I sent an email to the CTC recently asking about the status of these bulbs, and this is the reply I got: "Thanks for your email regarding the Phillips bulbs. We do have a few in stock and would be delighted to mail them to you. You can order these by credit cardit via the telephone/fax/e mail."
More bike and light articles
If you're interested in exactly how much power a Schmidt hub dynamo puts out at different speeds and for different loads, click here.