Articles on this site contain affiliate links, meaning we may be compensated without any added extra costs for you if you purchase a product after clicking them.

Bicycle Lighting - Dynamo Lighting or Headlights with Battery?

bicycle lighting

Lighting is essential for cyclists, especially in traffic, and often a lifesaver. Especially in the dark season, drivers are otherwise quickly overlooked or surprised by sudden obstacles. But which lighting suits you and your requirements? No matter whether battery light, hub or magnet dynamo, this guide gives you all the information you need to equip your bike in accordance with the road traffic regulations.

Why is bicycle lighting important?

Since people find it difficult to keep their bearings in the dark, the benefits of bicycle lighting are pretty obvious. On the one hand, as a cyclist you see no obstacles without light and on the other hand you remain virtually invisible to other road users without lighting. Anyone who has seen cyclists without lights on a country road at night knows what they are talking about.

There are no more excuses. It is no longer necessary to carry permanently installed lighting systems that are ready for use day and night. Instead, battery or battery operated lamps are allowed. Additional functions such as daytime running lights, high-beam headlights and brake lights are also permitted, which will delight owners of modern e-bikes in particular. But which lighting suits you now?

Dynamo Lighting or Headlights with Battery?

Although there are other systems, hub dynamo and battery lights are the most common. Both systems have their own advantages and disadvantages, which we will discuss in the coming sections.

With the dynamo lighting, the current is generated by your own pedaling power by converting the kinetic energy into electrical energy using a dynamo. With the right hardware, this energy can be used not only for lighting, but also for charging electrical devices such as smartphones or GPS devices. Battery lights can also often be used as an emergency generator for smartphones thanks to the USB connection. Here, as is easy to guess, the electricity comes from a battery, which in principle does not matter which device it supplies. In addition, the lamps also work off-bike, for example as a flashlight.

If the summer is too hot during the day, you might like to do a night ride with your bike.

Quick Overview

  • Dynamo lighting converts kinetic energy into electrical current, which can be used for lighting or for charging electrical devices
  • Battery lights work with a battery, the current of which can also be used for lighting and often also for electrical appliances

Dynamo Lighting

A dynamo lighting basically consists of rotating permanent magnets that generate a magnetic field, which in turn induces an electrical voltage on a coil. A distinction can be made between dynamos with and without a disengageable transmission. With the latter, the idle losses are eliminated, since the dynamo can be decoupled when it is not in use. However, when the dynamo is switched on, the efficiency is not as high as with gearless systems. Therefore, in most bikes you can find dynamos without gears. You also know the side-runner dynamos from ancient times. In principle, these work in the same way, but are not seated in the hub. Instead, they are driven over the tire by means of a small wheel. However, due to their lower efficiency, they are rarely installed these days.

The main advantages of hub dynamos are weather resistance and low maintenance. A high-quality dynamo usually works for years without any abnormalities or repairs. In addition, you are particularly self-sufficient because the electricity generation is completely dependent on your own legs. Thanks to the integration of the dynamo in the hub and the permanent integration of the lighting, thieves have a very difficult time. This is a huge plus for city bikes in particular.

They are very quiet and efficient. Since the kinetic energy is converted into electrical current, you naturally have to accept a minimal loss of power. But this is not really noticeable. However, if you want to get the last bit of efficiency out of your bike, you should not take a dynamo lighting. Because these also weigh a little more than battery lights.

Quick Overview

  • Dynamo lighting converts kinetic energy into electrical current using induction
  • With dynamos without a disconnectable gearbox, there are always minimal no-load losses
  • In contrast to side rotor dynamos, hub dynamos are still very efficient and noiseless
  • Thanks to weather resistance and low maintenance, they are suitable for all weather conditions and also for frequent drivers
  • The system works independently and independent of external power sources
  • The overall system is usually heavier than a set of battery lights

How to install a Dynamo Lighting?

A dynamo is mounted like a classic hub. You need the right spokes in the right length and then spoke the hub dynamo into the rim. The correct length can be determined with spoke computers. Of course, it is easier if you already use a pre-spoked wheel. Then you just have to change the wheels. Most of the lights for the hub dynamos are attached behind the brake caliper, which is why they can be mounted while the wheels are being replaced. Then it goes to the wiring. Most dynamos have a small connector into which two cables can be inserted. This must then be plugged back into the appropriate place on the dynamo so that each cable touches a contact surface. Now you put the other ends in the front light. Of course, you have to pay attention to plus and minus here.

The taillights are usually connected to the front light in the same way. If you have not made a mistake in the wiring, the lighting should now work.

Quick Overview

  • Hub dynamos are spoked like normal hubs. You just have to pay attention to the correct spoke length
  • Already stored impellers with dynamo can easily be exchanged for the standard impeller
  • When wiring, pay attention to the correct poles and the careful assembly of the cables for the plug connections
  • Taillights are usually not connected to the dynamo, but to the front light

Headlights with Battery

The battery light is always the choice when a hub dynamo cannot be installed properly. Mountain bikes in particular often lack the mounting options for permanently installed lights. In addition, the selection of hub dynamos for the installation widths of modern forks is quite limited. But battery lights are also popular on city bikes, as they are usually much cheaper. A distinction can be made between lights with an integrated battery and those with an external battery. In the latter case, the battery can mostly also be used to charge other electronic devices. However, more and more lights with an integrated battery are also offering this option.

No matter where the battery is located, the lights are usually very easy and flexible to install. Usually only one pole is needed. It is often irrelevant whether this is the handlebar, the seat post, the tubes of the frame or what else comes to mind. However, you should not leave these lights on the bike if you park it somewhere. Of course, thieves have an easy job here. In addition, you always have to keep an eye on whether the battery is charged. Since you cannot charge it while driving, you are literally in the dark when the battery is empty. Forgetful drivers may be better served with a hub dynamo.

Quick Overview

  • Lights with batteries always make sense when there is no way to permanently install light
  • They are cheaper and more flexible to install
  • Many battery lights offer the possibility of charging other electronic devices
  • You always have to keep an eye on whether the batteries are charged
  • Battery lights are usually not theft-proof

Bicycle Lighting: Conclusion

There is no clear winner when it comes to whether dynamo or battery lights are better. Rather, it depends on the individual use case. Anyone who travels very often and regularly in the dark or in cloudy conditions should think about a hub dynamo. Commuters in particular simply need a reliable solution that does not have to deal with empty batteries or forgotten lights. The performance losses are absolutely negligible here, the reliability, freedom from maintenance and constant functionality are simply unbeatable arguments.

Price-sensitive city bikers will also be happy with battery lights if they remember to recharge it. Sporty drivers, who rarely or only need light depending on the season, have a hard time with a hub dynamo solution. Thanks to the flexible assembly and the lower weight, a battery light on a road bike usually cuts a better figure. Hardly any mountain biker or racing cyclist wants to ride a permanently installed lighting system all year round or want to convert the bike depending on the conditions. It can therefore be roughly said: commuters and city bikers should rely on a hub dynamo, while sporty drivers prefer to use batteries.