SON Generator Hubs and Lights

SON Generator Hubs and Lights

Compass Bicycles has added SON generator hubs and Edelux lights to our program. We are excited to carry the best bicycle lighting systems ever made.
A few years ago, a reporter asked me what I considered the most important innovation in bicycles during the last half-century. After thinking about the many innovations that have been branded as “game changers,” I answered: “Generator hubs and modern lights.” (The only other thing that comes close are clipless pedals.)
Generator hubs have made bikes far more useful, because you now can ride as well at night as during the day. No longer do you need to worry how much charge you have left in your batteries. Nor do you have to ride the brakes on descents, so you don’t outrun the beam of your dim lights that are powered by a sidewall dynamo. In the rain, you no longer worry about your generator slipping on the wet tire.
Generator hubs have made bicycles as convenient as cars: When it gets dark (or you enter a tunnel), you just flip a switch, and the lights come on. They are always there, not consuming significant energy when they are off, and very little when they are on. (In fact, we didn’t even wire a switch on my son’s bike. His lights are on all the time, like those of modern cars.)

Schmidt Maschinenbau (above), a small company with 28 employees, developed the first modern generator hubs. They continue to make the best generator hubs and LED lights in their small factory in Germany. Most of their suppliers are within cycling distance, and they pick up many parts by bicycle.
For years, we have collaborated with Schmidt Maschinenbau on testing the resistance of generator hubs and the beam patterns of lights and have made suggestions for products, such as the SON 20R (now called Delux) and the connector-less hubs, which transmit the current to a special dropout without wires to unplug when you remove the wheel. We have been using their hubs and lights for many years on our own bikes.

We are proud to announce that Compass Bicycles now sells Schmidt’s SON generator hubs and Edelux headlights. Click here for more information.

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Comments (37)

  • Ryan

    Any word if they’ll make a new SON 20 in the style of the new SON 28?
    I’d prefer that over the SONdelux.

    November 3, 2011 at 10:10 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      The old SON28 also is being phased out in favor of a new model. The new hubs are lighter and have less resistance. The only disadvantage of the Delux is the narrow flange spacing. (The wheels still appear to be strong enough, as witnessed here.)
      I have asked for a SON Delux (20) with wider flanges. We’ll keep you posted if something materializes along those lines.

      November 3, 2011 at 10:40 am
  • Willem

    Schmidt actually do a proprietary SONdelux 20 with very wide flanges for German Bicycle manufacturer Idworx.

    November 3, 2011 at 10:45 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      They used to make those, Idworx now uses the new SON28. The wide-flange hub would be similar to the Idworx special model that you can see here (scroll down to “idworx 2010”).

      November 3, 2011 at 11:08 am
  • Ville M

    I have this hub and light, it works great, my only concerns is occasional slight “shake/woble”, its very small and only happens occasionally when light is on, but noticeable on some downhills etc, any reason for concern?

    November 3, 2011 at 11:09 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      If the “shake/wobble” is due to a light mount that is not strong enough, then I’d make sure that the light is supported well enough.
      If you get a flickering at low speeds, that is normal. The hub’s impulses are translated into flickering of the light. If the flickering occurs at high speeds, then I’d have the light checked out by whomever you bought it from. That isn’t normal, and having your light fail could ruin your ride.

      November 3, 2011 at 11:48 am
  • Scott G.

    Are there any plans to update the light to current leds ?, to Cree XM-L for instance ?
    Lights with a wider beam and longer throw for those of us outside German regulations.

    November 3, 2011 at 12:23 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Schmidt has been updating their LEDs, so the latest Edelux lights are much brighter than the first ones. I wonder how bright is enough… I don’t like beams that are too bright, because it makes me ride in a tunnel of light in the dark night. In fact, when the moon is full, I often turn off my lights.

      November 3, 2011 at 12:58 pm
      • John Romeo Alpha

        How bright is bright enough surely depends on riding conditions. For the city I ride in, though, where there are few cyclists, dark streets, trails, and paths, and not great awareness by motorists of cyclists, the brightest light I can get is bright enough. A very bright HID or one of the newer very bright LED headlights works best for me. However: I don’t always feel like carrying one of those along. So I still do have interest in hub generators, and keep my eyes open for one which is bright enough, and takes into account that I will probably need to remove the light from the bike for security reasons when I park it.

        November 5, 2011 at 7:58 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I have not heard of a single incident of a generator-powered light being stolen. Not only is it difficult to remove, but the “black market” for such components does not appear to exist. A battery-powered light with a quick release obviously is easier to take and easier to sell. My front wheel might get stolen by somebody who does not even realize what is inside the big hub (nor that the 650B wheel size means that few riders have much use for it), but that applies to all front wheels. Similarly, the headlights of my car are quite expensive to replace, yet I am not worried about somebody stealing them, because they are integrated into the car and hard to remove. If I had expensive wheels, I’d be concerned about them getting stolen and might use a locking wheelnut.
          Regarding brightness, I agree that in the city, brighter can be better, but blinding oncoming traffic is not only discourteous, but also unsafe. So what you need is a bright light with a beam that is cut off at the top. In fact, that is how car headlights on low beam work…

          November 5, 2011 at 8:09 am
      • Branson

        Jan, I have one of the first series of Edelux lights, and it is noticeably weaker than those of friends. Will Schmidt upgrade earlier Edelux LEDs, and if not, would you ask that they do so?

        November 6, 2011 at 4:56 am
        • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

          I asked to Andreas Oehler about this. His reply was:
          1. The new Edelux have a 5% brighter LED than the earlier ones, which is hardly noticeable. What people notice is the different light color, which has been optimized to be easier on the eyes. Schmidt could retrofit the new LEDs, but they feel that the benefit is too small to warrant the cost.
          2. The new, super-bright LEDs have a larger illuminated surface and thus would not work in a small reflector like the one used on the Edelux. That is why they don’t use them. I would add that I am not sure I want a light that is brighter than the Edelux.

          November 6, 2011 at 9:44 am
      • Alex

        to reply to Jan and John Romeo Alpha regarding theft of generator lights: there has been a spate of bicycle part thefts in Berlin over the last decade, with everything from derailleurs to generator lights being stolen. A bit strange, to be sure, but it happens. That’s one reason Pitlock (a Berlin company) offers locks for almost everything these days, including generator lights. so there’s a solution.

        November 7, 2011 at 11:23 am
  • Garth

    Recently while camping with my children I noticed the cheapy LED flashlight my daughter was using had a better effect than my old incandescent mag-lite. First, the color temperature of the LED matched the moonlight. Second, the beam pattern diffused at the edges. Both of these factors counteracted the “tunnel effect” to the extent that the old Mag Lite felt “painful” on my eyes.

    November 3, 2011 at 1:30 pm
  • Ben

    Any plans to offer dynamo-powered tail lights?

    November 3, 2011 at 2:12 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      We plan to offer the Busch & Müller Seculites soon, but there really isn’t a taillight that combines elegant appearance with excellent function yet. Many constructeurs are making their own, but being made in small batches, they are not really affordable (and usually available only if you buy a bike).

      November 3, 2011 at 2:22 pm
      • cept

        I really hope SON develops a rear light that matches their Edelux in light quality and appearance. That would be excellent.

        November 4, 2011 at 4:41 pm
      • Alex

        my third comment on this thread! geez. anyway, hope this is useful: re. rear lights: one thing i’ve done is to use LED lightbulbs (they look like the old fashioned lightbulb for bikes, but they have an LED and a condensor in them, instead of a filament) in my old mudguard-mounted light housings. they work brilliantly in every sense, and even have a standlight, ie. the condensor produces power for a few minutes after you stop. there’s one for the front as well, which doesn’t work with shimano hubs, but the red, rear light works with all hubs. search for “Bike Light LED Birnchen” or “Bikelight”, a german language based search might make it easier. ca. 9 EUR.

        November 7, 2011 at 11:49 am
  • Ian Kizu-Blair (@iankizublair)

    Agreed that generator hubs and lights are a truly amazing innovation. My cycling habits have changed dramatically since getting my generator. I don’t worry about being caught out by sunset on long rides. I am able to plan more audacious rides. I’ve ridden around the top of Mount Tam at night on roads closed to cars after sundown, surrounded only by myriad creatures like owls, bats, coyotes, deer and turkeys. I’ve ridden all through the night to meet my parents for breakfast at their home 85 miles from San Francisco. Brevets have been a lot more stress-free as I don’t worry about a fading flashlight and batteries.
    Additionally, I find the generator headlight and taillight to be excellent for city riding. I don’t have to worry about bringing a superflash around with me and taking it inside in my pocket everytime I lock my bike up. It’s safer and easier.
    I feel there will be a major shift to generator lights among non-randonneurs over the next 10 years. It’s already starting in San Francisco. I am curious to see what other innovative products the hub could power. I’m thinking things like brake lights, turn signals, and music systems.

    November 3, 2011 at 2:28 pm
    • Alex

      Busch & Müller already have the braking function integrated in one of their newest products, the TOPLIGHT Line brake plus. Technology is called BrakeTec. coming soon. not sure how noticable it would be in a big city. . . . Their new Toplight mini is also not bad looking for a rack mounted light, in the sense that it is quite small . . .

      November 4, 2011 at 2:45 am
      • Ian Kizu-Blair

        Interesting Alex, thanks for the heads up. I watched the promo video ( and although it is impossible to tell how bright the brake light is, it certainly appears noticeable in the video. Brake lights would be very helpful riding with cars. I currently use hand gestures but am not sure how effective they are. Turn signals would be another huge boost since signaling turns with hands makes it impossible to use the brake simultaneously.

        November 4, 2011 at 2:54 pm
  • Richard James

    I have three of these SONdelux hubs (rode one at PBP) and one of all the earlier models (even on my Brompton). Have two questions about the SONdelux+eDelux combo:
    1.) How could anyone other than the factory realistically replace the bearings? I know they have a very long projected service life, but in theory my errand bike will need two SONdelux bearing replacements before the Rohloff in the rear wears out (assuming I live that long)
    2.) During PBP I found my eDelux anti-socially bright for riding in groups. Other riders without such a bright light find themselves in a shadow if I am behind, and it seems only North American riders have this sort of gear. I enjoyed late night discussions with the FFCTers, so I switched off the eDelux and used my single AA-cell backup light for most of the ride. Outside of PBP I love the eDelux– it’s perfect for solo training rides and night riding local randos who are similarly equipped. The question: Can we have a switch-selectable standlight brightness? Flipping the switch to recharge the standlight every 2 minutes gets old fast, but the standlight does provide the right amount of light to ride in a group. It’s easy to switch on the high intensity when taking a pull at the front. Might also be neat to have a remote switch option for constructeur bikes to also have this “high/low beam” option

    November 3, 2011 at 4:07 pm
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      1. Having seen a disassembled SON20 hub, it becomes clear that this is not a job for the home mechanic. My oldest hub had one bearing fail after more than 10 years and almost daily use. It was clear that it got contaminated when moisture got sucked in as the air volume inside the hub contracted. Newer SON hubs have a temperature compensation system that prevents this from happening. (The other bearing was in perfect shape – clearly, the air took the path of least resistance, and one bearing had tighter seals than the other.) So I am not too worries about my SON hub requiring a bearing replacement. It’s like an SKF bottom bracket – you cannot replace the bearings yourself, but you also won’t need to do so. In fact, Schmidt gives a 5-year warranty on their hubs.
      2. I agree that a low beam would be a great feature. We have written about this in Bicycle Quarterly, and we’ve expressed our desires to Schmidt directly as well.

      November 3, 2011 at 4:15 pm
  • Alexander Regensburg

    Fully agree. Ride the Schmidt setup for 3 years and it works fine. Further improvements like better integration with USB chargers and the option to set different brightness would be very welcome though.
    OT: Have you written somewhere why you think that clipless pedals are such an improvement?
    I returned to clips after 10 years of riding clipless and I really do not see the point. On MTB I even think they are clearly dangerous. I think Grant Peterson has the same opinion so it would be interesting to get your perspective.

    November 4, 2011 at 7:39 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Clipless pedals are one of the few things that affect the interface of rider and bike. You pedal 70-90% of the time you spend on a bike. (Shifting is something you do very rarely by comparison.) Thus, clipless pedals have had a large impact. For me, the main impact is 1) having shoes that form a firm interface with the pedal, yet are easy to walk in, and 2) not having to choose between loose toestraps that risk slipping out or cutting the circulation to your feet.
      I raced for years with toeclips and straps, and I still occasionally ride bikes with traditional pedals, but for most riding, I prefer clipless pedals. Others may have other preferences, but I don’t think one can deny that this technology has had a large effect on how we ride.

      November 4, 2011 at 8:57 am
      • Steve Palincsar

        Clipless pedals may have caused us to change our shoes (and I’m certainly happier not having my toenails feel like 10-penny nails were driven through them at the 50 mile rest stop, which always was a feature of my riding with toe clips) but beyond that, I really don’t see them having “changed the game” in any fundamental way.
        On-board instrumentation — computers, GPS units — now those really have changed the way we ride. Online mapping applications have had a profound impact on the way I design rides, making it possible for me to create new ride variations and cue sheets complete with accurate cues and mileages for almost every ride I lead (and I lead over 50 rides a year).
        Drive train enhancements have made wide range and closely spaced gearing possible, something we only dreamed of back in the 1970s; and thanks to indexed shifting, “While you’re at it, would you grind me a pound?” is no longer heard throughout the land. Some folks will even tell you integrated shift-brake levers have “changed everything,” and it’s true that in many cases they have changed the way people are positioned on bikes.
        Also, if “the game” is the industry, the shift to carbon as a frame material and the shift to manufacture in China have certainly changed the game.
        Compared to all these, I think clipless pedals are pretty small potatoes.

        November 8, 2011 at 1:29 pm
    • RJ

      “On MTB I even think they are clearly dangerous.”
      I have a much different opinion about that. To me being clipped in gives me far more control over the bike. And if things do go wrong the release is effectively automatic. IMO clipless is actually much safer, in the same way a modern ski binding is.

      November 6, 2011 at 8:11 am
  • RJ

    I noticed in the comments a few people looking for some specific features in an LED dyno light. I suggest a look at Light On, Some features of their dyno lighting systems include:
    – Dual level brightness (250/450 lumen)
    – Automatic stand light dimming
    – Dyno powered tail lights
    – American made!

    November 6, 2011 at 8:25 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      Those lights do look interesting, but they don’t mention the beam pattern. In the photos, it looks like a standard round beam, which even in the low-beam setting might blind oncoming traffic.

      November 6, 2011 at 9:46 am
      • RJ

        That is possible. Blinding on coming traffic seems to be really popular these days, way too many people in cars driving around with auxiliary lights on when they shouldn’t be too.
        At least bikes primarily operate farther to the right in the traffic pattern so personally I’m less concerned with that aspect.

        November 6, 2011 at 10:34 am
  • Tom

    Will you be able to offer an inverted-mount Edelux light for those who need/prefer that form-factor?

    November 6, 2011 at 9:06 am
  • Scott Snelling

    How about a nice, high quality fender mounted rear red reflector? Grand Bois or anyone else have some of those you can import?

    November 8, 2011 at 12:26 pm
    • Steve Palincsar

      Indeed yes, both reflectors and battery-operated fender mount lights with performance that will meet modern German standards but with the elegance and style of 1950s French units.

      November 8, 2011 at 1:33 pm
  • Theo

    In 1996 I bought my first SON. Production number 75 and still in use on my commuter for daily ride to work (15km one way). After having worn at least one dynamo per year this was in my opinion a major step towards trouble-free commuting. About two or three years ago I had to change the rim the third time and used this occasion to get new bearings. The mileage for this SON is about 70000km. Two more SON’s are in my family’s use and for my new commuter I plan to include a SON SL. All our kid’s bikes have dynohubs now, although no SON’s yet.
    LED-lights in the back and the front were the next important improvements, which make commuting in cross-city trafic much safer. I can not understand all these cyclist running in the dark without lights, and often wearing dark clothes.
    Next best to my SON products and ahead of index Ergopower grips and clipless pedals are my Ortlieb panniers. I use a pair of front rollers for 15 years now, have added some back rollers and an Office bag to be flexible for the needs of the day.

    November 12, 2011 at 5:48 am
    • Jan Heine, Editor, Bicycle Quarterly

      I agree that Ortlieb bags are very functional – our family has four sets – but the old-style Sologne bags, now made by Berthoud, offer as much functionality. They are as waterproof and as durable. What Ortlieb introduced wasn’t so much a superior technology, but well-made cycling bags that were widely available. I didn’t even know about Sologne back then, and the panniers we had before were inexpensive ones made from Cordura – after a few seasons, they were leaking and ripping apart everywhere.

      November 12, 2011 at 7:04 am

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