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Power To Go: The SON Dynamo Hub


SON DynamoFor a constant source of power on the road and bike lights that never run out of charge, the SON Dynamo hub should be at the top of your bicycle wish list.

We’ve been testing our SON hubs (with Supernova E3 Pro front lights) for about a year. That amounts to some 5,000km of riding. So far, we’re more than pleased. Our love of the SON hub can be summed up in two main points:

1. Power On Demand - You can now run bike lights and charge your mobile phones, GPS systems and other small gadgets, purely through the power of your legs. It is wonderfully freeing to know that you don’t have to worry about batteries any more.

2. Reliable - These hubs are known to be almost worry-free. They come with a 5 year guarantee and should easily see you through a long bike tour. So far, we haven’t had any issues at all to report.

Any disadvantages?

Nothing is perfect. Here are some potential downsides to consider. They’re not dealbreakers for us but you should be aware of them.

1. The Price – We paid €175 per hub. If you want to charge gadgets such as a mobile phone you’ll also need a separate adaptor. Ours is a prototype from Oddbikes (we’ve been told that the full production version will be on the market in March 2012 for about €85). Solutions currently on the market such as the E-Werk, PedalPower and ReeCharge cost about €100.

2. The Weight - Some people note that the hub is a bit heavy (580g) and generates extra resistance. We think the weight and drag is negligible when compared to the overall load of a heavy touring bike – not to mention all the extra batteries and chargers you’d be carrying around if you didn’t have the hub to provide power!

3. Not Field Serviceable - The SON hub is not meant to be repaired in the field. In the unlikely event that you do have problems with it, you’ll have to send it back to a dealer or the factory for repair.

How are we going to navigate this?A SON dynamo hub paired with a Supernova E3 Pro light.

What might go wrong?

We asked Marten Gerritsen, a dealer for SON hubs in the Netherlands, for some opinions on SON hubs and their reliability. He outlined the two most likely ‘worst-case’ scenarios as:

  • Electrical failure – This won’t stop you but will be annoying. Trying to ‘adjust the bearings’ is the main cause of this. A bad solder connection can also happen and to fix this you need special tools.
  • Bearing trouble - This usually happens because water got in the hub. The hub isn’t waterproof and shouldn’t be submerged, for example by crossing floods that are axle deep. Also do not grease the quick release as this blocks the vent hole. Bearing trouble starts as play at the rim, but if you ignore it eventually the bearing cage will collapse and leave you stranded. If you see rust water stains around the axle and detect a lot of play at the rim you’re living on borrowed time

Marten added that he’d never seen problems with broken flanges or with broken or bent axles.

In terms of preventative maintenance, he recommended checking the hub when the rim is replaced. Any play in the hub or irregular noises would be a sign that you should send the hub back to be rebuilt. The cost for this is around €50.

Marten added:

SON hubs come with a five year guarantee, based on experience. As far as the hub is concerned, a bike tour isn’t as bad as occasional use with long periods for corrosion in between. On a typical touring bike, chances are that a Rohloff hub will give trouble before the SON.

Another dealer, Peter White Cycles, says the hub is:

…designed to give at least 50,000 kilometers of trouble free riding between servicing…

That’s more than enough for most world bike tours. Bad luck can always happen but in general we’d be comfortable taking this hub on a long tour. And from the comments on our Facebook group, it seems a few other bike tourists love the SON hub as much as we do!

What Next?
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29 Responses to “Power To Go: The SON Dynamo Hub”

  1. I’ve been touring with the SON Hub for about a year now and cannot believe how I was riding without it before. The drag is so minimal you don’t notice it whatsoever (Maybe the first day, no different than putting lots of groceries in your pannier at first) – but the benefits have been immeasureable. I’ve been able to disappear on the beaten path for days even a week at a time and always have all my electronics charged. It’s also paid itself off in about a month and a half as I’m no longer heading to the coffee shop to charge things and getting sucked in my overpriced baked goods.

    I use a B&M E-Werk with it alonside a B&M Lumotec lamp. The only issue I have had as of yet is that the connectors have come a bit loose after some reckless riding in the Namibian Desert, which I didn’t notice until I had depleted all my backup batteries. Pliers tightened up the spade connectors easy enough. I carry an extra pair of spade connectors if mine ever become unusuable, as they use a wacky sizing that one can’t find outside of Europe.

  2. francesco says:

    Do you know any other (reliable) hub which charges electronical devices?

  3. Thanks for the review, guys.

    I’ve just had a Shimano Alfine dynamo hub laced up to the front wheel of my Surly Karate Monkey bike, and I am loving it (http://www.flickr.com/photos/14degrees/6794369871/in/photostream). I did consider the SON hub, but only for about three seconds, because the Alfine dynamo is sooooo much cheaper (about half the price). So what do you get for the extra money? Not much, as far as I can see.

    The Alfine dynamo hub has the same bearings as the Ultegra line, so that’s got to be a good thing. It has only marginally more drag than the SON when the light is on. If you take a look at the section labeled “It’s a Drag Man” on this webpage – http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/schmidt.asp – you’ll see that when the light is on, there is next to no difference in resistance between a Shimano dynamo hub and the SON hub.

    So, essentially, from what I can see, all you’re getting from your extra $150 or so, is less drag when your light is off (about 0.7 watts less effort). But when I spin my front wheel with the Alfine dynamo hub, the wheel seems to spin just as freely as when I had no dynamo hub on there. For about 95% of all cyclists, I’m sure that any difference in drag would be utterly negligible.

    I will admit, though, that the thought of having to deal with Shimano customer service, should anything go wrong with the hub on tour, sends shivers up my spine. I could imagine that SON customer service might be more approachable.

    Some more comparison resources:

    Alfine dynamo hub review – http://www.ecovelo.info/2011/09/12/supernova-e3-shimano-alfine-dynamo-lighting-system/

    Comparisons Alfine vs. SON (efficiency, wattage required for turning the wheel, weight, 1/5th down the page): http://www.peterwhitecycles.com/shimano3n70.asp

    I think what is comes down to, is that it’s probably a good idea to ask whether 10% more efficiency, 0.7 watts less effort (when the light is off), and 100g less weight is worth the extra dosh for the SON hub.

    • friedel says:

      Fair point, Rob. Yes, the SON is expensive.

      We paid the extra $$$ precisely because we don’t like to deal with problems on tour. We’re lucky enough to be at that point in our lives where we can afford to pay $150 extra for a product with a tested track record of reliability. Let’s call it a bit of bike touring insurance. Of course, we could always be unlucky…

      You do see the Shimano dynamos fitted to many commuting bikes here in the Netherlands (we even have one on our Brompton folding bike) and I’m fine with that because I know if it goes wrong that there’s a bike shop just around the corner that can fix or replace it.

    • Rif says:

      I’m not knocking your choice of hub Rob, but
      when faced with the same choice I decided that
      half the price but only 1/5 of the warranty didnt
      make economic sense to me.
      I bought the Sondelux for my 20″ wheels for its
      390g and “5″ year warranty.
      Matched with my Edelux headlight (also a Schmidt/Son
      product) I’ve no regrets

  4. Aushiker says:

    Another happy SON 28 owner here. Thanks BTW for the reminder about river crossings … got a few of those coming up. Need to carry the bike to protect the SON 28 and to fend off the salties :)

    Also have mine connected up to a PedalPower+ Super-i-Cable which is working out okay. Just have a little niggle with it seemingly not charging my Google Nexus S phone. Need to test that aspect a bit more.

    Thanks
    Andrew

    • Andrew, if it’s anything like an Iphone I had to invest in a cache battery to provide a steady 5V to the device. I have a Tekkeon MP7200 7200maH battery with two USB ports that I can use to charge two other devices from the E-Werk which gives me some backup and ability to use when I’m not using the bike.

      It solved my charging problems – I detail it all here:
      http://www.tiredofit.ca/2011/03/19/pedal-powered-electronics-charging-system/

      • Aushiker says:

        Thanks Dave for you comments and link. The PedalPower+ Super-i-Cable does have a 18650 2200 mAh battery so in theory at least provides that interface between the dynamo and the electronics. Unfortunately my PedalPower+ Super-i-Cable is not allowing me to power my lights and charge my Garmin Edge 800 at the same time or for that matter charge my Google Nexus S phone period. Hopefully it is simply a faulty unit and not a design issue as it does have the potential to be a good unit.

  5. Just while I remember it, here is another resistance test (SON vs. Shimano Alfine): http://www.thebikebiz.com/Articles.asp?ID=153

  6. Shane says:

    My Son/e-werks combination has been powering my gps 8-12 hours a day for most of the last 3 months, love it:)

  7. Rael Belterman says:

    I agree with your review. I love my SON Dynamo. Last European summer I had the Tout Terrain The Plug II connected to it. It is a much nicer looking charging device than others on the market because it is integrated into the steering stem. I wish i could post a photo of mine. Anything that uses a USB charger, including i-pod and i-phones can be charged with it (although not i-pads because there is not enough charge). No special cables needed, just the ones that come with the devices (if they are chargable with a USB). I used mine with the Garmin Edge 800, a mobile phone, and i-pod. With the Garmin fully charged, 12km/h would keep it charged, but trying to recharge it with the battery partly depleted, required higher speeds of closer to 20km/h ( although don’t quote me on this, it has been over six months since i used it), so not so good on hilly days.

  8. Rael Belterman says:

    I can’t charge and use the lights at the same time, though.

  9. Steve Jones says:

    “Chances are,that a Rohloff hub will give trouble before the Son”
    You’ll have to explain that one to me.
    Because I don’t believe you based on my own experience and the construction of the hubs and also what basis do you have ( testing? ) to make such a hypothesis?
    I don’t doubt that the Son is a good product.. but …

    • Rif says:

      You’ll have to take that quote up with
      Marten Gerritsen, a dealer for SON hubs in the
      Netherlands. Whilst the comment may show a
      little excess enthusiasm, few companies offer
      a five year warranty like the makers of the
      Son dynamo hub. Even their headlights are
      covered by this faith in their product, with
      the same warranty.

    • Robbie says:

      Means that the SON is awesome!

      You have to re-lube the Rohloff once a year or there abouts, and there’s lots of moving parts so it’s a fair call. Plus there is always the 7-8-7 change that can cause problems. Plus it does a lot more work – it’s a fair call.

      I love my Rolly and I love my SON!

  10. Gregor says:

    Nice review!
    Just wanted to mention that there’s now a lighter hub dynamo with higher efficiency available from Supernova (plus the switchable version)and Schmidt has also greatly improved the weight of the old SON28 shown here.

    Also, you didn’t mention my preferred dynamo charger “The Plug” built by Tout Terrain (also available under Supernova label)http://www.en.tout-terrain.de/accessories/electric-power-supply/

    Greeting from Germany!
    Gregor

  11. Gregor says:

    Nice review!
    Just wanted to mention that there’s now a lighter hub dynamo with higher efficiency available from Supernova (plus the switchable version)and Schmidt has also greatly improved the weight of the old SON28 shown here.

    Also, you didn’t mention my preferred dynamo charger “The Plug” built by Tout Terrain (also available under Supernova label)http://www.en.tout-terrain.de/accessories/electric-power-supply/

    Greetings from Germany!
    Gregor

  12. sz says:

    Ok, so if you submerge the SON hub, you might get water into the hub through the pressure compentsation system’s hole in the axle. Has anyone considered to build a snorkel for a dynohub? ;)

  13. Robbie says:

    Had a SON for about 5 or 6 years – have raced toured and commute on it. Bike has been ridden nearly every day 11 months of the year since – wet or dry. I leave my lights on day and night as it needs a smooth surface before you can tell if it’s on or not and NZ roads are mostly chipseal.

    I’d probably by a SON just for the bearings…

    Had a Rohloff fitted a few years ago and love it too (despite the weight)

    The only real competitor for SON might be the new Magnic system.

    http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dynamodirk/magnic-light-get-new-energy?ref=category

  14. davide says:

    LightCharge usb for bicycle (bottle dynamo and hub dynamo)

    http://blomming.com/mm/LightCharge/items?view_type=thumbnail

  15. Dave says:

    I’ve had a SON28 for a while and it’s been great. I recently took it on a short tour with a Bright-Bike Revolution (which I built) and the two worked well together.

  16. I have finally gotten around to having a shot at a home made USB charger for my smartphone, hooked up to my dynamo hub. It works like a treat (at least from the 1,000km I’ve toured with it so far): http://www.14degrees.org/en/?p=5203.

    With a plethora of charging options on the market these days (at very reasonable prices), there is less need to resort to DIY, but it can be quite fun :-)

    Cheers,
    Rob

  17. steve says:

    Hey, Was looking to get a way to power my gadgets while cycling (mostly my Sat Nav but if works well probably a light as well). I saw a few clip on dynamo’s to the outside of the wheel that look a bit nasty. Then i saw the dynamo hub. Looks really sleek and much better than a nasty add on. Only quick question i have is that i dont really know much about what the output from them is and how to connect a phone (moto g) to it. I think you need to buy an additional thing to spit out the power more consistently? Something like – Tigra Bike Charge Power Pack – 2600mAh Li-ion Battery. (just example for the basic principal not quality).

    If that is the case:
    1. Do dynamo hubs ever com with this built-in
    2. Or are there any dynamo hubs i can connect a moto g directly to?(charge recomentations between 500ma and 1.5A)
    3. Or maybe this is too costly a route for someone that is a casual fair weather cycler and i should just hook up a battery pack instead…. hmmm

    • Gregor says:

      Hi Steve,
      1. all hub dynamos produce AC, so you have to use a special charging device like The Plug.
      2. no
      3. Dynamo chargers are great for serious touring, brevets and other extreme adventures, but just a gadget for short trips.

  18. Tamara says:

    Has anyone come up with an adaptor or alternative connector system for the Schmidt SON28? Having to remove the wired connections each time I remove my front tire has become a pain in the tush – and is not a reliable way to maintain a connection between the hub and 1) headlight and 2) The Plug. Help!

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