The idea of creating light without a power source is compelling. But most bike riders rely on bike lights that are rechargeable, have replaceable batteries or they use a dynamo hub that delivers power while you ride. For each of these bike light solutions there pros and cons.
Hub dynamos are typically pre-installed on a bike and only rarely would a rider upgrade and install a hub dynamo. They provide the convenience of generating light while pedalling without no batteries or recharging. But on the flip-side, hub dynamos are typically heavier, bulkier and are usually not suited for high-powered lights. Bottle dynamos and bottom bracket dynamos are outdated variations which you will spot on vintage bikes so are not serious contenders more modern day bike riders.
Rechargeable bikes lights on the other hand can be built with the ability to deliver a lot of light and also includes options for brightness and flashing as well as flexible mounting. But riders still have to ensure they are recharged and this inconvenience can also mean that the bicycle lights are unmounted regularly from the bike. Small blinky lights and other lights with replaceable batteries have more limited light power and a bigger environmental footprint.
What if you could create pure energy from thin air?
Forget batteries and heavy dynamos. The Danish brand Reelight have a intriguing alternative for bike lighting. While it won’t tick all the boxes for all bicycle riders, for some riders it delivers a lot of appeal. The Nova are front and rear bike lights that require no external power and have no moving parts. Let’s find out how it works.
Magic or Science?
A regular hub dynamo is a good comparison, the hub contains magnets which pass by copper coils and generates an electrical current as the wheel turns. Old style (bottle and bottom bracket) dynamos which touch and spin against the bike tyre or spokes use exactly the same principle.
The Reelight is a contactless solution and relies on the spinning bike wheel to generate eddy currents and power the bike lights. It still requires a magnet to be positioned close to the bike wheel but there is no contact and no rotating parts. Like regular dynamo lights, as you pedal, the light shines and it even stores a little energy so that it flashes while you are waiting for the traffic lights to change.
To see a practical example of eddy currents, the following short video demonstrates using magnets and an aluminium can. Youtube Video – Eddy Currents.
Although it is science, it feels magical and this makes it far more interesting. Bus it also comes with a few benefits that can make it the ‘right’ light for certain cyclists. The good news is that for the rest of this review, we can now ignore the science. One thing to note before moving into the installation and testing is that the magnetic unit used in the Reelight is in fact a contactless dynamo and although it shares the same name, it is not to confused with other types of dynamos mentioned previously.
Installing the Reelight Nova’s
The newest Reelight models are the Nova series and you can purchase the dynamo unit ($50 each) and light individually ($28 each), but it makes sense to bundle them ($72). In comparison to your average hub dynamo (which usually can power a front and back bike light), for the Nova you need a single dynamo unit for each the light unit. The rear light is available either as a seat-mounted light or a model that can be attached to an existing bike rack.
The contactless dynamo unit is mounted with wire (rather than bulky mount) and is fastened using a small hex key which is included. The key is easy to loose, but you can also use a regular hex tool. The dynamo needs to be set close to the rim and when you have a good position, the wire is looped around the hook and tightened. A ‘ball-joint’ connection in the dynamo means that even after it is security mounted, it can be adjusted.
The front light and rear seat-post lights use an O-ring mount. I am not a fan of this temporary type of mount but as neither of the lights are heavy, it is a basic and effective option. For this review, I opted for the rack mounted rear light version rather than the seat mounted light. To install, I simply removed the previous light and screwed the new one into place.
When considering bike security, if I was parking the bike at the train station every day, the Nova would not be my first choice.
The final step to complete installation is to connect the cable between the dynamo and light. The water-tight connectors makes it a little fiddly so you have to ensure that the cable ends are properly inserted all of the way. With trial and error you can test position the contactless dynamo and then you are ready to ride. If you have both a front and a back, then you need to check the dynamo position for each.
A nice touch for installation is that the instructions are printed on the paper packaging and there is no unnecessary plastic packing. In summary, installation of the Nova bike lights is well explained and straight-forward. You should also be aware that you need aluminium rims and if you have carbon fibre rims, this is not the right solution for you.
The lights are brighter than I expected however I would still define the Nova Reelight as a light to be seen but not to see. On paper the lights deliver up to 60 Lumens and this depends on your speed. Although this light is bright enough that it will be uncomfortable to stare directly into, the range and intensity won’t light up the surrounds.
When the dynamo is positioned too far away from the rim, you may get a flashing light and eventually no light at all. Unlike a battery powered light, there are no settings for brightness or flashing mode. But the light does store a little energy so that when you stop, it will continue flashing for a little will and this will typically be enough for a traffic light change.
The dynamo unit can be moved by hand which this is convenient for adjusting position (stop your bike first, you don’t want your hands around spinning spokes). But this is also a disadvantage as I found that the dynamo invariable moves and ends up touching the ring when I lock it up at work. Correcting is easy, but something I have to do frequently before riding.
Are Reelights the Right Light for you?
If you demand powerful bike lights, this is not right for you. If you already have a hub dynamo on your bike or have an e-bike, you already have a power source. And if you want lights on a budget, the Reelight Nova’s are in a completely different ballpark.
The pricing of ca. $72 (light and dynamo bundle) automatically makes this a premium product but the Danish ingenuity gives you a twist of elegance and simplicity. The Reelight Nova’s will appeal to riders who will appreciate this unique bike light as a feature or talking point. Young professionals and socially active city folk who place value on riding a special bike (perhaps something minimalistic or a lovely old-timer) can now pair their bicycle with the enchanting Reelight Novas, an alternative to the run-of-the-mill rechargeable bike lights.
To justify the pricing somewhat, the construction quality is excellent and easily differentiates itself from cheap and nasty products. Without the moving parts or battery degradations, my expectation is that the Nova’s are built to last.
Further Product Information: reelight.com
Update: The Australian distributer for Reelight products is MASK Australia and they supply bike shops across Australia.