How to Buy Vintage Bicycle Lights on eBay

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How to Buy Vintage Bicycle Lights on eBay

There is an ever-growing market for vintage bicycle parts and accessories,, and cyclists all around the world are customising their current bike set up with vintage accessories. There are a number of reasons why people do this, as some do it for aesthetic purposes while others claim that vintage accessories are better made and longer lasting. Vintage bicycle lights are one of the most popular accessories people currently buy, but it’s important for buyers to have some knowledge of the vintage lights available before beginning a search.

eBay is one of the best places to search for vintage bicycle accessories, and this is especially true of vintage bicycle lights. Buyers will find a large selection of lights at much lower prices than those found in stores. The following guide shall examine the most commonly bought vintage bicycle lights, and how to find a suitable light on eBay.

Vintage Bicycle Accessories

Vintage bicycle accessories have increased in demand for a number of reasons. Recently there has been a great interest in vintage bicycles with buyers either purchasing imitation vintage bikes or restoring antique bicycles from the 1930s, 40s and 50s. Some cyclists believe that older bicycles are better designed due to them being built in a time before the mass-production of bicycles. Because of this, buyers often believe that the attention to detail and quality is greater than that found in modern bicycles. Cyclists of all ages buy vintage parts and accessories to modify their bicycles with, and just about every accessory that was ever made can still be found.

Vintage Bicycle Lights

People buy vintage bicycle lights mainly for two reasons. These lights are visually pleasing and work well with the majority of bike frames, as well as adding character to the bicycle. The other reason is the power of the light. Vintage bicycles on the whole are stronger than their modern counterparts and release a more powerful beam of light. This is obviously beneficial for cycling at night and in places without many streetlights. There is also a market for vintage bicycle lights for those who purchase them purely as collectibles. The value of these lights varies depending on their rarity and condition.

Types of Vintage Bicycle Light

Vintage bicycle lights tend to avoid the use of batteries and instead use a hub or bottle dynamo to generate power. The dynamo is attached to the front or back wheel and the kinetic energy generated by cycling is converted into an electrical current that powers the light. There are a number of differences between the two that buyers should be aware of.

  • Both dynamos add drag when engaged which requires more effort to cycle the bike. However, bottle dynamo’s can be disengaged when the light is not needed eliminating this drag, whereas hub dynamos keep this drag constant.
  • Bottle dynamos are a lot easier to attach to wheels than hub dynamos, and do not require the wheel to be removed.
  • Hub dynamos work better in wet weather, as the roller on the bottle dynamo can slip if the tyre is wet leading to an inconsistency in light output.
  • Bottle dynamos also wear the tyres out, and create a low humming noise when in use that is not present in hub dynamos.

Vintage bicycle lights can be connected to either of the above dynamos, so buyers should spend some time thinking about which dynamo would be best for them. Below are the three most common styles for vintage lights sold today. Many different companies built their own bicycle lights over the years but they all pretty much stuck to these three styles.

Block Generator

Probably the most popular vintage bicycle design, block generator lights have been made by countless companies around the world for years. This system is traditionally the most reliable for vintage lighting, and is popular amongst long distance cyclists. Companies like Raleigh continued to make block generator lights until the late 1980’s, which means that buyers have a large selection to choose from. It is generally accepted as a very safe and efficient means of light due to the lack of necessity for batteries. Some cyclists may be concerned that dynamo lighting systems result in lights blowing out if the rider cycles too fast. This is only true of the original dynamo systems, which were designed in 1920s. Block generator lights can be quite large and bulky, so buyers using their bicycle for speed may want to look for a different model. For the majority of these types of lights the best bulb to use is a three-watt halogen headlight. Popular companies who manufactured block generator bicycle lights include the aforementioned Raleigh and Schmidt, and prices for this style of vintage light range from inexpensive to over £300.

Bullet Lights

Easily the most recognisable type of vintage light, these are typically chrome and mount to a small hole on the fork above the front wheel of the bike. Bullet lights are generally a lot smaller than block generator lights and weigh a lot less, but can achieve powerful beams of light. Bullet lights usually have a small switch at the back of the housing, allowing the cyclist to turn them on and off, and this type of vintage bicycle light is quite durable and long lasting. Bullet lights came into fashion in the mid 1950’s during the emergence of the rock and roll culture in America. Vintage bullet lights can vary in price, and their size and year of manufacturing will influence this.

Vintage Tail Lights

The French teardrop style is a very popular style of vintage tail lights, but is also very difficult to find. These lights were manufactured in the 1950s and 60s and are usually pear-shaped, though round lights are also available from JOS (FUA taillights). These are mounted on a braze-on on the left side of the chain stay. These lights are authentic but can cost over £100. RADIOS vintage taillights are another original style that can still be located on the second-hand market. These can be mounted with a bracket to the back mudguard of the bicycle. Vintage enthusiasts commend their aesthetic value, however, these types of lights can be difficult to find and are very expensive.

A number of vintage bicycle lights on eBay have been refitted with battery packs, removing the need for dynamo. While some would argue that this in turn removes the vintage status of these lights, it does make them a lot easier to use. Consider carefully whether a dynamo of battery powered vintage light would be best.

Things to Consider

  • The buyer should consider the size and weight of the light they are thinking about buying. A big block generator may create a powerful beam of light but this could be at the expense of speed and stamina. Buyers should also consider the type of bicycle they have, as again a large block generator will not be suitable for a thin-framed road bike.
  • Buyers need to think about the price of the light, especially if it is an antique model. The older a bicycle light is, the more expensive it will be; but if it is going to be used then buyers should decide if the price will justify its functionality.


People mainly buy vintage bicycle lights for use on their current cycling set-up, and these lights are popular for aesthetic and design reasons. The majority of vintage lights use a dynamo for power, and this can be either a hub dynamo or a bottle dynamo. Some vintage bicycle lights are battery powered, and buyers should spend some time deciding which form of power would suit them best. The most popular styles for front headlights are block generator and bullet lights, and some thought should be given to how the weight of these lights will affect the cycle.

All buyers are advised to search for vintage bicycle lights on eBay as the site has a large selection at very reasonable prices. Remember to always check the item page for details about condition and the power source.

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