So many bike tourists are now carrying laptops, that the question of how to charge them comes up very often. It popped into our email box again this week.
“This summer I took a mini-laptop with me for the first time while cycling 4 weeks through Germany, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. And all of a sudden you are not fully independent anymore, as the thing eats power and you cannot recharge it from a small solar panel. Is there a solution for this? I know you can buy a hub dynamo and attach a contraption that outputs 5v, which would be fine for mp3-player, phone, and probably also gps and e-reader (basically everything that can be charged via USB) but what about the battery of a laptop?” -Rob
The answer, Rob, is slightly complicated, and perhaps not the one you’re hoping for. In short, there’s no magic solution.
It depends partly on what you’re trying to charge. If you have a tablet such as the iPad, rather than a laptop, and if that tablet charges via USB, you can try using your hub dynamo to charge a separate battery like the A-Solar Power Bank Pro or the Dahon ReeCharge. This charged battery can add a bit of power to your tablet but there are quirks to be aware of, including long charging times for some models. We don’t have direct experience with this but we understand that most batteries only give a partial charge to tablets, not a full top-up.
If you have a laptop or tablet that can’t be charged via USB, you might follow in other people’s footsteps by rigging up a battery pack or soldering together a homemade solution but as far as we’re aware there are no products sold that allow you to charge a laptop using power from a bicycle hub dynamo (please tell us in the comments if you know differently!).
Instead, the most practical and cost-effective solution – in our opinion – is to pick your equipment and structure your tour in a way so that laptop charging doesn’t become an issue. In short:
1. Buy a laptop with loads of battery life: many laptops currently offer over 10 hours of battery life, so it shouldn’t be hard to pick an efficient model. The more battery life, the better.
2. Be alert for places to recharge your laptop: campsites, libraries and hotels are obvious spots but start looking and you’ll start seeing power plugs everywhere; in parking lots, public parks and many other unexpected places. If you go to a restaurant or coffee shop, ask if there’s anywhere to plug a laptop in. Tourist bureaus may also be willing to help, while you’re visiting the local area. People in motorhomes are also often happy to plug in your gadgets, so pull up beside them at lunch, crack a big smile and ask!
3. Don’t use your laptop more than you need to: you’re on a bike tour, and part of the fun of bike touring is unplugging from the grid. Unless you really need to work from the road, why spend hours behind the computer screen? Instead, enjoy your surroundings and limit your laptop use to just what you need, at least until you’re staying somewhere with electricity. We have found that 30-45 minutes a night is enough to write at least a draft journal of the day and unload our pictures from our camera: the only two essential tasks we need to do.
4. Consider buying an extra battery if your power needs are very high: as an example, a replacement Asus EEE battery goes for about €100. That’s not cheap, but it’s a lot less than the cost of a hub dynamo and the associated costs to get the dynamo up and running (convertor plus a new wheel or rebuilding your current wheel). You can also get cheaper ‘battery extenders’ for many laptops, though it’s not always clear just how much extra battery life they supply.
Just by taking points 1-3 into consideration, you should easily be able to make your laptop last 5-7 days. Since most of us will stay in a hotel or campsite at least once a week and can recharge there, electricity for your laptop should rarely be an issue. Depending on the area where you’re touring, you may even be in a hotel most nights (Southeast Asia, for example).
Coming back to the hub dynamo, it’s a pretty neat gadget. We have two of them, paired with a prototype Oddbikes USB charger, and they’re great for keeping mobile phones, GPS batteries and bicycle lights on the go, but we still charge our laptops the ‘old-fashioned’ way.
Want more info? Read our article about taking a laptop or tablet on a bicycle tour.
How do you get power on the road? Leave a comment and share your experience!