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Finding Electricity For Gadgets While Bike Touring


bike touring powerAre you one of those people that can’t leave home without your digital camera, mp3 player, laptop, mobile phone and of course a handheld GPS receiver to navigate your way around the world?

We have to answer ‘guilty’ to carrying around several gadgets.

Many people will prefer a simpler way of touring but we make good use of our electronics on the road. Having said that, they come with dilemmas as well. You’ll have to clear out your panniers to make way for all those toys and adapt to lugging the extra weight around. Carrying valuables also means you’ll worry more. Think long and hard before taking something and decide if the space, weight and security concerns are outweighed by your need for the gadget.

The biggest ongoing challenge is finding a way to keep everything fully powered. It’s not quite as hard as you might imagine. Our digital SLR camera, for example, can take hundreds of pictures on a single charge so we only have to plug its battery in once or twice a month. The laptop is the biggest power user but we have ways to keep that running. Everything else only needs infrequent attention and the more we tour by bicycle, the better we get at keeping everything charged.

We have a few things that run on disposable AA batteries but these are relatively low power users and we don’t have to replace the batteries very often. Getting AA batteries is never a problem but in Central Asia it was impossible to buy good quality batteries.

Our battery powered list includes:

GadgetBattery TypeDuration
Apple 20G iPodBuilt inFour to six hours.
Bike computers (Cateye & Decathlon brands)CR203210,000km
Cateye LED lightsAAInfrequently used. More risk of corrosion than dead batteries.
Edirol R-09 Audio RecorderAAA few hours.
Nikon D80 SLRLithium IonLong! 100s of photos.
Petzl Tikka LED HeadtorchesAATwo months of reading in the tent.
Panasonic CF-W4 LaptopBuilt inGood for a laptop. Four to six hours.
Roberts R9968 SW RadioAAAt least a month.
Sony Cybershot T9Lithium IonToo short. A few hours.

The way we charge things has varied from region to region.

In North America and Europe we used campsites at least a couple times a week and we could usually access a power point there. Even if we didn’t pay for a powered site, plugs can be found in the bathrooms or communal areas. This is a bit of a pain because now you have to bring a book and sit in the toilets or put your tent facing the bathrooms to ensure no one steals your laptop while you’re cooking supper. We also wrapped our electronics in a plastic bag to protect against water when we used bathroom powerpoints.

Tents at PassauYou can also enlist help in campsites. Campers with RVs are often happy to let you plug in something inside their motorhome or the front desk may charge something for you.

A last ditch resort is to look around supermarkets. You’d be surprised how often there’s an unused electrical outlet outside, maybe even beside a picnic table. Buy lunch in the grocery store and chow down while you wait. If you have moral qualms about this, ask the manager. They rarely mind.

In cheaper parts of the world like the Middle East and Southeast Asia, charging gets a whole lot easier because you’re never out of a hotel for more than a few nights. Between accommodation, restaurant owners were happy for us to plug something in while we ate a meal. People in these regions love their mobile phones so sometimes shopping centres or public parks have recharging points. Convenience stores in Japan also have kiosks for repowering your mobile phone.

Central Asia posed the biggest challenge because we did a lot of wild camping and power cuts were frequent. Even in a hotel, we didn’t always manage to recharge everything. Remote areas of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan may have a guesthouse but no electricity. If you’re going to India, you may have similar problems.

Other things to keep in mind:

  • Try to buy electronics with interchangable cords. If you need a separate cord for each one, you’ll find all the power bricks add up to almost the same weight as the gadgets. We have a single cord and this plugs into the converter for the laptop, the charging unit for the cameras and powers the USB adaptor for our iPod.
  • Electrical sockets in developing countries are often very loose. Bring scotch tape to make your plug stay put. It’s common to see sparks fly when you plug something in.
  • It’s possible to create a unit that recharges AA batteries on the go using a dynamo. This needs a little electronics know-how but search the internet for ideas and enlist a clever friend to help out, or buy a SON dynamo for your front bicycle wheel – not cheap but effective for charging most things.
  • With things like cameras and laptops, use the lowest power setting available. Turn off automatic review features on LCD camera screens.
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9 Responses to “Finding Electricity For Gadgets While Bike Touring”

  1. Mykel says:

    Any reviews on solar chargers? I Have been looking at several for my 19V netbook. Any suggestions?

    thx,

    mykel

  2. I’ve been using a Power Monkey Explorer unit which has a solar panel and a charger with adapters for just about everything.I use 2 panels on mine with a ‘Y’cable to speed up charging. As long as it’s not peeing down, I fix the solar panels on top of my trailer bag and ride off for the day.
    The battery holds enough power to charge my iphone twice, or similarly, my gps (which I hardly use to be honest!). The neat range of adapters means I can ask campsite staff to charge either device, or plug it into any of the available sockets on site.
    I could probably get by without the solar panels, but they work evfen when there’s quite dense cloud and I like feeling self sufficient.
    Great device, check out powermonkey-explorer.com

  3. Andreas Vesterhus says:

    Does anyone have any experience or opinion on the dynamo hubs from Schmidt/SON? Seems like an practical way to recharge on the go..

  4. Steve says:

    After extensive research, I’ve also just purchased an E-Werk (from Busch and Muller), A Shimano dynamo hub, and a USB battery pack for touring with on my next trip.

    In terms of the E-werk, there are other options out there for the power regulation, but it really does seem like it’s built to last, is waterproof, relatively small, and comes with all the connectors you’ll need. It also wins every efficiency test I could find (there aren’t many actually!), so you know that it’s not wasting your hard earned power.

    I’m attaching this to a Shimano 3n80 dynamo hub. Apparently these new Shimano hubs are close to the efficiency and rolling resistance to the SON, at a fraction of the cost. Cost was a factor for me, so I opted for this one. They weight about half a kg, and of course requires a wheel rebuild.

    I’ve also purchased a £25 USB battery which has 6600mAh, and two USB output ports (2.1A and 1A), which is useful if you need to charge things overnight in your tent, or you just prefer a buffer from the E-Werk. The 2.1A covers most things like ipad or general tablet, which use more USB power.

    I’m mainly using this to power iPhone, and some camera/video stuff. After testing of various software, the iphone will finally replace the Garmin GPS as the main navigation device, as well as a lot of other things.

    My touring experience isn’t that extensive, but I found my previous setup when camping was a pain – juggling lots of types of batteries, chargers, cables and plugs, and wondering what to leave hanging off an electrical socket outdoors at the campsite was a bit annoying.

    If you don’t want the hassle of E-werk / Hub, you can always just carry the USb battery, and charge that whenever you see mains. It would give about 5-6 full iphone charges, so it;s a useful amount and weighs less than 250g.

    The hub also gives you decent lighting options – I went for the B&M front (Cyo RT) and rear (Flatline S).

    Just waiting for new front wheel to be built, and then the rest can be tested.

    Of course, you can leave all the electronics at home and use paper maps/internet cafe’s, but I prefer to be able to stay in touch, send pics home, find information while on the road, and know where I am and where I;m going – which a GPS is just great for. Charging them was the only pain, and hopefully that’s now fixed.

    The total setup does come at a price – which is pretty hard to justify – but I’m looking forward to being independent of power sockets for a bit.

    • Karl says:

      Where did you buy the USB battery? What brand is it? I have a large HTC smartpone which is great as it works as a GPS pathfinder, communication and media device all in one. However the downside is the battery only lasts ~14-16 hours with light-moderate use. I have thought about buying an extra battery for it, but a higher capacity battery to charge it would also be good.

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