Bicycle iPhone and USB Charging – Conclusion

With the TuneCharger board burned out, and no feedback from the company that produces (produced?) it, I needed to find some other method of getting power from the dynamo into batteries. … That is, if I still wanted to do so.

Almost two years had gone by since I originally began this project, so I figured an online search would reveal a new device that elegantly solved the dynamo-USB-battery-iPhone problem. No such luck. The closest I could find was the “Ree-Charge Power Pack”, and it had some obvious flaws:

  1. Not much battery capacity
  2. Did not integrate very well with a dynamo-driven headlight
  3. Only one USB port

A similar device, but with similar flaws, is the NC17 iPhone Hub Charger.

On the other hand, it didn’t really matter to me as much as it had before. For over a year, I’d been riding with a combination of parts that worked in all the situations I got into.

The Headlight Factor

Headlights take up a huge amount of power. There’s just no getting around it. When you power those headlights with a battery pack, the battery pack is often very large and heavy, and even if you could charge USB gadgets with it, you wouldn’t want to, because you’d be placing yourself at risk. If your headlight dies because you used all that power to charge your phone, you’ll feel like quite the chump, sitting in the dark by the side of the road playing Enviro-Bear while you wait for a ride home!

If you connect your headlights to a dynamo, you are generating – and using – the energy to drive those lights as you go along. There is no need for you to accumulate it in a battery, so any battery pack you bring can be used entirely for your gadgets. You can drain that battery all the way down to nothing, and still be confident that when it gets dark, your lights will guide you and reveal you to drivers.

At first, I thought of a dynamo as an instrument primarily for charging gadgets, and the fact that it powered headlights was a convenient bonus. But it turns out that the best feature of a dynamo is its ability to take headlights completely out of the power equation. Sure, you could also use one to charge a phone, but how often do you really need to? Especially if you’re carrying a little extra capacity anyway, for use on and off the bike?

Even though my TuneCharger was dead, I could still use the USB board and the batteries, as long as I charged them with a wall-charger at home. … And that’s what I did, for almost an entire year, including rides through the Fremont hills, rides around San Francisco, and five or six rides in San Jose Bike Party.

Later Developments

For my trip from Colorado to Ohio, I was certain I wanted to bring a laptop. With that in mind I figured I could save on the weight of a charging brick by getting a battery that could charge on a USB port, or from the little doodad that the iPhone uses. Eventually I settled on a battery called the “Trent iDual-Port Pack IMP50D 5000mAh External Battery Pack and Charger

Over many days of riding, I have never needed any more capacity than the 5000mAh battery pack in a single day. On my ride from Colorado to Ohio I put in one 18-hour day of riding, and used it to charge the iPhone twice and an iPod once.

There was a time when I went camping with an iPhone and an iPad, and for that I brought along a monstrous 10,000 mAh 14.8-volt battery pack made from four of the cells like the two I purchased for this project. I watched movies and typed journal entries well into the night for a week without wearing it down. Even if I had the ability to charge that thing with the bicycle, I wouldn’t have been able to, since I was not on the bicycle for most of the week. A solar panel would have theoretically done the job, if I’d been willing to wait a while… But it still would have been a moot point because the ranger station was only a five minute ride from my tent, and they had wall sockets I could use, rain or shine.

Of course I could have also brought along the Solar Juicz 55 Watt Folding Solar Panel and charged a laptop and a bunch of other stuff while I hung around the campsite. Many options these days!

All in all, I’d say it’s “mission accomplished” for this project. I’m quite pleased with the setup I have now, and I hope the information I gathered along the way is of some use to all you other Do-It-Yourselfers out there!

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