Best battery bank for bicycle touring and bikepacking
Power is essential today. Even when you are on a bike tour, a holiday that once pretty much relied on your legs and the food to fuel them, it’s hard to manage without some form of portable power. It’s likely you will have several devices that need charging — even if it’s just the phones of everyone with you — that you will depend on. Whether it’s a phone to use in an emergency, a GPS to navigate the route, or just to power the lights for the evening, knowing that you have power to keep them charged makes the tour easier and offers peace of mind.
But with power packs for sale almost everywhere, which should you be packing? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer, and the right bank for one person will be wrong for the next, but there are some things that you should consider when looking at the alternatives.
What to look for
The most important thing is to consider what capacity you need. Battery technology has evolved rapidly, and some battery packs can offer a hefty charge. But they are not all equal, that cheap one in a corner store might look hefty, but might not be big enough to see you through a trip.
The easy way to find out is to look at the size of your batteries on your devices. These will usually be measured in milliamp hours (mAh). In very simple terms, it’s how much power it can deliver over time. If two devices had 1,000mAh batteries, but one used 1,000mA while running while the other used 100mA, the first would only last an hour, while the second would last ten.
But you don’t really need to know the details, it’s basically simple math. For example, if you had an iPhone 13, the battery is reported as 3,227mAh. So, if you bought a 10,000mAh battery bank, a fairly common size, you could expect to fully charge it from empty three times.
As strange as it sounds, you should also consider where you are cycling, since the climate will affect power usage. Batteries rely on a chemical reaction to generate power, and the temperature will influence how efficiently the reaction creates that power.
Cold weather means batteries are less efficient, meaning you’d need to carry more with you than if you did the same trip in warmer weather. And hot weather can cause batteries to overheat, and in most cases, this will cause them to shut down as a safety feature.
For most bike tours, the cold will be the issue. While you might not be cycling in extreme weather, you might well be experiencing cooler nights, which will impact the efficiency of your battery bank at the time you are most likely to be using it.
Although it is possible to carry enough batteries for the whole trip, the weight quickly becomes a consideration. So, if you are taking a longer tour, you will need to think about recharging your battery banks. Unfortunately, this can become a constraint.
Chemical batteries tend to be slow to charge at the best of times. This problem is exacerbated because they tend to use older USB standards, while this helps with compatibility — the mini-USB most banks use is everywhere — it also limits power delivery. The result is slow recharge times. Six hours for a 10,000mAh battery is typical, and larger batteries take proportionately longer. While premier banks using USB-C can take advantage of slightly faster times, it is still less widespread, and may mean carrying more power adapters to take advantage of them.
In practice, you are likely to be faced with the choice of carrying multiple packs or identifying a location that has a suitable power supply, perhaps opting for a night in a hotel rather than camping, for example.
Power bank services
Using a power bank service might be possible on tours that include urban areas covered by a service. These services are, basically, power bank lending libraries, allowing you to drop off your used pack and get a fully changed one in return. While convenient in a daily routine, these might be harder to incorporate in a bike tour. However, if your route would include the drop-off points anyway, it can provide a no-worry way to ensure you have power.
Solar charging has grown in popularity, but may not be enough for most people. The solar panels work best at scale, just think about the size of solar farms, so the power generated by a portable solar charger will be small. The efficiency would be further impacted by the fact you are cycling. It’s unlikely you will be able to position panels to fully face the sun while riding, and will be hindered by shadows from buildings or trees which will further reduce the charge provided. While you can position them optimally when stopped, since these are likely to be for short periods during the day and in the evening, it’s unlikely you would achieve a significant charge.
Using PedalCell is probably the easiest way to ensure that you always have fully charged devices. The PedalCell can fit to almost any bike, and is highly efficient at converting your pedaling into energy with minimal drag. The generator provides power to a hub, which uses capacitors to provide a stable supply to charge your batteries through its USB-C ports. You could even use it to charge a power bank!
The big advantage of the PedalCell is that it gives you freedom. Rather than having to plan a trip around powering your devices, the trip literally powers them. Even if you are using your phone’s GPS, playing music, and taking photos and videos along the way, you will arrive at destinations with your phone fully charged, and can enjoy the trip without any power anxiety.
Whatever devices you use or need on your bike tour, they should be helping you enjoy the freedom bikepacking brings, not restricting it. Using a PedalCell gives you the freedom and flexibility to make the most of your bike tour experience, wherever it might take you.