How to charge your phone while riding your bicycle
How to charge your phone while riding your bicycle
Most people consider their smartphone an essential. The devices offer so much functionality that, ironically, the phone element is often one of the least used of their features. But that functionality comes at a cost: they are power hungry.
While people might have been able to go days on a single charge of their old dumb phone, most people find they need to charge their smartphone every day. For some, it might almost seem like the battery is more of a temporary measure that provides power while they move between charging points!
The result is that many look for ways to charge their phone while they are out and cycling. Whether it’s to provide a top-up on the daily commute, or a necessity on a bikepacking trip, there are several solutions available to keep a phone battery topped up, whether it’s using batteries or portable generation methods.
The most common option, and perhaps the most logical solution: if your battery isn’t big enough, carry a bigger one. Battery banks are readily available and usually cheap. Indeed, they are often given away as corporate gifts, so many people might have a few lingering in a drawer somewhere.
Battery banks are an easy-to-understand and convenient way to charge a battery, for most it’s simply a case of connecting the phone and battery with a charging cable.
They do, however, have a few drawbacks. One is that they can be big and heavy. While those small batteries might be good for a top-up, phone batteries can be surprisingly large. Some Samsung models, for example, have 7,000mAh batteries. It’s likely you might, therefore, want a battery bank that can offer two, or even three, full charges, at which point it starts to become a hefty additional device to carry.
They can also be dependent on conditions. Things like the temperature will affect their efficiency, so even if a power bank boasts about being able to charge your phone multiple times, don’t rely on that actually happening.
And, of course, the power bank will need charging itself. Although it can extend the life you will get out of your phone without being near a power source, eventually, you will need power. This may not be a problem for topping up on the move near your home, but if you are on a longer trip, it might become an issue.
Using solar panels
The concept of solar panels is quite enticing. Aside from the environmental benefits of solar power, it promises ‘free’ energy. It is far from an ideal solution, but can have some uses.
Solar panels, obviously, work best in bright sunny conditions. So, on a summer ride on an open road, they can provide a consistent supply of power. Depending on how you are using your phone, this might even be enough to charge it, but at the very least it will delay the inevitable draining of the phone battery.
Unfortunately, it is not really a use for which solar panels were designed. One difficulty is that solar panels need to be large to generate significant amounts of power. They also need to be angled directly toward the light source, because as soon as they are at an angle, their efficiency falls. Sadly, it’s simply not feasible to cycle with a large panel kept at the optimum position.
And they are reliant on the sunlight. Cycling in areas that are shaded by buildings, trees, or the landscape will vastly reduce the power generated. And if the day is cloudy, then the solar panel will just be deadweight.
Dynamo hubs fit into the front wheel and generate constant power when the bike is moving. While they have an effect on performance — some of the energy that would have been moving the bike forward is instead used by the dynamo — this effect is minimal.
However, dynamo hubs have a relatively low power output, the most powerful offer 3W at 6V. This means they are best suited for powering things like lights, which have relatively low power consumption. But when it comes to that big 7,000mAh phone battery, it would take around 14 hours of cycling to charge!
They also typically produce AC, rather than DC, power. Meaning an additional convertor will be required to charge devices. Collectively, it makes the dynamo hub an expensive and hard way to charge a phone.
The PedalCell is more like a traditional bike dynamo. Easy to fit to either the front or rear fork, the device runs along the wheel to generate power. It is, however, significantly more efficient than the old dynamos and generates a much higher output than hub dynamos, typically 2 to 3 times the power, meaning it becomes a viable option for device charging.
Like a dynamo hub, it will have some impact on the cycling performance, although for most people this would be as little as adding a few seconds to a 10km ride, and not enough to physically feel. Unlike dynamo hubs, however, it can be moved off the wheel when not in use, removing even that minimal friction.
Much will depend on the required use. Batteries are the most often used, partly because they are so easily available. And for many they might be the best solution, especially if their needs are only for an occasional top-up, and they aren’t regularly near a power point.
On-the-go charging, however, offers the most flexibility, since it allows the freedom that many seek from their cycling. Solar panels are, currently, perhaps the worst option unless all that’s needed is a trickle of energy for a rarely used device or to keep a device going a little longer.
Dynamo options are the best, since they can generate energy from cycling, with little impact on performance. The choice between dynamo hub and PedalCell may be down to what needs charging, but if it might ever include power hungry devices like phones, a PedalCell is probably the most adaptable and practical solution.