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About a year ago my wife Jane and I decided we should get rid of just about all our earthly possessions and ride bikes around the world. Jane had been reading a few blogs by other people just crazy enough to undertake such an adventure and they made it seem not only possible, but thoroughly enjoyable.
On March 26 this year we said goodbye to Los Angeles and began the My Five Acres world tour. How far will we get? I don’t rightly know. What I do know is that we will see a lot, experience a lot, and learn a lot. The first leg of our trek, Rome to Russia, has just come to an end, and was a good proving ground for the next leg when we head into South East Asia in a few days.
Part of the reason we chose bicycles is that we are very conscious of our own impact on the Earth, but we love to travel. Cycling seemed like a great way to see the world, but also leave a smaller carbon footprint.
How Much Is Enough?
I will get into the ins and outs of why I chose what I chose in future posts. This first piece will cover what we took with us when we flew from Los Angeles to Rome to begin the trip.
I knew I wanted to be off-grid with my power consumption as much as possible and had looked at various options for generating power on the go. With each pedal stroke I expend energy, and capturing some of that with a dynamo seemed the best solution.
A dynamo uses the same technology as a hand-cranked flashlight, but it is for your bike. There are two versions. The basic, old-school version touches your wheel and each revolution of the wheel spins the tiny power generator in the dynamo, which in turn powers up your bike lights.
If you are from North America and remember the 70s, you may also have had a basic dynamo. If you are European, you likely have one or you have the more complex kind, the hub dynamo. This version is built into the wheel hub and generates much more power than the old-school version.
I had a Schmidt SON 28 Dynamo built into my front wheel so that my bike was also a small power station.
Then I needed some gear to power.
The Quest for Maps
I didn’t want to take a lot of paper maps with us. When you cycle tour every extra ounce counts, and slows you down. The paper maps you need to cross a country are large and weighty, plus they are expensive and sometimes hard to come by.
So I wanted to use digital mapping. I also didn’t want to buy a Garmin GPS unit just to have maps, because I don’t like owning anything that has only one purpose. Since we were already planning to take an iPad mini, I researched offline map tools.
As far as I can find online, no one else has blogged about the scale of adventure we are on without a Garmin and/or paper maps – this also made me want to prove it was possible.
I settled on Pocket Earth, a very inexpensive app that downloads entire countries with ease. The maps are small vector files, and it uses OpenStreetMap so the maps are quite detailed, usually up-to-date and include cycling routes.
The Power Source
Powering Apple products requires a consistent supply of power, so I wouldn’t be able to plug our iPhone or iPad directly into the SON hub. I ended up using a Biologic power converter and a NewTrent battery which plugged into the Biologic. The battery can be also recharged at a wall plug, and holds enough power to recharge the iPad twice fully.
To save a little cash I bought the wi-fi-only iPad mini, as we didn’t plan on buying SIM cards in each country we visited.
Then I tested it all. While commuting to work in Los Angeles everything went according to plan. PocketEarth gave great turn-by-turn directions, the blue dot followed me along my chosen route, and the battery flashed at me when plugged in to tell me it was powering up.
There were a couple of times, though, when it didn’t work in LA., I was really confused as to why, but just put it down to hiccups of the system and didn’t worry much about it. It turns out I should have. I’ll give you all the details in a future part of this series.
The Bright Lights
I decided to go with one of the best headlights available, the Busch & Mueller Lumotech IQ Cyo R headlight. The ‘R’ in its name stands for reflector, which gives great near light for slower, off-road nighttime riding. The rest of the headlight provides a bright, long beam, excellent for lighting the road ahead.
The B+M Toplight taillight I got is bright, clearly visible to cars behind me, and has a standlight feature so that it doesn’t go out when I stop at traffic lights.
For Jane’s bike we got rechargeable Serfas Thunderbolts which are easily powered by the hub dynamo, and extremely bright. No missing her on the road. They aren’t great for lighting the road, but mine is bright enough for both of us.
We also got headlamps for use at campsites, and I paid a bit extra for the rechargeable battery for mine. We haven’t used them very much, so Jane’s is still using her initial AAAs and mine has been recharged once from the NewTrent.
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Ready, Set, Go
And that is what we have with us. In the next few posts I’ll detail how it is all performing in the wild: the good, the bad, and the completely useless.
I’ll also share the process I went through to choose these items. There was a lot to weigh up, some trial and error, and some choices that may have been wrong.
The Initial Gear List
- 2 x Surly Long Haul Trucker bicycles
- iPhone 4S
- iPad mini
- New Trent Easypak 7000mAh battery
- Busch & Mueller lights
- Lumotech IQ Cyo R headlight
- Toplight Flat S taillight
- SON hub
- Biologic Reecharge Dynamo Kit
- Serfas Thunderbolt rechargeable headlight and taillight
- Petzl Tikka 2 headlamps – one rechargeable batteries, one disposable batteries
- New Trent 10W 5V/2A Dual Port USB AC wall charger
- Pocket Earth
Have you planned any long-term bike adventures? What tech gear did you choose?
Read more on how Stephen and Jane power their gear as they go.