Posts tagged ‘equipment’

The Charger Issue

22 years ago, on the TransAmerica bike tour, do you know how many rechargeable batteries I took? None.

But today, whether on a bike, car, or plane, there always seems to be a shopping bag full of electronics to lug along.

I decided that the following battery-powered devices were important enough to bring on this trip:

  • Camera
  • LED flashlights (2)
  • Cell phones (2)
  • iPod touch
  • Netbook
  • Cyclometer

The cyclometers use button cells that are not rechargeable, and merit no further discussion. The camera and LED flashlights both use AA NiMH batteries, so we must bring a AA charger. The iPod touch has a unique Apple connector. We have two cell phones, each with a unique charger. The netbook has its own power brick. This is the largest of the chargers, when the line cord is taken into consideration.


Clockwise from top left: iPod charger, netbook charger, standard cord for netbook charger, AA/AAA battery charger, Motorola cell phone charger, Tracfone charger

And here is what I’ll be taking:


Clockwise from top left: (3) USB wall plugs, iPod cable, netbook charger, shortened cord for netbook charger, AA/AAA battery charger, short Motorola cell phone cable, homemade Tracfone cable

I was able to find very short cables for the iPod and one of the cell phones on the internet. I couldn’t find a short charging cable for the tracfone, so I got a regular data cable, and shortened it These three USB cables plug into the wall adapters at the top left. If we had infinite time, we might get away with two or even just one adapter. However, having three will let us charge all our devices at the same time, and also, if one breaks, we won’t be dead, just slowed down.

The Panasonic battery charger I got at a flea market for one dollar. It works great, and has the feature of fold-in power prongs, so it packs nicely.

Nothing could be done about the netbook charger, which is already smallish for a laptop charger. However, I was able to pick up a spare cord for a dollar at a flea market (I get a lot of things for a dollar), and shorten that to about a foot long.

The final set of chargers is smaller, lighter, and has the added bonus of not having long cords to tangle.


In my relentless quest for size and weight reduction, I’m considering what to take as a towel. In the past, I tried drying myself with T-shirts, but found that it didn’t work very well. I need a dedicated towel. What could I use that’s small and light?


At the local flea market, they were selling Shamwows at 3/$5, or $2 each. I got one, and plan to use it as my towel. Actually, I cut it in half, to make a towel 14″ x 20″. “Made in Germany” is stamped right on the towel. And you know the Germans make good stuff.


Regular towel on left, hand towel in middle, Shamwow on right

My friend Ahmad advised me never to try something for the first time on a major trip. Respecting that wisdom, I’ve been using this half-Shamwow as my bath towel for the past few days. It seems to be enough. My trick after a shower is to ruffle my hair to get most of the water out, then squeegee as much water as I can off my skin using my hands. That leaves only a little bit of moisture for the Shamwow to pick up.


There are only two drawbacks that I can think of for now:

  1. It’s too small, too thin, and too stiff to use as a wrap for warmth; and
  2. It’s too small to wrap around myself to walk around after a shower, unless I want to give someone an unexpected thrill (or unexpected laugh).

Blogging on a Bike Tour – and other IT burdens


How I plan to post updates

The last time I did a self-supported bike tour was 1988. On that trip, sending pictures meant mailing rolls of film back. Calling meant finding a pay phone, and paying an hour’s worth of minimum wage for 10 minutes. Way too expensive, except for a weekly check-in call to my sweetheart Merrianne (now my wife). Journaling meant writing by hand in a physical book. And writing meant filling out postcards. Technology has certainly advanced, making it possible for someone to give a frequent and very timely update to an unlimited number of people. Aka, a blog.

I still plan to do some postcards, and keep a physical journal. But to do the blog, I’m going to need some extra equipment. I think it will be worth it, and hope you will agree. We’ll see.

My digital camera

My camera is an older, inexpensive digital point-and-shoot The high-end cameras have big lenses, and are too heavy and bulky. The small and very slim new cameras actually take more space, because each of those needs its own custom charger. My camera uses ordinary AA batteries, the same as some of our other equipment. So if the batteries go dead, I can borrow a couple from the LED flashlight.

Built-in flash reader

The camera also uses a plain SD flash card, which conveniently fits into the built-in reader in our HP netbook.

Yes, we’re bringing a computer. If this were a car trip, I could bring a regular laptop with all kinds of accessories, but bike touring demands scrutiny of every ounce of cargo. Elliot’s netbook is optimal, providing a flash card slot, large storage, a full keyboard, and built-in Wi-Fi. Ten years ago, my choice might have been a Palm III PDA, with portable keyboard. But technology advances.

My plan is to upload the day’s pictures to the netbook, and compose blog posts offline using Zoundry Raven. Come to think of it, I might even outline what I want to write on paper first, to conserve battery life. It’s possible that we will go a few days without seeing a power outlet. When we get in range of a Wi-Fi connection, I will send the posts to the website, for all of you to see. If we can’t find a McDonald’s, public library, or a coffee shop, we may have to leech off a private household’s wireless. I’d ask them first, naturally.

Keeping in Touch

Twenty years ago, we would simply agree on a place to meet if we got separated on tour. Ten years ago, we would use FRS communicators (walkie-talkies). Today, the solution is obvious. Elliot, being a teenager, has a cell. As of this writing (4/13/2010), I do not. Well, not really. I got a TracFone, but haven’t activated it, yet. For $20, I get the phone, and 120 minutes of talk time, good for 90 days. If I need to add more on the road, I will. TracFone time is still expensive (60 minute card for $20), so my calls will be short, and mostly to Elliot when we are separated. Any extended chatting will be on his cell phone.

Wall-Outlet1.jpgThe Quest for Power

We take electrical power for granted at home, and even on vacation. Motel rooms have outlets. Anyone with a car or motorcycle can plug into the cigarette lighter for power. But what to do on bikes, when we are camping most days?

Right now, I’m thinking that power, not Wi-Fi access, will be our limiting technology factor. Sure, we can connect to the net at McDonald’s, but there won’t be outlets for us to plug into (I already scoped out a few to check). Will a Starbucks, or any coffee shop for that matter, have outlets available? Maybe we can plug in at a public library? I’ve already discarded the idea of bringing a solar panel (too big, hard to use), and attaching a generator to the bike (too much work).

Weird Stuff We’re Bringing

Like backpacking, self-supported bicycle touring is all about size and weight. It’s pretty common for cyclists to post their equipment lists. I could send you ours, too, if you really wanted to see it (it’s a 4-page spreadsheet). But here are a few of the more interesting items (okay, not so weird) in our packs:

Nylon straps to secure the tent and sleeping bag to the rack. Bungee cords are heavier, and can’t secure as wide a range of loads. Straps will make just about any cardboard box into a backpack, or a suitcase with a handle. Also, they can be worn as fashionable belts.

Gotta have chopsticks. They’re both eating and cooking utensils.

Tie wraps. If anything comes loose, they stand at the ready

See the little release tab on the latch of the tie-wrap? That lets us use them over and over again.

An iPod Touch. I don’t have an iPhone, but that would work, too. This is not so much for playing music, as to run a few handy applications, like an alarm clock and Bible. It’s also a quick way to get on the internet at a Wi-Fi hotspot.

If I’m going to carry an instrument, what could be lighter?

Kung Fu Shoes. Not to do martial arts or anything, but because they are simply the thinnest, lightest shoes for off-bike use, that can still pass for shoes. I could wear these into church or a 4-star restaurant, because nobody really looks at men’s shoes, anyway.

No GPS, intentionally. I want to interact and ask for directions. Also on the “no” list: pepper spray, air horn, weapons of any kind. Except of course, my Secret Illegal Ninja Moves from the Government.