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How to create electricity and charge devices using a bike

Alia Parker's picture
Generate bicycle power with The Plug or a Luxos and a dynamo. Cycle Traveller

Generating your own pedal power is becoming an attractive option for those on a long-haul bicycle tour with it becoming increasingly harder for us to travel without our smart phones, iPads, netbooks, e-readers, digital cameras and GPS devices. Many parts of Australia are remote and cycling between towns or truck stops can take days, making it hard to keep all your electronic devices charged and working.

Fortunately, it's possible to turn your bike into a mini power generator by using a hub dynamo and an adapter that allows you to plug your devices into a USB port. Dynamos are little electricity generators that sit in the hub of the front wheel. Generally, a copper coil inside rotates through a magnetic field, generating electricity as the wheel spins. Such generators for bikes have been around since the turn of last century, but the weight and efficiency has improved significantly over the years. They generally generate up to six volts of electricity, which is enough to slowly charge your electronic devices.

Schmidt's SON dynamo. Cycle Traveller

There are a number of good dynamos on the market, however bicycle touring specialist Adam Hogan from Cheeky Transport in Newtown, Sydney, says Schmidt's Original Nabendynamo (SON) has been found to be the most consistent. It's also the most expensive.

Once you have a dynamo built into your front wheel, you'll need a means of transferring the electricity to your devices. Adam says Supernova's (Tout Terrain) The Plug II has been a great option to date, but that this product is expected to meet some serious competition this year with the introduction of Busch & Müller's Luxos. The two products are quite different. Let's start with The Plug.

The Plug II

The Plug II must be commended for its very neat design. It sits inside the head tube of the bike, with the USB port accessed through a component that fits onto the front fork steering tube and replaces the top cap. In other words, the USB port will be sitting smack bang under your nose and close to the handlebars, where you can mount your devices that need charging. The cables connecting the dynamo and the port run inside the steering tube. The Plug, which retails for about $200, converts power into the USB 5-volt standard and will slowly charge devices that can be connected to the USB port, including GPS, MP3 players and smart phones. The casing is made of aluminum with salt water and corrosion-resistant housing and sealed electronics to prolong life. To generate enough electricity from the dynamo to charge a device through The Plug, cyclists will generally need to ride at above 15km per hour. Adam says The Plug has been a great power option for cycle tourist, but the one downside to the device is the absence of a battery to maintain a consistent charge. He says since a cyclist's speed will vary over any given ride, the electricity generated by the dynamo will also vary and some devices may not respond to a low current. This is where B&M has stepped up the competition.

Busch and Muller Luxos light and USB charger. Cycle Traveller review.Busch & Müller's Luxos

B&M have been making dynamo-powered bike lights for years, but the Luxos is a light with a difference; it not only provides a bright 70 lux of light, but has a USB port for charging devices as well as a rechargable lithium battery built inside the light's casing. Adam says the battery is a huge advantage because it automatically charges when cycling, holding excess power that can be released when speeds dip, helping to maintain a higher voltage charge. The Luxos' setup is very different to The Plug's. The light and battery attach to the front fork while the switch to control the light as well as the USB port attach to the handlebar. This means there are a few external cables about. The Luxos will likely retail at over $200 in Australia.


Setting up a dynamo and USB port is a great option for cycle tourists desiring the ability to charge electronic devices in remote areas, but this luxury will come at a cost. A dynamo will set you back between $150-$300 in Australia and it will cost about $150 to have it built into the wheel. The Plug or Luxos will cost you upwards of $200, meaning your total costs could be between $500-$650.

Of course, dynamos and USB ports aren't the only option for generating your own electricity in the middle of nowhere – you can get hold of a little solar powered charger for much less. If you have a lot of devices, you may want to consider having both, since some of the solar chargers are rather small and light. But they're a whole different kettle of fish and come with their own pros and cons. We'll take a look at those another day.

Images from top: 1. Tout Terrain's The Plug II. 2. SON dynamo. 3. B&M Luxos light and USB charger.

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