Charging USB things by bicycle

It’s almost inevitable that if you’re away from home for more than a day, you’ll need to charge something from a USB socket. Phone, camera, GPS, watch (for the slightly more cutting edge), whatever; something with a battery will need your love.

I thought the answer for cyclists came in the form of the Luxos IQ2 U headlight, which combines an exceptionally good headlight with a handlebar-mounted switch/USB socket, all powered by a dynamo hub in your front wheel. It’s still very good, and my review of it remains one of the most popular posts on this blog.

However, with waterproofing niggles that B&M still haven’t sorted after version three, it isn’t the silver bullet I first thought.

Here, then, are a few ideas for powering your goodies if you’re planning a cycle tour or audax. I’m assuming that you’ve got dynamo lighting, because it makes life so much less stressful.

Nothing to charge

Paper maps, old-fashioned phone for emergencies only, AA-powered camera.

Ride on, free of your servitude to the electron (well, ish).


Access to mains power every night

You’re staying in decent accommodation every night, where you can be sure you’ll have access to the mains. Your gear charges as you sleep, with occasional top-ups during the day at handy cafes.

Maybe consider a plug adapter with multiple USB outlets, so you can charge up a couple of things at once if the room you end up in is a little sparse. This thing is £12 on Amazon, and has a decent set of reviews.

Plug with four USB sockets.
The snappily named “TeckNet® Universal BLUETEK™ 24W/5V 4.8A 4 USB Port UK Wall Plug AC Power”. With a name like that, you know it’s good.

Access to mains power at least once a week

Now we’re getting a little more adventurous. We need something to bridge the gap between our access to the grid.

Modern battery banks are like microSD cards – creepy in how much stuff can fit inside.

For example, this EC Technology 22400mAh battery is phone sized, but could charge an iPhone 4 around 15 times before being complete flat. Garmin cycle sat-navs would be nearer 25-30 times.


Most of these also come with a fairly serviceable torch built in. You wouldn’t want to hike with it, but it’s certainly bright enough for rummaging in a dark pannier for dry pants.

Pro tip: try and pick one that can be charged using the same cable as everything else you own (this means not owning an Apple phone, I’m afraid). Also, be aware that these can take an age to charge!

A multi-socket plug is still handy, as then you only have to use the battery if you end up somewhere without mains power.

Be a little careful with battery packs. Don’t get the cheapest, and aim for a brand you’ve heard of (I can confirm my Anker is still good after a few years of heavy use). None are likely to explode, but still… If your trip involves flying check your airline’s rules for loose batteries.

Weeks between mains access

Could you get by with two battery banks? Three? No?

If you really are out in the sticks for weeks at a time then you need to generate power yourself. Abandon now all ingenious thoughts of solar power – it’s just not reliable enough (or weight-efficient).

That power is coming from your dynamo. I still think the Luxos (gratuitous repeated link to review) is your best bet here.

Lusox IQ2 U remote
This is the remote switch for the Luxos (it’s glowing blue because the main beam is on). The bung on the right pulls off to expose the USB socket.

You’ve got other options like the E-werk or Supernova’s The Plug, but the Luxos minimises the wire faff and makes everything very straightforward (as well as giving you a cracking headlight for “free”).

Big caveat: if you’re charging in the rain you’ll need to have the remote switch (and whatever you’re charging) within layers of waterproof bags, because if water gets inside that switch your lights will fail. And I can tell you from experience, that isn’t fun.

Therefore I’d still use a battery bank. The Luxos charges the bank (very slowly) as I ride, and then whenever I stop in the dry something gets plugged in. I know I can get about 15 hours use out of my Garmin 810 sat-nav with the backlight on minimum, so even over a particularly long day on the bike, I could keep the essentials running with a bit of care.

For absolute money-no-object redundancy, I’d be on a trike with dynamos in each front wheel, one for lighting and one for the battery bank. If you can’t face the extra wheel, you could maybe run hub and bottle dynamos.


In summary?

You’ll probably be fine with a chunky battery bank.

If you’ve got any other ingenious strategies (or tales of woe), the comments are just below.


PS: If you’re wondering what I did over the five days and 1,400km of London-Edinburgh-London, I used the Luxos and tried to waterproof both the socket and the cable/Garmin connections using lots (and lots) of electrical tape. You can see this in the photo at the very top of this post – look for the black lump on the bracing strut just above the front wheel. Comments:

  • This almost worked. The Garmin died a few hours before the end (failing legs -> slow speed -> not enough charge for both the light and the USB socket), and I reverted to my printed routecards for the last bit (OK, I mainly followed someone else, but the cards were available…)
  • I couldn’t remove the Garmin from the bike. Happily, because there were so many bikes at each control, the chances of it getting nicked were low.
  • I couldn’t charge my phone which died after four days, causing mild consternation for those following the tweets!

Final pre-PoP post (of 2015)

By now you’re hopefully well aware that the fourth Pedal on Parliament is this Saturday (25 April, 2015), leaving the Meadows in Edinburgh at noon.

There are many good reasons to support the PoP manifesto, but if you’re still undecided, the first paragraph of last week’s Cycling Embassy roundup has a host of articles that will try and sway your opinion. Including one from your humble author (see Pedal on Parliament. On foot)

If you’re after a bad reason, then Dave Brennan (of Magnatom fame) will be there in a kilt. To make the day extra special, I’ll wear mine, too.

Frankly, if the chance to see the knees of two pillars of the Glasgow cycle-blogging community doesn’t get you there, I don’t know what will.

This Saturday.


The Meadows.

(Bring cake.)

EU reacts as 1,300 drown in 14 days

After 1,300 people drown attempting to cross the Mediterranean in the last two weeks, the EU’s plan includes fingerprinting migrants and bombing their boats.

The foreign and interior ministers of the European Commission have backed a “ten point plan” for tackling the rising number of corpses drifting onto EU beaches. 1,300 people have drowned trying to escape from Africa and the Middle East in the past 14 days, partly because the multi-nation operation that replaced Italy’s Mare Nostrum is so woefully inadequate.

(You might remember that we’re contributing a single solitary person to that endeavour – see “UK refuses to pay share of search and rescue costs“. I’m sure their consultancy skills are really making the difference.)

Those ten points are:

  1. Slightly increase the search and rescue operations in the Med (although no word on where the money is coming from).
  2. “A systematic effort to capture and destroy vessels used by the smugglers”.
  3. Various EU group will meet regularly to gather information on smugglers’ “modus operandi” (clue: it’s taking cash from people so desperate to escape their homelands that they’ll pay their life’s savings to cross a sea on a falling-apart hulk).
  4. More people to process asylum applications.
  5. “Member states to ensure fingerprinting of all migrants.”
  6. “Consider options for an emergency relocation mechanism.”
  7. A voluntary pilot project to offer places across the EU to “persons in need of protection” (you can many governments will volunteer for that).
  8. A faster way of punting “irregular migrants” back to whence they came.
  9. More “engagement” with countries surrounding Libya and Niger.
  10. Deploy “immigration liaison officers” to “key third countries” to gather intelligence on migratory flows.

The full press release is here.

You’ll spot that when it comes to bombing boats and treating migrants as criminals the EU has no issues in finding cash. Ask people to fund boats to pull living bodies out of the water, and pockets quickly become much shallower.

There is no simple solution to this. No political quick win. No magic wand to wave. No easy way to stop the bloated bodies of children washing up on the sands of our holiday resorts.

Sadly, we took the easy route when it came to exploiting these countries in our colonial days, and then later on when we drew straight lines on the map to create new nations that suited our needs.

Now is the time for us to step up and do the hard work to help these people, rather than just move the problem out of sight. Because even as you snuggle under the duvet this evening, somewhere nearby a mum and dad are reassuring their terrified kids that some rickety heap of a boat isn’t going to break apart beneath them.

We can afford to give them a decent chance of surviving the night. But I don’t know if we will.

PS: I know that’s an RNLI video, but you get the idea.

Now we are one

I’ve got a draft article for this blog with the title “what we’ve learnt after two months”. I can see from the history that “two months” has overwritten “six weeks”, and the original was “ten days”. I never finished it.

Blink, and he’s now a year old.

I have no idea what happened to that year, and equally can’t remember a time without him. I was woken yesterday (at 6am) by his happy face shouting “dadadadada!” inches away from mine. Today he touched a starfish (after a few will-I-won’t-I attempts). He’s just got his first bike (a Toddlebike, about which more later).

There will be no epiphany with this post. I’m goosed after a three day birthday weekend of friends, family, farm animals, tractors, and a variety of sea creatures (not concurrently, I hasten to add). Once I’ve nursed this glass of red to its conclusion I’m getting my head down.

Instead of insight, then, let me offer the incidental.

A year ago, I drove home from the Southern General. It was just after 11 at night. I drunk a can of Red Bull to keep me going (I’d bought two—the other is still at the back of the fridge). I realised I hadn’t really eaten anything that day, so I stopped at McDonald’s for a lukewarm burger and chips. I thought I’d treat myself to a milkshake, but the machine was turned off, so I had a remarkably drinkable coffee.

Paulo Nutini’s Scream (Funk my Life up) was on the radio. I sung along.

“And that girl, so fine; Makes you wanna scream hallelujah.”

Pedal on Parliament. On foot.

Pedal on Parliament (PoP) is almost upon us again (the 25 April, in case you haven’t yet pencilled it in to the calendar) and, for the first time, I won’t be pedalling.

I’ve got Owen for the day, and neither of us are up for cycling across with the child seat on the back of my tourer. We could take the bike on the train, but with only four cycle spaces every fifteen minutes between Glasgow and Edinburgh, it would be a big gamble getting there and back.

It just wouldn’t work.

Happily, Pedal on Parliament isn’t just for cyclists. Owen and I will be there on foot, waving the flag for the pedestrians of Scotland. This isn’t a particularly original idea—Denise Marshall has already written on Tech Addiction about why she’ll be walking the route, and indeed we’ll be joining in on the “feeder walk” she’s organised from Waverley station. However, it’s worth a brief pause to go over how the PoP manifesto would benefit everyone using their own energy to get around, whether that’s walking or cycling.

That manifesto (presented in detail here) is:

  1. Proper funding for cycling (5% of the transport budget on cycling, with a further 5% on other active travel*).
  2. Design cycling into Scotland’s roads (ie “going Dutch”, including not just dumping cyclists on footpaths).
  3. 20mph speed limits where people live, work and play (which would result in a 41% decrease in road casualties compared to 30mph).
  4. Local councils to build cycling in transport strategies, including ring-fenced funding and links with public transport.
  5. Sensible road traffic law and enforcement, so that parked cars don’t block pavements, dropped kerbs and sightlines and crossing places.
  6. A comprehensive package to eliminate the risk of lorries to cyclists and pedestrians, including better driver training, visibility, and limitations to where the biggest vehicles can be driven.
  7. A strategic and properly funded programme of road user training, including cycle and pedestrian awareness for HGV, bus and other professional drivers.
  8. Solid research and statistics on cycling to guide investment and decision-making.

With the exception of four and eight, people on foot will benefit just as much as those on bikes if the manifesto was adopted.

If you’re fed up of dire pavement surfaces because all the money goes on potholes, come to Pedal on Parliament.

Or if there’s no safe route for you to walk to work, the shops, the pub, or your local school.

Or if you think the odds of a kid surviving being struck by a car outside their home should be better than a flipped coin.

Or if you’re fed up of cyclists riding on the pavement because the roads are too dangerous.

Or if you want a fun day out with thousands of bizarre bikes, a general carnival atmosphere, and a rare chance to walk unimpeded through the centre of Edinburgh.

Come to Pedal on Parliament.

Saturday 25 April. Noon at the Meadows (if you’re on foot, come to the front of the big queue!), 11am at platform two of Edinburgh Waverley, or on the 0930 train from Queen Street (drop me a note if you’re coming along and I can make sure you get there ok!).


*Slightly comically, the Scottish Government includes public transport and taxis within their definition of active transport. Here, we mean methods of getting around that actually burn off cake.


By 1979 standards, your child might be a little slow

The Gesell Institute is a non-profit US organisation researching child development. They’ve been going since the 1950s, and published a series of guides on what the average child should be able to do at certain ages.

We have a fascination in the UK with marking progress against targets—Owen’s only one, and the NHS personal child health record already lists 42 different things he should be doing. When the Little Kids, Big City blog posted up the Gesell guide “12 things you child should be able to do by the age of six”, I thought I’d share it with you. It’s from 1979, but what’s a decade or four between friends?

With light paraphrasing away from some US-specifics, and because we now understand that not all children are male:

  1. Does your child have two to five adult teeth?
  2. Can your child say where they live, in such a way that their speech is understood by a school crossing guard or policemen?
  3. Can they draw and colour and stay within the lines?
  4. Can they stand on one foot with eyes closed for five to ten seconds?
  5. Can they ride a small two-wheeled bicycle without stabilisers?
  6. Can they tell their left hand from their right?
  7. Can they travel alone in the neighbourhood (four to eight blocks) to the shops, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?
  8. Can they be away from you all day without being upset?
  9. Can they repeat an eight- to ten-word sentence, if you say it once?
  10. Can they count eight to ten pennies correctly?
  11. Does your child try to write or copy letters or numbers?

(Those who can count beyond ten pennies will spot I’m one short of the twelve. Because this list was originally titled “is you child ready for first grade?” there was one about age, which I’ve skipped.)

Might I draw your attention to number seven?

In 1979, if your six year old child couldn’t walk themselves to school (crossing up to seven roads in the process), apparently this would be thought a little odd.

In 2015, parents are being prosecuted for letting a ten year old walk home from school with his six year old sister. The world isn’t any more dangerous and kids aren’t any more fragile, but over 36 years a bit of fresh air and (well-monitored) independence has moved from being healthy and natural to child neglect.

Much easier for everyone if children stayed at home in front of the TV, don’t you think?


PS: If you followed that link, you’ll notice that Danielle and Alexander Meitiv defended their actions by saying they were practicing “free-range parenting”, about which, more later.

PPS: Thanks to Sara, Alison, Clare and Sally for finding the Little Kids, Big City article again after I lost it the first time…

Lorry drivers continue to kill cyclists in London

As Barry Meyer admits killing Alan Neve in 2013 whilst driving carelessly and without a license or insurance, another cyclist is killed in London.

Yet another lorry driver killed yet another Londoner on a bike this morning – this time on the roundabout to the west of Lambeth Bridge. Tragically, that’s now barely newsworthy. HGVs are killing people on such a regular basis in the capital that the subsequent vigils organised by the Stop Killing Cyclists group will eventually start causing a sizeable percentage of regular congestion.

It’s certainly galling that one of the reasons the roundabout is still quite so lethal is that Westminster City Council persuaded Transport for London not to press ahead with some planned minor improvements for cyclist safety in October 2012.

Whatever sanitised logic was given for this (there’s some suggestion it was rejected for not being safe enough), nothing was done in the thirty months that followed, and so this morning a 55-year-old woman spent her last living moments crushed beneath a metre-tall tyre.

I wonder if there will be any sense of guilt in the transport offices of Westminster tomorrow?

In other news, lorry driver Barry Meyer has admitted a range of driving offences today in his trial for killing Alan Neve in London on 15 July 2013. If you’ll bear with me for a moment, the confession covered:

  • Ignoring a red light because he was too busy trying to keep up with a truck in front.
  • Neither turning his head or using his mirrors, and so not seeing Alan cycling through the junction.
  • Failing to immediately stop having dragged Alan beneath his lorry, despite “shrieks of pedestrians and other road users”. Alan was killed immediately.
  • Not being licenced to drive the lorry.
  • Not having any insurance.

But wait. There’s more:

  • Sept 2008. Stopped whilst driving a lorry whilst banned. Gave a false name. Banned for 14 more months.
  • July 2007. Stopped whilst driving a van whilst banned. Banned for 12 more months.
  • May 2007. Convicted of drink-driving and banned for 36 months.
  • Dec 2004. Convicted of driving a lorry with a dangerous load.
  • July 1998. Convicted of driving whilst banned.
  • Dec 1997. Convicted of drink-driving and banned for 18 months.

You have to wonder at what point in there any rational person would stop and think “gee, it’s almost as if this guy isn’t taking disqualifications very seriously; maybe we should try something else?”

That didn’t happen. Barry continued in his devil-may-care approach to the safety of other road users, and eventually—inevitably—someone else paid the price.

You’ll be heartened to know that even after killing someone after driving through a red light, the prosecution service decided not to bother with the more serious offence of causing death by dangerous driving (rather than careless), so the maximum sentence available to Judge Worsley is only five years. No doubt Barry will be out in a little over two, and obviously back behind the wheel shortly after.

There’s one more twist to this sorry tale. The only reason Alan had to use the particularly hostile junction in question is because police had taken it upon themselves to enforce a ban on cyclists using a much safer alternative bus lane.

What would you choose? A £30 fine every commute and relative safety, or having to merge across four lanes of rush-hour traffic on a bike?

Take care out there.