This is the first in a series of articles that take an in depth look at the equipment I used while cycling 11,000km through Africa.
This article will take a look at the gadgets I used during the trip. By gadgets I mean anything that supplies or uses electricity in one form or other.
Disclaimer : All information on this page is based on my own experience and opinion and therefore does not necessarily have anything to do with fact, science or have to agree with your opinion.
Power generation :
My front wheel is fitted with Son hub dynamo from Schmidt which generates power while cycling. It does what its supposed to do and without any noticeable extra effort on my part(allegedly 0.5w when no gadgets are using power) at higher speeds the hub can generate up to 6W/12v. As the body is bigger than a standard hub it means you use shorter spokes making the wheel slightly more robust. The only downside I can find with the hub is the price, it adds about €150 to a standard wheel. Twice during the trip I had no power from the hub, a quick clean of the contacts on the right hand side of the hub fixed this.
Note to stupid people : don’t submerge it in water (river crossings) as it has a breather hole which will allow water into the hub.
When I’m away from town for more than 3 days I also use the hub/e-werk to charge my phone for a morning every other day (and have it switched off most of the time) this is enough to fully charge it again. The E-werk has dozens of settings an cables allowing it to power most things if you know what you’re doing. Recently they brought out a slightly cheaper USB-Werk which is actually more suited to most people like myself that mainly charge USB items, it also has a small internal battery which will keep a gps powered at a stoplight etc.
In the one year cycling in Africa I never wild camped more than one week straight so never needed to charge my AA batteries via the hub. For battery charging I use a small 2 cell Usb charger from Varta. I carried 6 AA batteries in total. 2 for the GPS, 2 for my torch and 2 in the charger as spare.
To charge my usb devices (phone/battery charger/ipod) I used a Belkin dual USB in combination with a local adapter that costs about €1 (rather than an expensive universal travel Adapter) and sometimes my laptop. That said for a similar trip I’d take the expensive all in one option next time, at one point I was carrying two bulky adapters and a multi plug. Having a dual USB charger is very handy when doing the sneaky charging in a petrol station thing, you can charge the phone and ipod at the same time :).
For someone that was never a fan of using a phone its quite ironic that I’ve been through four phones in little over a year.
1. Nokia 6500c (The black one) Due to falling out my pocket at work too often it was on its death bed just before the trip. But I found it to the be ideal phone. Simple, lightweight, chargeable with USB and long battery life.
2. Nokia 6500c (The gold one) Being cheap and knowing my colleagues all had fancy new phones I went begging and found someone that had a Nokia I could take out of retirement for them. Sadly only 2 months into the trip the phone and my hand had an unfortunate science lesson about skin friction, gravity and rapid negative acceleration when in contact with the floor (for those out there that know even less about physics than me science doesn’t know deceleration!).
3. Nokia C3 (The pink one) The next morning after the nokia/gravity incident I heading into the throbbing metropolis of Kokstad in South Africa and was able to get a good deal on a Nokia C3 sadly they only had it in pink. This phone proved to be a disaster in every aspect compared to the 6500, couldn’t be charged by usb (meaning yet another charger and couldn’t charge from my dynamo hub because I didn’t have the right cables for that with me). Poor battery life and worst of all it had apps, before I knew it I was as just as addicted to mobile Facebook and Twitter as everyone else. My carefree detached from the outside world part of the trip was over.
4. Samsung Galaxy Mini (The yellow one) Two months on I’d had enough of the pain of trying to charge a laptop, phone, several USB items with only one socket so decided it was time to get a phone with USB charging to fit in with my power plan ( and like any drug I wanted more apps). Just before leaving Namibia I was able to get a good trade in price for my pink phone for a yellow phone. My life as a human being was over, I’d become an android clone like so many others. The following are apps I’ve found handy for cycle touring in Africa:
- Facebook/Twitter/Gmail : to stay in touch
- Reduce photo size: the standard photo sizes are too small or too big for uploading/emailing with African internet.
- Xe Currency converter : Less chance of getting shafted by money changers
- Latitude : I updated it almost daily for my Route page so people know roughly where I was.
- Google maps: handy once in town for finding stuff and getting orientated.
- Calender : Tracking visa expiry date. Once home I synced this with my google calander and have gone totally digital in the agenda world.
- Internet : Googling somewhere to stay in big cities.
- Whatsapp : a nice chat program to stay in touch with friends around the world.
- Warmshowers/Couchsurfing : Warmshowers isn’t very well covered in Africa but there’s plenty of couch surfers.
- Badoo: If I felt like having a date.
I see I’ve already rocketed above the 1300 word count for this article so its obvious that gadgets will have to become a 2 or 3 part thing. I did say it would be an in depth look at my gear 🙂
In part two, I’ll look at Media/entertainment, light and navigation gadgets.