Monday, May 4, 2015

Tour Divide Gear Preview - Electronics

Discussing electronics use during the Tour Divide can border on a religious argument. Early riders and many modern purists keep their electronics use to an absolute minimum - A Spot tracker to verify their route and a phone for use just in case of emergency. Others take a number of devices - Spot tracker, GPS, camera, iPod to name a few. No matter how many devices a rider takes, keeping them running takes some planning. You will either need to buy batteries along the route or figure out some other way way to keep your devices charged.

I will be using a GPS as my primary navigation device during the event, While I plan on keeping my social media use to a minimum during the race,  I will take plenty of photos along the route to share with friends and family after the race. I also want some music to help occupy my mind during some of the less scenic sections of the route, as well as to pick me up when I'm feeling a bit down or despondent. Since all of my devices have their own internal batteries, I will be using a combination of a dyno hub and a standard wall charger to keep my devices running.

For the remainder of this post, I'll be referring to this illustration (save this to your computer and open to follow along).

The heart of my solution is a Shuttle Precision PD-8X dyno hub. As long I'm moving above 6 MPH, I can generate electricity to power a light or charge a device. It's one of two thru-axle dyno hubs on the market. The other is made in Germany by Schmidt. The SP is about 2/3 of the cost of the Schmidt hub, and is nearly as efficient. It's a Ford vs Mercedes scenario. Both get you where you need to go, but one is a premium product. You can't really go wrong with either solution IMO. 

The power from the hub goes to a switch mounted on my stem. The switch allows me to direct the hub power to my light, or to a circuit that converts the hub's AC power DC power which can be used to charge any device that can charge from a computer's USB port.

My light is a kLite Bikepacker Pro w standlight. Klite is a one man operation located in Australia. All of the lights are hand built. Kerry, the owner, 3D prints as many of the accessory pieces as possible out of recycled plastic. The light system is made up of a small light head along with a small box that holds the electronics and a high/low switch. Kerry continually works to improve his products and his is especially good at incorporating feedback from his end users. The light I have now is a lot easier to wire up and a lot less fussy than the early unit I used. The light itself has performed brilliantly (pardon the pun), generates a lot of light at slow speeds, and really lights up the road when you are moving at even a medium pace.

The next piece of the system is the charging circuit. There are a number of these on the market, but since I have a carbon steer tube and fork, some of them are unusable since they will not work with a compression plug. After using a couple of other circuits, I decided to purchase a Sinewave Revolution unit from a local bike shop in Des Moines. The box is the size of a box of matches and the electronics are fully water sealed, allowing it to charge devices even when completely submerged. For now, the circuit, along with a small battery, lives in one of my Revelate feedbags. I am also carrying a small two port wall charger both as a back up and to allow me to recharge devices when stopped at a business for an extended period of time.

Power from the charging circuit then gets fed into a small "cache" battery. This helps protect sensitive devices from current fluctuations that could damage them. Depending on the charging circuit that you are using, you may want to the cache battery as a means to protect your device from fluctuations in current and voltage that may cause harm. (Note 5/5/15: Dave from Sinewave confirmed that their charging circuit provides this protection. Circuits from other vendors may or may not do the same thing. -SF)  The cache battery also allows a reasonable amount of power to be stored for use when I am not moving and not near a wall outlet. My battery has around 6000 mAh of capacity, which will recharge my GPS multiple times. Cables then go from the battery to the device that is being charged. The Sinewave, battery, and spare charging cables will be stored in a Revelate Feedbag hanging from my handlebars.

At this point, I am opting to use a Garmin 800 for navigation.  It's smaller and lighter than some of the etrex or Dakota units, but it is a bit less rugged. I have a Dakota that I might switch to, but I'm currently more comfortable with the 800, what data it records, and how it saves and retrieves data. No matter what GPS I use, they both have detailed street maps loaded on memory cards. The 800 is using Garmin's map card, while the Dakota 20 uses maps from the Open Street Map Project. I will also have a calibrated Cateye wireless computer mounted as an additional navigation safety net.

I will also carry a Gen 3 Spot tracker so that I can be tracked on the Trackleaders web site, let my wife know I'm OK, and call for help if needed.  I will run the Spot primarily from lithium AAA batteries. In my testing a set of batteries has lasted many days worth of use in the Gen 3 Spot units. If I have battery issues and I don't have a spare set, the Gen 3 can run from USB power as well. I'm using the standard 10 minute update cycle as I feel that's more than enough to offer accurate tracking and location for my needs. I did opt to spend the extra $15 or $20 per year to cover helicopter rescue. Call me paranoid, but it does provide some financial peace of mind.

I have a late model iPod Nano and a iPhone 6 that I'm bringing. The iPod will be for music and podcast listening. The iPhone will serve as a backup for my camera, iPod or GPS if one those devices develops an issue.

My main camera with be a Panasonic Lumix LX7 with a couple of large memory cards. It's a high quality, 10 MP point and shoot, with good low light performance. It can also save photos in camera RAW format, which will allow me to make adjustments to photos after the race is over. I can also shoot video with it if necessary. The Lumix uses a proprietary battery, so I have a separate USB battery charger and battery that I am bringing along so I always have the ability to take a photo.


Dave said...

Hi Steve - this is Dave from Sinewave Cycles. I'm excited that you'll be using a Revolution on the Tour Divide! I just want to point out - while there are advantages to using an external battery, it IS completely safe to plug your device into the Revolution and charge it directly. The Revolution will protect your phone from anything that could damage it. Please feel free to get in touch with me if you have any questions.

Enjoy the tour!

Steve Fuller said...

Dave - Thank you for taking the time to read my scribblings, and thank you for the clarification on the Sinewave's ability to protect the stuff I'm going to plug into it. I've edited the posting to reflect this.