Monday, 16 May 2011

Pedal Power!

To go with my new SON hub I need to get a super dooper front light. I intend to go for a Schmidt Edelux in black. Here is a video someone shot cycling with this light and if that is not enough to impress you I don't know what will. I think it looks great; there are no batteries to change/recharge, it's always on the bike and ready to go, it's got German build quality (same maker as the hub) and it has mega lumens! However, there is a slight fly in the ointment. As the new hub and wheel has set me back a tidy sum and I have no real need of the light until autumn I will be waiting until until September to purchase it. I do have another use for the hub in the meantime though - gizmo recharging while touring.

Anyone who just likes cycling as a simple pleasure, an escape from the hurly burly of busy life might wish to stop reading now as I intend to talk about GPS units, mobile phones, digital cameras, bullet cams and netbooks and keeping them charged while cycling and camping. If however you like this kind of thing then stick with me while I  review the PedalPower+ (PP+) Super-i-Cable (SIC) I took delivery of last week.

Most hub dynamos produce AC current. I think most or all electronic gizmos need DC current to recharge. Something has to convert the fluctuating raw power to a friendlier steady version at the right voltage. There are a number of cycling related gadgets that do this. The main three are the: Busch and Muller eWerk, the Dahon/Biologic ReeCharge and the PedalPower+ range of cables and batteries. I opted for a PP+ SIC because it provided what I wanted at the price I was willing to fork out. The other two units I thought were better in some regards but I either didn't need what was being offered (variable voltage on the eWerk) or I could overcome the shortfalls of the SIC (limited mounting options).

The SIC is new product from PedalPower+ and essentially is a current converter that includes a rechargeable 2200mAh cache battery. The eWerk does not include a battery but offers one as an additional extra at a significant cost while the ReeCharge battery is rated at 1600mAh only. The use of a battery in the circuit is not essential for charging on the go but is useful for some items that get a bit touchy if the current stops. Using a battery means an item can carry on taking power even if you stop for a while (assuming the battery has some juice of course). It is also possible to charge the battery from the mains or a USB connection as well as an AC hub. So it can be used as charging unit in the pub/cafe plugged into a handy mains outlet or you can just charge the battery by whatever means and then recharge a gizmo in the comfort/security of your tent.

The electronic items I take touring are: a SatMap Active10 GPS, a Contour HD bullet cam, a mobile phone (a SonyEricsson at present but soon a smartphone ?model), a Nikon D5000 dSLR, a cheap battery radio and perhaps a little netbook. The dSLR has a great battery life and can go for 2-4 days of shooting stills/video before needing recharging. It requires more than the 5V the SIC battery will provide so I will have to use mains for this. Not a problem or concern as the battery charges very quickly (courtesy of the higher voltage) and I can easily keep this topped up using pub/cafe stops. A radio will give me a weeks worth of life on a couple of NiMh batteries and can run on alkalines if I need to buy any. I haven't toured with a netbook before and not sure I will yet. If I do it will be for updating the blog and storing and editing photos/video. I would be doing this mainly from the comfort of a cafe with a large coffee, free WiFi and mains access too (I have never been refused access to a mains outlet when I am buying something to eat/drink).

The GPS and bullet cam are the power hungry things I need to charge everyday. The GPS can run on alkaline or rechargeable batteries but requires three new ones every day using it conservatively and I don't like using disposable batteries if I can avoid it. The bullet cam runs for 2 hrs which is enough for a days filming but uses a propietary rechargeble battery only. The phone needs charging every 3-4 days at home but when touring needs a charge every second day. When I get a smartphone I would probably need to charge it daily. So I plan to use the SIC to keep the GPS topped up during the day and use the cache battery to charge the bullet cam and/or phone in the evening. 

The SIC unit comes in a simple box and, for UK customers, is sent from Germany. It is nicely finished with the one on/off button and LED lights on the front and an adequate little leaflet. The hub/AC cable is permanently attached underneath and from the top comes the DC cable to attach to your chosen gizmo. Included are a large number of attachable generic jacks, USB and propietary connectors for a range of items plus a cable with a bare end you could attach your own connector to. I was disappointed with the mounting option/s which sees a piddly little handlbar mount and some corresponing rails on the rear of the unit. The eWerk and ReeCharge are much better designed in this regard and also have detachable cables making it very quick and easy to remove these units while leaving the cabling in place. 

I knew I would not be using this option as my bars are as busy as I want them to be and it is just too exposed to being knocked off IMHO. Instead I moulded some Sugru over the rails on the rear of the unit and shaped this to the head tube where I can then strap it. From this position the DC connector cable comes up very nicely to my bar bag where I keep the GPS and phone amongst other things and it is also out of harms way. I shortened the AC cable and crimped some new connectors on. As I will need to disconnect these from the hub everytime I remove the SIC, I also applied some Sugru to the crimped connectors making them extra secure, water resistant and the whole end section more ergononic to handle. I wind this cable around the fork once and secure with a velcro strap top and bottom. All very quick and easy.

I have only had a couple of small journeys with it so far but it is working very well. From a fitting aspect it is very secure and does not foul any other cabling. From a weather aspect it looks well sealed but in heavy rain I would detach it from the head tube and put it and any attached gizmo into my front pannier where it can continue to charge. From a charging aspect I can keep the GPS running in high power mode (i.e. screen on all the time and updating every second rather than every four seconds) even with a flat internal battery and flat cache battery. If I use the low power mode I can begin to charge the GPS internal battery as well. I need a longer trip to really test the effectiveness of the charging and so this will have to wait till 29-30 May when I have a little 2 day excursion planned. I will post some more details again after that. Any questions in the meantime feel free to ask.

PedalPower+ attached to head tube of a Santos Travelmaster
Super-i-Cable attached to head tube and DC cable going to bar bag
PedalPower+ cable going to GPS unit
Super-i-Cable attached to GPS unit in bar bag
Super-i-Cable attached to head tube

Super-i-Cable AC wire and SON hub
AC cable attached to SON hub. Curved black end is moulded Sugru


  1. Great blog you've got here, just discovered it from cyclechat.

    This is a really helpful post too as I don't know the first thing about using dynamos to charge USB devices (such as my phone etc).

    So have I got it right? I will need a dynamo hub first for the power (any suggestions or links to the best one?) Then I just need to get a power pack such as the e-work or reecharger and that will fit into any dynamo I use?

    Thanks for the help and keep bloggin!

  2. What are your thoughts about the pros and cons of this product vs. the B&M E-WERK?

  3. Hey,

    I am also a happy user of the super-i-cable (use it for my Garmin Etrex, Smartphone and the SoundSystem). Can you tell me from were you got that head tube mount or is it self made? I have been using the handlebar mount, but as you correctly point out, that's crap for different reasons (already had to fix it with glue twice)...


  4. Jamie and DYG

    Sorry about late reply. Seem to have missed my email notification of your comments.

    SON are the best hubs. You need to chose the right one for your wheel size and no. of spokes and have it built in. Shimano also do one which I hear is quite good. The you need a power converter +/- a cache battery (the battery is useful to have). Of course you can run lights directly off the hub too.

    I like my Pedalpower+. I'm sure I would like the e-werk too but it doesn't do anything better that i actually need and it costs more. Case closed for me.


    I moulded some Sugru onto the Pedalpower+ and then use a strap I can tension to hold it in place. Works a treat.

  5. Thanks for the reply, keep on blogging!

  6. G'day

    Thanks for the review. I am tossing up between the e-Werk and the SIC and the v4i set (v4i + Universal cable). I like the idea of simply charging the battery and then using it say in the evening to charge the phone/GPS as needed. I am referring to remote touring here. Have you any experience with charging from the SIC battery? I do wonder if it will be effective used this way compared to the v4i (2200 mAh versus 6700 mAh).


  7. G'day Andrew

    I have used the SIC to charge while travelling and also when stopped at night. There is enough charge after a 5-7 hrs moving to recharge my phone and bullet cam. I charge the GPS as I go. It does this well but the main prob is removing it from the bike as you need to unplug it from the hub and also free the wiring running up the fork. It would be much better if it came with a jack which allowed it to be unplugged to take with you for charging/security needs while leaving the rest of the wiring in situ - much like the eWerk. The V4i would solve this issue but obviously at the cost of more bulk/expense and the likely requirement of a bar/tube bag to house it.

    Hope that helps.

  8. How long did the delivery take to UK from australia?

  9. Came from Germany. 4-5 days i seem to remember.

  10. G'day

    Quick update. My SIC arrived today. So thanks for the review which helped me in making my purchase decision.


  11. Excellent product and service.

    I experimented with homemade circuits for charging batteries/devices from solar/dynamo but I couldn't make them robust enough for dirt road touring and they needed constant repair.

    I ended up buying a Pedalpower universal cable and v4 battery pack. I couldn't get the v4 to charge using the universal cable (possibly because the output voltage of my dynamo was below the input tolerance of the cable) so they replaced it for free with a Super-i-cable! Now everything works fine and it has survived some very rough roads. A worthwhile investment.

  12. Chris

    Glad you like the SiC. Are you using it to charge the V4i as well?

  13. I use the v4i as well if I want to be able to charge more than 1 device simultaneously. Otherwise the SIC's internal battery is plenty big enough.

    Re SIC mounting options I had the same issue. I ended up putting the SIC in my barbag, cutting the input cable and inserting connectors which hang just outside the barbag. This way it's easy to disconnect when I take it off the bike.

  14. Hi Chris

    I wondered about putting connectors on the input cable but was persuaded not to after emailing Pedalpower! They suggested it would reduce effeciency and not be weather proof. Having the battery easily removable though is the one thing the SIC needs IMO.

    What connectors did you use? Can you send piccies? Love to do an update to the post with your input as well.

    Hope to hear from you again.

  15. You could use 2 Pin LED plugs and integrate them into the cables to easily remove the unit. Cheap and waterproof:

    1. Peter

      Thanks for your advice. I've been meaning to get round to this for a while in readiness for a bit of touring later this year. I ordered these connectors today. I'll post again when they are fitted.


  16. Hey There!

    Thanks for the well-written post, and information! I am toying with using a SON hub with similar configuration as Chris for bicycle touring as well. Perhaps I missed it, but were you ever able to update with your impressions of using this system with your netbook?

    I will be looking to use the SON to refuel a Macbook Air, and Canon 5D2 on the road for several months, (on potentially bad roads similar to Chris) and was curious how your setup has panned out so far.

    Also, any thoughts on the smaller spoke count of the new SON28? 36 spokes sounds like plenty, but with all that camera gear (3 lenses) I'm a bit sad that they are not offering 40+ spoke versions anymore.

    Cheers, and best,

    - Guthrie

    1. Hi Guthrie

      I am getting on with my SON + SiC very well.

      I use if for charging a smartphone, bulletcam and GPS on trips lasting 4-7 days. There is not enough voltage to power a dSLR or netbook/laptop battery so you should think very carefully before relying on dynamo power only. I do take my dSLR away with me but find I have plenty of opportunity to top the battery up at cafe stops and would do the same for a netbook + make use of WiFi if I chose to travel with it.

      I have a SON 28 Klassik built into a 36 spoke, Rigida 26" rim. This has been more than strong enough over varied terrain, carrying front panniers at times. I have now done 4000(ish) miles on it with no problems at all. I also use it to power a front and rear light - something it can do more than easily enough while still charging the SiC. The SONdelux produces a little less output and may struggle doing this

      Will you be doing a blog? Good luck anyway on your trip anyway.


    2. Thanks for the quick response!

      I had concerns about the low voltage, which hopefully the proper battery pack may be able to solve (thinking the V4i from PedalPower), I could charge the pack while moving, and then let it offcharge to devices at night or such.

      Good to hear things are working out with the 26", I have that same size as well, so things should be good.

      I do plan to have a blog, of sorts, but am going to be working with a webmaster to tie several of my income sources together. My partner just finished cycling across the U.S. ( As a working photographer & gearhead, I am hoping to tie-in travel/bike photography/affilliate linked gear reviews into a site that can generate income while we're on the road. So definitely blog content, but also video, photo, and other downloadable items that can give us one more day on the road. :) (something very similar to what is doing, or - except prettier)

      I can definitely let you know when it is up, but that will probably be towards the end of this summer, as I've got a couple of other projects to work out first.

      Thanks again for the info, and keep up the writings, very enjoyable :)


      - Guthrie

  17. Guthrie

    I do not think the V4i will solve this issue. Most batteries are designed to output at 5 volts DC and 500 mA. This is what most items use that can charge via a USB connection. The netbook and dSLR need more juice than this. I think you will struggle if you plan on just using dynamo powered batteries to charge everything.

    This guy seems to have researched this issue in a lot more detail than I and so might be able to help you some more.

    Wish you luck.

  18. Fantastic, thanks! I had completely forgotten about hypermac products, seems that would be the best route to go when pairing with the B&M E-Werk

    Thanks for the link, very helpful!


    - Guthrie