This is an article for anyone who is planning a cycle tour and/or a geek.
As you will either know or be able to tell by the end of this article, I very much enjoy expeditions and cycle tours in particular, I am fairly obsessed by kit and I was a reasonably nerdy teenager. As a result, I get an inordinate amount of pleasure from the efficient organisation of the electronics in our panniers.
Aside from generating mirth by skim reading the text below and realising what a saddo I am, there are many years of knowledge and experience that have gone into creating our technical kit list so hopefully it will be of some use to others.
Comments and questions are warmly welcomed so please don’t by shy. Did I mention that I enjoy this stuff?
We each have a Google Asus Nexus 7 tablet which we use to write blog posts, edit photos, compile videos, update Twitter/Facebook and reply to emails when we have wireless (e.g. at cafes or people’s houses).
We have one tiny bluetooth keyboard and tiny USB travel mouse which make it much easier to write longer articles.
Laura’s Nexus is 3G enabled and in some countries where wireless is less frequent and/or our Kindles don’t have 3G (see below) we may invest in a local SIM for internet via mobile phone signal. This has not been at all necessary across Europe.
We can also use the Nexus’ for navigation. The vast majority of navigating is done by paper maps but on the occasions that we are visiting a large city and/or need to reach a specific point then we pre-load Google maps and put the Nexus in the map case on my handlebar bag.
(N.B. After three months on the road I’ve come to the conclusion that although the tablets are fantastic in many ways – cheap, light, easily charged, free software – they also have some real limitations for this kind of trip. In particular, the tiny screen is very tiring over time and the restricted software/websites can make life difficult. If I did it again I would probably ditch the tablets in favour of two smartphones and a small netbook.)
We each have Amazon Kindles with keyboards and 3G. Aside from giving us access to as many books as we want, instantly via Amazon, these devices have a basic web browser with unlimited, free 3G internet access. It is slow to use and doesn’t work on all sites but allows us to update Twitter from our tents and check for emails on the road at no cost.
Unfortunately, it is no longer possible to buy this model of Kindle from Amazon and newer 3G models are very limited on what they can do (e.g. no Gmail or Twitter, just the Amazon website and Wikipedia).
Laura has a Canon DSLR. Images are transferred from the SD memory card to a Nexus using a card reader and USB cable (note to nerds: to make this work on a Nexus, you need an OTG cable and the Nexus Media Importer app, unless you’ve rooted your device).
They are edited occasionally with free apps (e.g. Photo Editor) then uploaded to Flickr. Laura’s also made a couple of slideshows using Animoto.
We have a GoPro Hero 2 video camera which we can mount to our helmets (shaky), handlebars (blocked by handlebar bags), our heads or a tripod, or just hold in our hands. It also uses an SD card so files are transferred with the card reader.
Video editing is a labour and processor intensive process that we are not even pretending to do. Instead, we use the Magisto app. You just selected 10 or 20 clips and let it put them all together for you with some animations in time to music. There is a free trial version of the app available.
For security, to allow access to blocked sites in certain countries (e.g. Twitter and WordPress in China) and let us access UK content (e.g. the BBC), we use a VPN.
It stands for Virtual Private Network and it tricks the internet into thinking that you are somewhere else in the world; usually, in our case, the UK.
You usually have to pay for the service. We use Witopia (recommended by our geeky friend Jon Beardmore) although the Hola app provides some similar features for free.
We have two headtorches each which double as bike lights. The obscenely powerful Petzl Myo RXP is our front light, powered by 3 x AA batteries. The Petzl Militikka is a much smaller torch which can be set to shine red light, good for the back of the bikes but also more discreet, less damaging to night vision and invisible to most insects. They run on 3 x AAA.
Almost every single device and battery has been configured to charge by USB. This means that we are not carrying a single proprietary adaptor for any of our devices – a far cry from the expeditions I’ve organised in the past which are burdened by a complicated and heavy mess of different chargers.
Instead, we just have two international travel adaptors with USB ports. Mini- and micro-USB cables then charge our tablets, Kindles, phones, MP3 players, battery charger, keyboard and so forth.
The only thing that I didn’t manage to find a way to charge by USB was the Canon camera battery (it may be possible, I just ran out of time). To cover this and as a back up for all other batteries, we have a
, a nifty little device on which you can adjust the positive and negative connections so that it will charge almost any size and shape of battery (in our case, as well as the camera battery, it does AA, AAA, GoPro and mobile phone batteries).
Finally, we also have a tiny plastic 4-port USB hub (from a Pound Shop) which allows us to charge up to four devices simultaneously from a single plug in the wall. The charge is divided between the devices so doesn’t speed up the process but is useful, for example, for leaving several devices charging over night.
Please do add your comments below or fire away with any questions.
Amazing. Wished I´d spent more time picking your brains before we set out! We have about 3 chargers and a nest of cables. And we can´t get our photos on our ipad without uploading and downloading them via another machine… (Lack of research and foresight on our part, of course). We so should have brought a netbook with us!!
Yeah, getting the right chargers and cables can be a real pain in the ass Neil. I had a nightmare trying to connect my iPod to my tablet (resolution: bought new non-Apple MP3 player). Hope the travels are going well otherwise.
You should be able to use the camera connection kit to upload images direct to the iPad.
Thanks Dave. If we have the cable with us then I’ll see if that works for a Nexus as well as an iPod. The card reader is very small though and useful to have for transferring with other people.
Sorry Tim my reply was directed at Neil, just forgot to click reply under his comment :-(
With him saying he uses something else to get the images onto his iPad.
Thanks for clarifying Dave. Replying to messages on my tablet means I only see one comment at a time so didn’t twig!
Tim/Dave – thanks for the messages. The camera connection kit sounds like it could save us time and effort. I’ll do some research and see if we can get hold of one. Cuzco has actually got quite a few electrical shops as there’s quite a few tourists here!… Thanks. Neil.
For charging DSLR (and other) camera batteries, look at http://www.voltaicsystems.com/adapters.shtml#camera they offer ‘sleds’ for DC charging of a wide range of camera batteries and USB to sled cables.
Thanks for that Robert. They look perfect for next time.
Congrats for your website and thanks for sharing all this info with us.
We are about to start a round-the-world bicycle trip and I have a few questions regarding media files storage. Surely you must take lots of photos and videos and you want to keep them some place safe. What do you do with them? Do you upload them to the cloud (Dropbox, etc.)? If so, how do you do it? With your tablet or with a computer in an internet cafe?
Alternatively (or additionally), do you carry an external hard disk with you? If so, does it work with your tablet or do you transfer media files to it via a computer? If you do latter, how do you avoid the viruses (our experience from internet cafes in Africa is that they are swamped with viruses)? I have read about anti-virus software installed in hard drives, but I’m not sure if they work properly. Any idea?
Any other tip you could share?
Thanks in advance and safe and adventurous travels…
Some good questions there, thank you.
Storage: we use some combination of USB memory sticks or SD cards and a cloud option. Dropbox would be good, I just happen to have a brother with a large server we can use.
We don’t have an external hard drive. I’m sure that would be fine but I think USB/SD cards do the job. A few quid for a 32gb one of either. They are small and robust, cheap, you can spread your files across several devices rather than all eggs in one basket, and send them home by post or with visiting friends too if you like (obviously just a duplicate).
Uploading: always direct from the tablets. We use an FTP app but Drop box would do the same. We have always used wireless which we have found regularly, with reasonable speeds, in every country but Iran.
Transferring: we have Google Nexus tablets and use the Nexus Media Importer app (possibly the only app I’ve ever paid for, ~£1.50) with a USB OTG cable (“On The Go”, also ~£1.50 on e.g. Amazon). Other tablets (e.g. Samsung and Apple) have proprietary cable kits you can buy for USB connections and card reading which presumably must come with their own software. Do check this for your own device though because, frustratingly, tablets really don’t seem designed to connect with other hardware.
Viruses: I don’t know how common viruses are on Android. Similarly, I’ve tended to use Ubuntu on laptops which seem to be largely virus free. Avoiding plugging USBs etc into internet cafe computers would certainly seem wise if possible.
Other tips: tablets and/or smart phones are superb for bicycle touring and you’ll no doubt find more and more uses as you go along. I don’t know your route but we’ve found plenty of countries with similar or better tech that at home in the UK so it’s easier to get new bits or replacements.
Finally, I’ve realised the limitations of tablets too. Wonderfully small and simple but they can be frustratingly restrictive for more complicated tasks. As such, we actually just bought a netbook running Windows. It is certainly not necessary – I’d still recommend tablets/phones for all but the longest trips or most computer obsessed – but a big help for writing longer articles, editing this website, connectivity and such like.
Fire away if you have any further questions.
Do let us know what your plan is and post a link if you have a website.
Best of luck!
Thanks very much Tim for your speedy and detailed answer. Great feedback, food for thought. Regarding our plans, my girlfriend and I are starting this trip this coming May. Starting in our home-town -San Sebastian, Spain-, we’ll go east all the way, until we reach, well, San Sebastian again, sometime three to five years later. We have a rough idea of where we want to go (crossing Europe, Iran, the -stans, Tibet, Nepal, India, back to China through KKH, Mongolia, Korea, Japan, Southeast Asia, Australia and the Americas,…), but we know it’ll change…, and in a way we hope so, since probably the best plan is not following one… We are now in the process of getting things ready, among them our blog, which is not public yet (and it will be in perfect Spanish .o)… )
Thanks again and we’ll be in touch
Great stuff Hugo. Sounds like quite a trip. Enjoy the planning and look forward to seeing your blog (translated by Google!) in due course.
This USB charger will charge most camera batteries.
PIXO C-USB Universal Charger
Charges nearly all 3.7 Volt to 7.4 Volt camera battery packs from a USB power supply
Legend. Thanks Brian. That looks perfect!