Charging Electronics from the Bike

Sometimes it occurs to me that our hobby of traveling by motorcycle is very strange. It creates  problems that not too many other people need to solve, except for other moto-travellers, and especially moto-campers. For example, we often camp at fairly primitive campsites that do not have electricity. This is fine for previous generations lacking an excess of electronic gadgets, but we find the moto-travelling experience enhanced by having  a GPS, two cell phones, two cameras, helmet communicators, and sometimes an entire laptop and even an e-reader or two, all of which need electricity to charge their batteries.

The GPS charges from its mount installed on the bike, so its battery life is never a concern unless we take it hiking. The other gadgets, however, were not designed to charge from a vehicle supplying 12VDC. They require both 5VDC (like cell phones and anything else that charges from USB), and 120VAC.

Therefore, Kevin’s bike is usually running some variant of this:


This version is for the DRZ. The plug on the left connects to the battery tender plug already installed on the bike. The black box in the middle is a mini-inverter that supplies both 120VAC, and a couple of USB plugs (5VDC). Plugged into the inverter 120VAC output is a power splitter (behind the white battery charger), so that we can plug in several devices.

We also have one of these:


These are pretty ubiquitous now, and I have another one in my car plugged into the ciggarette lighter (yeah, my car has one of those, its from 2007), so I can charge my cell phone in the car if needed. With the entire assembly plugged into the bike, we can now charge several USB and 120VAC devices while going down the road.

The battery charger is the latest addition, in response to acquiring helmet communicators. (Maybe I’ll post about that later, but being able to talk to each other while riding is AWESOME. Our Sena SMH10 units are fantastic, the batteries last forever and a day, and I have no idea why we’ve been riding all these years without them. Even Kevin thinks they’re 100% worth the extra trouble to have them along).

Basically, the radios (communicators, the small oblong shaped things on the right in the upper pic), aren’t designed to be charged while riding (for obvious reasons). We could disconnect them from the their mounts on our helmets and charge them for a an hour during the day, but then we wouldn’t be able to use them. Charging from the bike only works when the engine is running (unless you want to drain the bike battery), so charging the communicators at the end of the day with no other power source would mean we’d have to idle the bike until the units charged. That doesn’t make any sense, so Kevin added those re-chargeable AA batteries. The batteries charge during the day, and they’ve proven to be enough to fully charge both radios in the evening in camp. Done.

Admittedly, its a lot easier when we camp somewhere with power and can just plug in our stuff to an RV outlet. Also, there are more compact, all-in-one devices on the market designed for this sort of thing, but we already had this stuff. Its just nice that all of our devices can stay charged, even when we’re out in the woods.

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6 Responses to Charging Electronics from the Bike

  1. Joe Jones says:

    My biggest hurdle on my 2012 tour around America was keeping two computers, five GoPro cameras, my Sony digital camera, my cell phones (3) of them, my Canon 5DMKIII and flash and accessories, a High Lumen rechargeable flashlight … and about a dozen other electronics charged.

    I tow a trailer behind my Wing which is generally unnoticed, so I have room for the 50 foot extension cord, the 12 outlet power strip and the big bag of wall warts, cords, adapters, battery chargers and such that fills a black duffle bag.

    My solution was to wire a 12vdc cord from the trailer’s taillight circuit to a box on the trailer tongue. If I stopped, the UPS would continue to charge them as if there was a power outage on a home computer. In the box was a 12vdc to 120vac inverter. Plugged into that was an 8-outlet power brick and a UPS unit. As I rode, I would be recharging the camera batteries and such. I would alternate between things to keep everything “hot” while I rode. At campgrounds, I would plug in if possible. If not, I would charge enough to get me going in the morning and then replace as batteries topped off. It wasn’t a perfect setup, but I was never lacking for charged batteries.

  2. Joe Jones says:

    This is a You Tube video that basically shows the majority of the things I took. Not everything is shown, but most of it is there.

    • amytracker says:

      haha! Hi Joe. Yes, on the spectrum of minimalist to heavy packer, you make us look like sparse survivalists :) I remember being mightily impressed with all the stuff you had with you. (Have you seen the new drift camera with the two-way remote? they listened! its exactly what I’ve wanted since getting my original drift camera. I think this new one will be in my future…) It is a problem though, keeping all the stuff charged. Sometimes we just break down and get a hotel room with wi-fi. We’re too plugged in, we’d never survive out in the wild:)

      • Joe Jones says:

        I have both the Verizon My-Fi unit and the AT&T Broadband unit for remote Net access. I am a bit of a Net junkie, I guess.

        • Joe Jones says:

          Right now I am using the hospital wi-fi which is pretty darned good here. I have three of the Drift cameras. I bought them, but never got a chance to take them out of the box so they are at home seeking a purpose. It was an impulse buy and I probably could have avoided it if I had more self-control.

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