In the city, something like the CydeKick charger is a convenience, a neat gimmick that generates power from your spinning bike wheels and charges your phone. On a long bike trip, though, or a multi-day bike tour, it’s the difference between staying off grid, or dropping back into civilization just to juice your gadgets.
The CydeKick is a magnetic hub generator, coupled to a headlamp and a handlebar-mounted USB charger, and it solves this problem. It mounts on the rear wheel hub, and uses spinning magnets to generate power. This is frictionless, unlike the old bottle-shaped dynamos that rub the edge of the tire. The magnets do cause some drag, but it’s all but unnoticeable, and on a loaded touring bike, it will make a negligible difference to your speed.
The unit powers lights, but also juices a battery and a USB port. In the city, your biggest battery drain is probably a GPS app, so powering the phone while it sits on the handlebars at full screen brightness is a great idea.
On the trail, or in the wilderness, being self-powered is even handier. Your phone is probably your camera too, and maybe you carry a tablet for reading, or to check maps and plan the next day’s route. You can also charge your e-reader. Pro tip: the backlit screen of a Kindle or Kobo reader is a great lamp for your tent. The large panel gives a soft light, and the relatively huge battery keeps it running forever.
Being self powered really does make a difference. I usually take a big backup battery with me on bike tours, but even that needs charging eventually, and managing my devices is a stress that I’d rather leave at home. Mostly I use my phone to double-check the paper maps and share photos with my girlfriend back home, and I use a Kindle in camp. Could I go without electronics completely? Sure, but what would be the point? Ignoring Twitter is pretty easy when you’re riding 60 miles over three mountains in a day.
Generator hubs aren’t new. You can get wheels built around them, and in Germany–where I live right now–many off-the-shelf bikes have generator hubs. But the CydeKick lets you add a generator to your current wheel. The rub? The price when the CydeKick launches on Kickstarter next month (July 30th) will be $275. For that you could just buy a new front wheel with a generator built in.