I ❤ Bike Gadgets

(but I've drawn the line at a bike plant pot! honest....)

I do love gadgets, and some impress me so much with their design, and reasonable price, I can't believe how I've survived without them in the first place? Gadgets are there to solve some problems, or save money or just make life that little bit easier. People are often dubious about buying a cheaper version of the gadgets which are usually made in China, but quite often even the marked up versions are made in China anyway and they can be up to five times cheaper. The biggest issue with the Asian products is the interpretation of the instructions into English, but there’s so much information on the internet, I haven’t failed yet to get something working properly. Obviously if the item isn’t UK based, it can take some time to reach you, and this can vary between two weeks to six weeks, but returning goods is easy too, so don’t be put off by it. I’m going to review some new gadgets (new to me) and some old gadgets that have proved their worth over time.

Battery Pack box for a CREE Headlight       £6.39 on Ebay       Ramblingfatman rating 5★

If you’re like me you’ve bought countless battery packs for your Cree headlamp, and you’re probably cheesed off with the price and lack of longevity. One battery pack I bought only lasted a month, and then stopped working completely. Thinking it must be just a broken connection, I gingerly cut the outer plastic off and was gob-smacked by what I saw. Two batteries were not even connected, they were free standing in the pack and were brand new and unused (obviously bad quality control). How many battery packs had I thrown away with good batteries in them? Then along came this battery box on Ebay and was the answer to my issue. The individual battery code is 18650, they are 4.2 volts and are about the size of the ‘AA’ but are obviously twice the voltage for the size. You can buy them separately, but they’re still cheaper to buy in a pack. So slice through the outer plastic cover holding all the batteries together (hover over the left image), disgard the top and bottom insulation pads, carefully cut and snap off all of the connections and separate the batteries (they're just held together with a little glue). There may be a tiny circuit board under the outer plastic cover, you can discard this as it’s not needed as your new box will do the same. You must make good the outer insulation of each battery (which you may have damaged separating them) with good old quality insulation tape (like the right hand image above) or shrink sleeve if you want a top notch job. Get a cheap volt meter and mark which is + and ‐, don’t be duped into thinking the nipple is positive (like on normal batteries) because on these batteries it’s sometimes the negative. Any battery less than three volts, try charging again, if they don't hold their charge over a few days and drop down in voltage again, they're done- dispose of them properly. So there you have it, your individual batteries to fit in the box. 'TrustFire' do one on Amazon for £11.95, but apart from the top they look the same. Why bother though? Well the little magic box comes with some useful attributes-

  • It has its own over-voltage/overcharge protection and you can plug your old charger into it.
  • It has an under-voltage cut off, preventing over-discharge and flashing the light when its getting low.
  • Three LED’s indicate the power left (when you push a button).
  • It has a USB socket to charge more gadgets.
  • You can use your old 18650 Batteries in it.

I really can’t see any negatives with this item. You might want to buy a separate charger though you don't have to. I just bought a small four space charger for around £3.50 (click the highlighted words for image), or to get the most out of your batteries you can splash out and get a smart charger for under a tenner. Disposing of batteries have become a World wide ecological issue, so making the most of your batteries is the sensible and most environmentally friendly thing to do.

Steerer tube GPRS tracker       £31 plus on Ebay       Ramblingfatman rating 4★

I have some gold rated locks and I was considering buying theft insurance, but because of my thirst for these gadgets the quotes were around £100 a year (and more for abroad), all the insurers wanted receipts, my bikes are old and when you start talking of ‘new for old’ insurance, the quotes get silly. I touched on the trackers when talking about bike storage, but I committed to buying one and I was blown away by the simple design and what it's capable of. It’s a bit of a faff to install, but not too complicated and you need to read the instructions several times to understand what they’re trying to say. All I can say is be patient and go through the set up instructions in sequence. You need a ‘sim’ card with data, but it doesn't use that much. You can subscribe to a site to track it on ‘google maps’, but their are free subscription sites too. You will need the ‘APN’ from your sim supplier (its just their website eg: something.com), the IP address of your subscription (or free) tracking website and their ‘port’ and the IMEI of the device (which is written on the outside of the device and you can also text and ask its IMEI number) to make the device work, but persevere the tracking website you choose will know what your talking about even if we don’t. There is an Australian company selling these (and are quite expensive), and they produce some excellent ‘YouTube’ videos on installing the tracker in your bike. I found the most difficult part was getting the end off and re-aligning it to put it back on, but with some tiny marks I made on it to line it up before turning and pushing into position (again the Aussy site have covered this on video too), you get used to it. There’s also a potential issue with the securing nut coming undone; with one nut when you try and screw out the unit, there's a possiblity of the nut unscrewing with the unit and dropping out the bottom of the tracker, but with a minor modification, this too was overcome. If you 'mouseover' the image on the right above you'll see an extra nut and a clip to stop the original nut riding down with vibration, 'mouseout' to see the clip fitted. Here's a few of its features-

  • Based on the existing GSM2/GPRS network and GPS satellites, it can remotely monitor your bike via GOOGLE maps with an accuracy of five to ten metres.
  • Even without GPRS satellites the tracker uses triangulation of the phone network acting as a double-tracking solution, and texts you a Google map link and latitude & longitude.
  • It can text your choice phone with the slightest movement of your bike (with three different sensitivity's) and you can text it for various questions.
  • It can text your choice phone with a low battery alarm.
  • It has a geo-fence, over-speed, straight line alarm.
  • Concealed in the head stock fork tube, it does not affect the appearance.

I’m overwhelmed by this gadget, it’s like having a virtual person sat next to your bike 24 hours a day, and should anyone touch my bike, the virtual person tells me and not only that, if the bike moves to a different position, I’ll know where that is too. This is a fantastic piece of kit and gives the me the piece of mind I long for when leaving my bike unsupervised, it only loses one star because it takes a bit of time to install and set up (and I’m impatient and want everything to work first time out of the box), but once you see it working; OMG, what an incredible contraption. Ah, I hear you say, the thieves read the same websites as us. Well, it’s not that easy to get the tracker out without the right tool, and even if they did have the right tool to take it out and throw it away, it’s already notified you of movement, then the thief has to deal with your locks. There are also several versions of the tracker that are in different positions on the bike, and for all the thief knows, the steerer tube tracker is a dummy and the real one is elsewhere. It all helps.

Portable Music Bike Speaker       £12 on dhgate.com       Ramblingfatman rating 3★

Using earphones on a bike in traffic is asking for trouble, I don’t think it’s sensible taking away one of your senses. This is where this little beauty comes in, it’s about the width of a frame tube and only 5 inches long. This anodised aluminium tube comes in several colours to suit your bike. It comes with a ‘H’ shaped rubber mounting that velcros onto the handlebars, the unit is shower proof when the speaker jack socket rubber cover is closed and it also has a plastic speaker. The standard 3.5mm jack-plug is multi use- you can plug your phone straight into it for sound, plug your ear phones in (which also doubles up as the aerial for the FM radio), and it’s the charging socket. It has a Micro SD card slot and which can support a 2gb card, enough for an estimated 500 songs (enough for one or two days). The battery lasts several hours, but that obviously depends how loud you play it, for me it can easily last two or three days of riding. It’s not loud enough to overcome traffic noise, but quite loud enough on country roads to have it set at ¾ volume. Using your earphones the battery can last up over 50 hours. The buttons are multi-functional and so it takes a little time to get used to the operation, the instructions are not very coherent (same old Asian to English problem), but if you play with it long enough you’ll master it. With the speaker at one end and the controls the other end (mouseover the image to see the controls), you either have the sound facing you or the controls, obviously the best sound is when the speaker is facing you.

  • Waterproof speaker with good sound.
  • Radio/ MP3 and speaker.
  • Stores up to 500 songs with a Micro SD card
  • Battery lasts a long time especially on earphones.

I bought this on Ebay a few years ago, but can’t find it today except direct from China. There are many versions on Ebay and Amazon which are probably a better design with integrated Blue-tooth receiver and they also double up as a torch. I bought a tiny stand alone Blue-tooth receiver that plugs into my unit to overcome its lack of Blue-tooth and it works well. I can’t comment on the new speakers/ torches, but I’m sure they’re are just as good if not better than mine. It loses 2★’s for poor instructions and no internal memory, but I’d buy another one.

Gallob Anti-theft Security Alarm      under £3 on Ebay       Ramblingfatman rating 5★

Does anyone pay any attention to a car alarm going off these days, you may answer no, but you can’t deny it does turn peoples heads and that’s good enough. Used in conjunction with good locks on a bike and attached to a solid structure, how many people would walk past this alarm once activated, if it causes hesitation with the thief, that’s enough. On the downside, somebody needs to be in earshot of this device, so it has it’s limitations. Mounted on the seat tube close to the crossbar stops the thief just pulling out the battery and therefore disabling the device. Some of the Ebay images show it mounted on the downtube, depreciating it’s effectiveness. For me there has been two occasions when the alarm was activated- One was when we were at a Padstow hotel and were told to leave the bikes outside chained to a railing, it went off around 3am and we heard it from our room. An attempted theft? Who knows, it was raining heavily, but it hadn’t gone off before in the rain and mounted upright it is waterproof? The second time it activated was at Uttoxeter Racecourse, I was camping in the centre of the racecourse, the bike was locked to the track fence and went off in the morning. When I stuck my head out of the tent, the course sprinklers were just switched on (not like a garden sprinkler, there was some force behind them). So it did work.

  • With a four digit code the thief has 1 in 10,000 chance of getting it right first time.
  • It has three movement/ vibration sensitivity settings.
  • It has a 105db siren which begins by sounding on and off, if it detects more vibration, the alarm is continous.
  • Low standby current ensures a long battery life.

With a peanut price range equivalent to three chocolate bars, this is a no-brainer purchase. You could go for the deluxe version (a few £ more) which is activated by a key fob, but I can’t see the point. Okay, it’s not going to cause a thief to cower away, hide his head in shame and run away leaving your bike alone. However, if you’re in earshot or if someone’s willing to act upon the alarm, it’s invaluable. It has to be 5★’s due to the price, but it’s also a piece of cake to put on your bike and set up (it could lose 1/2 a ★ on the dodgy English instructions again, but it’s that simple to operate, I’m willing to forgive).

I will review more gadgets as I come across them.

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