I ❤ Bike Gadgets

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

I do love gadgets, but I don’t want to pay the earth for them, 'buy cheap- buy twice' isn’t always the case. This gadget page generally concentrates on the lower end of the market without scrimping on quality, if it’s rubbish, I’ll say so. Whatever the item, there’s usually a cheaper version of it, but quite often even the marked up versions are made by the same manufacture as the cheap ones. People are often dubious about buying things direct from China, but the biggest issue with some of the Asian products is the interpretation of the instructions, but there’s so much information on the internet, I haven’t failed to get something working properly yet. I’m going to review some new gadgets (new to me) and some old gadgets that have proved their worth over time. Select one of the icons below to jump to that gadget.

Battery Box

CO2 valve

   Bike dvr

Bike Tracker

Solar panel

Phone holder

mp3/ Speaker

  Garmin gps

Airbed pump

  Bike alarm

Puncher proof

Battery Pack box for a CREE Headlight       £6.39 on Ebay       My 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       My 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 £120 a year for each bike (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 website to track it on ‘google maps’, but there are free subscription sites too. To make the it work, you will need the ‘APN’ from your sim supplier (its just their website eg: something.com), the IMEI of your device (which is written on the outside of the device and you can also text and ask its IMEI number), the IP address of your subscription tracking website (or choose a free one) and their 'port', persevere the tracking website you choose will know what your talking about even if we don’t. Then you text the tracker this stuff from your phone and away it goes. There is an Australian company selling these (and they are quite expensive), and they produce some excellent ‘YouTube’ videos on installing the tracker in your bike. ‘Sherlock’ and ‘Spybike’ are two of the UK sellers marking this gadget up under their own brand name, but have a look at the price, then look at the cheaper ones on eBay- they’re the same!

I found the most difficult part was getting the end off and then re-aligning it to put it back on, but with some tiny marks I made on the cap and the body. You can line it up before turning and pushing into position, again the Aussy site have covered this on video too, so you get used to it. There’s also a potential issue with the securing nut jamming on the star nut, but with a minor modification, this too was overcome. If you 'mouseover' the image on the right above you'll see an extra nyloc 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 sensitivities) and you can text the tracker 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 bikes 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 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, firstly- the thief has to deal with your locks, by this time the device has already notified you on your phone of the bike movement. 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. Anyway, it’s not that easy to get the tracker out without the right tool. It all helps.

Portable Music Bike Speaker       £12 on dhgate.com       My 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       My 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. Some of the Ebay images show it mounted on the downtube, depreciating it’s effectiveness. Mounted on the seat tube close to the crossbar stops the thief just pulling out the battery and therefore disabling the device.

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, this could be useful as a panic alarm. 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).

Puncture-proof tape      around £3 on eBay       My rating 4★

Punctures from thorns, glass, and road debris are the enemies of every cyclist. Though not strictly a gadget, there is stuff on the market to help, ranging from- puncher proof tyres, run-flat foam inserts, to inner-tubes that repair themselves when pierced. The puncher proof tyres are expensive, but do work to a degree. The run-flat foam inserts are very expensive and don’t strictly prevent punctures, but do allow the rider to continue once the inner-tube has gone down. The 'slime-tubes' repair themselves to a degree, but are only suitable if you have a short distance to go. You can buy the tubes with the goo in or buy an additive that squirts in the valve. The downside of the slime-tube is; you have to keep topping them up with air and they smear the inside of the tyre and the outside of the inner-tube with sticky goo making it almost impossible to put a patch on a slime-tube once they’ve been breached, so you have to throw every punchered inner-tube away. The alternative is almost too good to be true (hover over the image to see it in action), there's a composite tape that makes any tyre puncher resistant. If you combine a puncher resistant tyre with this tape (or combinations of all), you have an almost indestructible tyre. You can get it from eBay for around £3, other manufactures make it, but they're more expensive. When a thorn or glass has pierced the tyre, it won't usualy penetrate the tube through the tape (it's not infallible though; you still have to remove the thorn or glass, as eventually it will go through). This is a fantastic product, and I've used this Polyurethane polymer tape on all of my bikes and I love the stuff.

  • It comes in different widths and wheel sizes.
  • It's ultra-thin and light.
  • It doesn't affect the ride.
  • There's usually two rolls, one for each tyre.

The more expensive tapes do have a sticky backing, but if you buy a roll of double sided sticky tape, in the long run it will save you money. The down side of the anti-puncture tape is the fitting- put several small sections of double sided tape on the inside of your tyre, insert the polymer tape contrary to the way the tape was rolled, make rounded cuts to the two ends and secure them with insulation tape. If you don’t do the latter, it can eventually defeat the object; rubbing the inner-tube causing a puncture. Rest assured, I’ve done thousands of miles using these tapes with no punctures. It has to be 4★’s due to the price, and efficiency of the product, but loses 1★ as the cheaper version is a bit fiddly to fit.

Deyan CO2 inflation valve      around £6 on Amazon       My rating 5★

The previous gadget was about preventing punchers, so now it seems prudent to discuss re-inflating the tyre after a flat. On every ride, bikers know it’s critical to carry a pump to re-inflate the tyres. Historicaly, the pumps were cumbersome and time consuming. Then came paint-ball, who used small carbon dioxide cylinders to charge the guns, someone must have had a eureka moment and used these CO2 cylinders to inflate cycle tyres. Now you can get combination pumps that have the traditional manual action of a pump which can also accept the CO2 cylinders. Then came just the valve head, and now these compact, convenient re-inflater’s are everywhere, so there’s nothing new about this neat little item- except the price.

The pumps range from £20 up to silly prices, but most cyclists are opting for a valve system that just needs the canister and even these can be silly prices. I’ve found one on Amazon that’s just £5.99. They say you get what you pay for, but these are great quality and excellent value, so why pay more? The initial ones were push fit, you had no control how much pressure went into the tube and where you held the gas canister sometimes caused a cold burn to your hands. Through design improvements, this one is unlikely to burn your hands. The unique design makes it easy to seal the control valve, rotating from open to close in a heart beat.

  • Small and lightweight- the valve and canister can fit into the smallest of pockets.
  • Inflates the tyre in seconds.
  • The valve allows precision inflation for different tyre pressures.
  • Compatible for use with presta and schrader valves (with a small supplied adaptor).
  • Ideal for topping up tyres with slow punctures until the next stop.
  • Can be fully assembled on the tyre valve before releasing the CO2.

There are different gram CO2 cartridges, but even the small ones will inflate a road tyre to 100 psi and an MTB tyre to approximately 40 psi, the fat tyres require a higher volume, so use the bigger gram CO2 cartridge. What about the negatives? The supplied adaptor is small and easily lost, and once the canister is attached to the valve, it will not hold the pressure overnight, but I can’t really drop any stars because of this. It’s a distant period of time when we used pumps that fitted on the seat post tube. I’m not saying they were bad, in fact they're better than the modern mini-pumps, but they’re not better than the CO2 inflater's.

PortaPow solar powered USB charger      around £40 on Amazon       My rating 5★

Though camping is supposed get me away from all of the trappings of modern life, I usually head into the wilderness with a host of devices in tow, most of which require frequent charging to keep them from becoming nothing more than dead weight. I’ve tried the smaller solar panels and they’re really not fit for purpose, they’re usually on the back of a battery and only trickle charge that battery, once it’s drained that’s it. If you’re on a camp-site, without an electrical hookup, or you’re stealth camping, you can’t re-charge your gadgets. Even if there is power, security of your device is of concern, especially if you have to leave it unattended to charge. The portable solar panel is an appliance you can continue to use whilst riding the bike, or at camp, or at home.

  • Highly efficient solar cells convert up to 23.5% of solar power into free energy.
  • Powerful and lightweight.
  • The smart electronics detect the connected devices' individual input, guaranteeing appropriate charging.
  • Weatherproof and will work whatever the weather.
  • Equipped with several braided loops to attach to whatever.
  • Foldable format to about the size of a book.
  • In good sunlight it will charge at 1½ amps output.

You shouldn't lay the solar panel directly on concrete, Sand, rock or other high heat conduction surfaces in direct sunlight as it will cause the solar panel to overheat and significantly reduce the conversion rate and output wattage. The only part that isn’t waterproof is the USB socket, so be careful if it’s in the rain. In cloudy weather the charging capacity is reduced and could take a long time to charge your kit. It's not cheap and there are loads on the internet that are cheaper, do your research and don’t just rely on one website for reviews. This one does work, but there are a lot of fakes or less reliable cells on the market, this is probably one gadget you can’t scrimp on price.

Garmin Edge 705      around £45 on eBay       My rating 5★

Unlike driving, our respective requirements for a cycling route can vary substantially. I prefer old railway cycle paths, dedicated cycle lanes and quiet lanes, or sometimes off-road across country or Byways. If you add family cycling into the mix, the requirements will change again. For these reasons, relying on your smartphone or a specific car related GPS device to plot a route for cycling, will usually plot your course using the quickest route, probably directing you to use busy roads. Planning your route in advance on a computer, then downloading to a specific cycle GPS device will give a far better experience. The smart phone apps like ‘OS Maps’ are brilliant and you can download the maps and routes to your phone and use them wherever you go, even if you have no phone signal in an area, but using your phone for several hours will deplete the battery significantly. My SatNav is the Garmin edge 705, it has full European maps on a small 16GB Microsd TF Memory Card. The Garmin 705 is old, and still works well. I can only recommend the one I have, but the new ones are allegedly much better, some with a rear radar alert!

  • It can be used as a standalone SatNav.
  • Never get lost as it will track your route, then show you the way back.
  • It shows heart rate, cadence, and power data.
  • You can set turn-by-turn directions, it even has a compass screen.
  • It can plot an altitude profile, time to go, distance to go.
  • Night time backlit screen, 12 hour plus battery.
  • You can store and analyse your workout.
  • Full European maps on a Microsd card.

The downside- when the battery is depleted it will take several hours to recharge, but there’s easily enough power for two long days. Though it is water resistant, the screen will fog with condensation if used all day in really bad weather. The charging/ computer port has a little rubber flap underneath, if you lose this, it can also let damp in. The screen isn't very big and if it's displaying street names, I need my reading glasses. If you plan to follow a popular route or trail, check if someone else has created the route. A quick Google for your route will often lead you to a downloadable file ready to copy onto the Garmin. Second hand if you can get it with the European maps card (which is around £30 itself), it’s a bargain at around £40, especially since the newer models are around £180 (+ the European maps card).

Handlebar phone mount      around £12 at GoOutdoors (with discount card)       My rating 3★

Even though I use the Garmin 705 as a great navigation aid, I have got lost on occasions and had to rely on Google maps on my phone as a back up. As a consequence, I've ridden one handed, holding my phone in the other hand, trying to watch where I'm riding and looking at the screen to correct my course. Obviously, this isn't a good idea. Maybe a phone holder is needed; there’s stem cap mounts, stem mounts, front stem mounts (fixing to the four bolts that hold the handlebars to the stem) and handlebar mounts, then there’s the phone holder itself- somehow the elasticated holders don’t seem sturdy enough for me, and the clamp type will rattle (and from past experience, may come out on that bumpy downhill track). I think the better alternative is an enclosure type. ‘Quad-lock’ and ‘SP Connect’ are the market leaders, and they look good, but they're all modular; you pay for the phone mount, and you have to pay for the case (which is good as it can be used as a phone cover too). All this is very expensive in the region of £65, but some may say, "I’ve spent a fortune on my phone so it needs the best holder". That may be true, but after all that, they don't have one to fit my phone. So, I’ve searched for a universal unit at the right price, suitability and quality, finding it at ‘Go Outdoors’. Here’s what they say about the item-

  • Secure touch screen protection, with full access to the phone.
  • Weather-proof, sweat resistant case with built-in screen protection.
  • Quickly secures onto any bicycle handlebar.
  • Rotates 360° so you can easily adjust between horizontal and vertical viewing.
  • 2-in-1 design allows a GoPro camera to be mounted for the perfect shooting angle.
  • Opens up to store all your cards and money.

Here’s the low down- On the web-sales image, it looked as if the arm was made of metal, but it's made of plastic and there seems a lot of weight on the arm and there would be even more if you installed a GoPro camera. How long will this arm last? The case is huge measuring 18cm x 10cm, it has a foam insert you cut to size for your phone. The phone is difficult to get in and out and there's no access to the side buttons outside of the pouch, but you can use the touch screen through the cover. You can detach the cover off the mount (and use it as an independent phone cover/ wallet), and it's robust enough to pass the drop test from a few feet without damaging the phone. The pouch is waterproof, but in wet weather condensation appears on the inside of the case screen. With the pro’s and con’s, is it worth it? It protects the phone from weather, and it protects the phone from damage. At the price of the favourite ones, yes I'd say it is worth it. Only losing two stars on the condensation and loss of trust with the plastic arm.

DVR Front and Rear Video Camera      around £31 on Wish       My rating ???

Riding on busy roads isn’t pleasurable these days and I’ve had so many close calls, years ago I installed front and rear cameras to download to the ‘Police close call’ sites. My cameras are okay but nothing to rave about, as the battery doesn't last long. I recently bought a dvr to try out, it has front and rear cameras, and at £31 I almost spat my dentures out trying to buy it. It may well be too good to be true, we’ll just have to wait and see.

  • Touch Screen.
  • Memory Card Type: 32gb MicroSD/TF.
  • Camera Resolution : 1280/960.
  • Comes with Front and Rear Camera.
  • Display Size: 3 inches (7.62 cm).
  • Imaging Sensor: Sony Ccd.
  • View angle: 130°, 130 Mega Pixels.
  • Dual Image Stabilization.

The on-screen display language is in French only, lets hope the instruction booklet is in English, but that doesn’t matter either, as once it’s set up- all you need to know is where the on and off button is. Be under no illusions ‘Wish’ is a Chinese company, reading reviews- some stuff is tat, though most of the items are good quality and really cheap. Buying on PayPal will give you a degree of protection. I haven’t received it yet, so I don’t know how good it is. I’ll let you know.

Runacc air pump      around £20 on Amazon       My rating 5★

Camping is supposed to be about getting away from it all, freedom from the everyday grind. Though, it can be exactly what you want it to be, or to be more precise- it’s exactly what I want it to be. That means the labour saving gadgets I use for camping, I want to take them with me, wherever that is. After a long day on the bike, I don’t want to spend twenty minutes hyperventilating blowing my up bed, almost passing out in the process. I started off (as always) with the lightest and smallest battery pump I could get- the NeoAir pump, but frankly I’ve had more powerful farts than the whisper this can produce, so that’s now for sale on eBay. Have a look at a short video of the Runacc pump, it really is that quick. This little pump puts out a wind equivalent to sticking your head out of a car at thirty mph, back to reality- it pumps my airbed up in less than a minute. You could let the air out of the bed and wait, and wrestle it back into the bag or use the Runacc pump to take the air out. The beauty of letting the pump do the job is; you can put a vacuum in the airbed making it as small as it is going to get, now it will easily fit back into its stuff-sack.

  • Rechargeable & Portable: recharges from my solar panel bank.
  • Weighs only 270g, it's about ¾ the size of a coke can, that's small enough to take anywhere.
  • Quick-inflation: The small, mighty motor produces effortless inflation, 25 times faster than a hand pump.
  • Four charging indicators for checking the remaining power and charging status.

The downside- when the battery is depleted it takes five hours to recharge, but there’s easily enough power for days. If you’re flying with this, it will need to go on the security belt on its own (because it contains lithium batteries). It’s a bargain at around £20, and works perfectly, so has to be 5★'s for that reason.

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