Saturday, 10 August 2013

For want of a little charge.

cell-phone-battery-dead2Phone manufacturers have come up with these marvelous new ‘smart’ devices that do everything from checking your email while on the road (like anything is EVER that important), to allow you to listen to tunes or the radio, or sometimes even actually phone someone and talk person to person. But the one thing they haven’t been able to do is create a battery that will last a full day of texting, chatting, emailing, picture taking, and GPS’ing. And a cell phone with a dead battery is just excess baggage.
dead-batteryDitto for cameras. Whether it’s your new GoPro or your older point-and-shoot, it’s no good without power and, if you’re like me, that’s the state my cameras are usually in when I want to take that once-in-a-lifetime shot – dead battery, AGAIN!
So it was with some interest that I listened to Bobscoot (Wet Coast Scootin) as he showed me how he stays powered up and connected even after several weeks on the road. Then, on my way home from meeting him in Perth (post here), I stopped at the Canadian Tire in Smith’s Falls and picked up the few bits I’d need to give myself similar self-sufficiency, even when only out on a day trip.
The key to the whole thing is that I use a battery tender and have the plug permanently connected to my battery and easily accessible. It’s a standard two-pronged plug which gives me 12 volts – more than enough to keep everything I own fully charged.
The other key factor is that virtually all portable devices now from tablets to cameras have a USB connector for data transfer and charging.
So here are the parts I started with:
2 prong pin connector
Two prong pin connector
cigarette lighter socket
Female cigarette lighter outlet
The first thing I did was wire the cigarette lighter socket and the 2-prong plug together. I cut and re-soldered the wires making sure thatcigarette lighter socket 2 the ground terminal from the battery was connected to the inside walls of the socket. The ground should be the exposed pin on the battery tender connector if it was installed correctly. If not, fix that first. You can also buy these connectors ready made (see photo) but I was in a hurry, besides I wanted a specific length of cable to reach into my saddlebag from the battery tender pins.
Slide in your USB plug and you now have a 12 volt USB power source. Note that some of the cigarette lighter sockets can be quite deep and sometimes (as in my case) the USB plug wouldn’t actually reach the pin at the bottom and so couldn’t make the connection. A few minutes with a hacksaw to trim 1/8” off the top of the socket fixed that problem.
USB plug for cigarette lighter
So far so good. You can now try your various connector cables with your phone, tablet, or camera to test the system. In most cases it will work fine, but in some, not so much.
Apparently there are some devices out there, notably Android based, that are just a bit too smart. These devices send a signal of some sort to the power source to see if it is suitable or not, and if not they simply won’t charge with a standard data cable. It turns out I have 2 of those devices. There are charging-only cables available but they can be hard to find and it’s quite easy to modify one of the countless cables you probably already have lying about.
extra USB-micro connecting cable
Every USB connecting cable has 4 wires: red and black for power and white and green for data. All you need to do is short out the data cables by connecting them together at the device end of the cable (not the USB end). To do this carefully cut open the plastic coating to expose the wires inside. Cut the white and green wires. Strip 1/8” or so off the device end wires and twist the wires together. (Solder is better if you have a soldering iron, but twisting will work.) Then wrap the join with plastic electrician’s tape, wrap the cut ends from the USB side to prevent shorting, and wrap the whole thing with electrical tape. You now have a charging-only cable that will work with everything.
So for about $15 in bits and pieces and a few minutes work I now no longer have to worry about a dead battery in my cell phone or camera. If it’s getting low I simply plug it in, toss the whole thing into my saddlebag and let it charge while I ride. Thanks Bob!


  1. I put SAE pass-throughs on both the top box and the tank bag. This allows me to have the USB charger in a reasonably weather tight area. I also have a 150 watt-hour battery pack that I can recharge when I'm in a motel. It'll power my laptop for about 15 hours or recharge my phone or iPad using the USB port quite a few times per charge. While camping at the MOA rally last month, I used this as my only recharging source for my phone and tablet for four days recharging both daily.

    They have dual USB cigarette lighter adapters that have a 12w and a 5w port allowing two devices to be charged at the same time. I picked up one at the "impulse purchase" display next to the cash register at Lowes.

    1. Richard - I have a little 35 watt-hour portable battery as well (also thanks to Bob) but I expect I'll find it out of juice as well one day.

  2. Bob knowseverything about being Moto self sufficient.

  3. Nice done. Now you will be able to stay connected.

    Sigh - I miss Canadian Tire.

    1. It's the go-to store for pretty much everything.

  4. thanks canajun! i was wondering how best to do this... great info!

    1. Glad it's useful. I know I'm looking forward to not having to ration my cell phone usage just because I won't be home for 12 hours.

  5. Canajun - I have a universal charger - plug it into my 12 volt and can charge anything I carry ... never used it the first couple of years so don't even bother to carry it with me anymore. Perhaps if I was travelling to the outback of some underdeveloped country with no electricity, anywhere, ever ... But then you never know.

    1. Karen - I'm surprised you never used it on your long trips; I would have thought it would be indispensable. But this little cable has a permanent place in my saddle bag because my phone battery seems to have a life of about 4 hours or 100 miles from home, whichever comes first.


Please feel free to comment, but any comments with commercial links will be deleted. You have been warned.