One of the challenges of any long-distance bike ride (beyond the actual pedaling, of course) is in keeping your phone charged. Most cyclists enjoy using one of the many mapping programs available to track their route and ride stats; however, using GPS drains the battery pretty quick. In fact, while battery life on my iPhone is twelve hours for a normal day, it's three hours or less when on a ride using GPS or with a mapping app turned on. That's a bummer given that you probably have both the desire to track a long ride like a century route (100 miles), but still be certain that you have enough battery to be able to make a call home in case of emergency or just to update the family on what time you'll be back.
That's why I was so interested to learn about solar-powered battery chargers and their capacity to solve this problem. A reader and touring cyclist who has used this type of gadget on his own rides suggested I check this out. What follows is a review of one of the more capable devices on the market, the Revive Solar ReStore XL + solar charger.
Many Uses for This Versatile Tool
The first thing that I figured out in testing it (on an unsupported four-day bike tour) is that there are a number of nifty features built into the Solar Restore XL+, and that the solar charging is just one aspect of it that proves extraordinarily handy.
I pictured it working like this: I'd be riding along on some long bike trip and my cell phone battery would run low. I'd pull out the charger, leave it in the sun for a while mounted on my bike rack (using the included suction cups and carabiner that allow for multiple mounting positions to find the best angle for catching some rays) as I rode along and after a while my phone would be charged.
And while yes, it can work that way, the most handy part of the Solar Restore XL+ is that it is actually a battery itself. Before leaving home, you goose the thing with a hearty initial charge, which will enough to power seven full smartphone charges or a single charge of tablet device like an iPad before the device itself needs recharging. This can be done via AC power (wall outlet), solar or USB.
In practical terms, what this meant is that on a recent bike trip I charged the Solar Restore XL+ at home before leaving. Then, during the day while we were out riding I not only recharged my smartphone that was running low but also my buddy's phone as well. Then, once we reached our destination later that afternoon I set the Solar Restore XL+ out in the sun and it was soon recharged.
In my opinion, having the ability to carry power with you that you can replenish as needed is the best asset of the Solar Restore XL+. Its ability to use one of several methods of recharging (outlet, USB or solar) is another cool thing. It is certainly something that I would pack along on a bike tour or camping trip.
Multiple Features in the Solar Restore XL+
The designers of the Solar Restore XL+ incorporated a number of smart features that enhance its usability. The device includes a very bright three-bulb, 50-hour LED flashlight built into one end that comes in handier than you might imagine for things like putting up a tent in the dark or trying to repair a flat tire on a night ride. You can also for instance use the suction cups and/or carabiner to create an improvised bike light that will allow you to be seen more easily if you get caught out riding after dark. The flashlight can be used in steady beam or flash mode; it even offers a continuous "SOS" flash mode that transmits an illuminated distress signal that can literally be seen for miles.
Additionally, simplicity rules the day in that the Solar Restore XL+ is operated by a single toggle button that controls the device's functional state: whether it is charging another device, being used as a flashlight, or to light the display that shows how charged the Solar Restore XL+ is.
The "+" or "plus" in the Solar Restore XL+ name refers to the second separate charging panel that nearly doubles the charging rate of the device in direct sunlight. It connects quickly and easily using spring hinge and connection bar. This allows the flexibility to carry it with you when you want the extra charging capacity or to leave it home if you're trying to pack light.
Highly Rated - Few Drawbacks
All in all, we like the Solar Restore XL+ very much. It certainly solved the vexing problem of smartphones chewing through their battery not even halfway into long bike rides. Now I'll be able to track my ride the whole way through AND listen to my jamming tunes AND still call home when needed. Sounds like win-win-win to me.
- Fully charges in direct sunlight in 11 hours.
- Fully charges by USB/AC outlet in 6-8 hours.
- Built-in battery status meter and multiple mode LED flashlight.
- Includes detachable solar panel, USB charging cable; carabiner and window mounts.
- 6,000 mAh capacity Li-Polymer battery.
- 580mA high efficiency charging rate (using both panels).
- Durable construction with ABS plastic and rear aluminum-accented shell.
- Available in black or white.
- Dimensions: XL+ solar charger/battery - Length 6.7" Width 3.6" Thickness 0.8"
- Dimensions: Add-on Panel - Length 5.3" Width 3.7" Thickness 0.3"
- Combined weight is 13 ounces. Each add-on panel weighs 3 ounces
- List price $120; listed for about $60 here on Amazon.com and other sites.