Where do you draw the line when it comes to electronic gear to take on a bicycle tour? Here's a look at cameras, GPS, and gadgets for bike touring.
Taking electronic gear on a bicycle tour
When I first started bike touring on a ride around New Zealand for a few months, I had no electronic gear at all. The camera I had was a film one, I used an excellent cycling guidebook to New Zealand which had useful information, Zuckerberg hadn't reached puberty, and what internet there was, was a bit of a novelty.
Fast forward 20 odd years, and my how times have changed! Some of it is for the better, such as access to good maps, information, and communication. Some of it… well, not so much.I consider electronic gear to be tools. Whether I need to take something or not will depend on the value and use I get out of it. For example, because I work online, a laptop is a must for me. For you, it might be an unnecessary burden.
Do you need to take electronics on a bike tour?
Absolutely not! Sure, electronic gadgets can make life easier in some circumstances, and help you to document and remember your journey in future years, but they are not essential.
You can get by quite easily with a pen and paper to create a diary, and a paper map to plan out your route. If you wanted to go really old school, you could even use a camera that takes rolls of film (are they still available?!).
With that said, if you want to keep up with email, do online banking, share your experiences on social media, work online, keep a blog, or make videos, you'll need to take at least some electronic devices along on your tour.
Pros and Cons of electronic bike touring gadgets
Which brings us to the pros and cons of using electronic devices on a bike tour. As with anything you have to lug along in your panniers when cycling, you'll have to weigh up (both physically and logically) the benefits of each item.
For example, if you're not keeping a blog, aren't creating videos and don't need to work online, it would be hard to justify taking a laptop on a cycling tour. If you aim to create kick-ass videos, you'll probably want more than one camera and even a drone.
The choice, as they say, is yours!
Smartphone – The all in one bike touring gadget
If you're conscious of how much weight you want to carry when bike touring, but want a device that does it all, then a smartphone is the way to go.
With a half decent phone, you can take photos, create videos, check your email, find your way on Google maps, call Mum, and even watch cat videos on Facebook.
The better the phone, the more you can do with it, greater the storage, sharper the camera, and longer the battery life. Personally, I'm more of an Android fan than an Apple fan, and love my Samsung S10+ phone.
It wasn't cheap when I bought it in 2019, but I figure it will last me a few years, so it's a good investment.
Cameras for bike touring
If I have regrets from my bike tours, it's not taking a good enough camera along on them, not taking enough photos, and then somehow losing the original files. That's why a lot of my photos from cycling Alaska to Argentina look small, and are of bad quality like this:
Don't be like me! Make sure you have a good camera, take tonnes of photos, and back them up!
You might find that a good smartphone such as the Samsung mentioned above is more than adequate for your photography needs. I do, and also like the way that it backs my photos up automatically in the cloud when I am connected to WiFi.
If you want better photos and know what you are doing, you'll probably want to invest in a dedicated camera, along with all the lenses and other things to accompany it.
This is not my field of expertise, so I've got nothing specific to recommend. If you have a good camera for bike touring, let me know what it is in the comments section at the end of this post.
Action cameras for bike touring
If you want to take good video when bike touring, an action camera is the way to go. Whilst a good general camera will also take video, action cameras specialize in the way they do it with extra stabilization.
There's many different brands of action camera, and the one that I am most familiar with is the Go Pro Range. The Hero 8 is their latest offering as of April 2020 which is something I hope to upgrade to shortly. I'm still rocking a GoPro Hero 5!
Available via Amazon: GoPro Hero 8
More here: Best cycling cameras for bike touring
Drones for bike touring
Drone technology has changed much over the years. We've gone from big bulky drones, to ones that could almost fit in your pocket. The battery life of these smaller drones could always be better, but one way to get around that is to take plenty of spare batteries with you.
Again, this is an area I've yet to dip my toes into. DJI are the go-to brand, and out of their current range I like the look of the Mini.
Available via Amazon: DJI Mini
GPS for bicycle touring
I've got a love hate relationship with my GPS. It seems to work great when I need to cycle out of a city. Then, it will lead me through a muddy field when I'm out in the countryside.
Battery life is also an issue. You can get a day or two's ride out of a cycling GPS battery, but then it will need recharging. These days, I honestly think a smartphone is better, but you'd need to find a good way to attach it to the handlebars.
I use a Garmin Edge Touring Plus device, which I believe has since been discontinued. They have a range of other cycling GPS devices, some of which may be more suitable for bicycle touring than others.
Check their range on Amazon: Garmin Cycling GPS
Laptop for bicycle tours
I've taken a laptop on all of my long distance bike tours. You can only imagine how crappy the laptop I took when cycling from England to Cape Town in 2006-2007 was!
I did this because I wanted to update my websites, be able to browse online, and to watch films on my days off the bike. A laptop is also useful for editing photos and creating videos.
If I was to choose the ultimate laptop for bike touring (writing this in 2020), it would be my current 2019 model Dell XPS 13 7390. I chose the one without 4K, non touch screen, not a 2 in 1.
It's got a ridiculously long battery life, is powerful, and has a solid state drive. With the cable, it weighs just over one KG. Yes, it does come with a hefty price tag, but hey that's life.
The extra bonus, is that it charges via a USB-C slot, meaning that I can charge it up from a powerbank. More on that later.
E-readers and Kindles
Possibly the most under-rated gadget to take on a bike tour is an e-reader or Kindle. This device is actually incredibly useful, as you can take along a veritable library of books on your next bike tour, and it weighs less than one book.
The battery life of a Kindle is also amazing. Unless you are a voracious reader, you'll probably only find yourself recharging it every month or so.
In addition to being able to buy books online to put on the kindle, you can also transfer over PDFs, which means you can build a library very cheaply. Additionally, some classic books are now out of copyright and can also be downloaded for free.
I've currently got the Kindle Paperwhite. Find out about it here: Kindle Paperwhite
Solar Panels and Powerbanks
If you've decided to take one or more of the items mentioned above on your next bike tour, you'll need to find a way to keep it all charged. This is easy if you're staying in official accommodation each night, but a bit more tricky if you plan on wild camping a lot.
The simplest solution, is to carry one or more powerbanks with you. These are basically storage batteries which you can then recharge your electronic gear from.
It's even possible nowadays to charge a laptop from a powerbank, providing it is a USB-C powered laptop. Pretty amazing! I recently reviewed such a powerbank here: Anker Powercore 26800.
The next question, is how to get the powerbank fully charged in the first place. The easiest method, is to charge it whenever you have access to a wall socket, be it in a cafe, hotel room, or campground. Another option is to top it up from a solar panel you could strap on the back of your panniers.
I've no direct experience with using solar panels for bike touring yet. A look at some of the solar panels other cyclists are using mentioned the following:
Whilst the electronic gadgets mentioned above are the more common ones people might take on a bike tour, there are also others.
- Dedicated MP3 Player
- Zoom Audio Recorder
- Bicycle Lights
- Tablet computer
- Media streaming stick
The list can be endless. Just keep in mind that it's all additional weight, and it all needs charging. Only take what you need, and have a great bike tour!
More Bike Touring Guides
You might also be interested in these other guides and blog posts about bike touring:
- Saddles for bicycle touring
- Bike touring accessories
- Best panniers for bicycle touring
- Multi-Tools for bike touring