Ever gone for a long bike ride in unfamiliar territory? Probably used your phone's GPS to help navigate, right? Convenient. However, that also makes running out of juice more than just a small annoyance. Siva Cycle's Atom might just solve that, and a host of other battery issues for the tech-bound biker.
The Atom, a Kickstarter project that launches today, is a small device that connects to your bike and converts the mechanical, locomotive energy into an electrical charge for your gadgets. In practical terms, it will charge an iPhone one percent for every two minutes of pedaling. That should be enough to at least keep the battery meter from dropping while you're using an intensive navigation program. It can charge your device directly via included USB cables, or it can charge its own removable 1300mAh battery, which you can take with you when you stop and use as an external battery for your phone.
The rub for the Atom is that it's super small, easy to install, and, supposedly, reliable. It's a low-profile, weather-proof, 10.5 ounce device. It feeds your device the same amount of power as the USB port on your computer (5 volts at 500 mAh), so it can charge anything your laptop can (including lights, phones, bike computers, and GPS devices).
Where Siva's Atom really shines is how easy it is to install and use. You pop off your bike wheel's quick-release, pop the Atom onto the axle, and then pop the wheel back onto the bike. Done. No bike shop required, no extra hardware needed. Pretty slick. Siva claims it delivers 80 percent efficiency—meaning 80 percent of the energy it's siphoning off of your pedaling actually makes its way to your gadget—which is an impressive number if it bears out. More energy for the same amount of pedaling. The key to that is the 3:1 internal gearing, so it's as if your bike's wheel is spinning much faster than it really is.
Of course, adding any generator will cost your legs something. Siva estimates that using the Atom is about like adding a 0.3 percent grade, which translates to a verrrrrrry gentle incline, to your ride. That's the kind of thing your legs will get used to after a few rides (obviously, take it off if you're going to be racing).
It's no harder (or easier) to steal that your rear wheel, since that's what it's attached to, so you'll want to make sure you lock your bike in a way that the wheel can't be disengaged. Or just remove it and take it with you.
Now, there are other bike-powered generators out there. The most common (and cheapest) type is known as a bottle cap generator. It's essentially a contraption that is mounted to your frame or seat-post and has a little bottle cap-like wheel that is spun by your spinning tire. They are, however, not super reliable, as it's pretty easy for the cap to become disengaged with the wheel. They also aren't particularly efficient—they typically hover around 50 percent efficiency, with some high-end models claiming as much as 70 percent. The other type of generator is a dynamo hub. This is where the generator is put right in to the hub of your wheel. It's a more efficient and reliable system (typically 65 to 70 percent efficiency), however, it has to be built into your wheel, which isn't cheap ($250-300, plus instillation). Both of these generator types have another problem: they deliver raw current. For charing a gadget, you need a nice, steady current that doesn't surge or ebb based on how hard you're pedaling. So for both of these types you need to buy an additional device to regulate the current and make it usable, and that device has got to be stored somewhere on the bike, typically in a saddlebag. The Atom, supposedly, lets you sidestep all that extra cost and bulk.
The Atom's Kickstarter project launches today. The first two hundred or so can get one for the early-bird price of $85. After those are gone, they'll go for $95, which is still a good deal if it works as advertised. When it eventually hits retail in the fall, the MSRP will probably be $105. The components are made in China and the U.S., and they are assembled stateside. Siva is hoping to ship units in October and November of this year. Also, there's a humanitarian element: for every 10 Atoms they sell, they will donate one to a developing country. Warms the cockles of the heart.
Obviously, this isn't for racer types who try to shave every gram off their bikes and be as efficient as possible. And it comes with the usual buyer beware warnings attached to any Kickstarter. But hypothetically at least, it's for the millions of bike commuters and weekend explorers. Drivers get to charge their devices while they drive, why shouldn't bicycle commuters? [Kickstarter]