Introduction: How to Charge Any USB Device by Riding Your Bike

Picture of How to Charge Any USB Device by Riding Your Bike

To start off, this project was started when we received a grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program. (Josh, if you're reading this, we love you.)
A team of 6 students and one teacher put this project together, and we have decided to put it on Instructables in hopes of winning a laser cutter, or at least a t-shirt.

What follows, is a compilation of our presentation and my own personal notes. I hope you enjoy this Instructable as much as we did.

I'd also like to thank Limor Fried, creator of the MintyBoost circuit. It played an key role in our project.

Jeff Brookins
Divine Child InvenTeam Member

Step 1: Our Original Intention...

Picture of Our Original Intention...

Our original project was to develop a product that used the Faraday Principle to allow runners to charge their iPods while they run. This concept would generate electricity the same way those Faraday flashlights do.
However, we had a problem. To quote my team mate Nick Ciarelli,

"At first we considered using a design similar to one of those shake-up flashlights and converting it so that a runner could strap it on for a run and have energy to charge their iPod or whatever device they use. The shake-up flashlight gets its energy from the interaction of the moving magnetic field of the magnet in the flashlight and the coil of wire wrapped around the tube the magnet slides through. The moving magnetic field causes electrons in the coil to move along the wire, creating an electric current. This current is then stored in a battery, which is then available to use for the flashlight bulb/LED. However, when we calculated how much energy we would be able to get from a run, we determined that it would take a 50-mile run to get enough energy to charge one AA battery. This was unreasonable so we changed our project to the bike system."

We then decided to use a bike-mounted system instead.

Step 2: Our Invention Statement and Concept Evolution

Picture of Our Invention Statement and Concept Evolution

We initially theorized the development and feasibility of a regenerative braking system for use on bicycles. This system would create a mobile power source to extend the battery life of portable electronic devices carried by the rider.

During the experimentation phase, the regenerative braking system was found to be incapable of fulfilling its dual functions simultaneously. It could neither produce enough torque to stop the bike, nor generate enough power to recharge the batteries. The team therefore chose to abandon the braking aspect of the system, to focus solely on the development of a continuous charging system. This system, once constructed and researched, proved fully capable of achieving the desired objectives.

Step 3: Design a Circuit

Picture of Design a Circuit

To start off, we had to design a circuit that could take the ~6 volts from the motor, store it, and then convert it to the 5 volts that we needed for the USB device.

The circuit we designed complements the function of the MintyBoost USB charger, originally developed by Limor Fried, of Adafruit Industries. The MintyBoost uses AA batteries to charge portable electronic devices. Our independently constructed circuit replaces the AA batteries and supplies power to the MintyBoost. This circuit reduces the ~6 volts from the motor to 2.5 volts. This allows the motor to charge the BoostCap (140 F), which in turn supplies power to the MintyBoost circuitry. The ultracapacitor stores energy to continuously charge the USB device even while the bike is not in motion.

Step 4: Getting Power

Picture of Getting Power

Selecting a motor proved a more challenging task.
Expensive motors provided the proper torque needed to create the braking source, however the cost was prohibitive. To make an affordable and effective device another solution was necessary. The project was redesigned as a continuous charging system, out of all possibilities the Maxon motor would be a better choice due to its smaller diameter.
The Maxon motor also provided 6 volts where as previous motors gave us upwards of 20 volts. For the latter motor over-heating would be a huge issue.

We decided to stick with our Maxon 90, which was a beautiful motor, even though its cost was $275.
(For those wishing to build this project, a cheaper motor will suffice.)

We attached this motor close to the rear brake mounts directly on the bike frame using a piece of a meter stick between the motor and frame to act as a spacer, then tightened 2 hose-clamps around it.

Step 5: Wiring

Picture of Wiring

For the wiring from the motor to the circuit several options were considered: alligator clips for mock up, telephone cord, and speaker wire.
The alligator clips proved to work well for the mock up design and testing purposes but they were not stable enough for the final design.
The telephone wire proved fragile, and difficult to work with.
Speaker wire was tested due to its durability therefore becoming the conductor of choice. Although it was stranded wire, it was much more durable due to its larger diameter.

We then just attached the wire to the frame using zip-ties.

Step 6: The Actual Circuit!

Picture of The Actual Circuit!

Tackling the circuitry was the most difficult challenge of the process. Electricity from the motor first travels through a voltage regulator which will allow up to a continuous five amp current; a larger current than other regulators would pass. From there the voltage is stepped down to 2.5 volts which is the maximum the BOOSTCAP can store and safely handle. Once the BOOSTCAP attains 1.2 volts, it has enough power to allow the MintyBoost to provide a 5 volt source for the device being charged.

On the input wires we attached a 5A diode so that we don't get an "assisted-start effect," where the motor would start to spin by using the stored electricity.

We used the 2200uF capacitor to even out the power flow to the voltage regulator.

The voltage regulator that we used, an LM338, is adjustable depending on how you set it, as seen in our circuit diagram. For our purposes, the comparison of two resistors, 120ohm and 135 ohm, connected to the regulator determines the output voltage. We use it to reduce the voltage from ~6 volts to 2.5 volts.

We then take the 2.5 volts and use it to charge our ultracapacitor, a 140 farad, 2.5 volt BOOSTCAP made by Maxwell Technologies. We chose the BOOSTCAP because its high capacitance will allow us to hold a charge even if the bike is stopped at a red light.

The next part of this circuit is something I'm sure you are all familiar with, the Adafruit MintyBoost. We used it to take the 2.5 volts from the ultracapacitor and step it up to a stable 5 volts, the USB standard. It uses a MAX756, 5 volt boost converter coupled with a 22uH inductor. Once we get 1.2 volts across the ultracapacitor, the MintyBoost will begin to output the 5 volts.

Our circuit complements the function of the MintyBoost USB charger, originally developed by Limor Fried, of Adafruit Industries. The MintyBoost uses AA batteries to charge portable electronic devices. Our independently constructed circuit replaces the AA batteries and supplies power to the MintyBoost. This circuit reduces the ~6 volts from the motor to 2.5 volts. This allows the motor to charge the BoostCap (140 F), which in turn supplies power to the MintyBoost circuitry. The ultracapacitor stores energy to continuously charge the USB device even while the bike is not in motion.

Step 7: The Enclosure.

Picture of The Enclosure.

In order to protect the circuit from external elements, an enclosure was necessary. A "pill" of PVC tubing and end caps was chosen, with a diameter of 6cm and a length of 18cm. While these dimensions are large when compared to the circuit, this made construction more convenient. A production model would be much smaller. The PVC was selected based on durability, nearly perfect weather-proofing, aerodynamic shape, and low cost. Experiments were also performed on containers crafted from raw carbon fiber soaked in epoxy. This structure proved to be both strong and light weight. However, the construction process was extremely time consuming and difficult to master.

Step 8: Testing!

Picture of Testing!

For the capacitors, we test two different types, the BOOSTCAP and a super capacitor.

The first graph depicts the use of the supercapacitor, which is integrated with the circuit so that when the motor is active, the capacitor will charge. We did not use this component because, while the supercapacitor charged with extreme speed, it discharged too quickly for our purposes. The red line represents the voltage of the motor, the blue line represents the voltage of the supercapacitor, and the green line represents voltage of the USB port.

The second graph is the data collected with the BOOSTCAP ultracapacitor. The red line represents the motor's voltage, the blue is the ultracapacitor's voltage, and the green line represents the USB port's voltage. We chose to use the ultracapacitor because, as this test indicates, the ultracapacitor will continue to hold its charge even after the rider has stopped moving. The reason for the jump in USB voltage is because the ultracapacitor reached the voltage threshold necessary to activate the MintyBoost.

Both of these tests were conducted over a period of 10 minutes. The rider pedaled for the first 5, then we observed how the voltages would react for the final 5 minutes.

The last picture is a Google Earth shot of where we did our testing. This picture shows that we started at our school, and then did two laps at Levagood Park for a total approximate distance of 1 mile. The colors of this map correspond to the speed of the rider. The purple line is approximately 28.9 mph, the blue line 21.7 mph, the green line 14.5 mph, and the yellow line 7.4 mph.

Step 9: Future Plans

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In order to make the device more economically viable as a consumer product, several improvements must be made in the areas of weather-proofing, circuit streamlining, and cost reduction. Weather-proofing is critical to the long term operation of the unit. One technique considered for the motor was to encase it in a Nalgene container. These containers are known for being waterproof and nearly indestructible. (Yes, we ran over one with a car to no ill effect.) Additional protection was sought against the forces of nature. Expansion foam would seal the unit, however the material has limitations. Not only is it difficult to position properly, but it would also prevent ventilation essential to the overall operation of the device.
As to the streamlining of the circuit, possibilities include a multitasking voltage regulator chip and a custom printed circuit board (PCB). The chip could replace multiple voltage regulators, this would decrease both the product's size and heat output. Using a PCB will provide a more stable base because the connections will be directly on the board and not floating beneath it. To a limited extent it will act as a heat sink because of the copper tracing in the board. This change would decrease the need for excessive ventilation and increase component life.
Cost reduction is by far the most important, and difficult, change that must be made to the design. The circuit itself is extremely inexpensive, however the motor costs $275. A search is underway for a more cost efficient motor that will still meet our power needs.

Step 10: Finish!

Picture of Finish!

Thanks for reading our Instructable, if you have any questions feel free to ask.

Here are some of the pictures from our presentation at MIT.


definingsound (author)2016-01-14

Did you consider using a Shimano Nexus hub dynamo (aka motor/generator) as a power source? Output is 6V. Example: (click on the tab that says "more pictures")

Robert Powell (author)2014-06-21

Share did you get the minty boost circuit?

sam522 (author)2014-03-18

hello guys;

i have sun tracker
project, i wanted anyone can help me to know the specifications of my
supercapacitors ( my dc source voltage is 20 volt ) i need to have 12 volt and 1.2 amp from my supercapacitor


jenninstructables (author)2009-11-03

.... this supercap is hard to find... does anyone know of a source that will sell ONE ultracap at a time?

try one of thier supplier should be willing todo just that. heres a link 4 them

 I found the capcitor available in quantites of one at

man... SO long it took me to locate these

BCAP0150 - 150F ultra-capacitor Mouser Electronics - yay!

i'll post more later.

skatrun (author)2013-06-09

very cool............

ctonks (author)2009-04-03

How do you handle surplus power?

name101 (author)ctonks2009-05-08

That's What the 140F capacitor was used for. In the graph explains that the surplus power is stored in the Ultra capacitor ~Name101

ac-dc (author)name1012009-05-14

Such a capacitor would store power, but will not "handle" surplus. When the load current drops the input voltage will rise and the linear regulator will be dropping more voltage, resulting in a higher heat level. You'd need far more than a capacitor to store the energy, something like a battery of a capacity high enough that it never reaches full charge, and yet this would be an additional drag on the bike, it should not be used because the whole circuit is wrong in the first place.

BC-45 (author)ac-dc2012-03-20

would a 3000 farad cap work?

PCfreak (author)ac-dc2009-08-21

7.2v RC Battery is Lightweight and ive used one in many applications

name101 (author)ac-dc2009-05-16

The way I see this design, The Supercapacitor was not meant to store "Large" amounts of energy but enough to keep the power consistent if the rider was to slow down or stop for a short period of time.. I agree a battery would be able to store a lot more energy than a Capacitor. but the capacitor is short term. Correct me if I'm wrong. ~Name101

ac-dc (author)name1012009-05-17

Of course, a supercap is short term. The problem is, a supercap doesn't have enough capacity to *buffer* for regular riding. That means that once the supercap is charged the voltage in the system rises and creates even more heat and loss with the linear regulator.

Let me put it another way. I don't revel in wasting energy but it's not so much a concern when something is AC wall powered. When you are peddling on the other hand, and a design has multiple forms of loss, energy conservation is really good, worth the time to do it right.

The problem was they didn't look at how to get from point A to point B, point A being a human being producing linear movement of a wheel, and point B, producing the desired charge, then finding the best way to get there.

Instead, they reused a design not just suboptimal for the purpose but contraindicated for the input and output.

The way this is set up it would be far better to just strap a battery pack onto a bike to recharge something, or of course to use a proper bike generator, a switching supply circuit that accepts (uses) input over the voltage variations that result from a bike generator, and and output with current regulation and the associated charge control chip complimentary to the battery type being recharged.

I appreciate this is beyond the ability of someone starting out, but at the same time this is what is great about technology today that we have ready-made ICs to do things difficult or lengthly to do with discrete parts. It is good to experiment but it is also good to see when it is redundant work, that each part of the problem can be seen modularly as how to get from point A to point B and that today we have great custom ICs to do these jobs (since when broken down into units, none of the things being done are new electronically).

I think it's great if they had no hands-on experience, to learn from building something like this, BUT to put it out there for others as an example of how to get something done, it is a poor one.

name101 (author)ac-dc2009-05-17

Well Personally am new to electronics.

I see that stepping down then stepping the voltage up again is a waste of energy. but when the power supply is so close to a LDO linear regulator I thought Providing consistent energy would be a problem.

You said "supercap is charged the voltage in the system rises and creates even more heat and loss with the linear regulator."

How is this so? I would like to learn from this experience.

I would like to learn how to make this as efficient as possible.

(I'm sorry about the short comment I wrote a big one but pressed cancel instead of post =( )


ac-dc (author)name1012009-05-17

With a variable input voltage (6V is not constant) an LDO will be a problem, but even if kept above the LDO regulated voltage it's still a very lossy circuit. With the supercap you are improving charging, but putting more drag on the rider to generate that charge, and by keeping the voltage higher it is continual drag instead of the voltage being allowed to drop below the critical level needed to power the rest of the circuit so the rider has no moments of relief. So it does improve the circuit but it does not meet a different goal in use on a bicycle, plus it adds a lot of weight. With a battery on the other hand, or really I mean a pack of series cells, they serve as a crude but effective enough form of regulation to keep the voltage at roughly the sum of the cells. There is some loss in doing this too, but not as much as use of an LDO. One thing that is not really clear is why either would be needed, charging doesn't have to continue at all moments necessarily. It could be good to even tweak the circuit such that applying the brakes bypasses a current limiter right after the motor so that during braking a higher % of power is produced and more motor drag, then less when not, but it would be a secondary issue, the primary one being that the better solution is none of these supercaps or batteries, to just use a wide input voltage, regulated output switching circuit. I'm not suggesting no capacitors are needed for that, but rather less capacitance, a smaller design with only the parts the regulation stage needs, also built more rugged (leaded parts like capactors don't like vibration much as you'd see on a bike, you can cement/glue/etc them in place or you can pick parts more immune to the environment).

name101 (author)ac-dc2009-05-17

Personally. I want to charge my device a constant as possible(GPS device). Once the Supercap is fully charged the Circuit will only draw the current needed to maintain the charge on the device. Correct? When I was doing the Research with my basic knowledge Something similar to this was perfect. I was aware of the energy loss through heat and converting the voltages 2 times is excess but the way I saw it was the voltages(form power source to USB device) are too close to use the LDO linear regulator. IF the hub generator produced 12v for example having a single Linear regulator would be perfect. Simplifying the circuit drastically. If the supercap was replaced with a battery pack for example would the circuit charge the batteries and would the batteries act like a capacitor? From my understanding capacitors have the advantage of being able to charge or discharge incredibly fast while if a battery had the same current draw the battery it self would be damaged. I completely forgot about the environment with my research. I must thank you so much with helping me here. ~Name101

ac-dc (author)name1012009-05-18

The generator voltage is not "close" to the LDO regulator necessarily, it depends on the load on it and of course gearing or friction wheel diameter, how fast it is spinning. A genuine 6V bike dynamo goes quite a bit above and below 6V even being designed for the task. That's why it's normally it's normally rated for wattage like 6W or 12W. I'm not saying it's terribly bad to have the supercap except it puts more drag on the bike at the worst possible time, getting started from a dead stop after having discharged. A constant charge isn't really needed, you only need to limit the max voltage and current within what the battery will accept. For example, suppose 20% of the time it wasn't charging, but the rest of the time it was charging at a high enough rate to compensate. The point that I'm attempting to keep drifting back towards is this needs to be seen as an accessory to bicycling, not the primary detail that matters so much as what factors are present while riding. Yes the batteries would charge like a capacitor, the point would mainly be that you can either: A) Have already charged them before the bike ride so they are a renewable portable power pack. B) Shut off the charging circuit before it drains them too much, then turn on again after having gotten up to speed so they aren't putting a high early drag on acceleration. You really don't want a linear regulator, not even an LDO. The voltage from a motor varies quite a lot, to always have it charging you will have to use something larger and create a great deal of heat as well as extra drag riding. The only way to have a small drop before the linear regulator is if you already had a wide input range switching regulator, but if you did then you wouldn't need the linear regulation stage at all. I have already outlined a much better way to do it, for good reason, that it should not be done a different way for bike powered use.

name101 (author)ac-dc2009-05-18

Oh. I'm starting to understand. Haha. I suppose I'll keep this in mind when I'm designing future circuits. I did throw myself into the deep end by starting with this projects with very little prior knowledge. Ill Look into what I can do.

Seriously, Thank you so much. =]


ac-dc (author)name1012009-05-17

To make it as efficient as possible, to start you would approximate an efficiency, perhaps 80% pulling numbers out of air. Next determine the required charge current for the device, and divide that by 80% or 0.8. Next determine the minimum dropout voltage for the regulation stage, some working familiarity with switching regulator designs helps a lot here, but just to pick a number a run with it until something more is known experimentally let's say 3V dropout across regulation stage. With this much info we know the minimum output voltage a generator will need, and can begin testing generators loaded to the desired output power (current times pre-dropout voltage) to see if they are sufficient. Once one at least capable of this output power is selected, the max and minimum voltage during riding with it powering the same load level will tell us the voltage range the switching subcircuit will have to accept. Next go to a website like Digikey if you don't have a regulation controller in mind yet. Browse through their offerings for a regulation chip capable of the input voltage variations and either fixed output for the device charging, or variable output with components you add to select the target voltage. Study the regulators example datasheet circuits as they provide the basic topology as well as reading any datasheet notes about precautions and requirements for it's rated functionality. Then you are ready to convert a rough sketch of circuit logic blocks into a schematic of electronic component values, and generate a PCB layout. Prior to that you probably also want to have selected a chassis for the circuit board, a vibration resistant mounting, and have therefore determined the dimensions of the PCB and keep-out zones for mounting hardware so you can plan the circuit layout around these dimensions. Obviously there's a bit more to it than described, but it is a start.

mulan2015 (author)2012-02-26

i'm curious to why the strap on shake-charger (original idea) didnt work?
Any help apprciated

Emiliano Valencia (author)2011-09-24

I don't understand, why regulate down the voltage to then boost it up, it's nonsense!

lmaclean (author)2011-08-08

I have looked at the circuit and I can't see where to put the 140f supercapacitor. Can someone please help me?

importsonly (author)2009-05-14

JeffB you should try marking this item, make to usb ports one for a Ipod and one for the mobile phone, I know heaps of people that would buy a simple idea like this.. Good Job :)

joshnosh (author)importsonly2011-05-12

not at over >$280 they wont you would be a moron to buy this lol

jeffB considering you have used a ridiculous motor for this project i think the constructive criticism off kagetsujki is quite apt.
if you don't want people to sit on top off a mountain criticizing then don't give them such a big mountain

thegriffy100 (author)2011-01-28

that is cool would you be able to power a bike light

lovetoride (author)2010-11-02

I always wondered about charging my devices (I have a lot of them) while riding my bike.

I bought the Cycle Charger from because it has a USB port. It works well and starts charging at pretty slow speeds - around 8 mph.

I use it primarily to charge my Blackberry for work.

rapidprototyping (author)2010-07-16

hey look at what was done in the early seventies in this work on the pancake motor i'm trying to clean up the images but new to that line work

rapidprototyping (author)2010-07-16

here is gimp photo of a pancake motor

kerembasaran (author)2008-10-09

A 140F capacitor is just crazy.

ReCreate (author)kerembasaran2009-03-01

i have seen 300 Farad caps

Callum Snowden (author)ReCreate2010-06-06

I've seen a 3000F supercapacitor on

add a transformer, hook it up to a coilgun and watch it blow up a HOUSE! :D

qwerty156 (author)2010-06-15

Bad circuit, good idea. Take a 2 of those caps in series to make a ~5v Cap. so- Motor gives electricity 5v regulator gives 5v to Super caps. Caps give to deveice

mitpatterson (author)2009-05-11

The other thing with the shake up light idea, is that they tend to have a strong magnetic field, that may wipe the contents, or at least mess them up, on any Ipod or MP3 Player that has a harddrive. the flash based ones like the nanos, should be safer.

wupme (author)mitpatterson2009-05-11

I dont think that magnetic field would be strong enough. You need a really strong magnetic field to damage data on an hdd, much more then people would think.

revhead (author)wupme2009-05-12

i have one of those shake it torch things and i pulled it apart and found that the magnet inside it was VERY powerful! i strugled to full it off the frige door, the only way i was able to get it off was to slide it off the edge of the frige. i dont know much about hard drives and such but it might be possible to corrupt the files with this sort of magnet.

wupme (author)revhead2009-05-12

Probably a neodymium magnet. But i still think not strong enough. You gotta remember that a magnetic field of such magnets loses drastical amounts of force when you increase the distance. Also harddrives are somewhat protected from magnet fields. I tryed with neodym magnets how much it actually takes. Now i dont remember what size the magnet was, and how strong he was, but a lot bigger and stronger then the once used in such lights. And the interesting thin, before i had data los... the motor failed completely from the magnetic field. Well ok, thats also a destroyed hdd then, but still interesting ;)

drakesword (author)wupme2010-03-31

Hard drives have a powerful neodymium magnet within the drive as part of the control mechanism for the read head. They sit RIGHT next to the platters. Wouldn't THAT corrupt data too? It doesn't, your good.

Yeah, but might there be a slight possibility of the other magnet changing the position of the HDD head and making data go corrupt in a bad way ?

slight but the voice coil (the device that controls the arm) sits practically on top of the magnet. Any magnetic interference will have to change the magnetic field at the millimeter scale. I may set up a test with an old HDD if I can get my hands on one.

name101 (author)wupme2009-05-16

I put my Ipod classic on a "Magnet bender"(Used to bend sheet metal with the help of a magnetic feild.) While playing music... no hiccup at all.

mitpatterson (author)name1012009-05-17

well, probably doesn't hurt it, but just saying that its probably not a good idea for it to be around it for LONG periods of time. I had a cell phone get screwed up once from one of those

name101 (author)mitpatterson2009-05-17

"not a good idea for it to be around it for LONG periods of time." I happen to agree with that :D I was just experementing with my iPod. If it broke i would take it back to apple and claim a new one on warranty claiming harddrive failure :P.

dungeon runner (author)name1012010-03-30

The magnet definitely wouldn't be strong enough to wipe the hard drive, although you might worry about the screen.

It takes a LOT of gauss to even slightly corrupt a couple of sectors on a hard drive.

adeb2 (author)2010-06-05

I agree with dirty valentine, a low dropout 5v regulator is much more efficient. I've build a unit to output 5 Volt 500 mA on USB cable to charge my Phone / GPS / PDA from a 6Volts, 3Watts HUB dynamo using just that. Of course with an additional bridge rectifier and a couple of capacitors. Have a look:

Shut Up Now (author)2009-05-14

all this electrical work is way over my head..when do people typically learn how to read schematics and work out big just starting high school so thats why i am wondering..

bassbindevil (author)Shut Up Now2009-05-21

That's about the right time. Start by getting books out of the library, and reading. Read up on anything electrical and electronic related, because it all helps. Take any courses that are offered in school; I did a correspondence course "Electricity 11" since it wasn't offered at my school. It gave me a good grounding in electrical basics. Horowitz & Hill's "The Art Of Electronics" is maybe the single best book. You just might find a PDF copy on a p2p network.

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