Review: Tout Terrain The Plug III

Alee May 21, 2014 16
  • Functionality
  • Durability
  • Value for Money

Modern bike tourers have phones and cameras and GPSs and laptops and tablets and a whole manner of associated devices. This isn’t a debate about what we should be carrying, as we obviously don’t need electronic goods to travel by bike, but it is my experience that life is often made easier with them.

With sustainability and gadgets in mind, using an energy efficient dynamo hub to charge a few devices makes sense. The extra resistance incurred on a loaded bike is far from noticeable and it gives us the freedom to camp wherever we want!

This is actually the third dynamo power supply that we’ve used. We travelled over 27,000km on a Pedal Power + SIC and before that the Pedal Power + V4i. The PP+ products worked out great, although they were never that integrated solution that I’ve always dreamed of. But then Tout Terrain sent us their latest offering to review…

Enter The Plug III.

Tout terrain The plug III

What is it?

The Plug III is a USB port at the headset cap which draws power from a dynamo hub or sidewall dynamo. Sneaky electronic parts hide away in your steerer tube providing your bike with a very clean look, with a minimal weight penalty (perhaps 150g). The Plug cleverly converts AC into DC power from your 6V dynamo for charging USB goodies.

The Plug III produces a constant USB charge from the relatively low speed of 12 km/h (7 mph) which is achievable by even the most laden tourers under your average conditions. The inbuilt electronics are compatible with the most recent smartphones and nearly all USB rechargable devices – including the Apple iPhone.

The Plug has been produced by Tout Terrain/Cinq5/Supernova over the last five years now, and to be honest, it’s pretty close to perfect. Out of all dynamo power supplies on the market, The Plug 3 is BY FAR the neatest, most theft-proof design.

Tout terrain The plug III

What’s new with The Plug III?

The Plug III differs from its predecessor, The Plug II, by achieving USB’s 5V/500mA current at lower speeds. The Plug III hits 5V at speeds 2km/h lower than the previous model (power amplified) and 7-10km/h slower than models before that! This product is like a fine wine; only getting better with time.

Tout terrain The plug III performance chart

The power amplifier (PAT II) comes as standard with The Plug III. For cycle tourers with heavy loads (like us!), having the PAT II means we can charge devices at very low speeds.

Tout terrain The plug III

Using The Plug III

Installation

Installing The Plug 3 is a rather easy task, although for best results it could be worth hiring a professional. You will firstly need to remove your current star nut, replacing it with the special one supplied. The PAT II will already be installed to The Plug from the factory, so once the cable is dropped down the steerer tube, it is simply a case of adding the spades to the end of the cable. We didn’t need to cut down the cables at all, as they come rather short. Once the spades are connected to the hub, give the wheel a spin to see if the green light goes on. Zip-tie the cable to your fork to finish the job.

You can face the USB port in whatever direction you like, but for bike touring we feel that the USB plug is best faced towards the front of the bike, as that is where the gadgets are mounted and where the handlebar bag sits. If your electronic goodies are located in a tri-bag or framebag, you might want to mount the USB port towards them instead.

Green Light

There is a green LED light at the top of The Plug which switches on when there is enough power to charge USB devices. If the LED flashes, the device you have plugged in is consuming too much power, and hence, the required 5v for charging is not running constant. In this situation, The Plug switches itself off and tries again.

Charging Speeds

In order to hit the current required to power our USB devices (5V/500mA) we need to be travelling between 11-12km/h on our Schmidt SON28 dynamo 26″ wheel. For some devices, we need to travel a few km/h faster to make up for their higher power consumption. If we dip below 12km/h to say, 10-11km/h, we have about 30 seconds before the charge dries up.

The Plug does NOT come with a cache battery. This means that you can ONLY charge electronics when you are travelling consistently over 12km/h. Some users have reported that their devices are not happy with the power on/off, so when we’re travelling at less consistent speeds, we charge directly into an external battery, and from there, charge our devices at a time convenient.

Using The Plug without the PAT

The power amplifier cable (PAT) is able to be completely disconnected from The Plug III. It’s removal changes the charging range, making the charge kicks in at about 17km/h and lifting the maximum charging speed to over 50km/h. As we rarely average over 40km/h, we have no intention to remove our power amplifier, but can see the merit in perhaps doing so on a road bike.

High Speeds

At speeds over 40km/h, The Plug will switch itself off to avoid damage to your plugged-in device. This speed relevant threshold will vary depending on your device and it’s current charging state. The protection mechanism is heat sensitive so it can take a moment before The Plug restarts. I actually haven’t noticed The Plug ever switch off at high speeds, but then again, I rarely look at our phone or GPS when descending.

Waterproofness

In appearance, it seems that The Plug is not waterproof, however the electronics inside are protected with a waterproof sealing liquid. This keeps moisture and corrosive water out of the electronics as well as protecting the circuitry against unwanted vibrations. The Plug III comes with a neat silicon plug to protect the USB interface when nothing is plugged in. Tout Terrain warn users against cleaning their bike with a high pressure hose for obvious reasons.

After spending a decent amount of time in monsoonal rain, our USB interface is a bit rusty, however it doesn’t seem to affect the function of the product.

What do we charge with The Plug?

We have a whole bunch of USB rechargable gadgets, including an Apple iPhone 5C Smartphone, a Garmin Edge 800 GPS, a Pedal Power 6700mAh External Battery, a Sony TX10 Digital Camera and an Airstash Pocket Server.

You can of course charge any USB powered device including MP3 players, GoPro cameras, kindles, headtorches, rechargable LED bike lights and AA/AAA/CR123 batteries.

What can’t we charge with The Plug?

Devices The Plug III can’t charge well include those that require 1 amp or more of current, such as an iPad or some of the larger external batteries. This is due to the limited output of bicycle dynamos rather than The Plug itself.

Using your dynamo lights and The Plug at the same time

It is possible to run more than just a USB port from your dynamo hub. To operate lights and the USB simultaneously, you can use piggyback spades on your cable, or you can even splice your light and power supply cables together into one. Although we haven’t tried it, from most reports you will need to be averaging over 25km/h to make full use of both your lights and USB.

Taking your handlebars and stem off your bike

If you are travelling by plane, you might be concerned that The Plug will make a difficult job of taking your stem off. But concern no longer, as underneath the USB port is a cable which can be disconnected easily, allowing you to take your handlebars off without any trouble at all.

Tout terrain The plug III

Known Issues with Previous Models

The high/low speed cutout failing

Users of previous models have reported that their Plug’s (with PAT attached) have stopped working at speeds less than 27km/h, or turned on/off erratically at all kinds of unusual speeds, damaging devices that are plugged in. Tout Terrain have insisted that these users have had faulty models, but the problem was quite widespread amongst users.

It is my experience, which is also echoed by Tout Terrain, that these issues are completely fixed on The Plug III.

Tout terrain The plug III

The Why

- This is easily the neatest solution on the market. It is simple, user friendly and looks great with the wires hidden away.

- It’s pretty well theft proof. One thing we hated about other power supply products we’ve used was that we would have to take them on/off the bike whenever we locked up in the street. We would definitely buy The Plug for this reason alone.

- It charges at really low speeds. 11-12km/h as an average speed is not hard to achieve for most tourers.

- The Plug has been refined over a five year period. Every release has been better and better and reliability issues have been addressed. We feel that The Plug is now near perfect.

The Why Not

- It’s $215 USD. That’s over 2x more than some other power supply products, which effectively do the same job. To me, this is the products biggest downside.

- You can’t mount anything to your stem. Ok, so you technically can if you’re prepared to have the USB plug facing towards the rear of the bike, but by doing that, charging cables have to make a 180 degree turn back to the bars – and that’s just not neat.

- Charging in the rain is dubious, as the USB interface is exposed to the elements. We avoid it in most cases. The electronics for The Plug are waterproofed, so that isn’t the concern, it’s more the rust damage to the USB interface and charging cables. We’ve seen some users make a little raincover for their Plug with the end of a soft drink bottle.

- There’s no cache battery with this product, meaning that when you drop below 12km/h for too long, you will loose charge to your device. We don’t actually see this as a big issue: if we can’t hold a consistent speed, we charge into an external battery or simply just unplug altogether. Tout Terrain have actually just released an external battery for this purpose.

Tout terrain The plug III

Summery

The Plug III has come a long way since it was first conceived all those years ago. With the power amplifier as standard, power output is available at speeds which most cycle tourers can easily average.

Aesthetically, The Plug 3 kicks all the goals: it is neat, well built and obviously quite user friendly… just plug it in!

We’ve now been using The Plug III for over 3000km of loaded touring, on smooth and rough roads, through monsoonal rain and in temperatures above 50 degrees celcius. With about 8000km left until we arrive home, we’re feeling pretty confident The Plug will last for many adventures to come.

Should you buy one? Well, if you want to charge stuff everyday, if you want to lock your bike up on the street without removing anything, if you want to have as many cables hidden away as possible, if you want your bike to look neat as possible – The Plug III has you covered.

You can catch our List of Hub Dynamo Power Supplies for USB Devices for lots more information on hub charging.

We also have the Ultimate Power Resource: Dynamo Hubs, Solar Panels, Power Supplies and External Batteries which includes information on many different ways you can keep your devices charged.

 

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  • Wakatel Lu’um

    Interesting…I think I’ll stick with the Sinewave Revolution…starts charging at 5.5kmh and doesn’t draw power or heat up at higher speeds, works submerged too (not that I ride under water ; )…

    • http://www.cyclingabout.com/ Alee Denham

      Hi Wakatel. I’m glad you’re happy with your Revolution. They certainly offer great value and the performance is awesome. It is worth noting that The Plug 3 also starts charging at walking speed, however requires 12km/h to hit full USB power (14.4km/h on the Sinewave). Have you seen the soon to be released, Sinewave Reactor? I think you’ll like it. :)

  • http://www.sinewavecycles.com/ Sinewave Cycles

    Wow – I’m honored that someone beat us to it about the Reactor! Great review of the Plug III, but when I saw “the neatest solution on the market” I wanted to make sure you also knew about the Reactor:
    http://www.sinewavecycles.com/products/sinewave-cycles-reactor

    Thanks for including the Revolution on your list of chargers, hopefully you can add the Reactor as well!

  • Sinewave Cycles

    Wow – I’m honored that someone beat us to it about the Reactor! Great
    review of the Plug III, but when I saw “the neatest solution on the
    market” I wanted to make sure you also knew about the Reactor:
    http://www.sinewavecycles.com/products/sinewave-cycles-reactor

    Thanks for including the Revolution on your list of chargers, hopefully you can add the Reactor as well!

    • Aklumala Wallah

      Send one to him f.o.c. and perhaps he will!

  • Will MCCrary

    In the picture of your cockpit: What is the knob that is coming out from under your stem on the right side?

  • Will MCCrary

    When running front and rear lights and the plug, how do I achieve max power to the lights when I need them? Will the plug stop pulling power when nothing is plugged into it? I assume I could just turn off my headlight to create more power for the Plug. Or, should I use a switch? lights/Plug

    • http://www.cyclingabout.com/ Alee Denham

      If you splice your light and charger cables together, all you have to do is make sure nothing is connected out of The Plug, and you will achieve maximum power at the lights. With no devices pulling power, all The Plug takes is enough power to keep the green LED on. A switch therefore isn’t necessary.

  • rick davies

    Re The Plug: This is a disappointment>”There is a green LED light at the top of The Plug which switches on when there is enough power to charge USB devices. If the LED flashes, the device you have plugged in is consuming too much power, and hence, the required 5v for charging is not running constant. In this situation, The Plug switches itself off and tries again” So I have to turn my Nexus 7 off in order to regain charge used by Strava (navigational software) as I ride along. This sort of defeats the purpose of having it. I was hoping for topping up of charge as I went along. Not so it seems :-(

    • http://www.cyclingabout.com/ Alee Denham

      Hi Rick. It’s not the Nexus 7 that switches off, it’s the Plug III that restarts – and only at high speeds. I haven’t managed to ride fast enough for this to ever occur. Your Nexus 7 will use it’s own battery power for the times when The Plug III is restarting, not affecting your Strava app. ;)

      • rick davies

        I understand it is the Plug that switches off. I tried it out yesterday on a 45 k ride. While switched on and conencted to the plug the Nexus steadily lost power over a couple of hours. It only recharged when I switched the Nexus off and left it connected to the Plug. This is disappointing, I had expected the plug would help sustain the nexus batetry charge while the Nexus was being used

        • http://www.cyclingabout.com/ Alee Denham

          Got you. Like the Apple iPad, it seems the Nexus 7 normally requires a 10w charge. With The Plug III you would need to go exceptionally fast to generate that much power – The Plug is much more at home with devices with batteries half the size. The Nexus’s 4000mAh battery actually requires about 3x as much power as an iPhone, and 5x the Garmin Edge GPS. I’m afraid you will have to downsize if you want to be able to charge whilst using the device.

          • rick davies

            Umm, not such good news, but now understood. Given your figures above, any idea how long I would need to cycle at 20kph to get the Nexus recharged (when it is switched of)? I am planning a long one day trip where i would be relying on the Nexus

          • http://www.cyclingabout.com/ Alee Denham

            I’m not sure how long that would take. You could get yourself a cheap battery pack to keep it topped up for a day though: http://cyclingabout.com/battery-pack-recommendations-for-keeping-your-devices-charged/

  • Simon Kelly

    I installed one this month, linked to a SP SD-8 hub which is supposed to generate 6V on a 26″ wheel. I have a Surly Ogre with 29″ wheels so I don’t know how that effects the output values. I have B&M lights attached in parallel. At very low speeds, going uphill with a loaded bike I was seeing a solid green LED on the PLUG, so that should signify I’m able to put 5V output from the USB.

    Great…. until I connect an iPhone 4, then as posted by Rick earlier, I can’t charge the phone while it is switched on and running Strava for instance. The Plug III LED just flicks on and off all the time regardless of a steady riding speed at any range. Switching the phone off surprisingly didn’t improve anything; the charge icon on the phone kept going on/off. I gather the iPhone won’t charge well or at all like this.

    I do have an portable battery charger (BikeCharge Power Pack) that I connected but as this was flat dead in the first place, I was not out riding long enough to judge whether it was charging and supplying charge to the iPhone.

    I have reservations now about this product. Maybe it will work better with a newer iPhone. For example the iPhone 4 would not charge properly with a JOOS solar panel that I tried using earlier this year.