MO readers know that electronics are changing motorcycling at a blinding pace – and I’m not even referring to the technology that the OEMs are building into the current generation of motorcycles. Today, your typical rider has a smartphone that can act as a GPS. Sooner or later, many riders will want to be able to hear those turn-by-turn directions while they ride. Then it’s a pleasantly slippery slope from earbuds to Bluetooth communicators to action cameras to who knows what’s next. The problem is that most of these gadgets run on batteries. And batteries need to be charged. That’s where the Goal Zero Venture 30 Solar Recharging Kit shines.
Goal Zero produces a huge array of solar/battery power products, ranging from the tiny lipstick batteries, like the ones that everyone seems to have for topping off a phone in a pinch, to portable 1200Wh, 100Ah solar power generators capable of running small appliances. The company’s products are popular in the adventure sports world where, as with motorcycling, small electronics are playing an ever more important role. However, Goal Zero was started with the intention of creating technology that could be utilized by both the poorest of the poor in remote areas and people in the industrialized world. The company has a history of donating its power products in the wake of natural disasters. So, it designs its products to be both easy to use and durable.
During preparation for our 2015 Ultimate Sports-Adventure-Touring Shootout, I realized that, although I’d created a mobile charging station capable of powering three 2.1-amp USB-charged devices at once from my bike’s electrical system, I needed a way to charge action camera and communicator batteries at night when we weren’t riding. Since we would be camping half of the nights, I couldn’t count on wall warts to do all of the hard work for me. The Goal Zero Venture 30 seemed like it would suit my needs.
The Venture 30 initially caught my attention for two reasons. First, it has 7800-mAh capacity in a small, tightly integrated package, measuring 4.5 x 3.25 x 1 in. and weighing only 8.8 oz. Second, and perhaps most importantly for motorcycling consideration, the charger is waterproof. While you don’t want to use it on a scuba dive, it can be used in the wet conditions likely to be encountered on a motorcycle. Also, it doesn’t have any rubber plugs that you need to keep track of to maintain its waterproofness, like other chargers I’ve seen. Previously, I’ve placed zip locking plastic bags in my jacket pocket to make sure I can keep my battery and phone (prior to buying a waterproof case) dry on a wet ride.
Once I studied the Venture 30 a bit more, it sounded even better. It has two USB ports capable of outputting a total of 4.8 amps across those ports. Additionally, it has a “Smart Charge” feature that Goal Zero claims optimizes charging times across a wide variety of devices by trying a set of different charging profiles to see which works best with an individual device. This setting is saved, and each USB port has its own distinct setting. The attached USB to micro-USB cable stays neatly in place when not in use and can be used to either charge the Venture 30 or to charge another device with the Venture 30. Very practical industrial design.
The other component of the Venture 30 Solar Charging Kit is the Nomad 7 solar panel. Since I like to camp and do other off-the-grid activities, the Nomad 7 looked like the perfect upgrade to the solar battery I’d previously reviewed on MO – an upgrade with more than three times the battery capacity in roughly the same full sun charging time. The Nomad 7’s rigid 9 x 1.5 x 6.5 in. construction opens to provide 80 square inches of monocrystalline solar panel surface from its 9 x 1.5 x 17 in. open configuration. The two panels deliver 7 watts at an open circuit voltage of 8–9V.
On the back, inside a convenient zippered pocket, three outputs offer connection options. The first is a USB port delivering a regulated 5V at up to 1A (5W max) to power/charge USB devices. The second is an 8mm plug for charging 12V devices. The third is a proprietary plug that works along with the single input on the unit for chaining up to four Nomad 7s together to shorten device charge times. Another small-but-nice touch is the magnetic closure that holds the Nomad 7 closed to protect the solar panels. The panels also come with two small carabiners to clip the Nomad 7 to things – like cargo nets – when charging. (I added an additional two carabiner key holders to up the number of attachment points to four.)
On evenings of our six-day Adventure touring trip, I was able to charge four action camera batteries and a couple Bluetooth communicator batteries and still have room to top off my phone. To charge the Venture 30, I connected it to the Nomad 7’s USB plug, zipped the battery inside the pocket on the back of the solar cells, and mounted it via the carabiners to the top of my cargo net on the Triumph Explorer. With the panel situated in that manner, I was able to charge the Venture 30 from less than 20% to 100% during a day’s ride – even on days that started out cloudy near the coast.
When charging my devices from the Venture 30, the time required was similar to that of plugging in to wall power. On those times when I needed to charge the Venture 30 from AC current, I could still charge connected devices while refilling the charger’s battery, meaning that, in the morning, everything was ready for another day’s use. Goal Zero says that the charger circuitry of the Venture 30 is smart enough to allow the unit to remain plugged in 24/7 without damage to the battery. Otherwise, it should either be plugged in every 3–6 months to recharge or placed into long-term storage mode.
Back in my daily life, the Venture 30 has been under constant demand from my kids, their phones, and their tablets. They (and I) love the grippy rubberized exterior. While multiple phone charges from the Venture 30 are possible, our tablets’ batteries are so large that they only get back to between 50–70%. My goal of only powering my phone from solar-generated electrons was thwarted by the fact that I have too many shade trees in my yard (which my central air appreciates), requiring me to move the Nomad 7 several times during the day. Climbing a ladder and placing the kit on the roof of my house worked quite well, charging the Venture 30 from dead to somewhere between 80–100% in a single fall-shortened day, but doing that on a daily basis would get me teased by my family. So, I abandoned the idea.
I recommend the Goal Zero Venture 30 – without reservations – to any rider who’s looking for a waterproof and good-sized back up charger for their mobile devices. The Venture 30 is sold separately for $99.99 or in the Venture 30 Solar Recharging Kit with the Nomad 7 for $169.95. The Nomad 7 alone retails at $79.99. My recommendation for the kit comes with the caveat that it is a little more specialized in purpose, and people who camp or travel to places without wall power will find it quite useful while others may be quite happy with just charging their Venture 30 at home. Go look at more Goal Zero solar/electrical products at the company’s website.