Pedal-Powered Appliances for Home, Business and Leisure
Wednesday, 20 July 2011 00:00  |  Written by Dawn Marshallsay | Article

Bike Blender photo by Maya PedalSpending time and effort powering a washing machine with a bicycle seems to defeat the point of buying the machine in the first place—to save the effort of washing by hand. Yet, health-conscious Westerners don’t think twice about spending time, effort and money in the gym. Why not harness the energy generated by cycling machines to help power the gym, or ditch the gym membership entirely and get fit by animating household gadgets with pedal power?

Bikes can power everything from household appliances to public film screenings. While manual pedal power uses belts or chains to directly power gadgets like grinders and blenders, electrical pedal power converts mechanical energy into electrical energy to power vistually any electrical appliance, from a TV to a sewing machine.

In the Developing World
Pedal-powered initiatives are popular in developing countries because of limited access to, or money for, reliable electricity supplies. In Chimaltenango, Guatemala, for example, a non-governmental organization called Maya Pedal manufactures and markets various pedal-powered appliances to locally owned, eco-conscious projects.

One family in Lirio de los Valles produces 300 pounds of animal feed daily with a bicycle mill and corn degrainer. A women’s collective in San Andres Itzapa produces aloe shampoo from home-grown plants and a bicycle blender, the proceeds from which are channeled into their own reforestation project. Other pedal-powered initiatives by Maya Pedal include a water pump, coffee depulper and metal sharpener.

Responding to demand by the people of Chimaltenango, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) designed a pedal-powered washing machine called the Bicilavadora for Maya Pedal. It took four years to build, based on a design by mechanical engineering graduate student Radu Raduta who won first prize for the design in the 2005 MIT IDEAS competition.

Humboldt State University (HSU) has designed and produced numerous pedal-powered initiatives. There was, for example, a pedal-powered washing machine project started by its Whole Earth Engineering class in fall 2006. In fact, HSU has pedal-powered everything from battery chargers and sewing machines to TVs and PA systems through its Campus Center for Appropriate Technology (CCAT).

In the Developed World
Pedal-power initiatives improve health and the environment, and save money on electricity, so why aren’t they being embraced more widely across the globe? Human-powered gyms are probably the first step toward widespread usage of pedal power in developed countries, as people are used to expending time and effort at the gym.

The Green Microgym in Portland, Oregon, started harnessing human power in September 2008. Using the Team Dynamo machine, a four-person device invented by Texas-based company Henry Works, energy generated from pedals and hand cranks is stored in a box that can be used to power appliances. Microgym’s owner, Adam Boesel, was inspired by Hong Kong’s California Fitness gym, which pedal-powers its lights and music.

Another revolutionary gym design yet to come to fruition is Mitchell and Douglas Joachim’s River Gym, which took third place in New York magazine’s ‘Create a Gym Competition’ of 2005. The transparent, bubble-like boats would be filled with cycling machines to power 15-minute loops of the Hudson and East Rivers, offering spectacular views and purifying river water at the same time.

Another area where pedal-power is coming into its own is large-scale public entertainment. Magnificent Revolution (MR) in London is at the vanguard of this movement. Since the summer of 2007, when this nonprofit collective first powered a film in Cambridge, UK, MR has branched into projects involving education, ecology, engineering, design, art and music.

The History of Pedal Power
Though bikes have been used for transport for hundreds of years, the first attempt to harness pedal power wasn’t made until the mid-20th century, by Dick Ott’s “Pedal Pusher,” according to James C. McCullagh's Pedal Power: In Work, Leisure and Transportation. Tests cited in this book, carried out by Oxford University Professor Stuart Wilson, found that the average cyclist can generate 75 watts per hour.

While it’s tempting to sit around indulging in fattening foods while the dishwasher, microwave and washing machine do all the hard work, why not improve the environment and your health at the same time with pedal power? It’s time that pedal power moved out of the history books and into every home and business.

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Eco Tip

Lower your thermostat temperature in winter and raise it in summer. In winter, set your thermostat to 68 degrees or less during the day (and wear a sweater) and 55 degrees or less at night (and add an extra blanket). Wear less or use a fan instead of air-conditioning on all but the hottest summer days. When you must use air-conditioning, set your thermostat to 78 degrees or more.  More tips...

Eco Quote

The weight of our civilization has become so great, it now ranks as a global force and a significant wild card in the human future along with the Ice Ages and other vicissitudes of a volatile and changeable planetary system.- Dianne Dumanoski, Rethinking Environmentalism, December 13, 1998.  More quotes...