Bicycle Power

Bicycles are an important source of transportation that is largely overlooked in North America. I used to oftentime see Mormon Missionaries riding them, and in some areas the Amish. Bicycle paths are becoming more common in many large cities but still it was in China that I realized how under-utilized they are in North America. There in China I traveled through a sea of thousands, more like tens of thousands of them, perhaps even hundreds of thousands while on auto trips. I could see them moving like a mighty river from my high hotel room window.

Bikes were/are used to transport things there that I would have thought unimaginable. I have literally seen a rider with a piano strapped on his back although I do not know if it contained all its guts. Nevertheless, bikes piled high with cabbages, several feet higher than the rider - were a common sight. Bike (or really trike) rick-a-shaws were another common sight. We just don't use the bike anywhere near to that extent in North America. Or we didn't. After Doomsday we may change our attitude about it.

Below you see pictures of a bicycle attached to a blower.

A blower bike in the shelter

We have used bicycles at Ark Two for many purposes. We use them to mechanicallly run air blowers, grind wheat, and they can be used for many mechanical purposes such as running a small printing press. One can use a bike to power most any stationary thing that isn't to heavy and doesn't have to turn at too high and rpm.

I have even seen pictures of them being used to plow snow and fields. The snow plow thing doesn't seem to work too badly if the snow isn't too deep. Two wheelers are used but I prefer the three-wheeler (tricycle) design, especially for pulling a plow - although I have never actually seen one work, and don't know that it does. They certainly aren't very good or popular or I would have seen more of them. One design that caused a stir, in farm bicycle equipment circles a few decades ago, was a stationary bike with a cable that was moved along and the cable was stretched out to a plow which it pulled in. A two person operation. One had to keep moving the bike stand and pulling the cable and plow back out. You can see why that never really caught on either - but under different circumstances it may find its application.

A little detour and interjection in my thinking here. If you can get a big enough electrical source - you could even plow or harvest a field using electricity by putting big electric motors on the equipment and running a big power cable to power poles alongside the field. I have seen old-time pictures of this with the cables wound out from a big drum and then wound up again. You may have to be very inventive.

We use bikes for generating electricity, but you aren't going to generate anything like that type of power using them.

Bicycle Power for Generation of Electricity

I have read lots of articles by people theorizing about using bicycles for electric power generation and I have actually pedaled several different ones in the Science Museum and at science demonstrations. I have read lots of articles about people pedaling to watch TV and such, but I have never heard of anyone keeping it up for long.


Here I am in our garage workshop, pedaling away on our first bike powered generator. Hung around behind me are 8 twelve volt florescent lights which I am lighting by pedaling on the bike, and in the NEXT photograph is providing the light for the picture.

This generator is hooked to one of several old exercise bikes we have but we also have ten old multispeed bikes waiting down at the shelter. We also have air blowers and wheat grinding mills that we can hook up to them.

We have the system set up so that the florescent lights come on only if the bike is being pedaled. I am lighting all eight lights that you see (plus one more 50 watt Halogen that you can't see) to take the picture. The only light used for the picture was that which I was pedaling. No, I wasn't lighting the heater! That is on a separate circuit.

Ed fixed up a neat system so that any extra power that I pump will go into a battery and not blow up the florescent lights. But the battery doesn't light the lamps.

garage ed

This is Ed in our garage. Ed has been a major expert on getting all this going.

In the background are the clear basswood boards that I had cut and kilned this summer in preparation for making the blades for windmill propellers. And behind the bike you can see stacked up a number of the brakedrums we were working on.

picnic ed

After we got all ten of the brakedrum generators completed and tested we took one of them to the WLP Picnic to run the sound system amplifiers. The best way to work any of these systems is to pump the power into the batteries so that it will be available whenever you want it - but sometimes we ran the sound system directly off the bike just to show that we could do it.

On the previous low RPM generator web page I link to other pages with more detail about building the brakedrum generators and other low RPM generators and there are lots more detailed pictures of the generators themselves.