7 Ways Pedal Power Will Change the World

Riding a bike can do much more than get you in shape and transport you from place to place. Inventors are constantly coming up with clever ideas to harness the power created by bikes.

Riding a bike can do much more than get you in shape and transport you from place to place. Inventors are constantly coming up with clever ideas to harness the power created by bikes.
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Provide Clean Drinking Water
Approximately one in eight people worldwide lack access to safe water, and more than 3.5 millon die annually from water-related disease. Japanese company Nippon Basic is looking to change that with its Cycloclean, a bicycle that purifies water for drinking. Riders bike to a lake or river; once there, they insert an attached hose into the water, place the bike's rear wheel into a stationary stand, and start pedaling. The energy generated activates a pressure pump that propels water through the bike's multi-unit filtration system, producing about 1.3 gallons of clean H20 per minute (depending on how fast you're pedaling). According to the company's website, it takes 10 hours (and likely several cyclists) to produce enough drinking water for 1500 people.

The bike also features puncture-free tires to prevent flats and navigate hard-to-reach areas.
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Revive a Village
Much of Carlos Marroquin's home village of San Andrés Itzapa, Guatemala, was devastated by a 36-year civil war. But today, thanks to some clevel engineering, a lot of the village runs on bicimaquinas: pedal-powered machines such as water pumps, grinders, and threshers constructed from donated bikes and local materials. Marroquin found Maya Pedal, the organization behind these machines. He has invented his own, including the biciliquadora (bicycle-powered blender). It helps local women produce organic shampoo from plants they grow in their homes.

Construction is easy: Volunteers fit the rear wheel of an everyday bike with a homemade dynamo—created from a hub, an axle, and a part of truck tire—which is then attached to a modified rack that secures the base of the blender. Once the bike is put into a stationary stand and its rider starts pedaling, the dynamo drives the blender's blade, stirring and mi at the same rate as the pedals' revolutions per minute.
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Keep Us Awake
"Converting mechanical motion from pedaling into electricity and then converting that electricity back to mechanical motion isn't always efficient," says Alex Roth, owner of a bicycle-powered coffee roaster and distributor in Davis, Calif. "However, with anything that works in a circular or repetitive motion, it's a great way to do things."

In the bike-centric town of Davis (home to the U.S. Bicycling Hall of Fame), Roth has devised a way to roast coffee using only human power and propane for heat. Every Tuesday night he sits on an old Schwinn that he welded into a stationary frame, and starts pedaling. The bike's fixed-gear chain is attached to an axle, which turns another fixed gear chain that goes up to a large drum located above the unit's burners and a heat shield. The drum then spins in place, tumbling the beans around the same way a clothes dryer does. "It's direct mechanical motion," says Roth.

One roast takes about 20 minutes, followed by 5 to 10 minutes of cooling. With help from friends, he usually makes about six roasts a week. "Coffee's a really dirty, ugly industry," says Roth, "and so I figure, since it doesn't grow here and we have to get it from somewhere else, once it gets here, let's try and close up as many loopholes of inefficiency and waste as possible."
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Offer Global Connectivity
In 2002 the San Francisco–based Jhai Foundation was working on a way to connect remote off-grid villages in Laos to the Internet—and facing a major challenge in figuring out how to recharge computers without access to electricity. They opted for pedal power, which proved more reliable than solar power (especially during monsoon season) and was estimated at one-third the cost.

Each village was given a specially designed rugged computer that runs on Linux and requires almost no maintenance, has no moving parts, and relies on a heat sink rather than fan (which would likely seize up in poor weather) to keep it cool. The computers also draw a miniscule amount of power—just 12 watts—to make charging easy.

To use the computer, one person pedals a stationary bicycle that's hooked up to a generator—one like the Bike Power Generator from Canadian company Windstream Power, which has an average output of 100 watts when connected to a 12-volt battery. As he pedals, the bicycle's rear tire turns a friction drum, which in turn rotates the generator shaft and creates electrical power. That generator then supplies power to the computer, where another person is able to check news and email. Villagers get about 5 minutes of computer use for each minute they pedal.
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Lose Inches—and Give Back to the Grid
If you're pedaling away at the gym to try to slim down, that energy you're expending may as well be put to good use. Seattle-based manufacturer PlugOut (formerly Resource Fitness) has come up with a stationary bike that reroutes the energy expended to the facility's grid, helping to power things such as lights and TVs. Rather than relying on a battery to store energy, which leads to substantial energy loss through conversion, the PlugOut Cycle plugs directly into a three-prong outlet. As you exercise, the pedals turn a chain drive that's connected to a generator, transforming the kinetic energy you produce into electric current that feeds into a built-in inverter, converting it into AC power. The amount of resistance you encounter is directly related to the amount of energy you produce: Greater resistance equals more energy, with a typical half-hour workout producing about 75 watts of power. Gyms using the bikes include Green Microgym in Portland, Ore., and San Diego's Greenasium.
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Offer Medical Relief
The human-powered nebulizer (HPN) is designed to provide relief to patients suffering from respiratory diseases such as asthma, TB, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in areas with limited access to electricity. Invented in 2009 by a team of doctors from Marquette University, HPN uses a bicycle frame and pedals—each connected to a piston and some tubing—to turn liquid medicine into mist that flows directly into a patient's lungs through an attached mouthpiece. Commercial nebulizers typically use an electric compressor to maintain their rate of airflow, but with HPN, healthcare workers achieve the same goal by pedaling the equivalent of 8 miles per hour.
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Sustain a Protest
Whatever you think of the politics of the Occupy movement that's now spread around the country and the world, there is some interesting tech going on at the protests. One of the protestors' biggest challenges has been finding ways to relay their messages without reliable access to electricity. So, at Manhattan's Occupy Wall Street, bike mechanic Keegan Stephan is helping provide power to cellphones and laptops with a modified Schwinn bicycle. The bike is connected to a flywheel—a rotating device that stores the energy derived from pedaling—which is then connected to a dynamo, providing it a steady source of motion. The dynamo sits above the bike's front wheel and generates electricity as the tire spins. That electricity is then transferred through a motor and into a battery, which takes about 6 hours to become fully charged (about 100 hours of use). Pedal power has also been used at Occupy camps in Boston, San Francisco, and Edinburgh, Scotland.
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