Thursday, April 12, 2012

Pedaling for Power

This morning, I hopped on my bike, rode a mile, and generated 30 watts of electricity. It took ten minutes ... and I never left the house :).

I wanted a bike generator for a long time, before I finally convinced Deus Ex Machina to get one. Part of my desire for the generator was that I knew I needed exercise. I like riding my bike, but I felt that it was a "seasonal" activity and not something that I was going to do when it was cold or rainy outside - and I am, definitely, not interested in trying to 'share the road' with a snowplow while I'm on a bike.

*Please note that I said not something I was going to do and not something I can't do, because I can ride my bike anytime I want. It's not a matter of ability, but rather a matter of will.

With regard to "will", I'm also not the kind of person who is willing to exercise for the sake of exercise. I don't like going out for a run ... unless I'm running to or from something. Running around the block, especially when there are so many other things that need to get done, just seems like a waste of my time. By the same token, I love to walk, but not just to walk. I love to walk as a form of transportation, and when I was younger and didn't have ready access to motorized transportation, I walked a lot to get from Point A to Point B - and it showed in my overall fitness level.

And, then, I had kids, and it became more complicanted to walk or bike for transportation.

So, I wanted a bike generator, because I figured it would serve two purposes: it would motivate me to exercise, and it would feed into my need for exercise to be related to a purposeful activity - in this case, generating electricity (which feeds into my never-ending quest to lower our overall usage/dependence on the grid :).

For the record, I'm still learning how it all works, and so we haven't put it into full use, but I still hop on my bike and pedal every day or so, and I love watching the numbers change. I love getting on the bike when it reads that the batteries are 60% full and getting off ten minutes later to see that the batteries are fully charged. There's something incredibly fulfilling about having "created" something.

A lot of people have been asking about our set-up, and (finally) I'm able to provide a better explanation.

We used a standard adult mountain bike mounted on a stand. We had to take the tire off the back wheel to hook up the belt that drives the motor.

The generator is hooked up to a charge controller (the nifty device on the handle bars) that keeps the batteries from getting overcharged (so far, not a problem ;). The charge controller also allows us to see how charged up the batteries are and a lot of other information that I don't know, yet, how to read (it's a process, right?).

The charge controller feeds into the batteries (down on the floor in the corner), which stores the electricity we're generating when we pedal.

We have an inverter (the little device on the shelf) that plugs into the charge controller, and we plug whatever we want to power into the inverter.

When the light on the inverter is green, all systems are go :).

A bike generator is not, necessarily, the best way to generate electricity - especially when we consider that the typical American uses KILO watts (a kilo is a thousand), and even a really seasoned bike rider will only generate power in the watts.

One electric stove burner on high uses 1200 watts of power. Even pedaling as hard as I could, I wouldn't be able to keep that burner hot enough for long enough to heat up a pot of water.

As such, the bike generator is definitely limited in what it can do. The key is to recognize those limitations, but also to not be stultified by them. Even that tiny bit of electricity is something. LED lights use very little electricity, and conceivably, a bike generator could provide enough energy to light a dark room. We could power an iPod or a laptop computer. We could charge batteries for small appliances, like our digital camera or a flashlight.

For me, the bike generator was not my family's *only* answer to the energy crisis, but rather one solution among the many we will use in the coming years.

And, if nothing else, I get to have a pretty cool toy that, at least, has some functionality ... and gives me a workout so that I can minimize the "secretary spread" that seems to be forming on my sit-down parts.


  1. Thanks for the explanation! Every little bit of energy helps in so many ways, as with your example of more physical activity.

  2. I share the same philosophy--i like to exercise for a purpose...i blame my mother. when we were kids she'd march the 6 of us to the grocery store a few miles away wearing our school backpacks...then we'd shop, load our backpacks back up and march home. Great way to turn a boring stationary bike into something useful!

  3. I share your need for purpose in exercise. Did you assemble the generator system yourselves or from a kit? I'd love it if you could link to your source for parts.

  4. @ Sue Sullivan - We bought a "kit" from Amazon (there's a link in my side bar to the one we purchased, but there are others), but we added some batteries and the charge controller, and we had the inverter already.

  5. I've been playing with a 30W solar panel for charging portable devices (phones, music players, that kind of stuff). Until recently, it was sitting in my bedroom window, but spring (and all the foliage that goes with it) has reduced incoming power too far.

    I've made this joke about exercise for the sake of exercise: we honor people who run to nowhere, but think walking to somewhere is weird.

  6. Nice toy, over here there are a few people doing pedal powered thing at festivals. Cinemas, disco's ect


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