Thursday, March 12, 2009

Electricity-Generating Stationary Exercise Bicycles: A Quick Look

What little revenue I've thus far managed to pry from the hands of Strumpet Fortuna, I've always spent on books, rent, and that's about it. So it's an interesting experience when I do come to want a bunch of thingy things--things that are very thingy. This computer was one; another was the desktop mixer I finally got, for the purpose of transferring to CD the 45 or 50 cassette tapes of my lectures from the 1990's -- the period before I bought my little semi-obsolete digital voice recorder.

Here is some thingy stuff I now desire, just as Plato and the Buddha said one ought not to:

A dude on this here forum said:
"Let's say you pay $0.25 per kilowatt-hour and can generate 100 watts continuously while sitting on your bike inside the house. In 10 hours, you will save $0.25. Of course, you are unlikely to sit and pedal for 10 hours at one stretch, so it may take you a few days to save that $0.25."
Mitigating considerations: (1) one must exercise anyway, and sometimes I prefer not to deal with car traffic & truck exhaust, not to mention the roadside temptation to stop and blow $6.75 on a 7 million calorie vanilla milkshake; (2) in a power outage--whether a miniature, one-house jobbie or a system-wide, August-2003-style multi-state electron hybernationfest--I'd be able to hop on the bike and eventually light up the room for a little while; (3) we would actually save a small, small, small, but actual pittance of money--not nothing; (4) the principle of the thing! Yes, it did cost fossil fuels to manufacture the bike and the generator and the arcane doohickies that hook them together, but good luck building a bike out of wood and grass. It would feel very good indeed to work off extra pounds, improve my "cardio," and power up my cell-phone without paying anything to anyone and without burning a jot of coal.

Digression on Food
Of course I'd hafta watch where my food calories are coming from, but I gotta do that anyway. I am trying to eat meat 3 times a week, not 6 or 7, and to get grass-fed beef and freerange chicken and cage-free eggs, and to eat out less and less. Lately my wife and I have each been cooking large batches of various bean-based stews and they are pretty awesome. I like sweet and savory together (she doesn't), so I put sliced-up dried apricots in with my lentils and a ton of black pepper.

Then there's the Pedal-A-Watt, which--if purchased in complete, hassle-free, pre-assembled condition--costs eight hundred dollars. But you can instead pay the same company $49.95 and receive: "Step by step plans that include a supplier parts list so that you may obtain all needed components through the mail. No welding is required however, you'll need a wrench, screwdrivers and a drill."

Sounds much better! But what are the parts, where do I get them, and what does it all cost?

Some dudes at "Instructables" have the whole process laid out for you.

So do these other guys at "Pedal Power Generator," and their version is much simpler and more appealing. The plans are free, and the parts seem to total... $580.

I don't feel so enthusiastic now. Then again, there's always Craigslist (I guess the mythical Craig also has shorts, a hat, maybe a Led Zeppelin bumper sticker, and some citrus in the fridge, but all anyone cares about is his list. Is that all Craig is to us? A list? Yes, that is all), where one might be able to score some of these arcane thingamowzaihobers on the cheap.

What else do I want?
A sewing machine that will work without electricity. Here is an email I got from the genuinely great homesteading goddess Sharon Astyk in response to a query I had sent her:

Re:sewing machines - you have a couple of choices, and it depends on what you want to do. You can buy an old Singer - one of the old style treadle machines. There are a fair number of them out there, and sewing machine supply shops can still get the bands and equipment for even the 19th century models. These are beautiful, beautiful instruments, they last forever and are well made, but they are very straightforward - they mostly go forwards and backwards, but don't do a lot of complex things.

Or, you can order through Walmart a modern treadle sewing machine - this will do more complex things, although it isn't nearly as pretty. I can't remember the brand - I don't think it is a Singer, but I gather they are very popular with Amish families that do all their own sewing, because they can do embroidery stitches and all sorts of funky things. I bet you'll get some raised eyebrows ordering one in LA, but still ;-).

The third possibility is that you can buy a treadle conversion kit for a regular sewing machine. I don't have as source for these at the moment - the person I was using closed down. But then you will be able to do anything the sewing machine can do without power (ie, some machines are computerized and can do crazily complex things) with the treadle. Since they were meant to have somewhat more hp behind them, these sometimes require fairly energetic treadling, but this is the cheapest option, and you should be able to find these on google.

As for the blog - I'll gladly do a guest post, if you don't mind waiting until April, since I'm currently in book edits. Once that's done, I'd be glad to. Anything in particular?

Nope, anything you want. PPC readers, this April (circa Passover) we will get a guest post from Sharon Astyk, author of: Depletion and Abundance: Life on the New Home Front, as well as the forthcoming: A Nation of Farmers: Defeating the Food Crisis on American Soil by Sharon Astyk and Aaron Newton (Paperback - April 1, 2009)... I just finished reading the first one (D&A) and my mother's reading it on my suggestion (which is rather super); I pre-ordered the new one a few weeks ago. See her blog Casaubon's Book in my "blogroll" at the right hand side of this page.

Also, I want a solid gold sock.


  1. nice, funny post.

    i wonder, it seems like in the future getting on a stationary bike for exercise will be as redundant as that friend of ours that just got notice. i imagine i will be biking a lot of places, with a trailer on the back to carry stuff. when not biking, i expect i will be on my feet or at least my knees much more often, as i tend garden and chickens and whatever.

    it seems like a generator and a few tens of gallons of fuel for the thing stowed away would be a bit more useful than a battery-recharging stationary bike. and for non-electric light, candles work great.

    the treadle, on the other hand, sounds like an excellent idea.

  2. I think it was Rodale that had published an entire book of various detailed plans for bicycle-powered contraptions, such as washing machine, generator for TV viewing, etc. IIRC Dover reissued the book a couple of decades ago. You may be able to find it from a used book seller.


Comment please...