Bike Power!

If you’ve ever been to a science museum or children’s museum, you’ve probably seen some sort of exhibit where you have to try to pedal a stationary bicycle fast enough to turn on a lightbulb or some small appliance.  If you were like me as a little kid, you huffed and puffed just trying to get the lightbulb to flicker on, and then an older kid would jump in and easily get it to stay on.  Hold that thought.

The Problem

Any energy- or electricity-related problem you can think of: Peak Oil, Climate Change, Nuclear Meltdown, Capital Letter Crisis, etc.

The Idea

The basic idea here is rather simple but its implementation less so.  Most of the electricity we use is generated by turbines spinning, and the only difference in different types of power is what force was used to make the turbine spin (wind, water rushing through the penstock of a dam, pressurised steam from burning fossil fuels, etc.).

Back to the exhibit in the Science Museum: What it demonstrates is that, if harnessed, the rotation of the pedals generates electricity.  If you had a whole row of stationary bicycles, and a group of people who were pedaling them at a moderately fast pace, you could produce quite a bit of electricity.  But how could one ever arrange that, much less on a consistent basis?

Ah yes, the modern fitness club.  With the increasing popularity of “Spinning Classes” and with the the rise of “Elliptical Trainers” at the expense of treadmills, there is a large, motivated and completely untapped pool of generative activity going on.  In fact every calorie burned generates a little over one watt-hour of electricity.  So every 15 calories someone burns on a stationary bike could power a laptop for one hour.

Now, here is where the relatively simple idea (harnessing power from stationary bikes and elliptical trainers) gets complicated.  There would need to be a change obviously in the design of exercise machines, and, in some cases, in the way buildings are wired.  The machines would be built such that the electricity generated would first power the display screens on the machine itself.  Because these don’t require much energy, and anyone getting a serious workout could produce far more, there would need to be a way for the excess power that’s being generated to go back into the wall, and maybe ultimately back into the grid.

In all honesty, this is the idea I would most like for someone else to steal because I don’t even know where to begin trying to make this a reality.


5 responses to “Bike Power!

  1. No fair! Of course Portland would be the first to have those…

  2. Actually a very good idea, which is a surprise. I would have thought the energy generated by exercise equipment would have a tough time overcoming the additional cost of the equipment, but it is apparently viable – though how much of that is from the machines and how much comes from the other green practices is a question. Probably not worth it if you already have equipment, but perhaps a smart investment for a new gym. Someone would have to research and run a CBA, but it looks to be a solid way to lower gym energy costs, if not a replacement for power plants. A big gym might be able to produce a bit of power for the grid during its peak hours, though. Might be worth mentioning to the local gym if they are replacing machines, and the standard green approaches are always available. Interesting.

  3. Scott Wheeler


  4. I’ve always thought that would be a good idea. Plus working out would have an added incentive if it was also powering something you needed/wanted. I like the idea of making kids ride an exercise bike to power the tv while they watch hours of cartoons. Then maybe they wouldn’t all be so fat.

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