Pedal power

Our folding bike-generator

As we outfitted the boat for our big adventure, we were very conscious of simplicity, budget, and efficiency.  We tried to reduce our reliance on electronics, in part because we want to limit our energy needs and in part because Rob is really good at breaking things.  Especially expensive things that buzz and hum. 

So, despite our efforts to minimize, we do have a few things that require some juice:  lights (interior lights as well as navigation lights), GPS, radar, VHF radio, and a high frequency radio/email system that connects to our laptop to receive weather information.  We do have a small refrigerator, but, to save energy, we probably won’t run it very often.  To provide for these energy needs, we will rely primarily on two solar panels.  We don’t have a generator and the thought of running the diesel engine just for electricty is less than appealing (not only because of the noise and the wasted fuel, but also because diesel is expensive and our budget is small).

As we sat in rainy Alaska under the clouds, we wanted a back up in case the solar panels do not provide enough power to run the equipment we’ll rely on for navigation and weather information.  Somewhere in the middle of a long hike up a steep mountain and a cold beer, Rob and his buddy were enlightened.  Rob’s buddy James, who is a stellar electrician, a powerful biker, and more energetic than five ordinary people combined, was lamenting the lack of cardiovascular exercise options on a boat for a long ocean crossing.  James also believes that everything in life is better with a bike and an electric motor.  Obviously, he thought, we ought to hook up a bike to a propeller so that, in light winds, we could just bike the boat across the ocean.  I pointed out that even the superhuman Tour de France bikers don’t have enough power to push our 20 ton boat forward on pedal power alone.  Undeterred, and distracted by the glint of cold beer in the sun, Rob and James focused instead on another option:  using a bike to charge the boat’s batteries and, voila, we can run the fridge and enjoy frosty beverages in the middle of the ocean.  If the fridge isn’t cold enough, Rob just cracks the whip and Kate has to bike faster.  What could be better?   

Limited by boat space, we looked into folding bikes and found one that had small enough folded dimensions that we can fold it up and stow it above the engine when the bike is not in use.  When in port, we can use the bike to run errands.  For exercise and electricity, the boys went to work and turned the bike into a pedal-powered-generator.  There are two removable floorboards in the middle of the boat that allow for access to our water tanks.  James welded together simple mounts to hold the bike–the front mount holds the front fork of the bike still while the back mount allows the back tire to turn.  The back tire sits on the hub from an old bike.  As you pedal, the hub turns.  The hub is connected, with a bike chain, to an alternator from an old Toyota Corolla.  The alternator turns the pedal power into electricity and hooks into the boat’s battery bank to charge the boat batteries.  When you’re done, the mounts fold back into the floorboards and the folded bike slides onto its fabric shelf above the engine. 

The system is simple, though it took some fine tuning and a couple of inspired craftsmen to pull it together.  So far, it is effective and will help keep us from burning expensive fossil fuels.  That’s good for the environment and for

The alternator hook-up for the back tire.

our pocket book.  We’ll post photos of the bike in action when we have a chance to test it out at sea.

4 thoughts on “Pedal power”

  1. So ingenious!

    Early October? San Diego or so? We may be within spitting distance of the coast.

    Don’t let those sails luff. Happy trails to you and Rob!


  2. You have done it! I was dreaming about having a bike like this on our boat when we went down the West Coast a few summers ago. Please let me know how it is working for you. Donna clued us into you guys and your adventure–it is fun to read and know that there are others out there.

  3. Rob, Kate! Greetings.. how goes it? Jealous of your adventures… Was over on Catalina a few weeks ago White’s landing is pretty cool and not too crowded.. hope you get to make it over there… Will you be staying in the S.D. area for a while?

    1. Thanks, Dave! We’d been trying to decide whether to head for the islands or not, and your recommendation bumps it up for us, so I think we probably will head that way. We’ll probably be in San Diego in a couple of weeks and will stick around for a little while (at least until after the Baja Haha crowd has departed on Oct. 23 anyway)… We’ll keep an eye out for your boat and would love to see you if you’ll be there!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *