by Learning Lead – Amy Darrell
While food insecurity is very much an ongoing issue, many people and communities, particularly in North America, have access to an unprecedented amount of high-calorie food. At the same time, the work and lifestyle of many people have become much less dependent on physical labour. As a result, our energy input in a day often outweighs our energy output needs. Millions of people, myself included, turn to exercise and gyms to counteract this imbalance. No aspersions cast, but I think even the most ardent gym-goer can see the irony in driving a car to a gym to hop on a machine powered by electricity to use up excess calories of energy from the high input food that we eat.
Every time I go to a gym, I spend much of the time pondering the untapped potential energy source of all the workouts happening around me. While human power is not the most efficient source of electricity, it seems silly that we aren’t at the very least attempting to power something from the energy output of all those workouts. So for my next project, I wanted to create something that uses human power.
History of human power
The use of human power is certainly not a new thing being the prime way of accomplishing work from antiquity to well into the industrial revolution. Delving into chapter one of The Human-Powered Home by Tamara Dean unveiled that the earliest human-powered devices included the potter’s wheel and the lathe. Later, the invention of the crank (an arm attached at a right angle to a rotating shaft) opened up a whole world of useful devices that could be operated by hand and foot. One result of this invention is, of course, the bicycle, which for me, seemed like the obvious place to start in my exploration of human-powered devices.
Every summer, I have the great pleasure of coordinating a summer day camp called Dirt to Delicious, which operates out of the Palgrave Community Kitchen (https://palgravekitchen.org/) and the Albion Hills Community Farm (https://www.albionhillscommunityfarm.org/). It was at the farm that I encountered my first bicycle-powered blender. It was a snazzy “retro-dentist-office-green” stationary bike that local high school students had converted into a blender and then donated to the farm to use at events and programs. It required some minor repairs, so I volunteered to bring it home to fix it up and, as a result, got to use it for a wee while. I loved it, and as a bonus, it fits right into my gym energy concept – imagine a spin class and smoothie bar all rolled into one. I wanted to build one myself, but I don’t have space to accommodate stationary bicycle-sized blenders in my little house. I wondered if I could make one that would attach to a regular bicycle. After a quick internet search, I found what I was seeking. Foodshare, an organization dedicated to food security and justice, conveniently created a free online guide (https://foodshare.net/program/blender/) on building a blender that could fit on a regular bike.
Build a Blender
Armed with my Foodshare Blender Guide, I set about to gather materials. My mission is to use as much scrap materials as possible to make my projects, which takes a bit of scavenging, but this project came together quite quickly, and I only needed to buy a handful of screws, nuts and bolts.
I adopted an old unused Oster blender from someone giving it away online. perfect for this project.
The wood for the blender base was once part of a climbing wall and was given to us by some friends when we were collecting scrap material to build our chicken coop. The pieces leftover from the coop build were
The bike rack and trainer stand I already owned.
Step one: Disassemble the blender
I must say that I now understand why some of my childhood friends loved to take things apart and put them back together. It was my first time disassembling a device, and it was delightful. It was fascinating to figure out how it all worked, and I now want to look inside every appliance.
Once I set aside the blender components that I would need for this project, many of the blender components were leftover. I am now wondering what I can do with them because it seems a shame to toss them.
Step 2: Prep the wood for the box
I am very fortunate to share my life with a carpenter, so I have access to a workshop of power tools and a knowledgeable fellow to help me prepare and cut the wood. I mainly needed assistance with using the jigsaw, which I am not yet confident in using, and figuring out some of the measurement calculations (why does woodworking in Canada still use imperial measurements?). A quick coat of paint, using a leftover can of “Tropicana Cabana” I found in the basement, gave the wood a spiffy new look for its new life.
Step 3: Put it all together.
Once the wood was cut and prepped, the whole thing went together pretty quickly and quite suddenly, I had a funny little turquoise wooden blender.
Step 4: Attach it to the bike
Attaching it to the bike was not so simple and felt very much like goldilocks and the three bicycles. The blender is meant to be affixed to a bike rack that fits over the back tire. The drill chuck attached to the bottom of the blender is where the magic happens. The blender must be positioned so that the drill chuck presses against the side of the bike tire. When the tire rotates, the friction spins the drill chuck, which in turn spins the blades of the blender. The first bicycle we tried was the wrong shape for the bike rack. The second bicycle fit the bike rack, but the tires were too bumpy to allow the chuck to spin correctly. Thankfully our household has three people and three bikes. The third bike has the potential to be just right.
What were the results?
I made a pedal-powered blender!! It worked!
It can be a bit fiddly and inconsistent, so I would like to spend more time experimenting with the set-up to make it run even smoother. Overall, I am pretty proud of myself.
As an unexpected bonus, I have developed a fascination with repairing or repurposing devices. I have even joined a group that operates pop-up repair cafes in my community. I plan to help out with future events and hope to learn a lot.