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Green Building Blog

Pedaling Our Way Through The Day

Bicycle-power is great, but it's better if the battery pack works

Last May at the National Green Building Conference, while contemplating the fact that it costs at least $200 to get an extension cord to a booth, Peter, Rob, and I had a hare-brained scheme: why not make a bicycle-powered booth? Rob is a bike mechanic from way back, and we’re all fairly good at pedaling. The reasoning was that we could save a bundle, put our money where our mouth is, and even create a marketing gimmick. (Gimmick in a good way, that is).

Oddly enough our bosses thought it was a good idea too, so Rob began researching the possibilities — he would build it in his barn, on weekends. As it turns out, it was a lot easier to buy a kit. Which we did. The kit comes with a frame for the bike, a generator and a Black and Decker battery pack/inverter/radio. I don’t know why the radio is included, but someone in some conference room somewhere thought it would be a good idea.

The package arrived and Pete set it up at home and tested it. So far so good. We then boxed it up and sent it off to San Francisco for its debut at West Coast Green.

On Wednesday we set up our booth, and yesterday, Thursday, the show opened. With a battery fully charged, we figured we’d have an hour or so before we had to jump on. When we got to the booth in the morning, the battery had lost a little bit of its charge, but we figured it was because we forgot to turn off the radio (we shut down the master switch, but didn’t turn the radio power switch off).

So Pete jumped on the bike to top off the battery. The problem was that it seemed to take an awful lot of pedaling to top it off. And as the day wore on, we realized that we couldn’t keep ahead of the laptops. Each laptop draws about 30 watts, which we ought to be able to produce quite easily, so we were confused as to what was going on. We were pedaling continuously just to power a single laptop.

It turns out that we got a bum battery pack. Worse, it turns out the Black and Decker is an East Coast company and distributors of their stuff are pretty few and far between out here in the West.

Remember my walking tour through San Francisco the other day? That was a minor warm-up for the trade show booth. (BTW, here’s a tip: San Francisco has a lot of hills. If you’re going to walk from one side of the city to the other, take this into consideration)

After about a hundred phone calls, we located a replacement battery pack at a Home Depot somewhere near Ann Edminster’s house, so all should be great today. I say SHOULD because I haven’t talked to Pete yet and the booth doesn’t open for an hour.

I’ll let you know how things turn out.


  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    It's hard to produce a lot of watts
    How many laptops have you got going at once? Most people get pretty tired when they bicycle for an hour at the rate of 100 watts — most manage less. According to one source, the current world record by a professional bicycle racer (Jayson Austin) for one hour of bicycling is 302 watts. The year before, he managed only 241 watts. Are you guys ready to conduct the Tour de France of energy production? Watch out — Alps ahead.

  2. Expert Member
    Peter Yost | | #2

    Working the kinks out
    Martin -

    The 12-V battery gives us a bit of a "flywheel" but I think we may be managing 50 watts with steady but reasonable pedaling, easily covering the lap top. We certainly have (or will) the best conditioned booth team over time...

  3. Daniel Morrison | | #3

    Piece of cake!
    One laptop is roughly 30 W; we were lazy pedalers yesterday and never dropped below two (out of three power indicator) lights. It helps to put customers on the bike too!

  4. Adrienne Burt | | #4

    Where did you get the kit from? I found a few online, but was curious to see which one you purchased.

  5. Patrick | | #5

    Alos Curious
    We might be interested in doing something similar at an upcoming conference - any tips on how we can find a similar system? Thanks!

  6. Daniel Morrison | | #6

    It worked very well and when we had some technical difficulties, the customer service was excellent.

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