Kris De Decker of Low-tech Magazine looks at the history of pedal powered machinery, writing that " pedals and cranks could make an important contribution to running a post-carbon society that maintains many of the comforts of a modern life."
Other than his first illustration of a pedal-powered hydraulic log splitter (a silly idea more simply done by hand), the article shows numerous ways that bike tech can be used to replace fuel or electricity powered machinery, including everything blenders, washing machines, agricultural implements and multi-tool devices that can do just about anything.
Grinding cocoa by bike in Toronto at Chocosol Image credit Chocosol
Kris notes that the biggest issue with pedal power is our expectations; that is why so many of these devices are being used in the developing world.
Cranks and pedals are not a solution at all if we decide to cling to an energy-intensive lifestyle - but then, neither is any other renewable (or even non-renewable) energy source. The main problem with our approach to pedal powered machines is that we compare them to fossil fuel powered machines and not to the inefficient human powered tools and machines that went before them. This explains why pedal power is often laughed at in the western world but enthusiastically welcomed in the developing world, where, for instance, methods of agriculture still rely heavily on the use of human power using primitive tools which are usually inefficient.
Ironically, communities in the poorest countries in the world are developing into sustainable societies independent of fossil fuels, enjoying basic but modern comforts, while we continue to be ever more dependent on increasingly dirty, dangerous and diminishing energy sources.
Another great must-read article on low-tech design: Pedal powered farms and factories: the forgotten future of the stationary bicycle.
Driver of Pedal-Powered Flintstonemobile Charged, Gets Day in Court
We have covered many of these devices on TreeHugger:
17 Examples of Pedal Power and Propulsion
Pedal Powered Kitchen Center An Idea Whose Time Has Come
ChocoSol: the Ultimate Green Chocolate
Pedal-Powered Washing Machine Gets Big Company Backing
Pedal-Powered OLPC Laptop for Kids in Afghanistan (Video)
TreeHugger-Style Roller Coaster in Japan: It's Pedal Powered