On the day before I left Brisbane to fly to Rotorua for our annual MTB pilgrimage, I found myself in the city, around South Bank to meet a friend for lunch.

While walking around South Bank,  I was happily surprised to see a bike powered Christmas tree. I’m a big fan of applying cycle-power to charge appliances and goods – for example when Robert Förstemann, the German Track Cycling Star powered a toaster to cook a single slice of bread – GOLD!

So I stopped to check it out and ended up chatting to the guy who was responsible for installing it.

Bicycle-powered Christmas tree

Bicycle-powered Christmas tree

Source: ABC News

Bike powered Christmas Tree

The tree looked very impressive standing 4.2 meters tall and apparently is the first of its kind in Australia.  There are four bikes at the base of the tree and the tree is covered in over 3,500 LED lights, so that when you pedal on a bike your riding charges up lights in certain areas on the tree.

Even when I was there in the daylight there was a line of people waiting to try it. Even in broad daylight you could see the lights happily twinkling away. The owner said this was the second year the tree had been included in Brisbane’s festivities and that it had been very popular.

I thought it was a great addition to the city – not only for Christmas, but also as a promotion for cycling and for a more thoughtful approach to energy consumption over the holiday period.

Bicycle-powered Christmas lights

In the area I live, each year, there is an increasing number of houses being decorating in a ridiculous about of Christmas lights. I know many people think it looks beautiful – and it can, but I find it difficult to reconcile the massive and wasteful energy consumption involved. But, there is a way to have beautiful Christmas lights AND be environmentally responsible as well.  To this end –  I’m waiting for the day when people who decorate their houses in copious amounts of lights or those who want to enter a neighbourhood Christmas Lights competitions – can only so so if they produce their own green/sustainable power to do so – by solar panels, pedal-power or some other sustainable source. If you can do that – go for it! Int his way, I think the bicycle-powered Christmas Tree could be a step in the right direction.

Until then, the lone pedal powered Christmas tree in the city will hopefully serve as not only entertainment, but as a reminder to the community to enjoy a more sustainable, bicycle-friendly and fit and healthy Christmas.

For more info about the bicycle-powered Christmas tree read this ABC news report about the tree here (also includes the video link below).

I am often equally baffled and concerned riding bikes around Brisbane. It is not a city designed for easy bike use. There are areas and bike path networks dotted around, but the amount and ferocity of the road traffic is of leviathan proportions. Finding and linking the Brisbane bike paths to ride to work has had a remarkable positive impact. Which is why this new Polish bike path not only useful for urban mobility and to promote bike use, but I also see it as an fantastic aspirational challenge to other cities worldwide to lift their game and invest in more infrastructure to support cycling and walking. It serves as a wonderful precedence for other urban developers, city councils and political lobbyists to use as an example of what is possible – not just for resident use, but also as a tourist draw card and showcase of national technological advancement.

 

Starry Night  Bike Path

This is the new glow-in-the-dark bike path that was unveiled this month in Poland (near Lidzbark Warminiski). This bike path is revolutionary in that it made of synthetic particles call ‘luminophores’, which charge in the sunlight during the day, and glow at night. Luminophones can emit an arrange of colour, but designers decided on blue for visibility and to blend into the surrounds. Once charged these luminophones can radiate light for up to 10 hours – making it a beautiful and safer ride home at the darkest time of night.

This next offering in the evolution of safer, more eco-friendly and cost-effective bike lanes drew on inspiration from the Dutch solar-powered TPA Instytut Badan Techniczynch Sp. Z o. o bike path from 2014, however, unlike the Dutch path by Studio Roosegaarde, this Polish contemporary requires no external batteries or power – which really steps up the innovation and utilisation factor. Find more info about the Polish Starry Night Path here.

I hope that having such beautiful, productive and eco-friendly developments such as these, that promote city bike riding will go far to set the scene for other major cities as a means to inspire and stimulate policy discussion about encouraging and supporting increased urban bike use.

 

Source: Inhabitat

Source: Inhabitat

Source: Inhabitat

Source: Inhabitat

Source: Inhabitat

Source: Inhabitat

Source: Inhabitat

Source: Inhabitat

I recently found an older academic paper that was published from the Uni of Illinois from 1989 reporting on an ‘innovative approach’ to teaching mechanical engineering undergrad students System Dynamics. It involved the students investigating open-ended engineering design questions in relation to bicycles for a full semester.  I love how in the introduction section pointedly justifies that ‘the bicycle is not a trivial topic, as one might suppose at first glance, but it is a rather formidable subject of study’ (Klein, 1989, p 4).

Bicycles challenging engineering ‘truths’

The paper goes into detail about the learning, philosophical and pedagogical principles for using bicycles as the instruction tool and how the program, class and resources were managed and major beneficial outcomes from the program.

The students applied a number of the theoretical concepts they were learning in class to the bicycles, thus modifying bicycles to take into account engineering qualities such as ‘zero-gyroscopic’ bicycles, which are ridable and therefore refute a common held scientific misconception that it is the gyroscopic effect of a bicycles rotating wheels that keep the bicycle upright -mythbusted!

Engineering modifications

The students put the bicycles through a number of different hardware modifications (such as flyball governors, raw egg dynamics, hydraulic servomechanisms and Passive R-L-C circuits) and apply various calculations and manoeuvrer to the bikes to test an array of laws, theories and modelling dynamics.  One of the most successful modifications the students applied was a rear-seated bicycles. Overall, many of the augmentations to the hardware that the students applied were evaluating outcomes of how power, stability, dynamics and functionality to see how they were effected.

So can they now answer..

Also, the engineering students were required throughout the semester to write their findings up in essays, of which included topics like:

Source: Klein (1989).

Source: Klein (1989).

Billionaire entrepreneur Manoj Bhargava has a philanthropist side project, Billions in Change, which could well be set to change the lives of half the world’s population. Aside from giving 90% of his money to the Giving Pledge charity, he is also very heavily involved and passionate developing approaches to address issues of poverty and energy resource equity through Free Electric.

The focus of Billions in Change is “to build a better future by creating and implementing solutions to serious problems facing the world in the areas of water, energy and health.” This project has produced a series of quite remarkable innovations that aim to address these issues and increase the quality of life for the world’s poorest people.

Free Electric Bike

Billions of Change looks at three major global problems: Health, Water and Energy. To address the issue of energy – the project’s website outlines their solution as “The Free Electric machine gives people the power to generate electricity themselves – pollution free. The machine is small, light and simple. Here’s how it works: A person pedals a hybrid bicycle. The bicycle wheel drives a flywheel, which turns a generator, which charges a battery. Pedaling for one hour yields electricity for 24 hours with no utility bill, and no exhaust, no waste.”

Manoj’s company makes some impressive claims:

  • They will be able to produce these bikes in India for under $200 per unit – making it much more affordable for local councils, communities, schools and NGOs in developing countries – especially if resources and finances are pooled and shared.
  • 25 bikes have already been installed at no charge to a sample of energy-poor households, schools, and small businesses in Indian villages close to Lucknow, Amethi and Raebareli to assess functionality.
  • Manoj has collaborated “with a local distributor and non-profit group to help with assembly and to train others on how to assemble and troubleshoot the bike. We’re also conducting pre/post surveys with recipients to learn their perspectives on the benefits of the bike, as well as to get their feedback about how we can improve it” .
  • Later this year, there is a pilot plan to implement 10,000 of these bikes in India.

It is quite exciting to think that such a contraption has the potential to literally revolutionize the lives of so many people – the fact that it is not a conception or theoretical model, but has actually been manufactured – is a massive step towards production for greater practical utility and for streamlining the design for cheaper and easier implementation.

This is yet another innovation similar to the bicycle-washing machine from a previous post, which seems to show that India and bicycle innovations have a very strong affinity for each other to create positive change.

Full Documentary

There is a post on Treehugger which gives some more details about this project – and it was there that I also saw that  there is a full Billions of Change documentary (45 min) which outlines Free Electric, and also details some other inventive approaches that his Lab called Stage 2 Innovations has also created, such as the Rain Maker seawater car, and the geothermal Limitless Energy resource among other designs.

Thanks to MK for sending this 1-minute video to me.  It is a quick glimpse showing an ingenious British bicycle pram sidecar design from 1951.

I find this design actually very functional in practice as the pram has no further attachments needed and can be very quickly and effectively attached to a bike. Although the hazards of: car doors opening, getting around pedestrians, turning, safety and navigating shared pathways (let alone roads) these days would definitely be more of an issue than in 1951!!

Call me old-fashioned, but I like the design and ease of this sidecar in principle, although the design may not be as popular (or legal?) now due to safety reasons. Nowadays, this sidecar would probably be seen as risky, especially as most current designs now have the child/ren in front or behind the rider. (*All the better to see you with!*) It would also be interesting to see how this 1951 design might be used or changed due to contemporary bike lane (width) laws in Australia – or if that would even factor into the equation.

Given that these days, more and more young kids are being transported by bikes, I’ve noticed three main designs being used (not in order of popularity) –

1) a box attachment that is part of the actual bike design – like a Christiana bicycle.

2) a separate (bob) trailer attachment where there is room for one, two (or more? and dogs?) kids to sit which is pulled along behind the bike.

3) a seat attachment is usually in front (sometimes behind the rider) where the youngster is seated close to the rider.

 

 

I have been flabbergasted by the design and features of mobile child transportation. Consider the prevalence of bike prams and bugaboos, which can range widely from (not very modest these days) to soupped up mobile mountains of robust kids-and-crap-uber-transportation costing anything up to $1800  (or more) with which parents can comfortably complete a Parkrun. If this original Bicycle Pram Sidecar design was still legal, safe and available, I wonder how many families would use the bicycle pram sidecar given the logic and functionality of this sidecar device.

Initiative: When Remya Jose was 14, she invented a bicycle –powered washing machine to help her do the family washing. With women traditionally doing the household chores, Remya and her sister had to take over the family washing after both parents were too ill to work. Hand washing Indian style is usually done in rural waterways that are away from the home and it is a time-consuming, physically demanding and labour intensive activity. Previously Remya’s family did not have a washing machine. After seeing other locals in her town of Kizhattoor Panchayat, India, use a few electrical washing machines, she fashioned her design based on the same principles, but added pedals as the power source so that no electricity was needed. The ‘washer’ is seated behind the machine on a seat so that when they cycle, a chain rotates a mesh cylinder inside a central aluminum box. It now takes Remya only about 20 minutes to soak, wash and rinse clothes. She designed it herself and with help, it was made from parts that were sourced locally.

 Effectiveness: This simple yet effective modification is a great example of what I consider to be the most effective, sustainable and powerful community change: one where the problem is self-identified by the community; a solution is self-initiated and implemented and  there is no reliance on external people, materials or skills in order to maintain the result. Such practices are a move in the right direction to reduce criticisms that aid perpetuates a culture of dependency and expectations, and that communities are best left alone to deal with and overcome their own problems without external intervention.

Connection: Furthermore, as Easterly (2008) points out, it is the people who are creative and experimental in trialing alternative ways to solving community problems (like Remya), who are usually more effective in alleviating poverty associated issues as opposed to those who invest copious amounts of energy, time and money into approaches that have no immediate results and/or are not locally contextualized.

Take away: This story is also a humble reminder for us Westerners of the lies we tell ourselves, like: ‘I don’t know how to fix it’, ‘I haven’t got the money’, ‘I don’t have the time’, ‘It’s quicker just to buy a new one’ – are all too easy and such thinking does not create positive change. But ingenious action will.

As this story exemplifies, training, education and money is often no match for being resourceful, shrewd and confident. I think it is a pity that such valuable skills are not promoted and taught within our community.

Where in your life do you apply cheap, innovative and functional solutions to problems?

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Easterly, W., 1957, & ebrary, I. (2008). Reinventing foreign aid (1st ed.). Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press.