women on bicycles

Pedal Power: How Bicycles Are The Wheely Green Fuel Of The Future

6 mins

From mobile e-hospitals to water pumps and thigh-powered smoothies, the bicycles of tomorrow will be powering up everything from the school disco to the local cinema

Who doesn’t love cycling? As well as the cardiovascular benefits and overall fitness boost that comes with pumping down hard on two cold metal pedals, riding a bicycle can be truly exhilarating. And it opens up the landscape in front of you. 

There is the rush of wind through your hair; the thrill of adrenaline coursing through your veins as you hurtle down a mountain bike track on two wheels. What’s not to like?

None of this will have been on the mind of Karl Drais when he invented his Laufmaschine (running machine), the precursor to the modern bicycle, back in the early 1800s. He could scarcely have imagined the transformative effect his scary-looking contraption would one day have on the world.

man on bicycle
Pedal power will have myriad uses in the future

And the best thing about bikes? They continue to surprise us. Whether they are being installed in arenas before a Coldplay concert so that gig-goers can power the show on static bikes as they ride, or BBC reporters are adapting them for use as mobile TV studios, the humble bicycle is enjoying something of a green renaissance.

Here’s The Ethicalist’s lowdown on some of the innovative ways we think our beloved bikes will be used in the future…

The Low-Cost Mobile Hospital

In Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria in 2017, bicycles became a critical means of transportation when fuel supplies were ruptured. The go-anywhere nature of two wheels makes bikes a sensible choice in times of strife – a fact not lost on disaster management forces in India who have ordered modified off-road e-bikes from the country’s National Institute of Technology for use on rescue missions.

In rural Uganda, the First African Bicycle Information Organisation (FABIO) has been using bicycle ambulances since 2018 and has helped hundreds of people with illnesses, pregnancies and more

We expect this trend to proliferate as climate change ramps up our exposure to disasters. In developing nations, ambulances based on bicycles may also provide a regular, everyday service to people in villages far from town centre facilities. In rural Uganda, the First African Bicycle Information Organisation (FABIO) has been using bicycle ambulances since 2018 and has helped hundreds of people with illnesses, pregnancies and more.

Throw the incredible capabilities of today’s modern e-bike battery packs into the equation (next-gen solid-state batteries could change the landscape even more dramatically), and bicycle-powered ambulances make for a compelling proposition.

They make sense in all kinds of environments, too. A new mobile health clinic built around an electric bike has recently launched in London to serve some of the city’s most vulnerable people. 

The thinking is that the new mobile health unit will allow medical professionals access to areas where homeless people often congregate such as parks, underpasses and so on – places that are difficult for traditional ambulances to reach. 

All’s Well That Ends Well

bicycles will power water pumps in the future

We’ve all seen documentaries in which people living in economically-deprived rural locations have to walk miles to get water: what if bikes could be used to draw it from the ground underneath your feet?

We expect to see more and more bikes being used for water extraction in the coming years, not least because of the difficulties that underdeveloped nations are likely to endure because of droughts.

In Mozambique, Spanish NGO Azada Verde is helping local communities to develop sustainable food systems using bike-powered water pumps that can draw up to 10 litres of water per minute.

bicycles will provide green fuel for the future

Similarly, bikes have been used as portable desalination plants in coastal areas facing water scarcity. Full marks to technology for being able to convert seawater into drinking water through pedal power, and even higher praise to those doing the peddling.

It’s not just seawater that can be treated either: Japanese company Cycloclean has developed a bicycle-based device that can produce five litres of clean drinking water a minute from raw water.

The Thigh-Powered Nutribullet

The king of smoothie makers is surely due a pedal-powered upgrade. In fact, if someone were to switch up a nutribullet so that it was fuelled by leg power rather than electricity, they would be behind the curve – because UK business The Smoothie Bike Company has been creating healthy, delicious fruit drinks in this way for several years.

It even runs mini competitions such as ‘The Smoothie Bike Challenge’, which uses computer tech to measure the virtual distance that competitors travel as they race to create the smoothest of smoothies.

Street vendors are always looking for innovative new solutions to draw a crowd. We think turning up beachside with bicycle-based ice cream makers, candy floss spinners and more is a win-win for everyone.

The Last Leg

Much has been written about the final miles that a commuter has to endure on their daily hike to work. It’s often the case that the first part of the journey into the office is reasonably straightforward, but when congestion builds the nearer they get to their city centre destination, everything slows down. 

In Detroit, Electric Pedals created an installation that allowed people to power lights, Bluetooth speakers and USB charging stations using pedal power; in London they got kids peddling to power the school disco

One solution would be to incorporate storage and charging capabilities for electric bikes into new cars. Cycling Electric magazine puts forward the idea that with more and more cities hinting at a car-free future, the ideal solution would be to equip cars with whatever they need to enable people to cycle those last few miles.

They note that Opel’s Flex-Fix bike carrier is cleverly integrated into the car bumper and can be used or tucked away as needed. Surely the next logical step for the world’s car makers is to add a built-in e-bike charging cable?

Entertainment Paid For In Sweat 

Much like fans experienced at the aforementioned Coldplay concerts, we are increasingly going to see innovative ways that people will be able to be entertained in return for the energy they expel.

UK-based Electric Pedals is a company that can pretty much power any event using bicycles. In Detroit, they created an installation that allowed people to power lights, Bluetooth speakers and USB charging stations using pedal power; in London they got kids peddling to power the school disco.

Their signature offering is a pedal-powered cinema. As well as the novelty angle, practicality is a key feature, too, as their pedal-powered cinema can function completely off-grid. 

‘Clean, efficient and sustainable, we arrive at each event with no stored power and leave with nothing,’ they say. What could be more environmentally friendly than that?

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