17 October 2015

Las Bicimaquinas de Guatemala

Tourists ride "pedi cabs" and "bicycle taxis" in cities all over the world. People spin pedals in boats that are shaped like Disney characters and almost everything else imaginable.  Pizzas are delivered in contraptions that are part-bike, part-cart.  And cyclist Bryan Allen pedaled a gossamer across the English Channel in 1979.

It seems that pedal power has been used to propel humans and objects across time and space ever in just about every way imaginable. (Cycling to Mars, anyone?)  So, it's a bit surprising that more people haven't thought about other ways of using the energy people generate when they spin their feet.  

An organization called Maya Pedal has been doing just that.  Founded in 1997 as a collaboration between Guatemalan bicycle mechanic Carlos Marroquin and Canadian organization, Maya Pedal has created several "bicimaquinas" fashioned from various combinations of used bicycles and parts, wood, concrete and metal.  Each machine is handcrafted, unique and costs about $40. 

One example is this bicycle mill, fitted to a hand-powered  grinding mill or corn thresher. It can grind three pounds of any type of grain--typically yellow maize (corn), soybeans or coffee--per minute. 

Another bicimaquina looks like a stationary bicycle with a blender above its front wheel.  Actually, that's what it is. But, attached to the wheel is a rotor that substitutes for the electric motor found in the blenders most Americans use.  The faster you pedal, the faster the mixer blade--which can attain speeds of 6400 RPM--spins.

Other Bicimaquinas include  water pumps, coffee depulpers, generators, washing machines and even juicers nut shellers.  That last has proved a real boon to a women's cooperative that makes peanut butter near Sololá .  "Shelling the peanuts used to be the most labor intensive part of the business," says Maya Pedal coordinator Johanna Mesa Montuba.  "Now they just load them up in the machine and it takes a quarter of the time."  And the juicers, she says, are convenient because the women can take them to soccer games and other public events, where they can sell fresh juice.


Bicimaquinas have become popular in the Guatemalan countryside because they are cheap and easy to maintain:  no small consideration in remote areas where supplies are difficult to find and bring in.  And, if someone can't pay the full price of the machine up front, Maya Pedal will allow that person to purchase it in installments.  This is a real help to those, especially women, who want to start their own small businesses but have little or no money.

Really, what better way is there to use old bikes and parts? And to think that  I used to be so proud of myself for building "parts bin bikes"!

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