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Spinning The Pedal-Powered Gym

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When I got on that stationery bike at Triple M radio's Roots Festival in Madison, Wisconsin, providing electricity for Stage 2, I thought, "This is it. Human-powered gyms are right around the corner!" That was 2008.

When I started this blog in 2010, I went straight to Google with "human powered gym new york."

Uh oh. Architectural renderings of a human-powered gym. Mitchell and Douglas Joachim designed River Gym, a fleet of buoyant, transparent, human-powered gym pods on the Hudson River. Don't get me wrong. I loved it. But you know how it is with futuristic renderings. They're like concept cars. They never happen.

Mitchell Joachim's studio designed a concept car. It's called the Nerf Car.

I investigated pedal-powered gyms in the present, few though they may be.

A quick starter pedal-power stat: according to Green Microgym's chart, the "average" human generates 100 watts of pedaling energy, while the "elite" pedals up to 300 watts at a go.

If 50 gyms in New York took on 20 grid-tied (tied to the overall electrical grid) stationary bikes and got about 10 hours of "average" daily use, that's 100 kilowatts of energy at any given moment, or one megawatt hour a day. That's not nothing.

So who's making pedal-powered equipment? Green Revolution, in Ridgefield, CT, and ReRev, in St. Petersburg, FL both retrofit existing gym equipment to send generated watts back to the grid. ReRev sells to a growing number of large universities, enthusiastic early adopters. So there's a big market that's up and running.

Re:source Fitness, in Seattle, is actually creating grid-tied equipment. Presently they outfit Green Microgym, a Portland, Oregon gym run by Adam Boesel (who also co-founded Re:source Fitness). I expressed some frustration to Re:source CEO Ryan Barr about his machines not being more widely used. He explained that this is his company's choice of speed. Ryan wants to manufacture a superior fitness machine above and beyond its environmental contributions, working to bring their web-linked user interface to the next level, for instance. And they're adding their first Ellipticals to the market in November.

So while we wait for Re:source to go more mass market, why not start with retrofits from ReRev or Green Revolution?

There's a considerable capital outlay for this retrofitting. Got it. But Gym -- may I call you Gym? -- I think you should do this anyway. First of all, check out Ecomagination's clip of the spin class's overhead monitor at NYSC -- one of a handful of clubs using Green Revolution products -- showing watts generated in real time. It's inspirational. Ryan says Re:source is presently assessing the difference that pedal power makes on a workout, but all companies report anecdotal evidence of extra motivation. My friend Patty heard my blog idea and spontaneously said, "I'd get up and run a mile if I knew I was generating electricity."

The money saved on electricity itself is not an incentive. One kilowatt hour (kWh) of energy, or ten hours on a bike, is fifteen cents. The incentive, Gym, is membership. Your human powered publicity departments can link kinetic energy to personal health even though it's an indirect benefit. You just need the right imagery, like the Alps.

Bottled water did it. BThey put pictures of mountain chains on their labels and got people to believe that water from a plastic bottle, a bottle that doctors suggest you don't drink from if it's been left in a hot car, is more healthy, more pristine, more Alpine, than any tap water.

That's why I'd recommend the capital outlay. Obviously you'd get the people who love the interdependent greenness of generating power. They'd join your club. But also, you know those unusually slender people at the natural food stores who always look a little disgusted and who scan every product for assurances of purity? They don't care about the environment past their own kale-flossed colons, but if you visually connect pedaled power with an oxygen symbol or the Matterhorn, they'd totally join your club too.

Jay Whelan, who started Green Revolution, and Ryan Barr at Re:source Fitness both seem busy and happy about the way things are going. Ryan was psyched that UC Santa Barbara just had a celebration in honor of their new Re:source equipment.

I'm the impatient one. I like thinking about how much of our everyday lives we can retain on the other side of peak oil. What if we could still go to you, Gym, instead of burning calories by going mano a mano over five gallon containers of gas?

Maybe someday, I'll jump in my Nerf car and drive to a floating gym, but real pedal-powered technology is available right now, and I fantasize about you using it, Gym. It can be done. It can be spun.

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