Third World idea, First World execution?

I was amused to read about this invention.

Students at the Dalian Nationalities University in China have designed a bike washing machine that will wash your clothes while you pedal. The invention is aptly called “Bike Washing Machine” or “BiWa,” and it aims to “bring health and convenience to our life” by combining a stationary bike and a washing machine.

According to a description on Tuvie provided by the students who designed the bike, the way it works is quite simple: “When you ride this bike, the pedaling motion causes the drum of the washing machine to rotate; at the same time, superfluous electricity is generated which can be used to power the display screen or [be] stored for future use.”

There’s more at the link.

What amused me is that for several years, while traveling around sub-saharan Africa, I saw lots of conventional washing machines adapted to ‘bicycle drive’.  They were roughly similar to the one in this video clip, which (judging from the language) appears to have been filmed somewhere in Latin America.

In Africa, old out-of-order washing machines were snapped up whenever an entrepreneurially-minded individual could find them.  He or she would fit them with a belt drive running off the rear wheel of a bicycle, then charge locals a small amount to do their laundry for them – the equivalent of a few cents in local currency, or food, or an item of clothing.  Basically, the machine became someone’s livelihood.  All they had to do was pedal all day, every day.

I knew one character in equatorial Africa during the late 1980’s who operated over twenty such pedal-powered washing machines, set up in a long row beneath a thatched awning.  He hired men to do the pedaling, paying them about two-thirds of what clients paid him for their services.  They got enough to feed themselves and their families, so they were happy;  and he made enough to do the same, plus buy another broken-down washing machine and bike every week or two, cobble them together, and put them to work making even more money.  It was quite a busy little enterprise.  He’d been at it for about five years when I met him, and was planning to set up his own village store, funding it out of the profits from his ‘laundromat’.  He was well on his way to becoming wealthy, by local standards.  (He was also a realist.  He’d hired a few armed guards, equipped with machetes and a couple of old, rusty shotguns.  There were those who envied his success and wanted a piece of the action.  He wasn’t about to share it with them!)

I think the Chinese idea is a good one, but it’s a very small machine and obviously aimed at First World small-family environments.  If they could make it larger, using a conventional-size washing machine drum that could handle large-family-size loads, I think they might be on to something useful – particularly in the Third World.



  1. Way back when, the early "automatic" washing machines were powered by a small 2-cycle gasoline engine. Earlier than that, entire fabric mills were powered by a forest of shafts and leather belts driven by a water wheel. I wonder if there are opportunities to combine the technologies.

  2. Seems like you would get greater efficiency by hooking an alternator to the bike and storing the power in a battery to drive a whole range of appliances instead of hooking a bike to each appliance (washer, dryer, garbage disposal, Home AC, furnace fan, Ceiling fans, daqueri blender, etc)


  3. Good grief….

    How about the plumbing? I can just see how hauling buckets of water from the sink and then removing dirty water(toss it out in the backyard? Out the window?).

    Just like that all-new biplane… the drawings look neat, but today's Auto-Cad makes anything look snazzy.

  4. I can just imagine if you tried to hook washers up to the bikes in a spin class. Feminists would be lose their minds.

    You know motors and generators are getting real small. There was the scandal of the racer whose bike was found to have a small motor hidden in the frame. So, tweak those to make generators and get people to pay for a spin class as they charge up your batteries.

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