The WesCycle bike-powered, zero-carbon-emission generators are back for spring, powering the EarthFest concert last Sunday, April 21 on Foss Hill with the pedaling force of the audience. WesCycle is a group founded last spring that sets up bike-powered generators to supply electricity for outdoor concerts and events.
“No more fossil fuels, no more cellulite and more music for all!” the WesCycle group description reads.
WesCycle, led this year by Katy McLaughlin, Rachel Lindy, Katy Hardt, and Nina Gerona, all ’15, is in charge of maintenance and set-up of the bike generators.
The bicycles, pedaled by volunteers from the crowd, are connected to the generator system composed of two battery packs that deliver energy to the plugged-in equipment, including PA systems, amps, or electric instruments.
“It’s good to be constantly pedaling, but you don’t have to go fast, so it’s not a really strenuous activity,” Lindy explained.
The group currently has two functioning generators, each powered by five bikes, which puts out up to 1,500 volts of energy, according to Lindy and Gerona. The generators work best outdoors in dry weather due to electricity and noise concerns, Gerona said.
“They’re not difficult [to set up],” Gerona added. “You just have to know how to connect the bikes to the generator.”
The idea was initiated last year by music and Environmental Studies double major Sam Long ’12 as part of his senior thesis project. Long is also the former manager of the Wesleyan Sound Cooperative, a student group in charge of setting up sound systems for many campus events.
“I envisioned using bike generators for my thesis, an outdoor concert of music that was somehow linked with environmental activism,” Long wrote in an email to The Argus.
Long worked with Director of the College of the Environment (COE) Barry Chernoff, Administrative Assistant for the COE Valerie Marinelli, and members of the University Green Fund, to purchase the generators from Pedal Power. Residential Life and Physical Plant supplied bicycles for the EarthFest performance from their collection of discarded bicycles, which are stored in their Long Lane Warehouse.
In addition to the environmental motivation, Long noted that WesCycle also encourages community participation.
“The audience would power the music, and this would blur the line between the performer and the audience,” he wrote. “I wanted to create a truly intimate experience. It was even cooler that it was ‘off the grid.’”
Long was inspired by a bike-powered music festival in Portland, Oregon, similar to the San Francisco Bicycle Music Festival that began in 2007. The San Francisco festival is currently the largest music festival powered completely by bikes in the world, and it takes place each year close to the summer solstice.
“Besides being the most fun and green way to amplify a live concert, [the bike generator system] also transforms every song into an audience participation song, and radically democratizes the concert-goer experience,” the San Francisco Bicycle Music Festival website reads.
The University is aiming to harness bike power at the Freeman Athletic Center to generate electricity. Gerona explained that the University is exploring options to convert all the indoor exercise bikes to generate energy in an effort toward sustainability.
WesCycle’s bikes have been powering campus events since last fall.
“We did Pumpkinfest in the fall at the farm,” Lindy said. “We powered the concert there, and we powered a smoothie stand at the farmer’s market.”
The group has planned more events for the rest of the semester.
“Weather permitting, the following Thursday [April 25] we plan to have something at the mountaintop removal awareness event,” Lindy said.
WesCycle is now working toward facilitating communication between other student groups and organizers to support sustainable, low-carbon-emission events. The group began building a website where students can request the generators and specify the required voltage, though the site is not yet finished.
“If [students] wanted to have a carbon neutral event they can sign up online,” Lindy said of the planned website.
Gerona noted, however, that this could prove difficult because many students may not know the voltage necessary for their planned events.
WesCycle is also looking to partner with student groups like the Wesleyan Sound Cooperative to collaborate on setup for concerts, performances, and sports practices.
“We talked about coordinating with sports teams, for example, [the] squash team, to have their workout on the bikes,” Lindy explained. “Also it would bring people who would not necessarily be going to these events.”
Meanwhile, WesCycle, along with other environmental groups on campus, will continue to bike toward promoting sustainable energy at the University and beyond.
“We’re trying to do the best we can and have it be at as many events [as possible],” Gerona said.