thighs of steel


It’s been about a year since Jacob and I (and by that I mean: Jacob) built our bicycle-powered washing machine. I do not have thighs of steel, because I pedal in 2-minute spurts that are probably worse than no exercise at all, but I do so love our machine. Here’s how you can build your own, with thanks to Jacob for writing it all up.


How to make your very own bicycle-powered washing machine: 1. Obtain a 50s or 60s Maytag Wringer Washer in good shape. Look on Freecycle, Craig’s List, antique stores, junk shops, etc. A woman browsing in the antique shop we were looking in overheard our request and happened to have one in her basement!

2. Remove the entire electric motor assembly from the undercage
of the washer. This was perhaps the most difficult of all tasks since
our washer was old (they all are!) and slightly rusty though still in very
good shape. Try and avoid flipping the washer upside down or even on
it’s side, if possible, as there is oil inside the wringer assembly and the
agitator assembly to allow them to work properly.


3. Optional: keep the pump assembly intact if it’s working and in good shape.
we pulled ours out entirely as it was not in good shape and added too
much friction to the agitator assembly.

4. Find an exercise bike, upright preferable though we have a sit down horizontal
bike for ours. The bike must have a front fly-wheel to which an automotive
belt can be attached.

5. Position the wringer washer up on some sort of a riser (we built a platform
on top of cinder blocks, removed the washer’s casters and bolted the legs
down to the platform for stability) so that the wheel of the exercise bike can
sit under the washer. The belt will need to attach directly to the agitator
assembly wheel and to the fly-wheel to provide a direct-drive power connection.


6. Once the bike and washer are positioned to provide a clean, direct, and taut
path for the belt, connect the two so that there’s enough tention on the belt
to provide the friction needed to allow power to transfer from the fly-wheel
to the agitator assembly wheel.

7. You’ll also end up using the exercise bike while simultaneously (if it’s an upright
exercise bike) operating the wringer assembly to draw clothes through. The
bike will also power so the wringer so you’ll need to pedal and draw clothes
through the wringer at the same time. Try and make positioning of the bike
in relation to the washer convenient for both tasks.


Climg_2653.jpgose up of wringer. Our recumbent bike is too long to wring while washing, so our wringing is a two-person job:

8. You’ll need to provide a hose assembly to transport the waste water out of the wringer washer. We had a waste waster drain left from our old washer that we could use. Since it’s below the raised wringer washer it allowed us to avoid any sort of a pump and just let gravity draw the water out and down the drain. We used
rigid PVC piping with an in-line stop (below) to control the flow. This went to a rubber
hose that fed right into the drain.


Notes: A key part of the wringer washer is the wringer controller. This is a safety
measure that doesn’t allow the wringer to rotate unless this “air-pod”
controller is pressed. Given that most of these are 40-50 years old, the
rubber controller, like ours, immediately cracked and formed an air leak
which made it useless. If you follow the hose from the controller to a little
assembly on the undercage of the washer, you’ll find the real controls.
You can remove the hose and instead insert a screw to depress the internal
lever. We, and others, managed (with a lot of effort and hanging around on our backs on the basement floor) to insert the screw so that the lever is
permanently depressed and the wringer can always be engaged without
a safety mechanism. This is much desired and not at all dangerous!

Be sure to familiarize yourself with the pulley on the outside of the washer.
This can switched between engaging the agitator in the bowl or the wringer.
The lever on the top of the wringer controls the direction it rolls or turns
it off and locks it in place (if in the center) or allows it to swing in and out
of position (if the lever is swung out away from the washer.)





Humboldt State’s pedal-powered machine.

This one is so pretty.

We used this page to help us out.

6 Responses to “thighs of steel”

  1. Devon


    Here’s Devon from Albany, friend of Randy Putnam. I’m on break from school and on dayoff from work. Trying to get all my excrement together and googled ‘maytag bicycle powered washing machine’. You were the 1st result of the search! So I’ve picked up the same sort of maytag you’ve got here, freecycled the same day I decided to try doing the bike laundry. It’s been some time since then, a few months, but I’m trying to get it set up soon.

    I was just happy to see your blog come up high on the google list; I read your posts often and reply occasionally. I’m really happy to have this vague connect to you and your world, even tho I’m not able to put in the miles to New Paltz that often. I miss your lovely company and foods and friends, sad to see the hits you’ve taken from recent economics. Hope you’re still feeling the winter in a good way, just trying up here where it seems to keep snowing (a welcome change from the past few years)!


  2. Amanda

    Thats is super bad ass!
    I cant wait to cycle my clothes clean thanks for the info!

  3. me. « resistance is fertile

    […] have just one job, no kids, and I’ve had laundry sitting in my washing machine for four days. (Remember when I used to cycle my laundry? My god that was a living […]

  4. Tim Heider

    Hi I’m Tim, I’m writing you from France.
    I work for a magazine specialized in permaculture and we’re working on a “worldtour” of alternative washing machines”.
    Is there any chance you would like to share some pictures with us, so we can illustrate a wide range of different constructions?

    Thank you in advance,
    Tim H.


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