One Year into Bicycling the Laundry

April, 2019

That’s right. I’m still pedaling our laundry, a year later. To be clear: not the same load of laundry I started pedaling a year ago, but a year’s worth of four people’s dirty clothes, biked clean and hung dry three times a week.

Wait…that sounds just a touch heroic. For me, it’s simply a chore that I’ve fit into my life, that I even enjoy a little, a comfortable routine that indicates all is well.

If you’re like most people and just read these last few sentences with incredulity, let me assure you I’m not a fitness nut, a Martha Stewart disciple, or a planet hero/weirdo. I’ll try to explain myself.

I recommend that you go back and, if you haven’t already, read my first entry on this topic, Doing Laundry by Leg (Not by Hand), in which I rehash in painful detail the first iteration(s) of our bike-powered washing machine. Since publishing that article, I’ve made several improvements in the system.

First, the machine took a great leap forward when I removed those extra long bolts (prone to shearing off) and simply flipped the aluminum flywheel, reconnecting it to the plywood circle/chain ring…well, a picture is worth a thousand words:


This allows a much stronger and more direct connection between the flywheel–hence the laundry drum–and the pedals, so I can pedal forward and backward without derailing anymore, and the laundry agitates left and right, just like those new-fangled electro-automatic laundro-machines that turn your clothes sparkling white. I felt a little silly that it took me so long to figure out this simple solution.

Secondly, I’ve been unable to develop Lance Armstrong-sized thighs, which means I still can’t pedal fast enough for a decent spin-cycle. So my lovely husband found me a clothes mangle, a.k.a. wringer. (It may or may not have been a Valentine’s Day gift. That’s how we roll at The Clay Life…)

In family trivia, my great aunt and uncle worked at the Lovell MFG Co., which made the Niagara Ball Bearing Clothes Mangle. I like to think that one of them touched this very wringer.

We mounted the thing over a sink with a bucket drain, and it has improved my life greatly. Somehow the action of cranking the wringer is much more pleasant than wringing with my hands–probably it’s just easier on my hands and plain old fun to crank the big rollers. The wringer does tend to crack buttons, pinch clasps closed, and, true to its name, “mangle” zippers, so I still wring a few garments by hand.

Thirdly, I jerry-rigged a slick book rack.


So now I can do three things at once: exercise, do laundry, and read a book!

I’m still working a couple bugs out of my system. (And here let me interject that now that it has no motor, I can fully understand the mechanics of my washing machine, which I find empowering–can you say that of yours?)

The main bug, maybe not specific to a bike-powered machine, is the fuzz factor. As I hang up the clothes, I pull off bits of accumulated fuzz and hair that, instead of rinsing away, seem either to snowball into clumps or spread throughout the laundry. This will be an ongoing problem, since our daughter has long hair and I myself shed hair from my head like a chemotherapy patient with male pattern baldness (my apologies to everyone I’ve just offended). I assume that a spin in the good old dryer would suck all that fuzz out, but I’d love another solution. If any of you know how to deal with this, preach it in the comments below!

And let me emphasize this: I would not be doing this if I did not enjoy it. I like the feeling of taking responsibility for an essential chore in my life, taking back for my body a job I had once relegated to a machine. I’ll enjoy it especially once the weather warms enough in the spring so I can tote the whole shebang outside and do the wash in the fresh air with rainwater from our barrels. I pedal one load of laundry each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and from the first rotation of the pedals to the last clothespin, it takes about an hour. Not bad, considering I’m also getting my exercise, reading, and SAVING THE PLANET. Or at least, taking a little step toward it.

Because that’s all it takes to start, folks: a little step. You never get anywhere without taking that first little step. For me, because I have legs and dirty clothes, I’ve started biking my laundry; but for you it might be something else, some other little bit you can do. And it doesn’t matter how small that is, because the longer I work at this clay life, the more I’ve noticed it’s the little bits that make up a life, that make the difference between a meaningful life and one lived without thought or consideration.

And just to crush to death that metaphor of the road: you never know where your steps will take you. A year into biking the laundry and pouring the rinse water on my plants, I find myself considering the fibers in our clothes–will they biodegrade or will I someday kick a shovel into the earth and discover nothing but a web of plastic fibers? I’m toeing my way forward slowly here, aware that the next step may just turn me into a fanatic, which is not the sort of person I generally like, but hey, it may be entertaining for you!

So stay tuned.


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