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Pedal power for outage preparation

A quality bike generator from Rock The Bike can be a serious — and seriously fun — component in your preparedness plan for upcoming Public Safety Power Shutoffs during this year’s fire season in Northern California, or any type of outage. While battery banks last for a while, and solar can refresh them during the sunny hours, only a quality bike generator allows you to contribute a short targeted burst of energy whenever you need to. For years we promoted our pedal power gear for event activities, not for emergency preparedness, because the latter felt like a downer. Then we tried it. It’s fun and a great learning lab.

In this post we’ll break down what to expect when designing a system, and how Pedal Power can fit into your existing system.

If you have an existing off-grid solar system or what are sold as solar generators*, there’s a good chance you can connect Rock The Bike’s Roll Up DC generator just like it was a 12V or 24V solar panel. *We prefer to call these ‘backup systems’ because it’s more accurate for what these things can do in your life. Verbiage aside, this is great news for anyone who has already invested in such a backup system, or already has an off grid solar installation, and wants to improve the performance and flexibility of that system and have some fun in the process. Our Generator Pro can also put pedal power into an off grid solar or backup system, but only if it is rated to take a 24V solar panel.

If you don’t have a system already, please note that Rock The Bike’s Off The Wall generator stand, and Off The Wall Pro can be used on their own without needing a solar generator or any circuit at all, and this may be the best value for preparedness if your goal is to have uninterrupted communications during an outage.

What is your goal? If an outage happens and it threatens to be a long one, what devices do you really want to stay on? Everyone’s situation is different, but we’ve identified 2 approachable preparedness goals that may resonate with you:

$, $$. Never lose communications. Solution: a small backup system with an onboard battery, OR an Off The Wall generator that directly charges phones and laptops. As long as your phone and internet are still available, you’ll be able to communicate and coordinate with your people.
$$$. Keep your food. This would look like a significantly larger storage battery + solar array + a DC bike generator.

Off The Wall generator stand
Very low, folds up when not in use and compatible with bikes you already have.
Directly charge up to 10 phones or 2 laptops at a time as fast as they charge from the wall.

No circuit needed aside from what comes with Off The Wall.
Least amount of new stuff in your life while offering legitimate peace of mind.

Can be moved easily and set up to help neighbors in need.

As long as cell phone and internet systems are up and running, you’ll be able to use them.
Roll Up DC generator stand + small backup system.
Same low storage on the stand but now you have a circuit too. Most small backup systems are designed for car camping and are fairly easy to lift.
A backup system means it has a battery.
Storage capacity means you can use electricity when you’re not pedaling. Wattage and storage ratings consistent with communications gear.
Roll Up DC or Generator Pro and large backup system
Large backup systems have heavy batteries and are hard to move and lift. They perform well with solar panels which require prime outdoor sunny space to function.
Large battery and inverter rated at 1500+ Watts
Keep the food in your fridge and lighting. Have a semblance of normalcy during an outage.

For the most affordable options, the best value is to buy off the shelf systems.

For a large backup system, you can save a lot by building your own. This will mean buying and connecting these 5 components:
Solar panels
Roll Up DC generator stand
Charge controller (safety circuit)

It’s not a very complex project and we can help you through it. There are numerous guides available. It will take space and sun to create a backup system with multiple solar panels and a quality bike generator, but if that’s a possibility for you, and you want to have some fun in the process, read on!

Preparing for a major power outage will force you to understand which of your devices are using the most energy, a highly educational process. Adding a quality bike generator into your system makes it way more fun. It’s the difference between taking in numbers and understanding it in your body as you sweat and get a workout. An off-grid system is a learning lab for appreciating energy, and of course, if well-designed, it will help you get through outages. But during most of the year, when power is flowing bountifully from the power company to you, your system will still help you! For one thing you can reduce your bill and usage of dirty power by running some devices off your solar/Pedal Power system. Whenever you want one, you can get a workout in which your effort isn’t wasted in heat but collected in useful energy. And there’s another important way to save. You’ll be so much more connected to your energy usage, you’ll remember to turn devices off. So, even if power outages are only in effect for days each year, the awareness you’ll gain will result in real savings the rest of the year. Learnings from participating in your energy production can give you the knowledge you need to reduce your electricity bills, which will help pay back the equipment and make you a better steward of the environment.

Testimonial sidebar: I arrived at my cabin at 6PM when there was not any more good sun for the panels. My small DC fridge was set at 46 degrees, where I’d left it (to conserve energy when I’m not there). I quickly put my bike in a Roll Up stand, in parallel with my solar panels, and put in a 40 minute push of pedal power. I was getting a good sweat going and pedaling about 60-100W consistently, with a 2 minute sprint at the end when I was able to push 100-200W. Even when I upped my effort level at the end, I felt every pedal stroke and never whiffed. Being able to change gears and get a different resistance level was really nice.

Sidebar: Whatever strategy you choose for outage preparedness, devoting some freezer space to large frozen bottles of water is like a thermal battery that can improve the results of whatever approach you choose for the first 1-2 days. Food will take longer to go bad if you have a large thermal mass of ultra-cold ice to play with.

Off The Shelf systems are sold in a wide range of prices and ratings. Probably the most important rating is the size of the internal battery (measured in Watt-hours or Kilowatt-hours) and the power rating of its on board inverter. Fortunately, with the right connector / dongle, which Rock The Bike will gladly provide as long as you tell us your needs. There are only a few common connectors that cover most of the Off The Shelf Solar Generators on the market.