Guatemala’s Bicycle-Powered Blenders

Traveler intern Daniel Bortz explores a program that creates bike-powered machines in Guatemala.

Across Guatemalan farmland, a new breed of bicycles is being used to thresh corn, de-shell coffee beans, and even blend fruit smoothies.

There, in a country with a history of endemic poverty, Maya Pedal works to combine exercise and technology to provide livelihoods.

Formed in 2001 and supported by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Maya Pedal’s workshop creates handmade bicimáquinas–low-cost machines made from old bike parts, concrete, wood, and metal. The nut-sheller, the mobile water pump, and the bicycle mill are among the project’s popular designs, providing farmers and small businesses assistance in a variety of tasks. Prototypes of bicycle washing machines and electricity generators are currently in the works. The group also accepts volunteers who are interested in helping build and distribute the machines.

View Images

All pedal-powered, these bicimáquinas help locals perform daily chores often made difficult by lack of access to electricity. The water pump, for example, uses a line of rope to lift water at 5-10 gallons per minute from wells and boreholes, supplying residents with clean drinking water.

Such sustainable solutions move the planet one step closer to solving the world’s freshwater crisis, which, at its current rate, is predicted to leave a third of the people on Earth without a clean, secure source of water by 2050. (Read more about the threat to the world’s water systems in this special issue of National Geographic magazine). 

Innovative ideas like the bicimáquinas are currently on display in “Design for the Other 90%,” a free exhibit at National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C. The exhibit explores inexpensive ways of supplying water and other basic needs to those who lack them–an astonishing 5.8 billion of the world’s 6.5 billion population. Among the tools featured is a bamboo treadle pump, a device with two metal cylinders used by poor farmers to access groundwater during the dry season. The exhibit, open 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, runs through Sept. 6 and includes workshops where visitors can watch the process of dirty water become drinkable and see rice cooked in solar ovens.

Photos: Courtesy of Maya Pedal