Can You Power Your Computer or TV With a Bicycle Generator?

By: Austin Henderson  | 
It's not uncommon to see e-bikes charging outside, but could it work the other way around? Could a bicycle charge your phone or power your TV? Baac3nes / Getty Images

The bicycle generator: It's an eco-friendly marvel that turns your pedal power into electricity. But could this little gadget replace your power outlet and help you save on electricity bills? In other words, is it possible to power your computer or TV solely by pedaling away on your bike?

Let's take a look at the science and practicality behind the green dream of bike generators.


Breaking Down the Power Requirements

How Much Power Do Common Devices Need?

  • Desktop computer: On average, a desktop computer with a monitor will consume around 200 watts. Got a bigger screen? That number might rise to around 250 watts.
  • Large color TV: A large color TV also hovers around the 200-250 watt range.

Converting Pedal Power to Electric Power

Pedal power has its limitations. Let's break it down into numbers:

  • 1 Horsepower (HP): Equal to 746 watts
  • Average desktop PC: Requires about 0.27 horsepower to operate.

Even if we account for the generator's efficiency, which is likely less than 100 percent, it still means a regular Joe would need to generate around a third of a horsepower.



The Feasibility of Generating Electricity via Pedal Power

The Athletic Hurdle

Generating a third of a horsepower isn't exactly a walk in the park. Unless you're an Olympic athlete or a Tour de France participant, sustaining this level of mechanical energy will wear you out quicker than you can say "bike generator."

The average person might be able to sustain this for about half an hour before the dream of a bike-powered generator for a desktop fades into the realm of fantasy.


The Laptop Solution

Feeling discouraged? Don't be! Laptops, designed to be power-efficient because they operate on batteries, consume significantly less energy — around 15 watts to be exact.

That's merely 0.02 horsepower, a much easier target for the everyday cyclist. In the world of pedal-powered generators, laptops are your best friends.


Let's Talk Calories and Other Benefits

Burning Calories: The Side Benefit

To generate 1 watt for an hour, you'll burn approximately 0.85 calories. Round that up to about 1 calorie per watt-hour. If you're powering your laptop with a bicycle generator, you'll burn about 15 calories per hour. Not a bad way to stay fit while surfing the internet!

Environmental Impact and Climate Change

Pedaling to generate your own power has environmental benefits too! You're reducing your carbon footprint, making a small but meaningful impact in fighting climate change.



Extra Considerations for the DIY Crowd

Energy Storage and Voltage Regulator

If you're thinking about setting up your own pedal-powered generator to serve your electric devices, consider an energy storage system to save that extra energy. Also, a voltage regulator will help to ensure a consistent output of electricity for your electronic devices.

High School Students and STEM Projects

For high school students looking for a fascinating science project, this is an excellent opportunity to explore an alternative way to generate electricity, energy storage and mechanical energy conversion.


Supplementing With Solar Panels

If pedaling away for hours doesn't sound appealing, solar panels offer an alternative green energy source. You can also combine them with bicycle generators for a more robust home energy solution.


Is a Bicycle Generator Worth the Pedal?

While a bicycle generator might not be the best fit for power-hungry devices like a large desktop or TV, it certainly has its merits. Laptops, cell phones and other USB devices can be adequately powered with some dedicated pedaling.

Plus, you get the added benefit of a light workout and the satisfaction of contributing to a greener planet.


This article was updated in conjunction with AI technology, then fact-checked and edited by a HowStuffWorks editor.

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