Basic questions to consider when crafting your Pedal Powered Stage
The technical needs of a Pedal Powered event vary greatly depending on things like audience size, venue, and power needs of musician’s devices. Over the past 6 years Rock The Bike has Pedal Powered events large and small. In this post we’ll try to help you arrive at what type of Pedal Power system would make the biggest impact for you.
Above: Shake Your Peace! performs during the Bay Rising Tour on their Pedal Powered Stage crafted by Rock the Bike.
Please consider and answer these questions:
- Outdoor v. Indoor. Doing anything in an outdoor space requires more power, as there are no resounding walls. What are the spaces you wish to use as venues? Do you have a photo of one of the events you host?
- Will you be doing nighttime events? Is there always light available? Do you have a need for Pedal Powered Lighting?
- What is your main motivation for doing Pedal Power?
- Audience size. How many people are in the crowd at the events you envision Pedal Powering?
- Do you need to provide AC power? Examples of why you’d need this include: charging cell phones, charging laptops, powering a mixing board, powering a power tool as an example of Pedal Power.
- Stereo v Mono. A 1 Bike / 1 Speaker setup is awesome for demonstrating Pedal Power and for public speaking. But to have a proper concert, it helps to have two mains.
- Related… Do you want or need to be completely off the grid? Sometimes you just want to demonstrate Pedal Power but in places where there is wall power. Other times you need to be completely off the grid. Do you have devices that need to stay ON (such as laptop, projector), and is there a source of AC power (Wall Power) available for these devices? Or would you like to be completely ‘off the grid’ and have Pedal Power be the source for all your power needs?
- Subwoofers. You can’t use subwoofers without extra pedalers. Subs are great for dance music. Not essential but really appreciated. And you can Pedal Power them!
- Do you want to be able to bike it all there? If you want to ride with the gear to the venues, there is a need for cargo bikes or trailers.
- Do you have a crew? Who are the people who will set up the Pedal Power system? Who will be the technical lead on this project?
- Do you want to have kids be able to participate? If so you will need extra bikes, because they want to pedal but cannot contribute that much actual wattage. At around 12-14, kids are big enough to contribute real amounts of power. Younger than that, they care greatly but won’t make a difference (power wise) and may take seats away from bigger kids or adults who can.
If you could please provide some quick answers to these it will help me craft a recommendation.
What are the elements of a Pedal Powered Stage?
What follows is an explanation of the key elements of a Pedal Powered Stage. If you are ready to buy individual components, please see the Pedal Powered Stage products
section of our online store. If you’d like a custom quote
for a Pedal Powered Stage, please start by emailing us with the answers to our Pedal Powered Stage questionnaire
Pedal Power Generators:
Above, two Mundo 500 generators in use at the Eugene Bicycle Music Festival. The rear wheel is elevated off the ground so that you can pedal in place and generate power.
You will need enough bicycle generators that the pedaling effort per person is approx. 50-75 Watts. Based on our experience at events, 50-75 Watts is the amount that an average audience member can continuously provide. You should also have ‘ringer pedalers’ in your crew. Ringer pedalers are strong racer or everyday commuting cyclists who can contribute up to 4 times more than an average pedaler. Whether you’re relying on ringers or the GP (General Public), you’ll need to provide enough bikes that the effort can be shared.
In order to make Pedal Power fun and inspiring, your goal should be to have the lowest ‘overhead’ possible. Overhead is how much Wattage your system draws when no music is playing. Using energy intensive devices like rack-mount audio gear, subwoofers, large guitar and bass amps, laptops, and lights can add significant Wattage to your system’s overhead. If you already know what devices you want to run, start by measuring their Wattage with a Kill-A-Watt. Having a lower overhead means that more of your pedalers’ energy goes into music, not keeping devices on.
If you are planning to use our Modified JBL PRX Loudspeakers, you can follow this table to estimate the crowd size possible for a given number of pedalers. These numbers are for danceable levels of music and assume a favorable overhead.
|Number of Pedalers
||Estimated Crowd Size Possible in an Outdoor Location
||200-500 (with One Bike / One Speaker)
||2000+ We haven’t had enough chances to test at these power levels.
The Electric Fender Blender Pro, our most compact, efficient generator.
What kind of generator?
The most effective generators are hub generators. They are efficient, quiet, and can convert a huge flow of power if the pedaler is cranking hard. The less effective ones are friction generators (tire rubbers). We recommend only hub generators, though for people on a long-distance bike tour, the extra weight is a drawback. Using efficient, quiet generators is better because it makes Pedal Power feel more impressive, which makes people want to pedal more, which in turn makes them want to ride bikes well after your event. Check out this page to see all of our generator options: the Mundo 500 (electric version of our favorite cargo bike), the Electric Fender Blender Pro (towable bike blender and generator), and generator wheels to turn any bike into a generator.
Do not bother with Hi-Fi equipment (including home theater, bookshelf speakers, and computer speakers) or car audio gear. Neither of these were designed for large spaces and large crowds. If your goal is to produce an outdoor music event, you need to use “Pro Sound” equipment that was designed to reach larch crowds at events.
We sell Modified JBL PRX Loudspeakers. We modify and sell the full line of JBL PRX speakers, from the smallest wedge monitor (the PRX 612) to the 1000-watt subwoofer, the PRX 618. The ‘modified’ part means that we hack the circuit boards to allow them to run on DC power, bypassing the need for AC power (wall power). Since the conversion of Pedal Power from DC to AC and then back to DC inside the amplifier is wasteful, our Modified JBL PRX loudspeakers run 43% more efficiently than in AC mode. PRX loudspeakers are already some of the most efficient powered speakers commercially available, thanks to their Crown digital amplifier, so the additional power savings in DC mode makes them (quite possibly) the most efficient Pro Sound loudspeakers in the world! They make Pedal Power feel truly impressive. Pedalers have a big smile on their face when they hear how much powerful, crisp sound results from their good clean Pedal Power. This is a Rock The Bike exclusive offering.
PRX speakers are made of high quality plywood and have a durable coating. Although they’re heavier than some plastic speakers, they are relatively lightweight for Pro Audio gear, making them manageable to get to and from events by bike.
What ever loudspeakers you use, don’t forget the importance of proper elevation and positioning of the loudspeakers. Pro-sound speakers like the ones we sell at Rock The Bike have scientifically calculated dispersion cones that help the sound spread out to the sides. In order for these dispersion cones to do their work, your speakers have to be up in the air on a speaker stand.
Generally you need at least two mains to do an event. But we know from experience that with 1 speaker, good music, and Pedal Power, people will dance. Generally speaking, divide the anticipated size of the audience by 100 to get the correct number of mains. This is only applicable for events up to 500 people. Beyond 500 people, using speakers on stands is not going to cut it. You need to start thinking about elevating the speakers even further, using subwoofers, and considering a Line Array configuration.
Above: The Pedal Powered Line Array in action at “Slaughter By The Water,” a heavy metal festival.
What about monitor speakers?
Monitor speakers are how the bands hears themselves during performances. Very few musicians can perform at their best without monitors. Generally you need 1 monitor for every 2 bandmembers of a full band. At least 2 for most bands. For public speaking events like a press conference, you can do without them. We sell the Modified JBL PRX 612 wedge monitor.
What about the speakers you already have?
You may already own certain Pro-sound gear or have musician friends who have gear. Can you just plug that in and roll with it? Basically, the answer is yes, but you may pay a significant penalty in both weight and efficiency with older PA gear. Many newer powered speakers have digital amplifiers. These generate less heat and therefore require less power/fewer pedalers. How can you tell if your speaker has a digital amplifier? Look up the model number online, or measure the wattage of your speaker using a Kill-A-Watt.
Can bands still use their own amplifiers?
Musicians are used to playing their guitar, bass, and sometimes keyboard through a specific amplifier. The amp is part of their instrument, part of their sound. Unfortunately, their amp increases your overhead. Ideally you will have enough bicycle generators that the extra wattage of their amplifier doesn’t matter. Asking a musician not to use their own amp is an unusual request. However in our experience, we get great results asking bass players to ‘go direct’ or play through the PA. This means that the bass player leaves her amp at home, and plugs the bass into a channel on our mixer, just like the lead singer. There’s still plenty of bass but there are fewer devices ON and therefore lower overhead. If you have a small Pedal Powered Stage with, say, 3-5 pedalers, you may not have enough raw power to keep additional devices on besides the bare essentials (the mains, a monitor, and the mixer). Fortunately, the bass players we’ve worked with are very happy with the sound they get at our events.
Pedal Power Utility Box, i.e. the Circuit
This Utility Box contains a AC Power Inverter and DC power outputs for our Modified JBL PRX Loudspeakers.
The Pedal Power Utility Box
contains the AC Power inverter, a capacitor that holds a few minutes worth of power, the protection circuitry that keeps the system safe from overvoltage conditions, and outputs for your DC-powered devices (like the loudspeakers mentioned above). Our Utility Boxes now include a 4-line Pedalometer
in the lid that shows pedalers how hard to pedal. Even if you buy our Modified JBL PRX Loudspeakers, which run on DC power, you will still need AC power for devices like guitar pedals, amps, mixer, etc. All this functionality is protected inside a durable red plastic toolbox with a sturdy handle and latches. Your circuit takes Pedal Power in and kicks out a steady stream of regulated, usable power to the audio equipment and devices. The simplest type of output power is traditional AC power; this means you will be using a DC-AC inverter. But in our Split-Rail Utility Boxes, there are special outputs for Split Rail Power required by our Modified JBL PRX speakers.
Can you store the energy created?
The circuit also includes whatever storage method you are planning to use. We use 30V Ultracapacitor ‘bricks’, which hold just enough power for a few minutes of music.
Why do I need protection circuitry and what type do I need?
The microprocessor brain in our Pedal Power Utility Boxes monitors the key system voltages and triggers relays that disconnect the pedalers from the system to prevent overheating and damaging the devices you’re running, or the Ultracapacitors. In addition to overvoltage protection, you also need fuses in case of short circuits. The input cables that connect the bikes to the system are long and are often subject to harsh conditions: people walking on them, tripping over them. Of course, you should tie these down as well as you can with reuasable Velcro ties. But you should also install fuses that prevent a bad yank from causing a meltdown. The circuit itself needs to be protected. We use Tupperware inside the box to prevent our microprocessor brain touching anything else and accidentally shorting. Your circuitry can’t be out in the open where it can be damaged in transit or where a metal wrench can be set down on it, causing a short circuit.
In a bicycle based system, any wire can be tugged or rub against a tire and degrade from wear. They need to be ‘strain reliefed’ and insulated. Connections from bikes to the circuit need to be both quick-connect for ease of setup and robust. We use Neutrik connectors, the industry standard for Live Sound.
Our current pricing structure is that most of your wiring is built in to the price of the other components. For example, if you buy a generator, you get an input cable. If you buy a speaker, you get a speaker power cable. We use only 14AWG gauge wiring for power cables that will see the outside world.
All the wiring needs to be safe and robust for multiple setups / tear downs. It has to be long enough to allow you to place the bikes where pedalers have a good view, and where they don’t get in the way of the event or of dancing.
You will need a way to show Pedalers how hard to pedal. Otherwise they may drift off in their thoughts (and power output) or overpedal your system.
Our latest LED Pedalometer, shown above, is visible across a wide area, day or night. It’s controlled by a microprocessor that continuously monitors system voltage.
Our original Pedalometer (2oo7) involved a fan blowing air into a tube perforated with holes. The higher the system voltage, the harder the fan would blow and the higher the beer can would rise in the tube. It was quite motivating.
The ideal Pedalometer is the classic thermometer style, because it’s intuitive, making it possible for pedalers to get lost in the music while still providing the exact amount of Pedal Power needed. The pedalometer uses color-coding to show the pedalers when they need to pedal harder and when they need to slow down. Just keep it in the green.
The voltage information shown on the Pedalometer is also important to the sound guy/girl, who can raise and lower the overall listening levels and the bass levels according to the available system power. The Pedalometer also engages the audience in the Pedal Power experience. Even the bands get involved. When they see power levels dipping, they may make a funny comment about it between songs to help pedalers boost it back up.
Pedalers need to be coached. There are two essential aspects to doing this: the human touch, and accurate, up-to-the-second information about the system voltage.
Don’t forget the importance of human communication, like “Pedal!” signs and direct coaching. It’s also important to check in your pedalers and see who needs water or a break, or to just tell them to keep up the good work. Pedal Power coaches get maximum power from each pedaler by raising or lowering the seat as needed. They help pedalers get on and off the bikes. They pull new pedalers from the crowd. They provide the human touch and show appreciation for the good clean pedal power.
Additional load-carrying gear to get to events by bike. This can include Bikes At Work trailers, Xtracycles, Mundos.
For night time events, you will need to light the performers. Rock The Bike’s stage lighting panels
throw a considerable amount of light.
Food is the fuel for a Pedal Powered event. Offer pedalers a free bike blended smoothie and they’ll have the juice to keep providing their good clean Pedal Power.
Check out all the options for Bike Blenders in the Fender Blender
section of our store. Bike Blenders also make a good fundraiser for your cause. Keep plenty of water on hand too!
Interactive Pedal Powered Lighting Rigs
Let us bring our years of experience with Pedal Powered lighting to craft something special for your event. For fun or for education (or both!), the possibilities are endless!
The sLEDgehammer, an interactive Pedal Powered lighting rig. More LEDs light up when you pedal harder, converting your peak power output on an efficient bicycle generator to beautiful light. Click here to watch the video!
The sLEDgehammer’s display can be customized for your event, like a courtyard installaton (above).
More Light Displays
Above: Lines of light come from the generator bike, extending further (up to 300 feet) the harder you pedal.
Above: More lines of light on our 18′ tall Bamboo Tripod.
Above: Pedal Powered Stage LED lighting: 1 pedaler per panel.
Above: The large light-up Wattage Display shows the instantaneous power use of our Pedal Powered Stage. It averages readings to show you the power use over the last 5 seconds
The Light Bike
Above: Sir Richard Branson pedaling the Light Bike comparison station at the Virgin Mobile Festival in Baltimore, 2008.
Switching back and forth allows the pedaler to feel the energy savings of CCFL bulbs over traditional incandescent bulbs.
We have integrated Pedal Powered Lighting into several of our custom Soul Cycle rigs, including El Arbol, the Bike Tree:
The Blue Whale:
and The Choprical Fish:
If you’re looking for applications to use Pedal Power, there are two main types: Mechanical and Electrical.
Mechanical applications generally have the advantage of being simpler, cheaper, and with simpler maintenance. They include Bike Blending and Spin Art.
Electrical applications are more limitless. The options include, but are not limited to, audio amplifiers, AC Power, and light.