Bicycle-Powered Wimshurst Machine

A lot of great pieces of real technology were inspired (or, at least, look like) pieces of technology from science fiction of the past. Like the smartphones of today have a surreal resemblance to the Star Trek communicators of the 60s, [Steve] took inspiration from a story about a bicycle racing in space and set out to make his own.

In the story, the bicycle wheels are replaced by electrostatic generators that power a type of (fictional) ion drive. Since an ion drive wouldn’t add much thrust to a bicycle operated on the Earth, [Steve] used the electrostatic generator he built to create a sparking light show. The generator is called a Wimshurst machine and has two counter-rotating discs which collect charge. The charge is dissipated across a spark gap which is placed where the bike light would normally go.

We don’t know if the sparks from the Wimshurst generator are enough for a proper headlight, but it’s definitely a cool effect. [Steve] also points out that it might also work as a bug zapper, but either way you should check out the video after the break to see it in action! While it’s not quite a tricorder it’s still a pretty impressive sci-fi-inspired build, and something that’s definitely unique in the bicycle realm.

There’s quite a collection of these Wimshurst projects beginning to come together. Here’s one made using a trio of soda bottles, and another example which used 3D printing.

16 thoughts on “Bicycle-Powered Wimshurst Machine

    1. I’d be far more concerned about forearm-sized capacitors charged to 10,000vdc running next to my genitalia.

      … I mean, what if I found out I liked that while out on a ride? How embarrassing.

  1. I honestly don’t understand rimstar. Most of his projects are off the wall science projects thought up by a 10 year old. He just knows how to apply the science correctly to make these ideas come to realization. The world could honestly do workout most of them.

  2. If I could disrupt the dimwits in cars who pay more attention to texts than bicycles I’d put three on my bike.

    If I had just one it would be connected to fluorescent tubes or neon.

    That said, this has one real benefit – it’s a very concise and well produced video unlike a lot of the wobbly-phone-camera-with-fingers-pushing-wires-around versions that one finds online.

    1. Luckily here in Ottawa, most drivers are used to bikes, sometimes they even give cyclists the right-of-way when they shouldn’t. Of course there are exceptions.
      I’m glad you like the production quality. I had to focus on keeping the bike stable while going slow enough for my friend working the camera to keep up, which is unfortunate since I’d like to have seen how the heck he managed to get such smooth shots while running alongside. Even though the finished video includes the smoother bits, the rest of the footage is still fairly useable.

  3. somehow replace one of the bike wheels with the generator and use carbon rods/pencil graphite in the arclight? one disc stationary & the other driven also acting as a wheel?

    1. Could do, but for a Wimshurst machine to work both disks must be rotating, carrying opposite charges to the collectors. A Holtz machine, on the other hand, works with on disk stationary and one rotating so I might be possible.

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