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Posted - 12/06/2011
Reflections on the Super Power Magic Motion Machine Project Developer Libby Modern Looks Back on 2011 & Forward to 2012
The Super Power Magic Motion Machine

Libby Modern recently reflected on the past year and her involvement in developing the Super Power Magic Motion Machine (SPM3) and what the future holds in store for the project.

From idea to innovation, SPM3 is a bike, an art exhibit, a power plant all in one — a mobile art installation that closely resembles a bicycle and trailer. However this is no ordinary bike. It’a custom-made piece of art that transforms into a pedal-powered generator, allowing three other bikes to hook to its mobile trailer and create power. Traveling through greater Lancaster, PA, the SPM3 will cast the conversation about energy consumption in a whole new light.

SPM bike

It’s been a roller coaster of ups and downs, successes and setbacks, lessons and surprises for the Super Power Magic Motion Machine (SPM3), all of which have been embraced by the team working on it.

We successfully powered our first appliances through pedal power with the trailer last month, which was incredibly exciting and encouraging. Its magical that after all this thinking, construction, and connecting of wires to machines to pulleys to belts to machines, that you can make a light bulb or a radio work by simply moving your legs on a bicycle!

The machine’s form has evolved a bit since we first imagined it. The biggest development was a decision at the beginning of the summer to expand the project from a trailer with a generator that would power ONE bicycle to a larger trailer that would have the capacity to house THREE simultaneously pedaling bikes.

After reviewing several design ideas and output stats for both, we all felt that the communal experience of pedaling alongside two other bikers, allowing folks from the community to come and hook up their own bikes, and the amount of power we could generate with three rather than one bike, would be much more effective, without much more cost. We jumped in, found some slightly similar models online and contemplated just ordering a product we found out of the box that had already been designed, but just needed assembly.

We ultimately decided that since a big draw for us to this project was being able to try to figure out how to actually put this thing together from start to finish, with our own hands and minds, that it would be more valuable to hit the books and figure out how we could make it ourselves, here in Lancaster, using the products we’d found just as inspiration.

At many times during the process, I’ve wondered if this was the right decision, as it’s been a challenge (especially considering my lack of knowledge about all things mechanical!). But ultimately what we learned, and how the resulting shape of the machine will be unique to this project, made it worth it.

We’ve assembled an 8′x 2.5’ aluminum trailer frame with 2 rotating shafts running the length onto which 3 bikes can attach their back wheel. Once attached, the pedaling wheels spin the shafts, which in turn spin a series of pulleys connected to the generator; which in turn connect to a regulator, a battery and an inverter. In trying to optimize the power generated, we came up with a series of these pulleys and belts resting on an adjustable car jack to spin the generator with more force. The result has been mixed: it’s not nearly efficient as we were hoping it would be, but through some simple refinements, we should be able to improve on the efficiency pretty drastically. The look has shaped up to be just the hand-made mechanical feeling we were hoping for — you can see and feel everything spinning as you ride or watch.

We’ve already partnered with a number of local non-profits and schools eager to work with the SPM3. We’re scheduled to power an interactive, multimedia poetry display at Lancaster-based Poetry Path’s (a very cool poetry-based public art and education project) launch in the Spring of 2012. We’re also scheduled to help power the “green stage” at Lancaster’s Music for Everyone’s Music Friday concertsin the summer of 2012. Through initial meetings with the company organizing the stage and audio equipment for Music for Everyone’s outdoor concerts this summer, we’ve established a valuable resource for helping us figure out what types of audio-visual equipment we can power. We are also slated to power an AV system at the unveiling of the Keystone Art and Culture Center’s “Garden of Dreams” — a youth inspire, designed and created sculpture garden in the Southeast section of downtown Lancaster next spring, as well as a demonstration at Wharton Elementary School’s Winter Science Night in January 2012.

Unfortunately, along the way we have had our share of setbacks: illness; relocation, flooding, loss. We’ve also experienced the difficulties and rewards that come with working with a group of community volunteer experts, all very excitable, generous and creative, but also all very busy and, as typically goes, overcommitted—ourselves included. We’ve relied heavily on the generous time of our engineers and welder who, especially in a small city like Lancaster, are leaned upon often for free work. Because of their numbers projects, and the fact that they are kindly donating their time, we ran into difficulties scheduling time at the Foundry this fall. But as of November 2011, we secured a weekly time slot — every Wednesday evening — during which we can finish, test and refine the machine.

Our next big steps are to continue to work on efficiency, build in the trailer’s like and wheels, and attach the trailer to the bike. After initial testing we’ve also decided to add in wheel stabilizers to the frame — a bit of a challenge, but one we feel ins necessary to make sure the bikes are safely secured while pedaling.

We have been able to find most of our materials for the trailer from the local scrapyard, as well as a bunch of old machine detritus for turning the bike into the visual we have in our minds. It’s out goal to have the original sketched out launch event — perhaps the part of the project that Marci, Danene, Nicole and I are most excited about planning — for early Spring 2012.

Our website is live ( and in progress, and we recently set up a Facebook page with photos.

I sometimes stop and ask myself how I got involved in this crazy project — there are so many aspects of it SO far outside of my comfort zone. (I have a hard time changing a light bulb and it’s taken me months to comfortably grasp the concept of electricity enough to be able to explain it to my 5-year-old son…) I’ve spent many evenings anxious, sleepless and confused about how to make this project work, how to get everyone on the same page, and how the heck to find the right pillow block bearings! But when I was able to see the little light bulb turn on while frantically pedaling and realized that it worked I felt like I’d just climbed Mt. Everest. Like I’d done something that not even I thought I could do. And for that experience alone, its all been worth it.