Pedal-driven water pump. Photo from Maya Pedal
Utility bikes have seen a surge in popularity in North America in the last few years. Seeing a long-tail cargo bike or a Dutch Bakfiets go rolling by is no longer cause for a head-snapping, slack-jawed stare—for bicyclists at least; the general population might feel otherwise. I recently learned of an NGO, however, that puts bikes to work in such remarkable and utilitarian fashions that it puts even the finest smugness flotilla (see BikeSnobNYC for that reference) to shame.
Maya Pedal is an NGO based in San Andrés Itzapa, Guatemala. They re-purpose donated bicycles into pedal-powered bicimaquinas that can be used as water pumps, grain mills, threshers, blenders, and more. The pedal machines replace ones that require electricity (which is not always available). They are also used for jobs that were previously done by hand, making the work vastly more efficient. In addition to building the bicimaquinas, Maya Pedal also refurbishes some of the donated bikes for people in San Andrés Itzapa to use for transportation.
The organization was founded in 1997 by Carlos Marroquin, who remains head of Maya Pedal today, in conjunction with Canadian bike organization PEDAL. They have since garnered the support of notable bike organizations like Bikes Not Bombs, Chicago’s Working Bikes Cooperative, and even the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Check out this short video about the organization: