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Transformers and capacitors mold the pedal power into fluid electrons to amplify the music.

Sing the Bicycle Electric

What if your bicycle, that ultimate green form of transportation, could generate electricity? The thought that has crossed all our minds at one time or another was actually put into practice by Dan Aukofer and his co-conspirators, Dan O’Brien and Chuck Smith. With eight bicycles to start, they generated electricity for the lights as well as the power for Deb and Dan Aukofer’s band, Soul Purpose, which performed in their barn in Waukesha. What inspired this innovative threesome – long-time environmentalist Dan Aukofer of the Beautiful Day Café, Chuck Smith, president of the solar-power-installing Current Electric and Dan O’Brien – to such ends? The challenge was the November Third National Day of Climate Action sponsored by the organization Step It Up. It was a day when hundreds of people in all fifty states created activities to increase awareness of global warming. From the participants who created cards to encourage Senator Kohl to support green initiatives at East Library, to those who enjoyed talks and music in the natural outdoor amphitheater at Lapham Peak State Park in Delafield, the National Day bustled with energy and creativity. The participants of the day revealed a sense of national commitment that belies the apathy of our current government. Step It Up was organized by Bill McKibben, the far-sighted writer who first wrote about global warming in The End of Nature in 1989, and a crew of activists. This non-profit organization is building awareness of the issue while pushing Congress to face the music of global warming with real goals. Rather than build awareness with abstract ideas, Soul Purpose and bicyclist company energized the crowd with an example of how renewable energy can come in all shapes and sizes. Indeed, implementation of renewable energy not only can be – but needs to be – local, small, and diverse, from solar and wind to ethanol. Upon my arrival at Soul Purpose’s concert, the historic barn was brimming with people. The bicycles were aligned in a makeshift “X,” which radiated out from the center of the room with the audience ensconced around them. On every bicycle was a rider. Some rode amazingly fast at consistent speeds; others rode at a more leisurely pace. As the evening wore on, audience members – both young and old – took turns spelling the riders. Literally empowered by these riders, Soul Purpose began the event with the song “Power to the People” while audience members sang along energetically. By the close of the concert, the band and organizers had kindled a committed sense of enthusiasm in the audience that you knew they would use to effect change. The event was a stellar sample of taking intellectual, environmental ideas and transforming them into an eye-catching, mindenergizing example of sustainability. How did the electrical system work? A spinning alternator creating 12 Volts DC fed into a device with two power inverters that transformed them into 120 AC volts. The primary-colored lights ranged from Christmas tree lights to LEDs (light-emitting diodes). LED lights burn 133 times longer than incandescents and are cool. (They produce 34 Btu’s per hour compared to 85 for incandescent bulbs.) Since they have lower power requirements, they are advantageous for use with humanpowered energy. Audience member Dave Prescher, who uses the alternative energy of soybean oil in his diesel engines, commented on the evening, “I think it’s good because it gets people thinking about things a little different.” Jeannette Yoder quipped, “You should try the bike. It’s a fabulous experience. It will burn your quads.” So try I did, and the experience beat any gym experience I’ve had. Perhaps, the light engineer put his finger on it when he said simply, “It’s fun!” In light of Dan Aukofer and company’s example, I challenge Riverwesters and other interested parties to come together and figure out how to potentially provide human-powered energy for a concert in Riverwest next summer. Bicyclists and mechanical wizards welcome. Interested? Let’s put our heads together once a month and see what we can come up with. Call 414-795-5063 or email to join in. Let’s up the energy savvy of our community. Time to step up and act. Learn more at stepitup2007.org.

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