Made On Earth — Biker Laundry

Craft & Design


When life offers up an old washing machine and a bicycle, what do you do? The dump isn’t a viable option, and recycling seems like a cop-out. So if you’re John Wells, you build the Bike-O-Worsher.

Wells isn’t one to back away from a challenge. In 2007, he switched from a life in New York (almost 20 years in New York City) and headed for the desolate desert near Terlingua, Texas, just a hop, skip, and a jump across the Rio Grande from Mexico.

Within the first few months, he’d built himself a modest house, a solar cooker, and an outdoor shower. In the ensuing years, he’s added a wide array of projects, all designed to help him “learn about how to prosper comfortably living a back-to-basics life.”

The Bike-O-Worsher is his latest build. Besides the old washing machine and bike, Wells used some pulleys and belts; after about four days of building and troubleshooting, he was in business.

“It takes as long as a normal washing machine,” he says. “But I prefer the wash and soak, and wash and soak, since I’m out of shape. The mechanism is very easy to pedal. It’s like riding a bike along a flat road.”

The Bike-O-Worsher works just like any washing machine — you pedal forward for the agitation and pedal backward for the spin cycle. Wells fills the tub manually and hops on to wash the clothes. He drains the water into a graywater capture, then does a spin cycle. He follows with another water refill and agitation cycle for the rinse, then drains and spins again.

“Just a bit of exercise and your clothes are as clean as using a store-bought washer,” he says. “Why buy exercise equipment when all that energy is wasted?”

Bike-O-Worsher 2.0 is already in the works and will be a front-loader that spins horizontally and uses much less water per load. And so far, Wells reports that the reactions have been positive. He quips, “My favorite comment is, ‘Why don’t you hook the bike up to an electric motor?’ ”

Living where he gets about 315 days of sunshine a year, Wells says he’ll have no need for a Bike-O-Dryer. “That’s what a clothesline and the sun are good for,” he enthuses.

John Wells’ Field Lab:

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