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How to Turn Your Bike Into a Cider Press

In Brief:

Inspired by the bicimaquinas he learned to make in Guatemala and Mexico, cider enthusiast Steve Schnaar created this pedal-powered apple grinder.

I remember going to a cider mill each fall near Baltimore, where I grew up.

When I was younger, I went around asking people for extra fruit from their trees, and they were almost always happy to share. Later, I started an organization called the Santa Cruz Fruit Tree Project, which picks up surplus fruit from people’s backyards, as well as the remnants from apple orchards, which used to be a major crop in the area.

I’ve also been working on bicycles for over a decade at a community shop called the Bike Church, which helps people learn to fix bikes for themselves, and recycles old bikes and parts that are donated. During trips to Guatemala and Mexico to study Spanish, I had two stays at a shops called MayaPedal in Guatemala, and CACITA in Oaxaca, Mexico. Both shops make bicimaquinas, or bike machines from old bikes, angle iron and other materials, creating a a variety of pedal-powered devices like corn grinders, water pumps, and washing machines.

Being an experienced bike mechanic with some basic carpentry and metalworking skills, I teamed up with a friend to adapt the style from those workshops for an apple shredder. We made our own design to be driven by bike and also transportable by bike. The legs fold up, then the machine rests on small, twenty-inch wheels and can be pulled like a trailer.

We built a simple press.

We received donations of oak, some larger beams from a fallen tree that was milled roughly on site, and some beautiful white oak reclaimed from union-made dorm furniture that was thrown-away from the University of California at Santa Cruz.

The press itself is pretty basic woodworking, with a tiny bit of welding to make the drive-shaft. We had to buy a special rod they use in drill presses, as the threads are stronger for holding up against a load. The crusher is made from mostly one-inch angle iron welded together, with part of an old bike frame and some handlebars.

As with the corn grinders and water pumps I saw in Guatemala and Mexico, we used a flywheel made out of an old bike wheel filled with concrete. The person pedaling does not directly drive the machine, but spins the flywheel, which has another chain spinning the macerator—a cylindrical oak barrel with stainless steel screws sunk in most of the way.

Apples are then fed into a wooden box around the macerator, where they get trapped against a stainless sheet metal plate and shredded by the screw heads. The resulting pieces fall into a bucket which then gets dumped into the press. It’s usually a two-person job.

We built the bike shredder and press simultaneously, which took about twelve to fifteen work days, averaging five or six hours. Designing the machine without plans led to some failed elements and backtracking. Engineering new things is always more challenging than following directions, but it’s also more rewarding. And fun too.