I made my first bicycle powered flour mill in 2001 while living in a big group house in college. I first bought a hand-grind flour mill simply because I thought it would be poetic and lovely to watch whole grains turn into flour. Flour is such a ubiquitous food item, and yet plenty of folks don't have any idea where it comes from.
We did so much baking in that house--from bread to pie to pizza dough--that I could often hear the mill grinding while I was busy in my room studying Rousseau, Marx, or Thoreau. In fact, one day in the kitchen I noticed that someone's Karl Marx Reader found its way onto the cook book shelf, which made for quite the entertaining image. Would anyone like some revolution for dinner?
The second bicycle mill I made was for The Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, CA. And the third was bartered away in exchange for lovely accommodations at an artist retreat.
Conversion to Pedal Power
The conversion of a flour mill from hand-power to bicycle-power is not as complicated as it may seem. I had a machinist make a pulley, which he then mounted to the wheel. Next, I added a v-belt and built a wooden base for tension and stability.
If you want to take a crack at making a bicycle-powered flour mill yourself, this DIY article by Jack Jenkins is a must read. The mill I used is the Country Living Grain Mill and it's great for converting to bike use because it already has a large iron wheel with a groove for the v-belt. It's also available via Amazon.com with free shipping. There is also a wooden handle you can attach to the wheel to grind by hand.
Special Flour Sacks
When I'm not grinding flour at home to bake cookies, I sometimes take the bicycle mill out for demonstrations around town. It appeared at the Velocipede Mania show at the Rock Paper Scissors Collective in Oakland, CA way back in 2007. I designed a special cotton flour sack on the occasion of that exhibit and folks ground their own flour and took it home in one of our hand-silkscreened sacks.
Flour sack reuse has a wonderful history, which you can read a bit more about via our Changing Clothes project. The original "pedal power" sack design was inspired by the vintage sack (see photos below) in my collection. After a 1930s mom used up all the flour, she would cut out the doll pattern and stitch a toy for her child to play with. My sack makes a little stuffed bicycle about four inches long. A lego man could ride it, or it makes a great pin cushion.
Cookies with Spokes
For a special one-night art show, I also exhibited bicycle wheel cookies that I made with my home-ground flour. Fresh flour has much more flavor than store-bought flour--even if it's the whole wheat variety--so it's wonderful for baked goods. Thanks to Anastasia from Indie Cakes in Berkeley for giving me a quick tutorial on icing piping!