BiciBomba – Pedal Powered Water Pump

Last week Carlos, of Bici-Tec, drove me out to some farms in the hills outside Itzapa to check out some BiciBombas (or pedal-powered water pumps) he designed and built a few years ago. As someone who has lived in places where I’ve had to pull up my own well water, I can understand what a huge difference a pedal powered water pump can make in a home. Water is integral for all sorts of domestic labor, and having an easier way to gather water can free up time for other activities. Although the pump is demonstrated by the father of the house in this video, the machine is intended for women to use (as demonstrated by the step-through frame) because women are the ones who normally get the water for domestic chores.

The pump is pretty simple. As the person pedals, they power a long rope knotted with wooden or plastic beads to go down into the well and back up in a big oval pattern. As the rope comes up, it comes up through a narrow tube just wider than the beads, and the beads carry the water up the tube. It’s easy to pedal, and draws a lot of water really quickly.

Here are some photos to help give a better sense of how it works.

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BiciMacadamia Machine

Here are some photos and a short video of a BiciMacadamia machine that Carlos Jr. made this week. The machine de-shells macadamia nuts in a way that is both time efficient, and cost effective.  Unfortunately, we didn’t have any macadamia nuts to use as an example, and instead had to use a small plastic ball. The machine works by dumping the nuts with their shells into the front of the machine. Then, while the nuts travel down and around the tire, the pressure of squeezing the nuts between the metal and the tire pops the shells off. At the end you get de-shelled macadamia nuts which farmers can sell for a higher profit that the nuts with the shells still on.


These pictures showcase how beautiful the machine is. Carlos Jr. is incredibly detail oriented, and really takes the phrase ‘measure twice, cut once’ to heart. It’s awesome to see the pride he takes in his work, and the amazing results.

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Iztapa, Bici-Tec, and BiciMaquinas

Sorry. I forgot I had a blog. I’ve been distracted by arriving in Guatemala, and falling into life here. I’m currently living in a small town called San Andres Itzapa, which crawls up the mountains of the central Guatemalan highlands. It’s the type of place where the beauty of the mountains, the blue sky, and the greenness of everything hits you everyday as you walk up and down the steep streets.

Bici-Tec Workshop
Bici-Tec Workshop

I’m working with Bici-Tec, a social enterprise run by Carlos Marroquin and his family. Bici-Tec has two arms. One side of the business is a regular bike shop where they sell and repair bikes. The second side is something very different than anything I’ve worked with before. Carlos is one of the world leaders in developing pedal powered technologies for the global south. He imagines and creates all sorts of pedal powered machines ranging from bike washing machines to macadamia nut de-shellers. He uses the bike shop side of the business to help sell the bike machines (called bicimaquinás) at affordable prices for rural Guatemalans.

Here is quick background of Bicitecnología from the volunteer orrientation manuel at Bici-Tec:

  • By utilizing the force of leg power, which is 5x greater than that of the upper body, efficiency is increased, while physical labour is significantly decreased.The average human legs have roughly the equivalent of 1/8 horsepower.
  • Being comprised primarily of recycled bicycle parts along with simple materials, like wood, cement, and screws, the technology is widely accessible, easy to maintain and environmentally friendly.
  • There is a great divide between industrial technology and that of rural areas of developing countries. Pedal-powered energy is providing alternatives to traditional manual labor without causing cultural disruption.
  • Bicimáquinas are self-sufficient forms of technology that do not require combustible fuel or electric energy to function.
  • Providing a low maintenance resource to improve production, requiring only creativity and a minimal investment increases the economic viability of rural farming communities.
  • Bicitecnología contributes to the overall health of the community by working together towards sustainable development.
BiciBomba- A Pedal Powered Water Pump
BiciBomba- A Pedal Powered Water Pump

There are many really awesome things about bicitecnología. It’s sustainable, focused on small businesses, and built by, and meant for the global south. Additionally, Carlos’ specifically aims to build these machines for Mayan women. His machines are targeted towards domestic chores and in providing women ways of starting small businesses run from their home. It’s especially cool that his machines are focused on women, because otherwise I think that I have yet to see any women riding bikes in Itzapa since I arrived here.


Since arriving I´ve spent most of my time helping with some administrative things since Bici-Tec is a new business, but I´ve also been lucky enough to help with a group of high school students from Guatemala City who are building a pedal powered wheelchair. It´s still under construction, but here are some photos of the process.

Explaining how cones work.
Explaining how cones work.


Lining up the chain line.
Lining up the chain line.


By far the coolest part of being here so far is getting to know Carlos, and hear more about his vision for spreading pedal power and Global South solidarity. He has a really incredible vision, and an ability to dream big (and actually achieve it) that is inspiring to be around.

Carlos on a bicimolino
Carlos on a bicimolino
This picture perfectly describes me and Carlos´relationship. Me trying to explain something, him really focusing, and then telling me I´m wrong.
This picture perfectly describes me and Carlos´relationship. Me trying to explain something, him really focusing, and then telling me I´m wrong.

That´s my update for now. But I´ll be posting more soon. Only 3 weeks left of this crazy adventure, which I´m still trying to wrap my head around.

(Thank you Kyle for the photos!)