I’ve been disturbed by recent (some would say obvious) studies that your metabolism slows way down when you work at a computer and may in fact shorten our lifespans. What are those of us who rely heavily on computer work to do? I met Ernesto Ramirez from UCSD at a BarcampSD (think: camp for adult nerds) and heard about his awesome treadmill computer. I was very inspired to do this as well, but thought about my lack of physical coordination, and decided that an exercise bike might work better for me. I tweeted a bit about it and got several people who were interested, and Ernesto coined the name ‘CycleStation’ which sounded fantastic to me. I have easily and cheaply been able to create CycleStation 0.1 which I’ll share with you here.
To begin with, I found this great video of a recumbent bike laptop station. Being on a budget, and also sometimes being a bit of a…ahem…’start something then abandon it’ type, I instead thought I’d see what I could do with a cheaper bike. I settled on this Marcy Magnetic Upright Bike and ordered it for $114 on Amazon (unfortunately it got a bit beat up during the shipment, so I don’t suggest buying it this way). The bike also is a bit involved to put together, but not majorly so, and all the tools are included except a screwdriver.
While putting the bike together, I was happy to find that I could reverse the handlebars to make a platform for my laptop. See this photo to see that you can secure it well, it has not moved at all. Depending on your height, you may rotate the handlebars up or down, and the styrofoam under the platform will (hopefully) sit on top and mold a bit to the angle. I’m 5’ 6” which is a bit tall for a woman and short for a man (generally speaking). If you’re shorter, you may find that putting the bike’s little ‘computer’ on the center post of the assembly may make it too tall, but for me it was perfect.
I just so happened to have a piece of plywood that is 19” X 24” and it seemed perfect for the platform (but perhaps could be a bit wider in the long dimension). To this, I glued a piece of insulation styrofoam the same size. After it dried, I drilled small holes in two corners of the wood and screwed in some small hooks for bungee cords to anchor the platform. The platform seems to sit fairly securely, but I added a luggage strap as well for the klutziness factor. It’s not perfect, it partially blocks the fan on my computer a bit. I should also point out that it moves a bit when I type but is bearable. Let me give you another caution that it’s a bit unstable, be CAREFUL and pay attention to your balance. Here’s another view to show you that the mouse area actually extends fairly far to the right—it works though, I promise!
The result? Well, if you’re really interested you can watch the video of me working on it (by the way the side shot of me looking down is VERY unflattering—any ergonomics professionals watching—suggestions?). You can also check out all the photos on Flickr. In the next version, CycleStation 0.5, I’ll likely build a table to use in place of the platform and disassemble the top of the bike so that these parts won’t interfere (the handlebars and the computer—the central post must stay to be able to adjust the tension). The issue with this table I’d like to build and use is that I have a feeling I’ll want to adjust the height of it, so I’m looking at this DIY adjustable height Ikea table (something smaller). The height of my current platform is 43.25” tall, this table will just be tall enough, but in the video you can see I’m looking down so it’s possible I don’t have the height right. A table will be more stable but my current plans will add at least $120 to the cost and also make the CycleStation take up more room. In San Diego, we normally have less space for items such as this, but can work outside most of the year, at least for parts of the day, so I could keep this on my patio.
With the current setup, it really is very easy for me to work for an hour. If the work is very intense, I might not be able to do it. You know, the whole walking and chewing gum thing, but maybe I’ll get used to it. I am amazed at how I forget I’m pedaling when I’m doing it (this bike has foot straps, which I tightened well to make the pedaling more brainless).
Ernesto Ramirez has counted his calories for his setup, I should be able to with this setup and the little computer, but if I remove it to add the table it might be more difficult (but it’s possible I could rig it). This interest in monitoring daily activities is part of a larger ‘Quantified Self’ movement aimed at improving one’s habits and health. Becoming more in tune with my health is one of the many benefits I’ve gleaned from being active on Twitter. Let’s hope it translates to some long term changes in my habits! If it isn’t obvious from this post, I’d like to thank Ernesto Ramirez for inspiring me!
Just to emphasize again, if you build this BE CAREFUL regarding your laptop and your balance. I’m not responsible if you drop something expensive or fall, you’ve been warned!