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22 year old builds a human-powered bicycle "elevator"


September 18, 2013

Ethan Schlussler has built his very own human powered bicycle elevator as a means to get up to his treehouse (Photo: Ethan Schlussler)

Ethan Schlussler has built his very own human powered bicycle elevator as a means to get up to his treehouse (Photo: Ethan Schlussler)

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Ethan Schlussler, 22, from Sandpoint, Idaho has built his very own human powered elevator as a means to gain access to his recently constructed treehouse. Schlussler came up with the idea of converting an old bicycle and pulley system into an elevator when he was searching for a faster alternative to using a ladder to get up to his 28 foot (8.5 meter) high abode.

"The basic idea of using a bicycle to power the elevator came from a good friend," Schlussler tells Gizmag. "I was telling him that I wanted to build something more interesting, faster and easier than a ladder. We were just throwing around ideas when he suggested using a bicycle."

Starting out with his mom's old bicycle, Schlussler removed the tires to allow the cable to spool around the rear wheel, before adding a tube and pulley for the cable to run through. "I adjusted the gear ratio by cutting the large sprocket off the front and welding it to the rear, which also required the removal of both derailleurs and a new chain tensioning system," Schlussler says. "I welded on mounts in the front and rear for the attachment of the stabilizing/counterweight cables."

While making the bicycle elevator, Schlussler took advantage of re-using old scrap materials, including a broken chain from his snow blower, some old car parts, a segment of an old hand rail and an old water heater tank which he uses as a counterweight and can be easily adjusted by adding or removing water. "I did have to buy the pulleys and cable of course, all of which are far stronger than necessary," says Schlussler. "Each of the five support pulleys is rated for at least 525 pounds [238 kg] and each of the four strands of cable is rated for more than 1,500 pounds [680 kg]."

Schlussler's now tried-and-tested bicycle elevator takes him less than 60 seconds to pedal his way up to his self-designed and self-built treehouse. Made from Western Red Cedar and harvested from the property where the treehouse is built, the structure is secured into place without the need to affix nails, bolts or screws into the tree. "The treehouse is held in place by the power of friction. There are five large clamps made of cable that supply the tensioning pressure to achieve the required friction," he says.

Furthermore, the roofing is built from recycled sheets of metal reclaimed from an old barn, while the treehouse walls were assemble on the ground, complete with exterior siding and windows before being hoisted up to the treehouse using (in his words) "a block and tackle and some rock climbing gear."

"My tree house is still under construction, but nevertheless I sleep up there a few nights a week. Once it is complete, I intend to sleep there every night and move most of my stuff into it. It will not have a bathroom or kitchen at this point, though I may expand for such things in the future," says Schlussler. "For now it will have a bed, a dresser and possibly a coffee table and a chair or two, all of which I will build. For cooking and showering and such, I will have to go down to my mother's house a few hundred feet down the hill."

When giving advice to those considering building their very own bicycle elevator, Schlussler recommends taking a close look at all the important elements and components that he included with his design. "But don't limit your design by following mine too closely," says Schlussler. "Think about it a LOT, because at first it is difficult to imagine all the potential problems. Build everything stronger than necessary and most importantly have fun!"

The video below demonstrates the bicycle elevator in action and since filming it Schlussler has adjusted the treehouse entrance, making it easier for him to get off the bike and onto the treehouse deck.

Source: Ethan Schlussler via Make

About the Author
Bridget Borgobello Bridget is an experienced freelance writer, presenter and performer with a keen eye for innovative design and a passion for green technology. Australian born, Bridget currently resides in Rome and when not scribbling for Gizmag, she spends her time developing new web series content and independent cinema. All articles by Bridget Borgobello

I think this is cool and green. I would want something that is bicycle powered but more stable and have a less risk of falling off. Perhaps a small platform with guidelines to keep it from moving from side to side and/or less likey to tip.


.... and whats more: It's not even controlled by and iPhone!

Smit Nols

I think this could be a launching point for the sweatpunk aesthetic

Julie Jones

Cool comments :-) The ultimate idea might be a small platform with the pedal mechanism in the middle. Or, for the lazy among us, (me) a water and hose mechanism so you just hop on and use a tap on a hose that runs up to the water ballast tank. Let water fill it until you start to rise! Lazy AND awesome! Perfect combination. Maybe also a beer holder. I like drinking while admiring my handiwork.

John Hogan

needs to be tandem, for when friends pop over


In my humble opinion, you are making a simple problem much too complex. With a simple platform that is attached by rope or cable to a counterbalance weight, you can use the weight to help you pull yourself up with almost no effort. Look at how this was done in dumb waiters. Even vertically-opening windows have counterbalancing weights.

Les Stagg

E.T. Phone home. Maybe add some ratchet or catch to hold bike if descent not controled by brake. Some means of preventing use my someone who has no idea how to use the thing safely. OSHA would puke no matter what you do. Pretty darn nice in my opinion.

Dave B13

y not rope ladder?

Larry English

One wonders how the tree itself will fare with the friction mounted treehouse - since a tree's growth entails adding layers ("rings") each year is it possible that the bracket surrounding the trunk will eventually cause the tree to die? This is what happens to some trees in the Amazon jungle when vines essentially strangle them.


I really dig the Swiss Family Robinson vibe. He must not have a fear of heights. I have to agree with Les Stagg that the bicycle is unnecessary but it does have a kind of cool factor about it. What would be really neat is if he could build an entire house using the the neighboring trees as further supports. Why not actually live up there.


Slightly concerned about the interface between tree and treehouse. Trees are succeptible to "girdling" or strangulation as their vascular system resides in a thin layer underneith the bark & runs vertically. In rearching my own treehouse recommendations were to minimize number of penetrations and area of bark covered. This design although it sounds tree friendly (no penetrations) could actually be more dangerous than a few well placed stainless or high grade galvanized bolts or lag screws. 8.5 M up you don't want to mess around! Check with a certified arborist.

Mr. Jim

All it's missing is a basket on the bike to carry beer up in. and I doubt the tree will die, this process is called girdling. and takes many years to do, most likely the tree will absorb the mount, and out live the tree house.

Jay Finke

You'd never get permission to build that in the UK :(

Chris Hogan

I doubt the tree will be affected much by the mount being used. Girdling is the intentional removal of a horizontal band of bark down to heartwood to kill a tree.

Dave B13

I guess a few of the above commenters, don't get it!

Come on, rope ladder? You got to be kidding.

And the "tree ring conservationist" total missed the fact that those support bands appear to be adjustable, to accommodate for future tree growth.

I guessing, the only way your non-invasive design would "be more dangerous than a few well placed stainless or high grade galvanized bolts or lag screws", would be if you forgot to tighten the support bands properly.

What about the "girdling" or strangulation of the tree? The the bands are sitting off the tree at least two to three inches. The 2x wood support pieces, that elevate the bands above the bark, are running parallel to the tree's vascular system, and with a fair amount of horizontal space between them. I'm no arborist, but my money's on the fact that your design is probably less invasive than screwing lag bolts into the tree.

Although, I would hope that these band were installed and tighten to a pre-determined specific torque requirement, which would be checked and maintained at the periodic appropriate intervals.

All in all, great ingenuity! You did a heck of a nice job, and hell with the nay-sayers!

Good Luck,

Jim Dasher

P.S.: Great article.


Good idea, but not complete...

Could have dropped the front wheel. It is useless dead weight. Should have been a tandem. Else, only this Ethan can use the tree house. That is, with the counter weight on the other side, how will the bike go down by itself to pick up another visitor?

Tonghowe Seeto

A much easier and safer solution:

Try a simple pulley with a bag of sand, say 120 pounds that is hauled to the top. Then connect yourself to the line ( a good sailor can help you with details), release the weight and if you weigh 150, your effective weight is now 30 pounds, making it very easy to haul yourself up. On the way down reverse the procedure, leaving the weight in place for your next ascent. If you get tired of the haul with your arms, you can use a couple of little devices called jumars to climb using leg power.

Jack Sprat

Interesting idea, and clever. However, he did not demonstrate how he gets on and off, could get kinda hairy. He must not have many friends as there seems no provision for sending the bike down or up empty. For that matter it is not ADA compliant : )

John Waller
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