Created By: SharleeD on December 14, 2012 Last Edited By: SharleeD on January 30, 2013
Troped

Hamster Wheel Power

A mechanism is powered by a small animal running in an exercise wheel

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One humorous way to demonstrate that a mechanical device is primitive, of amateurish construction, or simply underpowered is to have it propelled, not by internal combustion or electricity, but by Pocket Pet Power. Hook it up to a wheel-shaped or spherical cage, and let a small animal -- usually a hamster or mouse -- run its little legs off inside to generate torque. The larger the device, and the tinier the animal, the odder this arrangement looks.

More-plausible variants, which use large animals or human workers to turn their wheels, also appear in fiction. These aren't particularly funny, and may be Played for Drama if the arduousness (and boredom) of walking inside a wheel for hours on end is emphasized.

Other odd methods of powering a device by muscle action, such as pedaling or pushing levers, may also rate as variants of this trope, provided they're similarly Played for Laughs or melodrama.

A common power source for Homemade Inventions or Bamboo Technology. Often combined with Rube Goldberg Device for maximum wackiness.

Examples:

Advertising
  • Non-wheel variant: In a Geico commercial, a man powers his laptop from a team of guinea pigs he'd trained to row a miniature boat.
  • Referenced in a Kia commercial in which cars of other brands are represented by giant (stationary) hamster wheels.
  • This nokia ad. Played straight and spelled out: "Hamster-powered phone charger". Genius.

Anime
  • Episode two of the Pokémon Anime shows that the Pokemon Center's backup power generator is several Pikachu running on a horizontal wheel around a tesla coil.

Comic Book
  • One episode of Archie Comics Explorers of the Unknown had the Villain of the Week's superweapon powered by "1,000,000 hamsters in running wheels."
  • In The Dark Knight Strikes Again, it's revealed that a major source of electricity for the whole world is actually a giant hamster wheel where The Flash is running in superspeed.
  • In The fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Phineas devises a car, powered by a hamster on a treadmill - which is on cocaine.

Fan Fic
  • In "My Little Denarians", Discord foils Nicodemus' plan of running away and leaving him to fight the heroes alone by turning the engine of his car into a hamster ball.

Film
  • In Chicken Run, the chickens escaped on a plane that ran on pedals.
    • In Madagascar 2, a plane was similarly powered by monkeys.
  • A short film by San Gabriel Union Church had the church van break down, so the driver goes to "check the engine." Once he opens the hood, he yells inside "Come on, Samson! You can do it!" Samson is revealed to be a hamster in a wheel.

Literature
  • Archchancellor Ridcully has one such device under his hat that may prevent baldness, powered by a hamster.
    • Large-scale versions have also appeared in Discworld, powered by golems (Making Money) or human prisoners (Small Gods). A subversion in Eric was a giant wheel propelled by damned souls (and, briefly, by the Luggage), but it didn't power anything and was merely one of Hell's torments.
  • At the end of Chet Gecko: The Hamster of the Baskervilles, the titular were-hamster is defeated by luring into a science fair exhibit about perpetual motion, which features an enormous spinning wheel. The were-hamster is caught inside the wheel and remains running, rendering it harmless.
  • James Blish's short story "Surface Tension" features genetically engineered rotifer-sized people who build a "space ship" (we would think of it as a land vehicle) to travel to another pond on the surface of their planet. It is powered by diatoms running on treadmills.
  • In Secret of the Sixth Magic, farm boys walking in wheels provide kinetic energy which thaumaturges then transfer into a magic-powered harvesting apparatus. Doubly cruel, in that the wheel-walkers end up with massively-overdeveloped thighs and no other skills to make a living, while the "harvesting apparatus" consists of cages with human peasants inside, steadily forced forward by mechanisms that beat them if they don't cut grain fast enough.

Live-Action Television
  • A white mouse in a wheel powers part of the Rube Goldberg Device shown in the opening credits of Elementary.
  • When the theater lost power on The Muppet Show, Dr. Honeydew rigged a giant hamster wheel generator that ran on "Beeker power". When Beeker got tired, Honeydew activated a power booster - he released a tiger inside the wheel to chase Beeker.
  • Stephen Colbert once suggested that puppies licking peanut butter off turbine blades to make them spin might be a viable alternative-energy option on The Colbert Report.
  • On Gilligan's Island, Gilligan pedals a stationary bicycle in order to generate power for the radio and a few other devices. At least once the stationary bicycle became non-stationary, sending Gilligan flying through the underbrush.
  • In an episode of Bones Booth & Brennan visit an organic farmer who makes smoothies out of his vegetables, using a stationary bicycle to generate the electricity to run the blender. Brennan thinks it's ingenious; Booth thinks it's this trope.

Tabletop Games
  • Gnomes in the Spelljammer D&D-in-space setting use giant space hamsters to power much of their goofy technology.
  • Doomwheels in Warhammer are Skaven warmachines bristling with warpstone weaponry, powered by a Rat Ogre running inside.

Video Games
  • In the adventure game Journey to the Center of the Earth, you can lure a tiny fruit-eating dinosaur into the cage on a strange cart, so it will run inside the ball-shaped cage and propel the vehicle.
  • In the Collectors' Edition of the casual game Surface: Mystery of Another World, catching a hamster and putting it into such a device is necessary to open the portal home.
  • The video game The Incredible Machine uses these almost exclusively for power sources.
  • In Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (the video game) there's a rather convoluted puzzle wherein you put a rude French mouse on a wheel, and giving him the proper motivation (not cheese) makes him run so as to open a door.
  • One of the locks in Ravenhearst opens when you get a mechanical mouse to enter and use a wire exercise wheel.

Web comics
  • The main characters' ship in Melonpool is powered by Sammy the giant hamster running on a wheel.

Western Animation
  • Many powered devices used by the Kids Next Door were hamster-driven.
  • Norm, a giant robot from Phineas and Ferb, runs on squirrel power.
  • This is how many devices work on The Flintstones, such as the record player.
  • In the Upsidasium story arc of Rocky and Bullwinkle, it is revealed that vehicles in Pottsylvania are revolutionary (or "revolves"), thanks to the power of tiny squirrels running in wheels.
  • At the end of the Looney Tunes short "Boobs in the Woods", Daffy Duck takes out the motor out of Porky Pig's car, so Porky forced Daffy to pedal the crankshaft instead. When he complains that Porky had no right to do that, Porky produces a license that allows him to do just that (a Call Back to a gag about licenses earlier in the cartoon).
  • Animatronio, a Renaissance robot built bu Leonardo da Vinci in the Futurama episode "The Duh-Vinci Code", is powered by a rat-wheel in his chest.

Real Life
  • Some Real Life exercise balls for pocket pets are enclosed in a framework that makes them look like racecars, emulating this trope.
  • Cranes used in the construction of Real Life medieval cathedrals and castles were sometimes powered by humans walking inside giant wheels.

Community Feedback Replies: 39
  • December 14, 2012
    SharleeD
    Despite the title, this one's open to larger creatures used as power sources too ... but only if they're running inside wheels, please.
  • December 14, 2012
    Chabal2
    • Archchancellor Ridcully has one such device under his hat that may prevent baldness, powered by a hamster.
    • Non-animal example: in The Dark Knight Returns, The Flash is kept running on one of these, providing a third of the U.S.'s power.
    • Doomwheels in Warhammer are Skaven warmachines bristling with warpstone weaponry, powered by a Rat Ogre running inside.
  • December 14, 2012
    Larkmarn
    In a commercial for... something, a man trying to save money uses a trio of gerbils rowing in a tank to power his laptop. Same idea, just not a wheel. Sorry, wish I had more details.

    The Incredible Machine uses these almost exclusively for power sources.

  • December 14, 2012
    SharleeD
    ^ If we're thinking of the same commercial, it was guinea pigs, not gerbils. But I don't think it counts as this trope if it's not something in a wheel. (Subversion, maybe, if wheel-power is what you'd expect him to resort to?)
  • December 14, 2012
    Quantumawsome
  • December 14, 2012
    randomsurfer
    ^^^GEICO insurance.

    • This is how many devices work on The Flintstones, such as the record player.
    • In Monty Python's The Meaning of Life (the videogame) there's a rather conviluted puzzle wherein you put a rude French mouse on a wheel, and giving him the proper motivation (not cheese) makes him run so as to open a door.
  • December 14, 2012
    dvorak
    Episode two of the Pokemon Anime shows that the Pokemon center's backup power generator is several Pikachu running on a horizontal wheel around a tesla coil.
  • December 14, 2012
    TBTabby
    Another Discworld example: The analytical engine Hex has various components nobody remembers adding to it, one of which is a nesting mouse. The university students don't know what purpose it serves, but they know it's vital because Hex stopped working when they took it out.
  • December 14, 2012
    Lascoot
    I'm 90% sure The Witches by Roald Dahl had this in the last chapter when the boy and his grandmother adapted the house they lived in for him to have a comfortable life as a mouse. Not played for laughs obviously. Anyone can confirm?
  • December 15, 2012
    SharleeD
    ^^ I don't think Hex's mouse qualifies, as it's never stated that the mouse actually runs on a wheel to generate power. Rather, it just wandered in and built a nest there, becoming the same sort of Incredibly Lame Pun on computer parts as the small religious paintings (icons) that are also a necessary part of Hex.
  • December 15, 2012
    DRCEQ
    I'm not totally against the title, but I think it could be better, In this case, I think that the Added Alliterative Appeal detracts from the name and makes it sound clunky and awkward.

    How about Animal Powered Generator instead? That way it can cover large animals and humans too. Heck, that alone opens up so many "KEEP ON PEDDLING!" examples with people powering up a generator on an exercise bike.
  • December 15, 2012
    SharleeD
    ^ I'm not sure somebody peddling a bike carries the same goofy tone as a small animal on an exercise wheel, which is a rather different concept in that it's usually Played For Laughs. It might be better to have a separate Pedal Power trope, possibly with a Muscle Powered Machine supertrope (which could include the Geico guinea pigs) over both.
  • December 20, 2012
    dvorak
    Comic Book
    • One episode of Archie Comics Explorers of the Unknown had the Villain Of The Week's superweapon powered by "1,000,000 hampsters in running wheels." He also said that it outstripped nuclear and solar power.
  • December 21, 2012
    DracMonster
    Powered By A Forsaken Hamster! Can we please, please lift the snowclone ban??

    Ok ok, joking, but maybe Hamster Wheel Generator or Hamster Wheel Power. Even if it's not always a hamster I think it's the most understandable title.
  • December 21, 2012
    TonyG
    • When the theater lost power on The Muppet Show, Dr. Honeydew rigged a giant hamster wheel generator that ran on "Beeker power". When Beeker got tired, Honeydew activated a power booster - he released a tiger inside the wheel to chase Beeker.
    • On Chicken Run, the chickens escaped on a plane that ran on pedals.
    • At the end of the Looney Tunes short "Boobs in the Woods", Daffy Duck takes out the motor out of Porky Pig's car, so Porky forced Daffy to pedal the crankshaft instead. When he complains that Porky had no right to do that, Porky produces a license that allows him to do just that (a Call Back to a gag about licenses earlier in the cartoon).
  • December 21, 2012
    Mozgwsloiku
    In the fanfic My Little Denarians, Discord foils Nicodemus' plan of running away and leaving him to fight the heroes alone by turning the engine of his car into a hamster ball.
  • December 21, 2012
    justanotherrandomlurker
    Western Animation
    • In the Upsidasium story arc of Rocky And Bullwinkle, it is revealed that vehicles in Pottsylvania are revolutionary (or "revolves"), thanks to the power of tiny squirrels running in wheels.
  • December 21, 2012
    McKathlin
    I'd support including other silly creature-powered devices in this trope, even if they're doing something other than running on a wheel. Tropes Are Flexible.
  • December 21, 2012
    Tuckerscreator
    Literature
    • At the end of Chet Gecko: The Hamster of the Baskervilles, the titular were-hamster is defeated by luring into a science fair exhibit about perpetual motion, which features an enormous spinning wheel. The were-hamster is caught inside the wheel and remains running, rendering it harmless.

    There's no notability on this wiki, so can this example be including?

    • A short film by SGUC had the church van break down, so the driver goes to "check the engine." Once he opens the hood, he yells inside "Come on, Samson! You can do it!" Samson is revealed to be a hamster in a wheel.
  • December 25, 2012
    SharleeD
    ^ Tuckerscreator, what does SGUC stand for? With or without notability, it probably ought to be written out in full. Also, if it's a YouTube video, let me know: if it is, I should move it to Web Original, not film.
  • December 27, 2012
    SharleeD
    Any more?
  • December 27, 2012
    staritecollecter
    In Madagascar 2, a plane was powered by monkeys.
  • December 27, 2012
    zarpaulus
    Web comics
    • The main characters' ship in Melonpool is powered by Sammy the giant hamster running on a wheel.
  • December 27, 2012
    Tuckerscreator
    SGUC stands for "San Gabriel Union Church", (now called San Gabriel Community Church.) It's not on Youtube since that video was made over a decade ago for an announcement, but you could probably just list it under "Other".
  • January 28, 2013
    Tuomas
    In The Dark Knight Strikes Again, it's revealed that a major source of electricity for the whole world is actually a giant hamster wheel where The Flash is running in superspeed.
  • January 28, 2013
    StarSword
    EDIT: Never mind; it's already there.
  • January 29, 2013
    randomsurfer
    People Power:
    • On Gilligans Island Gilligan pedals a stationary bicycle in order to generate power for the radio and a few other devices. At least once the stationary bicycle became non-stationary, sending Gilligan flying through the underbrush.
    • In an episode of Bones Booth & Brennan visit an organic farmer who makes smoothies out of his vegetables, using a stationary bicycle to generate the electricity to run the blender.
  • January 29, 2013
    elwoz
    James Blish's short story "Surface Tension" (collected in The Seedling Stars) features genetically engineered rotifer-sized people who build a "space ship" (we would think of it as a land vehicle) to travel to another pond on the surface of their planet. It is powered by diatoms running on treadmills.
  • January 29, 2013
    SharleeD
    ^^ Was the Bones example played either for silliness or drama? I'm not sure if every use of People Power should apply here, if it's a practical solution to a problem rather than an indication that the contraption is either foolishly-impractical or cruel.

    ^ I've seen "Surface Tension" in a lot of collections, not just that one, so I left off the anthology's title because it's better if people search for the story's if they want to read it.
  • January 29, 2013
    elwoz
    ^ 's cool. The Seedling Stars is the fixup novel collecting all of Blish's "genetically tailored human colonists for every planet in the galaxy" stories, and is also where I encountered them for the first time, so I think of it as the canonical cite.
  • January 29, 2013
    randomsurfer
    ^^Of the two, silliness. "Look at what crazy stuff these environmentalists do!" That sort of thing. Can't find a video to show, I'll have to paste in some dialog.
    PAGE: Let me make you each a smoothie.
    BOOTH: That's okay.
    BRENNAN: I'd love one. during the following Page gets on a stationary bicycle and starts pedaling
    BOOTH: Frank Curtis ever visit your hot house?
    PAGE: Once, back when I first built it. He had some advice on how to maximize sun exposure.
    BOOTH: What's he doing?
    BRENNAN: He's powering the blender. The wheel rim is attached to a generator. This is rather ingenious.
    PAGE: Stay fit and save energy.
  • January 29, 2013
    SharleeD
    ^ Okay, I added it with a note that Booth thinks it's silly enough for this trope. Thanks.

    I'll leave this up until tomorrow night for any last-minute comments, then launch if there aren't any concerns. Index / link suggestions are welcome.
  • January 30, 2013
    Tuomas
    You seemed to have missed this example I posted above, so I'll post it again:

    Comic Books
  • January 30, 2013
    DaibhidC
    • Animatronio, a Renaissance robot built bu Leonardo Da Vinci in the Futurama episode "The Duh-Vinci Code", is powered by a rat-wheel in his chest.
  • January 30, 2013
    elwoz
  • January 30, 2013
    Ruuttu
    Advertising
    • This nokia ad. Played straight and spelled out: "Hamster-powered phone charger". Genius.
  • January 30, 2013
    AgProv

    Comic Books: In The fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Phineas devises a car, powered by a hamster on a treadmill - which is on cocaine.
  • January 30, 2013
    nitrokitty
  • January 30, 2013
    SharleeD
    Will do. Thanks, everyone!
http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/discussion.php?id=ue1o4y789uhm2zfzutragy0t&trope=HamsterWheelPower