On a recent trip to San Diego, CA, for a conference, I was impressed with the enormous number of pedicabs that were carting people around. As a result, I decided it was high time to write a post dedicated to the versatile, human-powered form of transportation that is the cycle rickshaw or pedicab. When we first set out to define utility cycling, pedicabs were categorized under retail and commercial services by bike. However, like many other utility cycling activities, pedicabs are complex and can fall into more than one utility cycling category. I debated whether pedicabs were a bike service, a form of general bicycle transportation, or simply a fun way of getting around by bicycle. In the end, pedicabs are all of these things and more, but they fall most solidly into the category of bike services, since pedicabs drivers provide a service to their riders, even though the riders might be using the pedicab for general transportation or simple a way to get around by bike.
What is a Pedicab?
Pedicabs come in many different shapes and sizes, and their design and appearance often differ significantly around the world. However, the general design of most pedicabs is tricycle-like. There are two versions of the tricycle-style pedicab. The first version – often called the rickshaw-style – consists of a pedicab with one wheel on the front where the driver pedals and two wheels on the back where the passengers sit. The second version of the tricycle pedicab – often called the cyclo – allows the passengers to ride in front over the two wheels, while the driver sits in the back and pedals over the single wheel.
Standard Tricycle Style Pedicab – Image Source: pdxpedicab
Reverse Tricycle Style Pedicab – Image Source: pedalpeople
Other less common types of pedicabs include the quadracycle or bicycles with bike trailers that can accommodate passengers. In general, most pedicab designs place the passengers over the longest axle of the pedicab (usually between two parallel wheels), while the driver maintains control of the pedicab with the drive-train and handlebars over the short axle. There are many different pedicab manufacturers throughout the world, although there are no construction standards for building pedicabs, so choose your ride wisely. At the same time, many cities or other areas have taken it upon themselves to impose some pedicab standards and regulations.
Quadracycle Style Pedicab – Image Source: quadracycleinc
Bike Trailer Style Pedicab – Image Source: Da Kine Pedicabs
Pedicabs are also outfitted and decorated in many different ways. For example, some pedicabs provide a covered awning over the passengers, while others leave you to the elements. Lately, pedicabs are getting a more modern, aerodynamic-looking design and some have even started to look like small vehicles.
Image Source: Streetsblog
Rickshaws, which are carts pulled by a person on foot, have been around since the 1800’s and were especially common throughout Asia. The cycle rickshaw began to appear sometime later in the 1920’s and also in Asia. Slowly, the cycle rickshaw replaced the cart-style rickshaw, as they were somewhat safer, more efficient, and easier on the driver. For more on pedicab history, check out Pop’s Pedicabs, where a great review can be found.
First and foremost, pedicabs are used for transportation. Although, due to the versatile nature and sturdy design of many pedicabs, they can certainly be used for bike delivery purposes, as well. Pedicabs also provide a unique and highly visible forum for bike advertising, as the wide area of the passenger seat compartment is perfect for advertising banners.
Advertising Via Pedicab – Image Source: YellowBikeCab
It’s important to spend a few minutes talking about who actually uses pedicabs. More often than not, pedicabs are associated with tourism or special events. And in many places, this is certainly the case. As my experience in San Deigo – surrounded by literally hundreds of pedicabs – might suggest, riding in a pedicab is certainly seen as a recreational activity. The main bulk of the pedicabs there stayed close to the tourist areas of Seaport Village, Harbor Drive, and downtown San Diego. I did not see a single pedicab outside of these areas. However, in other places in the U.S., such as New York City, pedicabs are used more frequently for commuting and transportation around the city. And in many places outside of the U.S., pedicabs are one of the most efficient forms of transportation in heavily congested cities, where sitting in traffic in a car can be unbearable.
At the same time, there have been lots of recent murmurs about the dangers of pedicabs, what with some bad crashes and accidents lately in NYC and other places. Even so, it seems pointless to argue that a few pedicab accidents should discredit the whole industry, when there are plenty of other kinds of transportation accidents all the time.
Overall, pedicabs are an eco-friendly, utilitarian form of transportation for getting around urban environments. They certainly have limitations, but for short trips, they are the perfect solution for getting off your own feet or legs for a bit and still going by bike.