Pedicabs After Dark
By Johnny Tarr
Photography by Anton Berkovich
A common idiosyncrasy among riders is to value a bicycle as a means of independence. We all like to feel autonomous in the midst of the intertwined paths of most of the rest of any city’s populace. Most of the time, I am the personification of this sort of self-determined flight down 9th Street, but when I take a weekend ride these days, I share my bike and the experience with dozens of people. I let them decide where we wander, and I become a part of the fabric of the urban landscape, larger than life on an empowering vehicle called a pedicab.
A pedicab is any sort of vehicle that carries multiple people by way of the exertion of one. I’m the one, and it’s quite a roll to play. Mine is a sweaty, demanding, risky, job. Sometimes it’s degrading, and often it’s messy. I’ve had my tips stolen, my masculinity doubted, and my quads burdened to their absolute limit. What makes the whole thing worth it though is the exhilaration of thriving on the heartbeat of the city itself.
I started pedicabbing here in Columbia, Missouri as I was in the process of going native. I’d been here in “Collegetown, USA” for almost a year as a student, but it wasn’t until I stayed the summer that I could really call the city my home. I’d stopped just exploring the city and become a true local. So when I needed a new job during the dog days of summer, pedicabbing came to mind just because it was a downtown job that I felt comfortable with. I’m not one to be juggling plates or pushing blue jeans, but I’m good with strangers and bicycles.
A local pizza-joint owns Columbia’s only pedicab. We aren’t New York, I’m afraid, but the owner Kurt wants the pedicab to soon be an integral part of downtown Columbia. I think he sees potential for it to be like the double-deckers in London or the gondolas in Venice. Getting hired was as easy as convincing him that I want the same thing.
The pedicab itself is a simple vehicle. It’s got a steel frame, a bench-seat in the back, and a cover you can put up if it rains. The space under the seat houses a battery for the lights, some shock absorption for the passengers, a go-cart differential for the rear-wheels, and a hydraulic brake. There’s a tip-box behind the driver. Learning to drive a pedicab doesn’t take long because it’s basically a 21-speed that can’t lean. If you can get that down and not hit things with the sides, you can drive a pedicab.
While the pedicab itself is humble, a ride on it is amazing in contrast. A three-hour shift makes the whole day perfect. I adjust the seat, check the lights, and then the moment I roll off the lot I’m Superman. This must be how it feels to command a kingdom, or walk on water. Traffic treats me royally. Everybody waves back. The cab itself is an eye-magnet that makes its riders instant celebrities.