Last weekend Revolution traveled south to Washington D.C. to exhibit at Green America’s Green Festival. We borrowed a pedicab and a rickshaw van from Via Velo – a non-profit that partners with the local Boys & Girls Club to provide eco-delivery and shuttle service in Alexandria – and rode them into downtown D.C. by way of the Mount Vernon bike trail. In our booth at the convention center we set the rickshaw van up on jacks so festival-goers could try riding it, and took the pedicab for a few (illicit) spins in an unoccupied area of the exhibit hall. Most of our aspiring rickshaw van drivers were kids who’d never seen such a thing before; in some cases their feet couldn’t reach the pedals, even with the seat in its lowest possible position. But hey – when it comes to (kicking the fossil-fool habit and) getting the hang of organic transport, you can never start too young….
The public was of course curious about Revolution’s trikes, especially the rickshaw van, since most people had not hitherto seen anything like it. The three questions I heard most frequently were: “Does it have a motor?” “How hard is it to pedal?” and, “How much does it cost?”
Neither of the trikes in our Green Festival booth had a motor. Of the twenty-two trikes that comprise Revolution’s NYC fleet, only one – the Lynch – has a motor, which powers an electric assist.
The assist is a mixed blessing. It’s great if you’re hauling a super-heavy load, or ascending a very long and/or very steep incline. I’ve greatly appreciated it while making deliveries on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, or driving across the Queensboro Bridge. However: If you’re using the electric assist correctly – that is, sparingly, such that you won’t run out of juice before your job’s finished – you’re engaging it maybe 10 – 25% of the time. You’re hauling its weight – about 110 extra pounds for the battery plus the motor – 100% of the time. So even when you’re deadheading back to the depot, free as a bird, mission accomplished…you still feel like you’re hauling the equivalent of a couple small children in the cargo hold. That can be – for this cargo courier anyway – a little demoralizing. In general, I’d say you’re better off without the assist: You lose the option of that extra boost, yes, but you also lose the burden of the extra weight – and most of the time you don’t need the boost anyway.
How hard is it to pedal a rickshaw? Well, that depends on the load, the incline, and the rider’s degree of fitness. In general, if you’re a decent bike rider you’ll be able to pedal a work trike. Yes, your muscles will ache at first, but as you continue to ride
you’ll build stamina and strength in lungs, heart and legs. The fact that each trike has twenty-four gears makes it possible to keep pedaling even when your route is uphill and your load is heavy – you may go more slowly, as a result of shifting into a very low gear, but you will get there.
How much does a rickshaw cost? A new hard-top rickshaw van runs about $7,000 (there’s also a new model with an aluminum cargo box that sells for about $6,000). A new pedicab will set you back about $6,000. Not cheap, certainly, but a great investment in your health, your business, our nation’s clean energy future…. Also, of course, a trike runs on muscle power, which means once you’ve purchased it you’re pretty much done paying for it. How many motor weapons can you say that about?
We’d love to take a couple rickshaws out to play at a future NYC Green Festival, but we hear the costs of holding a Javits Center event would be prohibitive for small green businesses. So for now the rickshaw-curious will just have to visit us at our Midtown West headquarters. We’ll keep the organic transport going for you!