Regulars and Shorts

People Power

By Anna Zumwalt

Whirlwind downtown tour in a pedicab.

I took my first bike taxi ride this weekend. My friend Jeff invited me to see where he works at Salt City Cycle Cab. So I did.

Jeff’s been working as a Salt Lake pedicab driver for a year now. He makes his own hours and says he gets lots of compliments on his great legs and butt. Just some perks of being a professional cyclist, I guess.

Down at the garage, Jeff and I chose a pretty cab—they’re all pretty, but this one had sparkly seats and called to me—and we were off, headed east to downtown. The cushioned bench was more comfortable than I thought it would be. I let Jeff handle the music (Empire of the Sun), and the pedaling, but any rider can sync their smart phone to the cab and have their music bloom throughout their wake.

And, boy, was it fun! It was an electric-assist bike, so it’s got some horsepower in the front axel to help us take off. The usual speed is 20 mph, topping out at 35 mph. We zipped off at top speed.

Do people ever get in accidents on these things? I asked Jeff.

It’s very rare, he assured me. “We might have had one last year. It was just a fender bender,, fortunately.”

The bike is allowed down the wide sidewalks, but not down the narrow, regular ones. Jeff took me on his favorite little routes: down the sidewalk next to the Salt Palace, through the steep “tunnel” between South Temple and 100 South, on the wide sidewalk by Abravanel Hall. Unfortunately, we are not allowed to go through the Temple grounds.

Mostly, we stayed in the bike lanes. Which are a pretty cool invention, though they can be a bit of a challenge to cyclists, as well as drivers. Confused motorists sometimes park in the bike lane and get ticketed. The Salt Palace area is notorious for this confusion and we had to zip around several parked cars. Bike cabs can also get ticketed. They have to obey all the traffic laws.

It was especially fun going down Main Street, where there are a lot of pedestrians and the whole street seems to be a bike lane (and Trax). Jeff told me that the old laws mandated that bikes only use the green bike lanes, but now they can be in any lane.

For first time riders (like me!) Jeff usually gives a free ride. Usually about a quarter of the people he picks up have never ridden in a bike cab. That’s a different story when the Jazz are playing downtown. “Utah Jazz basketball games are big for the bike cabbies,” says Jeff. “Sometimes we’ll have the whole fleet out.”

Friday nights, Salt Palace conventions and General Conference are all busy times for bike cab drivers. But you don’t have to be going anywhere in particular to hail a bike cab. During the mild days of spring and summer a spin around downtown in a pedicab is a great way to relax.

The crowds cheered as Jeff and I pass by. Was I flying? Wind in my hair, huge smile on my face. Was this a dream come true? Maybe. But I confess, I was still a little terrified. Exposed, uncovered, zipping through downtown Salt Lake City. When the rickshaw squeezed through the chute-like opening to the new bike-path lanes at 20-25 mph it felt like an Olympic luge run.

Someone yelled out “Nice cab!” And Jeff honked his bike horn. Kachooooga!

Squeaky brakes were part of the rickshaw experience, and tempting smells from restaurants. So was a sense of camaraderie—people smiling and waving. I felt like a celebrity. Jeff looked like a hero. He seemed happy and used to it.

Chilliness was part of the experience, especially as we headed back to the garage, riding into the sunset, and the wind. But the cabs are pretty well equipped to handle all weather—canopy covers for when it’s too sunny, blankets for your legs for when it gets chilly.

Back at the garage I look around at the parked rickshaws and spider bikes. The place smells good, not the smells of oil and gasoline like in other garages. Louis, the owner, is there checking the bikes, working as mechanic and dispatcher. Louis started Salt City Cycling back in 2013 with only two pedicabs. Currently the fleet is made up of 16 bikes, powered by a team of up to 30 people including three women. And I expect it will only grow. “You guys are animals. You guys are animals, all of you!” Louis says cheering on his team.

I’ve had an amazing evening and I’m eyeing other pedicabs in the garage but I’ll save those adventures for next time. I grab Jeff’s pedicab business card. I wanted to keep it handy for opera season dates with my husband. After all, romance, couples cuddled together, is part of the experience, too.

Anna Weller Zumwalt is a CATALYST Magazine’s staffer.

This article was originally published on May 1, 2017.