The home opener for the Colorado Rockies is the unofficial start of pedicabbing season. Denver is on the forefront of the pedicab industry, in terms of licensing and regulation and the sheer number of pedicabs. Writer Chris Meehan knows from experience -- he might just be the guy pedaling you from point A to point B.
If you live in Denver, you've seen them. Pedicabs, trikes, rickshaws -- whatever you want to call them -- coursing through traffic in LoDo, whisking riders to and fro, from Broncos, Rockies, Nuggets and Avalanche games, to conventions and hotels. I'm one of them and can say it's hard but fun work that requires long hours, patience, sales skills, athleticism, a strong bladder and just some damned good luck.
Recently, a few veteran pedicabbers began talking about "The Fourth." I thought they must have been talking about the Fourth of July, but they were talking about the Fourth of April, the home opener for the Rockies -- the unofficial starting date for the prime pedicab season to get underway.
Come game day, pedicabbers take to the streets like robins returning for spring, swooping up fares from the light-rail station and the 16th Street Mall, hustling them to Coors Field and rattling back over potholes and cracks in the asphalt for more rides. At the end of the game, it's the same show, only in reverse, with roughly 40 pedicabs lined up at various exits, on 20th and Blake or near Fado's Irish Pub. Others cruise the mall and bar hotspots, each with their own carny sideshow siren: "Fun rides, folks!," or "I got seats that vibrate!" (some are classier than others), or "Quick rides, fast rides to the light rail!"
Many pedicabbers work a 12-hour day or more and come home exhausted, sweat plastering their clothes to their bodies. It's not an easy day's work.
A diverse lotMany pedicabbers work a 12-hour day or more and come home exhausted, sweat plastering their clothes to their bodies.
Denver's pedicabbers are a scrappy, odd sort. On any given day, you can find anyone from college coeds and graybeards pushing pedals, bartenders, investment counselors, doughnut makers, serial entrepreneurs and more. Customers are just are varied, folks from out of town looking for a quick ride back to their hotel, marijuana tourists, freshly minted 21-year-olds looking for the next bar as much as discovering themselves, bachelorette parties, convention goers and sports fans. Each can end up in the back of the cab on any one day.
The total number of pedicabbers in Denver is on the upswing. "A couple years ago I used to know everybody on those bikes, whether they were mine or somebody else's." says Mile High Pedicab Co-Owner Casey Bobay. With Chuck Henry, also a former pedicabber, Bobay bought the business more than five years ago, growing it from five pedicabs to 65 today. (Full disclosure: It's the company I ride for, too.) "Now I know who's on our bikes, but I definitely don't know who's on everybody else's bikes."
Founded in 1992, Mile High Pedicabs
is the largest pedicab company in Denver. "We try to buy up the market share as people sell their bikes," Bobay says, explaining his company's growth. "They think they're going to make a career out of tricycling and they go spend $5,000 on a pedicab and sell it back to me for $3,000 a year later."
But Bobay doesn't anticipate cornering the market, saying he doesn't consider it an option. "Competition in business works. It needs to happen. It's just part of it." He sees that the number of new pedicabs entering Denver's market is slowing, but hopes the city will someday limit how many license plates it issues for pedicabs.
Licensing and regulationThere are about 150 pedicabbers in Denver.
Bobay was among those who lobbied for licensing pedicabs and pedicabbers in Denver, and new requirements went into effect in March 2013. "It's such an easy business to get into," he says. "A typical business, you need like $100,000 to get into. You can get into this for roughly $6,000, between buying your own cab, getting insurance and a spot. And if you were to get in an accident out there, it's more than likely you're going to owe more [for the accident] than what you have invested into the business, so it's really easy to walk away from it."
He argues that more stringent licensing requirments adds accountability and helps make Denver a safer and more pedicab-friendly city. Other cities like Austin are already looking to Denver's pedicab rules to develop their own as well.
Mile High Pedicabs and other pedal-powered taxi companies look for ancillary business like advertising, event rentals and tours. While Bobay wasn't the first guy to wrap his pedicabs in ads, the company currently runs Denver Outdoor Media and has advertising partnerships with Denver law firm Bachus & Schanker (after all its pretty much a moving park bench with cushions, an ideal place for such marketing), Metropolitan State University of Denver and Budweiser.
In the end, it's about getting a ride, a quick means to get from one place to another, but think of the value-add that comes along with touring LoDo at bike speed. Pedicabbers are experts on the best places to eat, the most happening bars and the fastest way to get there.
We might not be bartenders, but we hear just as many stories from our fares -- and we live in Denver's streets.