Seinfeld Rickshaws, Bike Taxis and Other People-Powered Transport

Credit: Screen capture.

An important anniversary recently passed with little or no fanfare. April marked 12 years since the airing of "The Bookstore," the classic Seinfeld episode when Kramer and Newman try to start a rickshaw business in New York City. Their plans failed, hilariously, but the world knew overnight what a rickshaw was. What have rickshaws been up to since? Well, they were popular in Asia years before they became a Seinfeld plot line. And they're just one method of people-powered transport that can get you from here to there without fossil fuels, depending on how far you're going.

1. Rickshaws


Credit: Flickr via Pacifica Pedicabs.

The International Bicycle Fund thinks a rickshaw business is still a good idea, despite the Seinfeld experience. Rickshaws, Japanese for "human-powered vehicle," originally referred to two-wheeled carts that a person pulls.

Credit: DavidDennisPhotos.com.

The word these days also is used for adapted, bicycle-type versions. At the University of Oregon, a senior started Eugene Pedicabs last year, buying excess pedicabs from a company that does business in Seattle and Portland, according to the student newspaper. They provide service in and around the campus, including to bars and music venues. In other words, students can curb their carbon and the dangers of drunken driving.

2. The Conference Bike

Credit: Eco-Taxi.

In downtown Copenhagen, you might see one of these red, circular taxis. People pay to ride, and pedal, getting around, getting exercise and making friends.

According to Eco-Taxi, it's called the Conference Bike and was invented by artist Eric Staller. It seats seven and has adjustable seats for kids and adults. The pedals also are free-moving, so each rider can work as much (or as little) as they like. Look closely and you'll see there's a captain's chair with a steering wheel, and a holder for multiple drinks.

3. The Trixi

The Trixi is a pedicab, or pedal rickshaw, which sometimes sports the traditional yellow and black checkered taxi colors. This vehicle is billed as "transportainment" and includes an electric motor that helps the driver to pedal.

It's designed for taking tourists around to see the sights, and is used in Spain. The motor is intended just for assistance, when starting out or going uphill.

4. Handcar

Credit: Jim, the Photographer.

By now you've probably noticed there's a theme here, of people-powered vehicles designed to carry multiple passengers. Which leads us to the handcar. This vehicle moves like it's on rails because, well, it is. And these see-saw Kalamazoos are used by more than just railroad workers and cartoon characters.

There used to be human-powered handcar transportation lines in Japan and Taiwan, up until the 1970s. A Handcar Regatta is still held in California, showcasing the lost art of railing by hand. Looking at one of these, you always wonder about the possibility of a train being on the same track at the same time.

5. Gondola

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of old-fashioned, the gondola is a handcar on water, without the rails. And that was a lousy segue. The gondola is associated with romance and the sinking city of Venice, which could be destroyed by climate change.

6. Ocean Pedaler

We've written before about the PedalTheOcean.com project. In 2007, Greg Kolodziejzyk set a human-powered boating world record, going 173 kilometers in 24 hours.

He's now working on an attempt to pedal a custom-made, state-of-the-art human-powered boat 3.000 miles across the Pacific Ocean, starting in June. It's expected to break another world record and take 40 to 80 days.

7. The HumanCar

Just like it sounds. A car powered by people that boasts looks and speed.

The HumanCar is dubbed as "an exercise-enabled vehicle." It can be powered by up to four people. Or a single person can move it along in electric power mode. You also can combine the two, hence the use of the term bionic-human hybrid. This one is still in development, as they say.

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Tags: Biking | Energy | Transportation