Wheels of Fortune

Steve Meyer wants to sell pedicabs to the world — but is the world willing to go along for the ride?

The sales pitches are assorted and relentless, shouted to an endless flood of pedestrians bedecked in Colorado Rockies attire streaming down the 16th Street Mall.

"How about a ride to the game, folks?"

"Lighten your load a little bit!"

Pedicab entrepreneur Steve Meyer has started a rolling revolution from Denver.
Jim J. Narcy
Pedicab entrepreneur Steve Meyer has started a rolling revolution from Denver.
Greg Duran plans to offer city tours with his new company, Colorado Rickshaw.
Jim J. Narcy
Greg Duran plans to offer city tours with his new company, Colorado Rickshaw.

"Give your kids a thrill!"

One man in a Red Sox shirt is warned point-blank: "You need a ride out of here. You're gonna be mobbed."

They come from drivers manning a line of pedicabs parked at 16th and Blake streets. Today is the Rockies' home opener, and there are dozens of the vehicles out and about, shuttling fans to Coors Field and pedaling empty cabs back to lineups at key pickup spots around downtown. The three-wheeled contraptions consist of a bike hitched to a cart with comfy seats in back; some have canopies, some don't. They're mostly spotted at night around the 16th Street Mall, but they also turn out in force for every Rockies home game, Denver Broncos game, New Year's Eve, Saint Patrick's Day, and any other event or celebration when the sheer amount of people, inclement weather and considerable quantities of alcohol create a perfect market.

"How much for a ride?" asks a man in shades. "I'm just looking for a tip," says Ed Martin, the driver at the front of the line who's wearing a pink cowboy hat. The standard rate, established by Mile High Pedicabs, the company from whom Martin leases his vehicle, is $2 a block, but most drivers ride for tips, which can earn them more. Once folks see how hard the drivers work for their money, most are quick to pay up.

Some drivers, like Martin, have been doing this for years; for others, this will be their first summer on the streets. Many are hard-core bike enthusiasts, thrilled by the chance to earn money doing what they love; others simply like the exercise. Experienced drivers willing to hustle can take home several hundred dollars for a long night of work. While most have day jobs, a few regulars drive pedicabs full-time, and they make so much cash they don't like to state their income, fearing the IRS may call.

For the man in the shades, the price is right. "I'm meeting a client for the game, and I need to get my ass over there as fast as possible," he says, climbing into Martin's cab. "Do what you gotta do." They're off, Martin's legs pumping hard against his pedals as he leans forward over the handlebars. He zips the wrong way up Blake and slides past cars with inches to spare. They're going maybe six, seven miles an hour, but compared to the thickening mass of fans surging toward Coors Field, they're flying.

"Dude, you're bad-ass, man!" exclaims the rider when Martin hits the brakes in front of the ballpark. He has just learned a piece of three-wheeled gospel: Pedicabs may look strange, and you may be embarrassed to ride in one, but at the right time and in the right place, there's no faster way to move. For that lesson, he hands over a sizable tip.

Inventor-entrepreneur Steve Meyer hopes to spread that gospel far and wide. The majority of the pedicabs in Denver were made by his company, Main Street Pedicabs in Broomfield, the largest pedicab manufacturer in North America, having supplied about 1,500 vehicles to cities around the world over the past fourteen years.

In Denver, most of the drivers lease their vehicles from Mile High Pedicabs, another Meyer-founded enterprise that serves as a model for similar outfits nationwide.

Meyer is "kind of the Godfather," says longtime Denver pedicab driver Bobby Lentell. "He can decide if he wants to sell to you just by whether he thinks you will be good for the pedicab industry."

In fact, thanks to Meyer, Denver has become an epicenter of sorts for the small but growing pedicab movement. Meyer estimates that there are 3,000 pedicabs in 100 or more locations around the United States, three times what there were a decade ago.

"Steve is the pedicab industry," says Dan Smith, who's owned pedicab companies in several cities and recently sold his pedicab business in San Diego. "He really is the father of the industry."

Now Meyer aims to prove his apparatuses are more than a novelty, more than a tourist gimmick. He believes they could help restructure the design and socioeconomic fabric of urban environments themselves. "This is the beginning stage of a new industry," he says. "And I can see it in a few years employing thousands of people."

But the rolling revolution has experienced a few bumps along the way. Many cities have resisted the vehicles, citing safety concerns and traffic issues, while the pedicab industry itself has struggled with casting off its fly-by-night reputation.

But the industry could get a lift this summer when the Democratic National Convention comes to town. Meyer and others hope pedicabs will be seen as the perfect "green" mode of transportation for an event that bills itself as the "most environmentally sustainable Democratic Convention in history" — not to mention a key solution to possible citywide congestion that could make the Rockies' opener look easy.

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