Joe Polara and his four-year-old son, Luka, cruise through northwest Denver, past the Victorians topped with solar panels, the dogs yipping through the fence posts and the old men poking at their lawns — many of whom gape at Polara's shiny black pedicab.
"It's definitely a good conversation-starter," Polara says. When people ask how he ended up with this enormous tricycle, he tells them that he and his wife were looking for an adult-sized version of the child trailer people attach to the back of their bikes; she was pregnant with Luka's younger sibling at the time, and they wanted something that Polara could haul the entire family in. He realized what he needed was a rickshaw, and it just so happened that the largest rickshaw/pedicab manufacturer in the nation was Main Street Pedicabs in Broomfield. "We test-drove one and fell in love with it," he says.
Now he takes it out every week, weather permitting, to run errands, buy groceries or pick up a bottle of wine from the corner store. Other times, he chauffeurs neighborhood kids, who never tire of the apparatus. And it's great for events like street fairs, since he never has to worry about parking.
"I've never ridden it for money," says Polara, clad in a winter hat and gloves to stave off the wind sheer. "But it's fun driving the family around." Luka, lounging contentedly beneath a pile of blankets in the cab, seems to agree.
Polara says he'd use it to commute to his job downtown if the return trip wasn't such an uphill slog, but he does get good exercise. Gears clacking, he huffs his way up a moderate hill. "You'll get a workout that way!" hollers a man in his back yard. "I need it!" Polara responds between pants. The commotion of Federal Boulevard greets Polara at the top of the rise, and for one brief, exhilarating moment, he launches his vehicle into the street, pedaling furiously into oncoming traffic before swinging into the pedestrian cut-through in the central median. Buried up to his nose in blankets, it's hard to know if Luka is scared or exhilarated.
A man watching the feat on the other side gives the pedicab a thumbs-up. "Get on!" cries Polara — but the man declines. "You learn a lot about people by whether they'll get on," says Polara, pedaling into Rocky Mountain Lake Park and coasting around the pathway there. "I used to ride those in Korea," exclaims an old man sitting on a bench. Next to him, an elderly woman smiles mischievously. "Can you take me to the old Villa Italia area?" she asks, referring to a spot on Alameda Avenue in Lakewood that's six miles away. "That will take all day," Polara replies with a laugh, and pumps on.
Although he's heard they exist, he's never seen anyone else with a personal pedicab — which is a shame, he adds, since he believes people are missing out on a great option: "I'd love to see more people riding these instead of cars."
Luka finally speaks up: "Dad, I want to play on the playground." They pull over by a swingset and leave the pedicab unattended. "Nobody messes with it," Polara says. "The idea of jumping on it and riding away on it doesn't occur to people."