Gyms are wonderful places for large men who regret they missed out on the Inquisition. I never know the names of the machines in there—I assume they’re called “the rack” and “the screw.” You pay large men to yell at you; or, for free, these large men will lift heavy things while you struggle to do one pull-up. They will watch and feel silently superior.
Driving in my car to the gym to ride a stationary bike, I’d sometimes get stuck in traffic. Sitting there, I’d watch long-legged cyclists pass by like a breeze. “Why don’t I just do that?”
These days, I’m trying to find ways to get exercise that doesn’t include the gym. Taking the stairs. Parking at the far end of the parking lot. Stuff like that.
Then I came across a guy named Justin Day, 27, who seemed like he might have one solution. Day used to have a regular life, which he hated: a khaki-clad desk job under buzzing halogen lights, staring at a screen. After work, he’d head to the gym: same halogen lights, still staring at a screen, running on a treadmill going nowhere. He felt like a robot.
But nowadays, you can find him most nights in Denver, driving a pedicab.
“I love it,” he told me about his rides, which average at 25–30 miles a day. “Denver being as beautiful as it is, why would you go inside to a gym?”
Pedicabs, sometimes called rickshaws, are an eco-friendly, low-tech mode of transport that is steadily increasing in numbers in most major American cities. Denver, with all its sunny days and flat streets, has seen a pronounced boon. Today, there are 308 licensed pedicab drivers in Denver, says Larry Stevenson, director of public affairs for the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses.
For the past six years, Graham Hill ran the only rickshaw company in Boulder. But it ultimately met defeat—the hills were leg-killers. A trip up to Chautauqua, which was torturous and sweaty, made him wonder whether pedicabs make sense in a town boxed in by rocky hills. “I wouldn’t wish that trip on my worst enemy,” he says. In April, he got out of the business, selling his bikes to a company in California. “Pedicabs can work in this town,” Hill says. “(But) you have to be awfully creative.”
Casey Bobay, 29, started to drive a pedicab in college. He needed the money. But there was an extra benefit. Every block he pedaled, without noticing, he jettisoned a little bit of flab. One day, the bathroom scale surprised him by reading 175 pounds, instead of 200.