Jim Gregory rides his bicycle while delivering papers in Ames, Iowa. Gregory, who does not own a car, makes deliveries on his bike and operates a pedicab on weekend nights.
WASHINGTON - Like Lance Armstrong, Jim Gregory makes bike riding pay.
While Armstrong, the perennial Tour de France winner, racks up millions of dollars in endorsement contracts, Gregory hauls people and cargo around Ames, Iowa, in a pedicab. He gets paid in tips.
''I'd love to have million-dollar endorsements, too, but no, '' Gregory joked. ''I can't say anybody would pay for an endorsement based on what we do.''
Gregory and pedicab operators like him in other cities have found their own way to be pro cyclists. With bench seats on wheels at the front or back of their bikes, they get paid to exercise by carrying passengers or cargo. Gregory lets passengers decide what the ride is worth: ''We don't suggest anything.''
A working day can be 5 to 9 hours of fairly nonstop cycling, either with a passenger or looking for one. Counting the weight of the bike, the carriage that has the passenger seat and one or two passengers, a biker may be hauling a 500-pound load, and part of the trip may well be uphill, Gregory said. He can consume 4, 000 calories a day during busy periods in calorie-burning cold weather.
The job takes stamina for Gregory and for people he hires to work with him. ''We've had some employees who were pretty avid racers, and several have told me the kind of work we do is completely different, '' he said. ''Racing doesn't prepare you for starting and stopping and carrying heavy loads. You are operating a vehicle, much like a truck driver.''
Gregory's company, Bikes at Work, carries tourists around Iowa State University's home city, and students around the city's bars.
''We work mostly late at night at the bar scene, '' Gregory said. ''Half are people who, for fun, want a ride around the block, and some have had too much to drink and need a ride home.''
Similarly, Billy Oxford - ''otherwise known as Billy O to most everyone who knows me'' - works the Phoenix area, including tourist rides downtown or carrying fans to and from their cars in football stadium parking lots.
In Arizona's 115-degree summers, operators are encouraged to drink 4 to 6 liters of water a day and maintain a steady pace that won't wear them out. ''Don't try to outrun (the heat), '' said Oxford, president of Arizona Pedal Cab Co. ''It will kill you.''
Just the same, this is not a tough-guy job restricted to men with the strength and endurance of an 18-wheel truck. With a solid, lightweight passenger seat attached to a 21-speed bike with slow-but-gentle ''granny'' gears, a 100-pound woman can operate a pedicab, Oxford said. He knows because he also has built pedicabs for 100-pound women.