Pedicabs in Boston
By Scott Kirsner, Globe ColumnistAs riders for Boston Pedicab, John Pelkey and Eric Crouch have ferried passengers from Fenway Park out to Brookline, from the North End to the Garden, and all around the waterfront. And they couldn't help but start making a mental list of some of the flaws they noticed in the vehicles they pedaled: fiberglass elements that cracked easily, chains that slipped and ground as they changed gears, spokes that broke. And, of course, the vehicles' weight: about 175 pounds. At times, they hauled three adults in the back, or two adults and two kids.
They turned their observations in to a senior thesis project at Wentworth Institute of Technology, building a prototype pedicab, and went on to win the top prize of $10, 000 in the university's very first Accelerate Innovation and Entrepreneurship Challenge this summer. And now Pelkey and Crouch are talking to owners of pedicab fleets about placing orders for their new vehicle, which still doesn't have a name. (Pelkey is on the right in the photo.)
I got to take it for a spin last week at Brigham Circle, with Crouch as my passenger. It was surprisingly maneuverable, and the gear shifting was so smooth it was imperceptible. (The prototype uses a continuously-variable planetary transmission made by NuVinci.) I was ready to start picking up fares and carting them around town or at least around the big plaza in front of JP Licks.
"We realized that these are horrible products, and we thought we could do better, " says Pelkey. "We wanted to design a pedicab that was more reliable, easier to maintain, and lighter weight." They relied on their own experiences, and also talked to mechanics at Boston Pedicab about what broke most often. Instead of a fiberglass passenger area prone to cracking, they use fabric wrapped around lightweight aluminum tubing. They created a step to make it easier for passengers to get in and out, and added extra legroom for passengers. (See photo below.) They specced out a "lefty" hub for the rear wheels, intended to be only supported from one side and less likely to break.
"We designed this pedicab for Boston, " Pelkey says. "If a cab works year-round in Boston, it'll work anywhere."
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