The Cycle rickshaw, which is a tricycle designed to ferry people is still fairly common in smaller Indian towns and villages.
In several places in India, everytime there's a drought or flood or something , people migrate to the cities to make a living. Then you find lots of people pedalling cycle-rickshaws for fares. They earn more pedalling rickshaws than by other unskilled jobs and are proud of their work.
Some improvements in design have been made, even a small IC engine has been tried out, but no one has tried to introduce a geared hub, which would make the tractive effort easier on slopes and bad roads.
Generally the rickshaw pullers hire it from a contractor for a fixed sum per day. Anything they make over this is their income. On a good day, said one rickshaw puller, they manage to feed their families well. On average days they eat boiled rice gruel with a slice or two of vegetables. They are very proud of their job, in fact there is a trace of "machismo". In some part of the country the rickshaw-pullers are organised into associations and unions.
The cycle rickshaw like its older predecessor the large wheeled hand-pulled rickshaw is on its way out. For short hauls of merchandise businesses have their own pedalled delivery tricycles but they are not so popular.
In some towns parents prefer to send their children to school by cycle rickshaw since it is slow and safer than crowded buses or unstable autorickshaws. Some enterprising cycle rickshaw pullers fix a large chicken cage with a lockable door, place a row of small seats for children. The parents are reassured and are ready to pay more for such rickshaws. Their classmates on their way to school invariably jeer at them at make faces at the kids locked up inside.
Strangely enough, the cycle-rickshaw has been introduced for tourists in the university towns of Oxford and Cambridge (UK), Paris, New York and now London as well. The ones in NY are assisted by electric motors.
A curious combination of hi and low tech can be seen in Hyderabad --a rickshaw hauling a telephone booth which has a cellphone. Said to be useful at large gatherings, recreation spots, etc where you may need a phone urgently. Lets see what comes of this. The next logical thing would be a mobile rickshaw internet kiosk...
By the way although cycle rickshaws and bicycles are non polluting etc, a friend (mechanical engineer) says they are pretty inefficient, that is, need too much energy. He explained human pedal power is simply way too wasteful when you add up the total cost of energy expnded in moving the rickshaws. Says we have to add the cost of producing the food required, etc and then it doesnt seem too great. He says hydrocarbon ( petrol, gasoline) packs the most power per unit etc etc. Yeah? What about solar/battery assisted cycles, I asked. He'll get back. What do you guys think? Any good links on solar assisted pedalled rickshaws? I heard about some attempts.
" How do I make a cycle rickshaw? "
Several readers want to try out cycle rickshaws, like Mike in Ohio, Dave in NJ, Dunia in France and many others. Apart from just tinkering about, some want to try it out as a short distance vehicle inside hospital grounds for patients, as a recreational vehicle for elderly sightseers along no-automobile areas. Here's some relevant info.
In its present form the Indian cycle rickshaw is a sturdy no frills vehicle meant to run on very rough roads and village paths. It is not sprung for comfort, really. So unless the suspension is changed it is NOT advisable for patients or elderly people. I suppose you could fix springs and improve the suspension. (If you successfully modify the design for comfort and ease of pedalling do let all of us know.)
There are two main designs for the passenger seat- one with a low centre of gravity, rather uncomfortable and cramped and the other slightly higher. It would be a bright colourful curiosity at the most for US residents, especially the ones with the old style collapsible (convertible) hood. Maybe in an annual parade.
"How much do these trikes cost? The traditional ones with the funny accessories.."
When I last asked around , Costs of Indian rickshaws vary with the material -tubing, sprockets, spokes, tyres and the paint job etc but are likely to range between US $50- $100. I keep getting enquiries for cycle rickshaws and kits, etc. So far I could get only few leads-for instance Mr S Bhatnagar and United Wheels , Delhi. for instance.
If you know any more pl. let me know. We can't supply rickshaws, sorry. If you are into exports send us a text only mail with the url of website or email address, we'll link it right here.
Other types of pedalled three wheelers
Tricycles of a different design where the passengers sit in front are called Trishaws. I believe they are common in Vietnam/Cambodia. According to Ray from Virginia they are called Xichlo (pronounced C-Clo or cee-clo) in Vietnam. Check out Ray's travels.
Frank Drakerik--do you know of any rickshaw employment oppurtunities in southern california? Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. Frank Drakerik
Dr.Anil K. Rajvanshi informs readers, NARI (Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute) http://nariphaltan.virtualave.net/att42.htm. have developed a cycle rickshaw with an electric engine. Do take a look.
© V.Ramchandra Rao. email : vramrao---yahoo
updated: sept 2007
First version posted 1996 on stph.net