Rickshaws, Elvis, and Outside Lands: The History of Pedicabs

Across the world, pedicabs provide a green (and easy) way to get from here to there. But what do we know about them, really?

history of the pedicab

Once a novel import from Asia, pedicabs now commonly grace our urban streets. From New York to San Francisco, these 3-wheeled bike taxis provide an eco-friendly way to get from here to there … and take in the sights along the way. That makes them pretty cool in our book.

But where do they come from? And how did they get here? To answer our burning questions, we turned to the magic of the internet … and here’s what we learned.

Pedicabs (aka rickshaws) get their start in 19th-century Japan

The precursor to our modern-day pedicab was the rickshaw, which was pulled by a human on foot. (The name itself comes from the Japanese word jinrikisha, which literally means human-powered vehicle.) Legend has it that the rickshaw was invented by Jonathan Scobie, an American missionary in Japan, in 1869 to help transport his invalid wife.

There are, of course, conflicting theories behind the rickshaw’s true inventor. But we do know one thing for sure: Japan was the first to popularize this mode of transportation. In fact, by the late 1870s, Tokyo had about 40,000 rickshaws running through its bustling streets.

Rickshaws pull their way across Asia

The rickshaw’s popularity in Japan quickly spread to China, India, and across all of Asia. From Bangkok to Bangladesh, India to Cambodia (and everywhere in between), the rickshaw soon became the preferred mode of transportation.

It’s no wonder that pedicabs have so many names. Here are a few of them:

  • Xyclo or Cyclo– Vietnam and Cambodia
  • Trishaw (a condensed form of tricycle and rickshaw) – Malaysia and Singapore
  • Becak – Indonesia
  • Samlor – Thailand

Rickshaws get a set of wheels

With the invention of the bicycle, it wasn’t long before someone had the brilliant idea to add wheels to the rickshaw. And thus, the trishaw or pedicab was born.

Of course, other innovations — like hydraulic brakes, suspensions, and seat belts — happened between then and now to make the pedicab a green and comfortable ride. But the wheel was the biggest innovation of all.

Pedicabs peddle into the U.S.

Though pedicabs were all the rage in Asia from the get-go, they didn’t become popular on this side of the Pacific until a fleet of 20 pedicabs peddled their way into the 1962 World’s Fair.

Among the fleet’s most famous passengers was Elvis! Yes, the King himself rode in a pedicab for the filming of the 1963 musical It Happened at the World’s Fair, thereby launching pedicabs to stardom.

Pedicabs, Outside Lands 2012, and one really cool contest

Speaking of music and pedicabs, if you’ll be at Outside Lands in San Francisco this August 10–12, look for the free Esurance pedicabs and hop on to get in and out of Golden Gate Park. What better way to celebrate rock ‘n’ roll than to roll like the King himself?

Inside Outside Lands Sweepstakes

If you don’t already have tickets to Outside Lands but want them, we’re giving one lucky winner 2 VIP tickets and more (you know, like Outside Lands goodies and stuff).*

For your shot at some VIP action, follow @esurance on Twitter. From July 23–27, we’ll post an Insider Question (about SF or Outside Lands) 2 times a day. Tweet your answer @esurance using #InsideOutside and you’re in the running to win. Don’t miss out on your shot to catch some of the biggest names in music at one of the coolest festivals of the year.

Stuff our legal team makes us say

*NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. A PURCHASE WILL NOT INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF WINNING. Sweepstakes begins at 12:01 a.m. PT on 7/23/12. Ends at 11:59 p.m. PT on 7/27/12. Open to legal residents of any 1 of the 50 US or DC who are at least 21 years old. Internet access, a Twitter account in good standing, and a reply to one of the tweets using #InsideOutside are all required to enter. Void where prohibited by law. SUBJECT TO FULL OFFICIAL RULES. Winner must be able to attend Outside Lands events in San Francisco, CA from 8/10/12–8/12/12 or the prize may be forfeited. Prize does not include air travel. Limit 1 entry per person and per Twitter account. Odds of winning depend upon the number of eligible entries received. Sponsor: Esurance Insurance Services, Inc., 650 Davis St., San Francisco, California 94111-1922.

Related link

Sharing the road with bikes
If you drive in a city where pedicabs are common, find out how to safely share the road.

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