- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Like Lance Armstrong, Jim Gregory makes bike riding pay. Mr. Gregory just doesn’t make it pay as well.

While Armstrong, the perennial Tour de France winner, racks up millions of dollars in endorsement contracts, Mr. 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,” Mr. Gregory joked. “I can’t say anybody would pay for an endorsement based on what we do.”

Mr. Gregory and pedicab operators like him in other cities have found their own way to be professional cyclists. With bench seats on wheels at the front or back of their bikes, they get paid to exercise by carrying passengers or cargo. Mr. Gregory lets passengers decide what the ride is worth: “We don’t suggest anything.”

A working day can be up to nine 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, Mr. Gregory said. He can consume 4,000 calories a day during busy periods in calorie-burning cold weather.

The job takes stamina for Mr. 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.”

Mr. 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,” Mr. 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 Mr. 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, Mr. Oxford said. He knows because he has built pedicabs for 100-pound women.

Little, if any, research has been conducted on how pedicabbing would work as exercise, but researcher Jim Barnard, a physiological science professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, likes the idea. “If you can get customers, you are killing two birds with one stone,” he said.

However, another researcher on exercise thinks those feet going down on pedicab pedals may lead America in the wrong direction. James Hill, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado, believes that America could work its way to weight control by burning at least 100 more calories a day — about 15 to 20 minutes more of walking. People who ride in pedicabs are missing an opportunity, he said.

“Technology has made it so easy to not be physically active,” Mr. Hill said. “Little things like this might not look like much on their own, but it’s one more way to take activity out of our lives. We need to look at more ways to put it back in.”

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