- Associated Press - Friday, July 18, 2014

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) - Pedaling down Black Street with three passengers in tow, Tony Lebaron stopped his cycle rickshaw at the intersection and waited for the light to turn green. Pedestrians strolling through the crosswalk turned to take a second look at the bright orange rickshaw and its driver.

“Hey, Rickshaw Tony,” one man yelled, receiving a smile and wave from Lebaron in return.

“That was one of my first customers,” Lebaron said before pulling out onto Main Street.

Known to many as Rickshaw Tony, Lebaron, 28, has been pedaling people around downtown Bozeman since May.

“I don’t know how I got the idea,” Lebaron said. “I remember back in December or January thinking, ‘Man, it would be cool to have a rickshaw.’ I kept thinking about how much fun it would be and I finally just went for it.”

Lebaron, a Ph.D. student at Montana State University, ordered his rickshaw in February from Main Street Pedicabs in Denver and received it fully assembled a month later. He said pedicabs like his cost between $3,000 and $4,000 and include a variety of options.

He also obtained a business license to operate in Bozeman and became established as a limited liability company.

Although he was ready to hit the streets and begin transporting people via rickshaw right away, unfavorable weather put his plans on hold. While he waited for fairer weather, Lebaron added a few additional features to his rickshaw. He installed a sound system, running lights, colored party lights and a headlight.

Once warmer weather settled in, he was in business.

Lebaron typically offers rides from about 10 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday in downtown Bozeman.

“The idea was that my main business would be getting people home from the bars,” he said.

His general area of travel spans from Main Street, south to campus, north to the Gallatin County Fairgrounds and west to 11th Street. He also takes reservations and will go out of his usual area if an appointment is set up in advance.

Lebaron said he often dons a “taxi cab driver hat” for rides and passengers are treated to music, played from an old cellphone through speakers attached to the back of the rickshaw.

“I have no idea what the kids are listening to these days, so I just have a lot of ‘90s hip-hop, which seems to work pretty well,” Lebaron said. “It’s stuff that I can stand to listen to for hours on end. People seem to like it.”

Lebaron said he does not charge a set fee per ride, but instead, he asks passengers to pay what they can.

“It’s actually been working out surprisingly well,” he said. “I’ve never had anyone stiff me. It’s working well enough for me now, so I don’t see any reason to do any rigid, set rates.”

Without any passengers, Lebaron said the rickshaw itself weighs 150 pounds and can hold up to three people. Although at maximum capacity Lebaron is pulling a total weight of several hundred pounds, he said it is “really not too bad.”

“I biked all through the winter and then I just sold my car a month ago, so now I bike everywhere and that keeps me in shape for this,” Lebaron said. “It’s hard when I’m doing it, but there’s a lot of sitting around and waiting so I get plenty of rest, usually.”

Lebaron said the rickshaw is street legal and is “fully legal for night operation under Montana law.” So far, he said he has not encountered any problems with other drivers while out on the road.

“I don’t go up Seventh or 19th or anything like that,” Lebaron said. “I try to stay on calm streets. I stick to the designated bike route and bike lanes when I can. Traffic’s really good about it. I haven’t had any anger or close calls. Bozeman’s a really bike-friendly place.”

As one might assume, Lebaron has a number of stories from the road, including one passenger telling him “this is way better than a DUI” and being asked “all the time” to pedal to Belgrade.

“People think that’s hilarious,” Lebaron said.

“I haven’t had anything too crazy happen yet,” he added. “Nobody’s thrown up in the rickshaw. Someone has thrown up off to the side, but he was sitting on the edge.”

Bozeman resident Amy Chiuchiolo said she took a ride in the rickshaw with her parents when they visited earlier this summer.

“It was really fun,” Chiuchiolo said. “It took less time than I expected. You go slow enough that you can look all around and people are waving at you and he has the cool lights and the music.”

Chiuchiolo said she plans to send her sister and brother-in-law to their anniversary dinner in the rickshaw when they visit Bozeman.

Lebaron said he will continue to offer his pedicab service until “it gets too cold and snowy in October.”

“It’s just a side job so I don’t need to push it too far into the winter,” he said.

Lebaron is considering adding studded tires to the rickshaw and bringing it out during the Christmas stroll. Otherwise, it will be stored in a shed he built for it until next summer.

For now, with a few months of favorable weather left to pedal passengers to their destinations, Lebaron is happy to have his rickshaw.

“I just love bikes and thought it would be a lot of fun to ride a giant tricycle,” he said, smiling. “And it has been. It’s fun, it’s silly and it’s a bike.”


Information from: Bozeman Daily Chronicle, https://www.bozemandailychronicle.com

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