How to Build Your Own Pedicab

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About: bicycles, gardening, and other important stuff

This Instructable will explain how I've built my own pedicab, as well as provide guidance for others who want to build a better one. Total cost was ~$300 + my own labor, and this is close to the equivalent of a model commercially available for $1995.

I currently use my pedicab in Austin, Texas. As of 9/8/08, it's fully licensed by the city of Austin. Woohoo!

Before we get started, let's define pedicab:
-Check out the Wikipedia articlefor an overview
-Look at Pedaltek's tow-behindfor a good example of the trailer type I built
-Read the comments on my Make posts describing the experience so far (hereas well as here) to hear engineering concerns commenters more intelligent than I have raised

Step 1: Plan and Experience

I learned from experience that this project is a bit too large to tackle without planning. So, start by sorting out exactly what you want to build. Be sure and ask yourself these and other questions:
-What requirements (insurance, permit, etc.) does your local government impose for pedicab companies?
-What's the terrain like in the area you'd like to serve? If there's a mega-hill separating the only 2 popular bars in town, that could be a problem...
-What should you learn before undertaking a project of this size? How much easier would welding skills, etc. make your project?
-Do you have the time and energy to invest in building this?
-Are you confident enough in your abilities at making things to strap unsuspecting bystanders onto your creation before darting into traffic?

And, it's a very good idea to consider gaining some riding experience for another pedicab service before endeavoring to create your own. This isn't like normal biking, no matter how quick you might be on your chosen style of cycle...

Step 2: Design, Plan, and Then Keep Designing and Planning

After you've decided on the style of pedicab you'd like and the general building style, get to work creating a model. Here's a fly-around of an earlier version of my pedicab, sans wheels:


You can download the SketchUp model here.

Key considerations to think about:
-Weight distribution, in front of and behind the wheels
-Strength of tongue (connection between pedicab and bike)
-Passenger comfort
-Aesthetics
-Most importantly: stopping ability!

Again, it really helps to ride for another service or otherwise establish an intimate familiarity with existing pedicab designs before jumping into this.

Step 3: Make Mistakes, and Learn From Them

Now, I didn't create the model in the last step right away. In fact, it was a matter of several drafts before I took modeling beyond pen and paper. I won't say this is the only way to do it, but really getting my hands on and making (low-cost, often reversible) mistakes was what worked for me.

Check out the pictures and comments to learn from my design flaws...

Step 4: My Specifics: the Parts

Now, I'll dive into specifics of my design. Again, not the only way to build a pedicab and not the best. But, I am pretty happy with the results:)

Here's what I used to make this monstrosity:
-50-some feet Telespar (perforated galvanized steel tubing). You can read about its structural properties here.
-~12 feet 1.75" Telespar, to reinforce the Telespar between the pedicab and the bike
-60-odd bolts, mostly grade 5. ~45 of length 5", 5 @ 2.5", and ~10 at 7". Diameter 3/8", except for 2 9/16" grade 8 bolts used on connection to pedicab
-60-odd locknuts, same diameters as bolts
-~150 flat washers, 3/8"
-3/4" plywood
-bright orange paint
-bright green duct tape
-bright blue pool wacky foam float things
-zip ties, for securing pool things
-female rod end, for pivot point between bike and trailer. I used this one(if link doesn't work, type in 'tf7' to load the product info page)
-high-visibility red blink lights
-screws, staples (size unimportant; use washers with screws to prevent from screwing through hole)
-outdoor fabric, a couple yards
-mildew-resistant stuffing, 2" thickness, couple yards
-spray paint, old molding (kind you'd put along a floor), and stencil (to create dirtnail sign)
-overly-priced non-slip tape (city regulation, for the floor)
-slow-moving vehicle sign (ditto)

And, I suppose wheels are helpful:) If you don't have bureaucracy to navigate in your metropolis, scavenge some strong wheels from a BMX bike. After getting shot down trying to get Craigslist wheels to pass inspection, I found the bike shop at which another local pedicab company buys wheels and ordered the same ones. At ~$130, the wheels were the most expensive part of this project.

I sourced the Telespar from a local safety sign company for ~$1/foot, and everything else is available between hardware stores, megamarts, and fabric shops.

Step 5: My Specifics: the Tools

The main tools I needed for this project were:
-Various metal grinding wheels. The most useful was the 10" one that worked with my cut-off saw. Careful with the sparks!
-A mask and an outdoor work environment. Breathing vaporized zinc, a product of cutting or welding galvanized steel, is a really bad idea. After reading this account, I particularly realize I should have worn a real tiny-particulate-filtering mask.
-Various vice grips and wrenches, mainly 3/8" and 9/16"
-drill with various bits, sized from below diameter of smallest screw to slightly larger than diameter of 3/8" bolt head

Step 6: My Specifics: Making the Structure

This style of building is called grid beam; you can learn more about it here.

Instead of welding, I basically just had to cut my Telespar to desired sizes and then use 2-3 bolts (with locknuts and washers) per intersection to create stable joints. To make this process doable, don't tighten any of the nuts until you've got all the bolts and nuts of an intersection inserted.

For sizes, open the Sketchup model from step 2. Note that this version allowed an unacceptable amount of bending between the cab and the bike, so I revised this tongue in the final version.

Step 7: My Specifics: Notes on Tongue Design

The area of the pedicab in front of the footrest gets a LOT of force applied to it: it's the end of a lever with your passengers at the other end.

My first designs bent so much that one actually bottomed out when I tried to brake, which would not have made for a very customer-friendly experience or me-friendly tip.

So, to arrive at the final product pictured, I found a couple of books on car trailer design (specifically, volumes 1 & 2 of M. M. Smith's "Trailers: How To Design & Build"). You can also check out what trailer hitches look like or just reason through some of the key points:
-load is spread between multiple attachment points to trailer
-tubing that bears the full weight of the pedicab is reinforced
-multiple grade 5 bolts secure each part of the tongue

Experiment with design on this part, and let me know what you come up with!

Step 8: My Specifics: Attachment to Bike

My system of attaching the trailer to the bike basically relies on the female rod end to pull the full trailer's load via its attachment to my bike. There are definitely many other ways to do this; I want to adapt this to include redundant attachment between bike and trailer for a future version (ie 2 bolts instead of 1)...

Step 9: My Specifics: Aesthetics

Love or hate the look I've arrived at, here are the basics of how I achieved it:
-3/4" plywood painted with exterior latex paint is more than strong enough for the floor, seat, and back surfaces
-outdoor fabric is stapled to the board on one side, stuffed with 2" thick mildew-resistant foam, and then stapled to the other 3 sides. pull the fabric taut around the foam to give this a nice overstuffed look
-zip ties with bits of pool foam covered the ends of the metal well enough for the city of austin's standards
-green neon duct tape makes the design louder and covers the edges of the plywood

Step 10: Next Steps

Thematically, my next pedicabs will get safer, lighter, and faster.

Here's what I'd call the current 'gold standard, the Velotaxi:


Sure would be nice to have an open-sourced version of that, huh?

Good luck; let me know if you build your own pedicab!

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    64 Discussions

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    zjharva

    10 years ago on Introduction

    hey good instructable, but not to be mean but if i had to chose between your pedicab and a company built one, I would definitely chose the company built one. Although it would be a good conversation starter with passengers "did you make this?!"

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    Dr_Stupidzjharva

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    it's not like you're going 90mph down the road. It's a bicycle. one built of box tubing isn't going to be any less safe than a commercially made one...it's as ugly as sin, but there's nothing wrong with it. This is why they should tech mechanical competency courses in government schools, because anyone who's had a shop class will tell you there's nothing wrong with that ride, other than it's ugly.

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    Fred82664Dr_Stupid

    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    HUMM a little bit of chicken wire molding with a layer of fiber glass matting and Bondo , slap a cote of paint on. It cold look like a coach meant for Cinderella

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    MisterHighwayFred82664

    Reply 1 year ago

    Exactly what I was thinking! All it needs is a little lipstick and no one would even bother saying a thing lol

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    I know a guy who built a cargo trailer out of steel electrical conduits. It looked pretty nice - would that be strong enough for something like this, if you used a lot of it?

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    probably, if it were heavy gauge conduit. However, I'd make sure to take geometry into consideration and build it with lots o' triangular supports. I build a bridge that weighed about 2oz out of balsa wood that supported 125lbs, but that was because I took into account that weight had to be distributed to all sections of the structure to support so much weight. Essentially you "could" conceivably make such a cab out of balsa wood, if you did the same and took that into consideration. Remembering that the length of a span loses its ability to support weight as he spam increases, therefore every time you double the length of a section it's wise to build a support. (I'm not engineer, so I couldn't tell you the exact ratios of a given material), but that's basically it in a nutshell. To do it out of conduit, would probably require some pipe notching to get the angles right, and some good welding skills to make sure a weld didn't break, and because it's conduit, you can't get it too hot, or you'll weaken the metal, thus defeating the purpose of a support joint.

    having read all the comments, and the instructible itself, I'm just not on board with the material used. Telespar may be convenient because of hole placement but I've personally never known a material thats riddled with holes to be all that structurally sound. I weigh 300 lbs and would be very hesitant to be a passenger on this. I don't know, but it just makes my danger meter kinda red line. I'll spend the money and get solid tubing and weld it instead of using this material.

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    dwighttechnical

    3 years ago

    The area pass the footrest where your getting that tension could be lessened if you had a u bar from the base that wraps around to the other side then connected it will also serve as something for your customers to grab onto in case something happens

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    thirst4know

    6 years ago on Introduction

    Adult erector set! Cool bolt together. Reminds me of I dream I had as a child playing with my erector set.

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    peterpan99

    7 years ago on Step 6

    are you insured? I doubt any insurance company who knows what it looks like would offer insurance . it looks very dangerous I would never climb into that it looks very unstable an accident in that would come count of the movie like "Final Destination 3"

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    irwoman

    10 years ago on Step 7

    The leaders of the industry must all agree that this is so unsafe! Just check them out. All schematics state structured framing is TIG weld. Placement of seat a difinite danger. Author even admits bottoming out on first try. Nuts & Bolts??? A bolt will snap in a high force collision. This is an accident waiting to happen. Cannot believe it was licensed in Austin. Competion is welcomed in the field of building pedicabs but anyone doing so really needs to do their homework and check out industry standards.

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    cwilliams34irwoman

    Reply 7 years ago on Step 7

    If bolts are so dangerous why are they used to attach many things (including the engine) to an Airplane or a Car? those DANGEROUS bolts hold your seat in the case of a crash in car, just look under your seat....Granted welding is important but it can also weaken a structure. All in all this guy took his time to design and work out a method that functions....what have you designed and built lately? I have been desiging and building things that fly for years. Planes, kites, parafoils, I can;t tell you how many people HELPED me. You need to consider the concept of lifting people up and not tear down. I think you have information you could share and help guide people like this and educate them on HOW to build safer.

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    digitalmouseirwoman

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    "...leaders of the industry must all agree..."   erm hello?  What leaders of industry are there in pedicab construction?  I bet you can't name three.  I'm *in* the industry and I can't name three 'leaders'.  We all do the best we can with what we have to provide a safe and comfortable journey.  One of the best pedicabs out there is a model of an Indian pedicab, which is a cycle bolted or welded to a cab frame.  I've ridden many of these, and they don't conform to any 'standard' I know.  They are just built strong.

    Of course a bolt may snap in a high force collision.  Since a pedicab does not go very fast to begin with,  it won't be because the cab is unsafe, but because the car/truck crashing into them is at fault.  People have the mistaken impression that pedicabs are meant to be as safe as cars.  Bzzt!  Wrong answer!  But thanks for playing.  

    Pedicabs are meant to be light, enviromentally friendly, comfy alternatives to motorized taxis or walking.   Nothing more, nothing less, aside from making sure the cab can withstand the day-to-day usage of it's driver and riders.  *NO* pedicab can withstand a 'high force' collision.

    That's like saying bicycle helmets are designed to protect you from death.  Below 20kph you'll likely fall on your hands and knees.  Above 20 kph (like being hit by a car), no cycle helmet in the world is designed to save you.  It comes down to skill of the rider or sheer luck of survivability.

    "...this is an accident waiting to happen..."  if so, then keep the cars off the streets in town!  :-)

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    Lokisgodhiirwoman

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    "A bolt will snap in a high force collision "

    That's garbage. It's all the matter of choosing the proper grade hardware. Obviously you've never heard of the  SAE J429 standard, grade 0 to 8, for bolts.

    Bolts hold wheels on to automotive axles for thousands of miles bouncing over dirt roads without shearing off. They hold leaf springs on to frames while resisting hundreds of ft-lbs of shearing force during hard acceleration or deceleration. They hold girders together with millions of tons pressing down on them. 

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    dulciquilt

    8 years ago on Introduction

    To those saying remove this ible, I just want to say we have a quadribent from blackbirdbikes.com with one hub motor added. So far we've only been able to get it up to about 13mph, but have never had a bolt come loose on the converter and there are several bolts. We have had them loosen on the EZ bikes, but any biker knows to check all your bolts before riding and carry wrenches so you can check them periodically.
     I believe most cars are also held together with nuts and bolts.
     We checked into building a micro car and you can not get a license if it is deemed unstable. I would think same rule applies to pedicabs.

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    digitalmouse

    9 years ago on Introduction

    Speaking as a pedicab driver in Copenhagen, Denmark, and as a recumbent trike/velomobile rider, I'm annoyed at all the crap slung around here - especially be people who have never driven pedicabs themselves.

    Look people, pedicabs in any shape are not *deathtraps* if the go slow and are built strong.  The author, in making his own trailer pedicab, has built something that has obviously stood the test of time, hasn't maimed anyone, and with proper care will probably keep him healthy with a pocketful of extra cash each week for years to come.

    We should be congratulating his creativeness, not degrade him.   You killjoys do little more than pump more CO2 into the atmosphere.  I suspect a majority of the complainers either don't cycle, never actually tried to build something like this, or just prefer to jump on the bandwagon because it's not 'pretty looking'.

    One point of contention:  the Velotaxi should not be the 'gold standard' - yes it looks nice, is quite comfy, but it is fraught with mechanical issues and requires a motor to get the most out of it due to it's heavy weight.   Perhaps consider the Brox pedicab as a viable replacement for the future.  It would not hurt to copy and spread that style of cab around the world.

    Good luck and drive safe!

    -jimm

    Liseman, aside from the functionality or safety issues (which I'm sure are valid), I am just glad to see that someone else is into grid beam! I have the book "How to Build with Grid Beam," and I'm about to get started exploring building furniture and structures. I'll stay away from building vehicles, since I don't know the engineering aspects involved, but I'm sure can build a computer/home recording workstation and a few bookcases! Have you considered using aluminum for your pedicab, or prototype?

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    Awesome! I've been planning to get my license from the state of Missouri. Your picture has been my inspiration.