Pedal cars must be more than mere mobile fantasy

How about upgrading our pedal power endeavours to the level of cars?

Published - February 05, 2019 02:44 pm IST - Bengaluru

Children compete in a pedal car race at Goodwood in southern Britain

Children compete in a pedal car race at Goodwood in southern Britain

I don’t know what made me think of pedal-boats. Perhaps, it was the whiplash of January rain. Perhaps, it was the feeling of being cramped and under-exercised. Recently, I began to think of how much fun it would be if cars could run on a pedal principle, the way boats can.

It would also be a good way to hold on to an old motor vehicle, especially one whose body is more or less fine but which isn’t going to fetch significant money in the used-car market. What if the body was retained, the tyres re-aligned and fixed up to connect to pedals that the driver would use?

When I said this out loud, I was politely informed that it was an impractical idea. One would have to do a whole lot of furious pedalling to get anywhere, and even if one did have the muscular strength to take the car a few kilometres, one would hold up the rest of the traffic.

A family enjoying a pedal boat ride in Kerala

A family enjoying a pedal boat ride in Kerala

I personally think it is a sensible idea. Certainly, it is more practical than burning up gallons of fossil fuels, bankrupting the planet, causing the air of all our cities to become toxic, and making children sick.

A car-cycle wouldn’t hold up traffic just as bicycles don’t. Fossil-fuelled motors could be given one dedicated lane. If cities can conceive of bicycle or bus lanes, we can also conceive of car-cycle lanes. It would cut down fossil fuel use. It might even help cultivate a culture of sticking to dedicated lanes if vehicles that look like regular cars and just as big were to occupy a wider pedalling lane.

I looked up the idea online and found that many, in fact, have been thinking along similar lines. In North Carolina in the US, there exists a hybrid vehicle called ELF (Electric, Light, Fun). It’s a tiny three-wheeler, a bit like our battery rickshaws, except the tyres are more like bicycle tyres and it is pedalled by the driver. News reports suggest it can do about 32 km an hour. It is also fitted with a solar panel that powers an electric motor, which can push speeds up to 55 km an hour.

Cars are re-purposed in strange ways, like cutting them up into halves, pulling out seats and turning them into furniture that’s unlikely to appeal to anyone except motor fanatics. If we could instead use car bodies to make pedal mobiles, it would solve many problems. People may like to bicycle around cities, but must sometimes take along older people or children. A car-cycle would be good for them. There could be a dual pedal system too, as in boats, so the physical work can be shared.

It would be useful for bad weather. A bicycle, or even an auto-rickshaw, exposes you to rain and cold winds. India’s summer sun makes bicycling an unpopular idea. A car-cycle would protect you from sunburn and keep you fit. You would no longer need to pay for gym memberships, nor would you have the excuse that long commutes interfere with workouts. The car would be the gym! It is worth attempting, especially on campuses and in industrial parks, where car use should be limited in any case. I, for one, would be up for a test drive.

(The author is a writer of essays, stories, poems and scripts for stage and screen)

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