Saturday, February 09, 2019

A mobile fantasy

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 a good way to hold onto 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 peddles 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 peddling to get anywhere, and even if one did have the muscular stretch to push the car a few kilometers, one would hold up the rest of the traffic.

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 little kids sick.

A car-cycle wouldn't hold up traffic just as bicycles don't. Fossil fueled 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 pedal lane.

I looked up the idea online and found people were thinking along similar lines. In North Carolina, USA, 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 pedaled by the driver. News reports suggest it can do 20 miles an hour. It is also fitted with a solar panel that powers an electric motor, which can push speeds upto 35 miles 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.

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