They're more sophisticated than the ancient runner-pulled rickshaws of Asia, but they don't have petroleum-powered motors like the tuk-tuks that travel the streets of Bangkok.
They're pedicabs — generally foot-powered tricycles with compartments holding two or three passengers — and now Lexington, like many major cities in the world, has them.
Since August, Sprocket Jockeys has been pedaling along downtown Lexington and the campuses of the University of Kentucky and Transylvania University.
It's hard to miss them, but if you have, it's probably because you're not a night person. The pedicabs, which are complete units, not bicycles with trailers, run from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays. They are also out and about at other times for special events and are available by appointment.
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"You can imagine the 1:30 to 4 a.m. crowd. I've been serenaded going down the street," said Lauren Pfannerstill, who operates the service along with James Gonyer. The pair hope to keep running the pedicabs even in the winter months — "to a point," Gonyer said.
UK student Ellery Watson has ridden with Sprocket Jockeys several times and said his trips have always been fun, although he was a little nervous about traveling through traffic on his first trip.
"It's definitely a good service and it adds to the overall feel of the town," he said, adding it's a good way to get bar hoppers home safely.
Running the business
Pfannerstill first saw pedicabs in Charleston, S.C., several years ago, and the idea just stuck in her head. Eventually, she began writing a business plan for Sprocket Jockeys and pitched the idea to Gonyer, a former UK cyclist experienced with bicycle mechanics.
The pair have relied on their day jobs to pay the bills, a must since they and their seven or so other drivers rely on tips.
The rides, when someone flags them downtown, are free, but tips are expected. So far, people taking a two- to three-block ride generally tip about $5. Longer rides have have seen tips of $10 to $50. Pfannerstill has been working on a standard tipping plan.
"It's kind of like waiting tables. Some days are good. Some days are not so good," Pfannerstill said. But customers are usually generous in tipping, she said.
Some customers even get in on the action themselves. The pedicabs have battery-powered motors that are occasionally used on hilly terrain, but sometimes riders have gotten out and walked up hills with the driver, Gonyer said.
His record load so far, he said, has been three women, two Styrofoam coolers and two 12-packs of beer.
On UK football game days, fans have used Sprocket Jockeys to commute from their cars to Commonwealth Stadium and back. And it's not just the fans who find them useful on game day. At least one customer looking to avoid the traffic has used Sprocket Jockeys to get to a grocery store. (There's storage space beneath passenger compartment seats.)
The pedicabs are also available for occasions like weddings, anniversaries and birthday celebrations for a fee.
"I took a couple out for their ninth wedding anniversary. It was fun and we got a lot of response from that," Gonyer said. The suit he wore to look appropriate for the occasion got as much of a workout as he did, he added.
Planning the pedicab future
Gonyer and Pfannerstill hope to add more pedicabs to their current pair by next summer and are working on developing a tour route around the area.
Gonyer said he'd love to do something involving the Legacy Trail, which is being built between downtown Lexington and the Kentucky Horse Park. They also plan to allow businesses to advertise on the vehicles.
"It's a really nice ride and it's different," Pfannerstill said. "It's a nice way to see the city."