Alternatives to the Automobile
Human Powered Vehicles (HPV)
These URLs are about specific HPVs: bikes, trikes, and quads:
who makes 'em, how to get them, what they cost. In here you'll
find references mostly to the more unusual varieties (you
can go to any bike store to see stock MTBs and road bikes)
-- recumbents, folders, cargo carriers, etc. Also I'll
mention some accessories that make bikes more practical for
daily commute and shopping trips.
The most familiar HPV is the bicycle. But let's not completely
forget the skateboard, the scooter, the kid's trike; the wheelchair,
the rowboat, pedalboat (or pedal kayak!), rowbike, and roller skates!
Confining ourselves to the land for now, anything that uses human
muscle to turn wheels and thus roll along is an HPV. Here I'm
going to focus on bikes and bike variants.
- Recumbent Bikes
- www.recumbents.com is a good starting point for finding out
about recumbent bikes (bikes where the rider sits in a low,
relaxed lean-back position with a backrest, instead of high
up and leaning forward). Some people find that 'bents are
far more comfortable than standard bikes. The
BikeE is perhaps one of
the most recognizable recumbents due to its popularity, but
there are plenty of others. Here's one
personal take on this bike design. Recumbents are mostly
2-wheelers, but there is the record-breaking
a record-breaking recumbent trike (don't ask, you can't afford it).
- There is quite a market in
folding bikes, but read the literature
carefully before buying -- they vary widely in comfort, durability,
and ease of folding/unfolding. My personal favourite, one of which
I now own, is the Brompton Bike
made in the UK but available in the US. Why a folding bike, you ask?
Well, many "folders" fit in a normal-looking piece of luggage
(samsonite or soft-side) and can be checked with an airline
without a prohibitive bike carriage fee. They are easier to
schlep around airports. You can take them on buses and trains,
so you can tour (or commute) using public transit for the boring
(or wet, or too hilly) bits, and biking when desirable. You can
take one into a restaurant or shop instead of leaving it chained
outside, vulnerable to parts thieves. I have travelled to Hawai'i
with my Brompton and found it very pleasant to have a bike to
ride while on business and/or vacation there. Do be aware though
that you will probably have to cover or conceal the bike on
most transit systems, US or European. Many conductors and
drivers have an irrational hatred of folding bikes! Check out
discussion among our European friends.
- Despite the very annoying background pattern there is
great info on this page. Many trikes, as well as suppliers
for building your own.
- Quadricycles are four-wheeled bikes. They are heavy and
therefore not sprightly performers (and you won't take one on
an airplane!) but they are very stable and can carry heavy
loads. A well-known US brand is the
Rhoades Car. If you
live in Santa Cruz, you may recall that the gardening business
"Terra Nova" has one of these. The UK company
"Seat of the Pants"
has some nice utility quads. They will soon be available in the
US through a partner/distributor. Don't expect a brand new quad
to be cheap. They run anywhere from $2K to over $4K.
- You want weird? We got weird. The RowBike is a bike powered
by a rowing machine. Yup, it's a rowing machine up on 2 wheels.
Here's the official rowbike
page, just in case you thought it was a hoax. I bet you've never
seen one of these on the road!
- Bike Trailers
- When you load down your bike with heavy luggage, it handles
strangely; and there's a limit to how much you can stuff even in
good saddlebags and baskets. A trailer is in your future if you
get serious about shopping and running errands with your bike instead
of a car. There's a bewildering variety of bike trailers out there.
I personally use a modified
Burley (was a kiddy-carrier, but I transformed it into a wooden-decked
freight platform). Most trailers have two wheels, smaller
than a stock MTB or road bike wheel; but some have only
one wheel! A few popular brands are
and BicycleR Evolution.
Also check my personal experience with trailers.
For an overview of heavy-hauling gear for working bikes see the
site. The pricey folding bike "BikeFriday" has a hardshell case which
converts into a trailer!
- Bikes in Europe
- This is just one major bike shop, in Austria. Visit to see
what the Austrians are riding and towing. You'll find recumbents
and trailers and neat stuff. It's possible to order some of
these items directly, but you may find US Customs duties a bit
steep (despite all the hype about free global trade).