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website shot-1- by Bill Maniscalco

Inspired by the bamboo rickshaw on Gilligan’s Island, cyclist Reno Tondelli, Jr. not only built “the world’s first recumbent hybrid taxi,” he took the leap and turned it into a pedicab business that now supports his family.

Tondelli, 43, powered up an Organic Engines recumbent trike with a 600-watt DC motor and six 12-volt AGM wheelchair batteries. To handle the extra weight, he welded new dropouts, built new wheels with fat 10-gauge spokes, and added beefy tandem hubs. He tricked it out with a stereo, aluminum fenders, and vinyl canopy, then topped it off with trickle-charging solar panels and a squeeze-bulb horn.

Two years and $8,000 later, he had the world’s first four-passenger, zero-emissions, solar-assisted pedicab. He dubbed it the Solar Gondola and made extra cash and lots of smiles pedaling tourists in his hometown of Venice, Calif., while sporting a handlebar mustache and straw boater hat. “The ride is phenomenal,” Tondelli says. “It’s smooth, it’s quiet, it’s fast, comfortable — and a wee bit stylish!”

Style points don’t count with the cops, however, and the asphalt gondolier was frequently hassled for not being street-legal. In 2008, Tondelli relocated with his wife and son to Colorado, where the solar bike is now a legitimate taxi with seatbelts, insurance, and a tractor spotlight for nighttime use. He works out of a shop shared by pedicabbers and horse-drawn carriages in downtown Denver.

The film industry refugee worked 20 years in the movie biz “making stuff look cool.” Besides taking a welding class, he mostly learned just by doing it.

Upgrades are in the works. He’s eyeing new solar films, a BionX motor that recaptures braking energy, and long-life lithium batteries. But is this a world-changing technology? Nah, says Tondelli. “The recumbent pedicab’s a lot better on your shoulders and neck than the upright. Business-wise? It’s a wash. But I am the one-and-only solar pedicab — it brings a lot more frivolity and gaiety to the world.”

Tondelli’s Solar Gondola: solargondola.com

More Photos: makezine.com/18/gondola


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