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/gondolaRelated