Clan of the Bike Men

As downtown pedicabbers battle for turf and tips, major operators say city regs would end the mayhem.

Oxford grew up in Alaska, became a jet-engine mechanic in the Marines, and later studied to be an auto mechanic and computer programmer without much success. He hung aluminum siding and planted trees in the parking lots of shopping malls for a while, crashing on friends' couches or sleeping in cars for years. There were addictions and mental turmoil to deal with, he says, which made any semblance of a conventional lifestyle unattainable.

In 1993, he began driving pedicabs for an owner in downtown Tempe. Oxford calls pedicabbing a physical and spiritual experience that has transformed, and ultimately defined, his life.

"This was the first opportunity I had that engaged all of me," Oxford says. "There are infinite opportunities for innovation, and the smarter I got, the more money I made."

Gary Geske in his top-secret PedalTek headquarters.
Jackie Mercandetti
Gary Geske in his top-secret PedalTek headquarters.
Billy Oxford is the godfather of pedicabbing in Phoenix.
Jackie Mercandetti
Billy Oxford is the godfather of pedicabbing in Phoenix.

By January 1994, Oxford had saved enough money to buy the three-rig Arizona Pedal Cab company, whose operations he eventually moved to downtown Phoenix.

Oxford has big dreams for what pedicabbing could become. What he wants to do conforms with what's going on in a few cities around the world. One of Oxford's main aims is to reduce the number of cars in downtown Phoenix with his emission-free vehicles.

In London, the express mail firm DHL has used four-wheeled work bikes to move from 150 to 200 packages a day around the city. Several cities in the Gelderland province of the Netherlands have experimented with substituting work bikes for vans that would normally serve bakers, printers and supermarkets, reducing motorized deliveries by 2,893 miles annually. In Antwerp, Belgium, work bikes take shoppers between the heavily congested central city and park-and-ride areas at the edge of town.

In Phoenix, Oxford says he'd like to see pedicabs operate during the day as messenger bikes downtown and on the capital mall. Now, pedicabbing is primarily a nighttime endeavor.

He's hoping that light-rail will provide even more of a market for pedicabbers, who could transport workers from train stops to office buildings. With a location near Park Central, pedicabbers could offer similar service to central corridor workers.

"Our dependence on non-renewable natural resources is a choice, not a necessity, and [the pedal-cab industry in Phoenix] proves that every day," Oxford preaches. "We move hundreds of tons of people hundreds of miles each day and we don't kill the planet doing it."

Oxford's dreaming now, but he says he would like to buy an old hotel somewhere along Van Buren, park his bikes in the ballroom and fill the guest rooms with drivers. It would be a kind of cabbies' collective, his own bike cab clan.

His more reasonable goals would be much easier to accomplish if the city viewed trailers the same way Oxford does. He says the companies operating the trailer rigs -- all three of his competitors -- are putting profits over safety. He hopes bad karma will do them in sooner or later.

All Oxford has to do, he wrote on an Internet pedicab message board last August, "is outlive and do damage control on . . . those who are not about living this as a lifestyle." Not that business is his primary concern, but he added that lax safety could destroy the pedicab industry. He says the likes of Geske are sacrificing "tomorrow's money" and "tomorrow's opportunities."

PedalTek world headquarters is located in a warehouse off Buchanan Street just south of Bank One Ballpark. It's where Geske constructs the trailers that are the bane of Oxford's existence. Making one takes him about a day.

Testament to his prowess are the trailer frames set on end lining the walls of his tidy work space.

On a recent day, Geske sits in the center of the floor contemplating the design of a new three-wheeled trike, part of a confidential project he and a pedicabber friend in San Diego are developing. It's an endeavor he won't say much more about. "The need for secrecy is high," says Geske. Normally he doesn't let people past his front gate without signing a nondisclosure agreement, but he says he has decided to give New Times a break.

Geske's a-little-too-serious-for-a-guy-who-rides-bikes side may stem from his background as a child prodigy and mathematician. He was Arizona math champion for three years straight beginning in fourth grade, he says proudly. It was his love of numbers that attracted him to pedicabbing. Measuring axles and counting his money, not the so-called lifestyle, are what keeps him going strong.

About Oxford, he says, "We don't see things the same way. He thinks [pedicabbing's] groovy. There's nothing metaphysical or spiritual about this. This is a business."

Geske says he's pissed that Oxford told New Times that his trailers are unsafe. Of course, he worries that such claims will hurt business.

Geske's critics say he's a bit of an elitist, and that comes across in interviews. According to him, his trailers are the best, his business sense is the best, and he boasts that in the three years he's been involved in this business he's "accomplished more than anybody ever."

Which could be why the other two major operators have about as much use for him as Oxford does. They say his drivers cut lines and illegally quote flat rates, and that Geske encourages them.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Phoenix Concert Tickets