Bukatingi, N. Sumatra, Indonesia, March 1995
The tricycle taxi – or ‘cycle-rickshaw’ as it’s commonly known in Asia – is one of the most basic forms of vehicles for hire. Operating one requires little skill other than good leg muscles and the ability to weave precariously around obstacles, pot-holes and other vehicles. Drivers are invariably from the poorest social classes, so it is responsible tourism to support them and pay a reasonable fare. Once a cycle driver masters advance techniques in haggling – for example, stopping partway where there are no other cycles available to renegotiate the fare – he is ready to upgrade to a motorised three-wheeler taxi.
They are probably also the safest way to experience Asian traffic, though the Indonesian ‘becak’ pictured above puts the passengers first, so they would hypothetically meet obstacles in advance of the driver. The more common configuration is the Indian style with the passengers behind. During nine years of living and working in Asia I only experienced one crash, in an auto-rickshaw in Kathmandu, which was indirectly my own fault. I was sitting in the back on the way to a restaurant with a new girlfriend, and we couldn’t resist the temptation, in this most romantic setting, to have a kiss. Unfortunately, the driver was too engrossed watching us in his mirror to notice the roadworks ahead, and the auto-rickshaw plunged into a very large crater in the road and tipped upside down. Luckily nobody was hurt and we all had a good laugh over it.
1960s Juvenile Tricycle Rickshaw
Indonesian ‘Becak’ style
This interesting miniature rickshaw made its debut at Amberley Veteran Cycle Day in September, 2016, which is where these photos were taken. To give you ann idea of its size, here it’s being ridden by Ianthe, aged ten, with Megan (who is two years older) squashed inside the passenger compartment.
I’m not sure where it was manufactured. The saddle has a ‘Fenghuang’ badge on it, which means the saddle is from the Chinese ‘Phoenix’ factory. Phoenix was one of the leading Chinese cycle makers, and they set up export companies in many Asian countries. But the style of the rickshaw is like the Indonesian ‘Becak’ so until any information to the contrary turns up, I’ve assumed that to be its origin.
What is not known is why this juvenile version was made. I can only speculate that it was made for display or advertising purposes, because it certainly does attract attention …more, in fact, at this veteran cycle event, than all the rare and very valuable 1880s tricycles that were present.
I lived and worked in Asia for 9 years and, in my spare time, travelled around the area and (yes, you guessed it) spent a lot of my time taking photos of traffic.
The ‘cycle-rickshaw’ photo above is from 1995, in Lhasa, Tibet.