CMU student starts pedicab company, benefiting himself and students

We've all been there before. You are going out for a night on the town and no one opted to be the DD. Or, you simply just need to get somewhere and you want to arrive in a fun and interesting fashion.

That's where Powell's Pedicabs comes into play.

Renaldo Powell, owner and sole operator of Powell's Pedicabs, is a 22-year-old fifth-year senior at Central Michigan University.

With past attempts at various business endeavors behind him, Powell decided he needed to focus on his strengths in order to become successful. One of his strengths is literally that--he has very strong legs, thanks to his role as a sprinter and hurdler on the CMU track team. After a quick internet search he came across the idea of a pedicab, or bicycle cab, and decided it was a perfect fit, considering he also loves to bike. So, in May 2013 Powell headed up to New York City to pick up his newly purchased pedicab trailer.

But, it didn't come cheap.

"Brand , they cost over $2,000 so I had to sell my laptop, music equipment, clothes and a lot of other things to even afford the bargain price I was getting from the guy in New York," Powell says.

Upon returning with his purchase he hooked it up to his mountain bike--which he also detaches to use for his own transportation purposes--and began giving free rides at the start of the summer, which gave him time to get used to pulling the extra weight. Once August came around and the students began to come back for the school year, he decided he was ready to start charging for his service, and his business has really taken off.

"Going into this I didn't know what to expect at all," Powell says. "I took a big risk and it's definitely a good feeling when you go with your gut and it all works out."

While you may think walking, biking and driving are the main modes of transportation for students, Powell says he is filling a much-needed gap in Mount Pleasant, especially among the student population are out and about at night.

"A lot of my passengers are students who aren't fit to drive and would have a long and uncomfortable walk home if I wasn't around," he says. "And yes, taxi cabs work too, but students come to college to have unique and fun experiences that they won't ever forget. Fun, safe, and memorable transportation is something that every city should have."

Anyone wondering how fun a pedicab ride can be just needs to check out his Facebook page. If he gets a chance to do so, he takes a fun picture of his passengers that he later posts on the page.

Visitors to his Facebook page will also see an interesting phrase on the page: "If we don't put a smile on your face by the end of your ride then WE pay YOU!"

"We never know what hardships people are going through and it is amazing how much one smile can do for someone," Powell says. "I guess it is a slogan but, more than that, it's a reminder to me and my customers that the main goal of Powell's Pedicabs is to give customers a ride they'll never forget."

Unlike a cab, Powell's prices aren't set in stone. He charges $1 per minute, but that's more of a guideline, he says, and hopes riders will pay him whatever they think he has earned, which makes for a more amusing ride.

The pedicab can carry two passengers at a time and Powell generally gives 10 to 30 rides per night, covering, he estimates, 30 miles per evening.

While his clientele are mainly students, he also gives rides to locals who just find the idea interesting.

"Seeing a bike-pulled contraption with lights and music riding down the road is something that makes a lot of people stop, stare, and usually hop in for the experience," Powell says.

Even if it rains Powell can still pedal; he has a yellow awning that protects the top of the passenger area as well as clear vinyl sides that can keep splashes and rain from getting the passengers wet.

One of the biggest challenges he has faced at the start of his company has been making sure he gets enough water and food in his system to keep his energy and endurance going throughout the evening. The weight of the pedicab itself as well as the passengers can add up to 500 pounds at once, making this a very physical job.

Despite the hard physical work involved, Powell loves his business.

"I love the freedom I have and meeting cool people. I have had many riders tell me that their ride in the pedicab was the most fun they've had at CMU so far," Powell says. "Making people smile is always a great way to spend the night."

Powell has seen his fair share of fun on the pedicab. His funniest memory in his first year of business was when he gave a ride to a couple of girls who only wanted to cruise around the block.

"The whole time they were just screaming and making all sorts of weird sounds and I'm pretty sure they yelled 'We on a bike! We on a bike b****!" at least 25 times,'" Powell says. "They cracked jokes, danced, rapped, and just entertained every pedestrian we rode by."

Come spring, Powell will be graduating from CMU with an entrepreneurship major. He is planning on expanding his pedicab business and pursuing another business down the line. Due to current demand, he feels like he could use a couple more pedicabs on the road--and he is taking applications for an operator to start in the spring.

Powell operates from 10 p.m. until about 2:30 or 3 a.m. on weekends until Halloween, when he will close down for the winter. He is also available by special request for anniversaries, weddings, birthdays and even strolls through the park. While he can usually be found downtown or near campus, it's best to give him a call ahead of time if you are looking for a ride.

Julia Woehrer is a freelance writer, photographer and Internet content manager. She attended the School of Art and Design at Northern Michigan University where she concentrated in photography and minored in journalism. She volunteers at a local no-kill cat shelter and enjoys spending time with her cats, Bella and Macy.
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