Cops from Albany do not typically pedal bicycle rickshaws around downtown in their spare time, so Loren Grugan figured he was in for some ribbing from his fellow officers when he started the Albany Rickshaw Company this July. Surprisingly, the barbs never came. “Everybody was like, ‘That’s such a great idea — why didn’t I think of that?’ ” he says.
The support Grugan has received from coworkers seems to match the sentiments of Albany’s pedestrians, who wave excitedly and, in increasing numbers, pay the three-dollar fare (five dollars for two people) to hop a ride in his black-and-red rickshaw. “It’s definitely a head-turner,” he says about the vehicle, which is more common in metropolises like New York than smaller cities like Albany. Grugan, who was one of the city’s first bike cops, works the police beat during the day, and hits hotspots like Lark and Pearl Streets in his rickshaw at least four nights a week. He estimates half of his riders use the pedicab as a taxi service, and half climb on simply out of curiosity. Some, he says, see the rickshaw as an updated version of that old romantic standby, the horse-and-buggy: One night this summer, Grugan escorted a couple celebrating their 60th anniversary, and a few hours later, an amorous young man who proposed to his girlfriend.
The seed for the business planted itself in Grugan’s head when he spotted a rickshaw a few years ago while vacationing in Phoenix, and sprouted this past Christmas after his eight-year-old daughter, Lauryn, raved about riding in one in New York City. Starting the venture was no easy task. The equipment and insurance cost him more than $6,000 — and then there was the matter of driving the rickshaw for the first time. The veteran cyclist was used to leaning into his turns, but the addition of a few hundred pounds on the bike’s back end meant only a slight turn of the handlebars was required. “Every time you turned the wheel, it felt like you were going to fall over,” he says. “It was like learning to ride a bike all over again.”
Next year, Grugan hopes to purchase five more rickshaws and hire other drivers, and plans on running the business full-time when he retires from the police force. For now, however, the entrepreneur will juggle his one-man rickshaw show with shifts at the station and raising Lauryn and his five-month-old son, Zack. He just hopes customers don’t notice the occasional panted greeting or pleasantry. “If you turn up the radio,” he says, “they can’t hear you breathing as much.”