Perched on top of a black bicycle, 48-year-old Rich Nolet’s muscular, well-defined legs propel a pedicab that weighs around 400 pounds with customers in it down School Street.
While pedaling, he yells at passersby on the street, encouraging them to catch him later for a ride. He smiles at the teens who always beg him for a free lift. He waves at the diners at Moo Moo’s Burger Barn and laughs when most of them smile or return the greeting.
Nolet opened Mr. Pedicab more than a month ago in Lodi, and since then, he has been gliding up and down the streets Friday and Saturday nights looking for couples wanting a romantic ride or people who would like to see Lodi from a different viewpoint.
“At the end of the evening, I’m really happy. Everything is great for me. The hardest thing for me to do at the end of the day is to wipe the smile off my face,” Nolet said.
For years, people have cruised around San Francisco and other large cities in pedicabs, and now Nolet is bringing the tourist attraction to Lodi.
He rides his pedicab in the streets, stopping at all of the stop signs and lights and constantly watching for cross traffic and pedestrians. The pedicab is a bike with only a front wheel that is attached to a carriage with two wheels.
It has many of the items found on a car — headlight, turn signals, seatbelts and brake lights.
It can fit three adults, but he said two is more comfortable. A family with two adults and two children has fit in the pedicab before.
So far, he has taken four people home and has pedaled dozens of others around town.
During the last seven weeks of riding, Downtown regulars have gotten to know Nolet. He usually gives one free ride an evening, and once he had a customer call and thank him.
She was not having a good evening, he said, so he offered her a free ride and took her around town.
“I told her, ‘The boss lets me do one charity ride a night — and I’m the boss,’” Nolet said.
Another time he took home an older man from a bar.
“He just thought this is the best thing ever,” Nolet said.
The man said the only downside is he had to stare at Nolet’s butt the whole way home. It is the only criticism Nolet has received so far.
“I told him, ‘Next time I’ll wear my Daisy Dukes,’” he said.
While cruising Lodi, Nolet said passengers notice more details on the buildings that line School Street. One of his favorite places to ride is through Veterans Plaza next to City Hall, because people love seeing the fountain and the flame on top of the memorial burning.
“It’s a unique way of seeing Downtown. People have said, ‘Oh, we’re royalty,’” he said.
Rides cost anywhere from $5 for a tour of Downtown to $40 for a tour of Lodi Lake from Downtown or Wine and Roses.
As he grows his business, he plans to work with local historians, so he will be able to give information about Downtown’s history to tourists. He also plans to offer rides year-round, thanks to a cover that goes over the pedicab.
“I’ll bring some warm blankets, maybe a thermos of coffee or cocoa,” he said with a laugh.
The atmosphere surrounding the pedicab is always positive, he said. People never hesitate to wave, and he really enjoys the conversations he has with the people while riding around town.
“I’ve picked up couples who were fighting and by the time the ride is over, they’ve made up,” Nolet said.
Nolet bought the pedicab in the middle of May for $5,000. He purchased it online from Main Street, a company that specializes in making pedicabs to the specifications of the rider.
He then applied to open a business in both Lodi and Stockton. While waiting for the go-ahead, he gave rides at charity events at Micke Grove park for free.
He said he ended up in Lodi because city staff loved the idea and worked quickly on his business application.
Lodi’s small town feel is especially conducive for the pedicab because he can offer rides in Downtown or at Lodi Lake.
“Lodi is so fantastic. It’s just unbelievable. I’m so happy I started up there rather than here in Stockton. All the merchants I’ve talked to so far, love it,” he said.
Cheese Central owner Cindy Della Monica said she supports the pedicab and would love to see more people in it.
“It’s a real nice enhancement for our tourist trade that we are finding are coming from out of town,” Monica said.
‘It adds that little bit of ambiance’
Nolet has always been up for a challenge.
He has been working since he was 14 years old. He moved to Stockton when he was 13, and shortly after that, he opened a business cleaning boats in that city’s downtown.
His family lived in a houseboat while he went to Stagg High School. He had his own sailboat and would often go boating for a week by himself. He also would spend days riding his bike from Stockton to Lake Tahoe, San Francisco or Yosemite.
He lived on the houseboat by himself when he was 18 for two years.
“It taught me to be able to depend on myself and I was able to tackle whatever I wanted to do,” Nolet said.
He worked a string of jobs, from fast food to restaurants to construction to transporting cosmetics. Currently, he delivers water for a company.
Cycling has always been one of his passions. He often participates in century rides and Critical Mass in San Francisco, a monthly ride for hundreds of bike enthusiasts.
At one point he wanted to go pro, but then he blew out his knee in a water skiing accident.
About three years ago, he started exploring online to see if there was a way to make money doing the hobby he loved. He thought about purchasing a pedicab for years, but always hesitated because he felt he never perfected a business plan or that everyday life was too busy.
Finally one of his friends gave him some advice.
“He said, ‘The one thing that’s holding you up is yourself.’ It was the best thing a friend of mine could do for me,” Nolet said.
Once he got the pedicab, he didn’t even have to train before taking it out for an afternoon of carting people around. He will tell his girlfriend that he is planning to go on an 100-mile bike ride and she will tease him because he hasn’t trained for it, Nolet said.
Even guys will comment on his muscular calves that pedal the bike.
“A guy said, ‘Don’t take this the wrong way, but you have the most beautiful legs, I’ve ever seen on a man,’” Nolet says with a grin.
He is planning to offer rides during the Grape Festival, the Health & Wellness Family Festival on Sept. 24 and other weekend events. He also is available for people to rent his pedicab for a special events or even a special breakfast Downtown with a tour of Lodi Lake.
Russ Fields, with Fields Family Winery, tried pedaling the pedicab, but only made it a couple of blocks.
Fields has taken the pedicab with his wife while they have gone winetasting, and he enjoys sitting back and enjoying Lodi’s Downtown.
“Where else can you park in the parking garage, and taste 11 different wineries and then take the pedicab to go eat dinner? It’s a lot different than going over to Kettleman Lane and eating at Panera. I do that too, but it’s a different feel,” he said.
Fields is working with Nolet and other tasting rooms to find a way to offer free rides to those who buy bottles. He hopes tourists will take advantage of the unique experience.
“It adds that little bit of ambiance that Lodi was missing. It seems like when more people come down here, new businesses and opportunities come that add to the combined fun of Downtown,” Fields said.
Nolet will be hitting the road for four days this weekend to give rides at the Lodi Grape Festival on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. He will take fair-goers from Downtown and the parking lots surrounding the festival grounds.