I’ve talked a lot about how trucks and SUVs are simply more vehicle than most people need, especially in cities and crowded areas. But talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words. So I put my money where my mouth is and I bought the only “truck” I (or most anyone else) should ever need for a city.
Oh, and did I mention it only has three wheels?
That’s right, this beautiful crimson cargo carrier is what is locally referred to as a rickshaw, but often carries the name tuk-tuk in many parts of the world. They’re more common in countries like Thailand, India, China, and others, whose transportation methods are often dismissed because their streets don’t look like ours in the west. But why should we ignore solutions just because they look unfamiliar to us?
It may seem a bit strange, but stick with me. This is one of the most incredible city utility vehicles you’ve ever seen.
What the heck is an electric rickshaw?
So here’s the basic setup: up front I’ve got a motorcycle-style suspension fork and motorcycle controls. That means handlebars, a front brake lever and a twist throttle. There’s a foot pedal to activate the rear drum brakes, but I almost never use it since the front hydraulic disc brake is plenty strong (and you don’t have the traction penalty of falling over if you grab too much front brake like in a two-wheeled vehicle).
There are three speed settings, a reverse gear, high and low beams, turn signals, and a windshield wiper control, all available either on the bars or in the cockpit.
There’s around 80 liters (almost 3 cubic feet) of storage under the front bench seat, accessible by flipping it up. It doesn’t lock, but it’s a good place to put several bags of groceries that you don’t want rolling around in the bed on the way home from the supermarket.
And speaking of the bed, check this thing out! Now I know what you’re thinking, “That thing doesn’t compare to a ‘real’ pickup truck’s bed.” You’re absolutely right. It’s so much better. Here’s why.
First of all, the bed has not just one but three gates. There’s a typical tail gate, of course, but then the sides can also be unlatched to fold down. That allows it to convert from a pickup truck-style bed to a flat bed truck. You can carry larger things on the back that you couldn’t fit in most pickup truck beds. If I ever need to haul 4×8 sheets of plywood, drywall, or anything else, I can do it.
Next, the bed has a fold down bench for passengers to sit in the back. Depending on where you live, it may not be legal to have passengers back there. Here, the vehicles are fine to drive on the road, but I once saw a cop use his bullhorn to tell someone to get the passengers out of the back, so I guess that’s not allowed.
But the functionality is pretty cool, to have a bed with a fold down jump seat for two adults or three kids. Oh, and you can also fit two people in the driver’s bench. It’s more comfortable as a solo gig, but I’ve ridden with my wife there, and you just kind of reach over the lap of the person next to you. Since it’s center drive, you can sit on either side of the bench when you share it with a passenger, but sitting on the right side is easier since you’re not reaching as far for the throttle and brake lever.
Lastly, the entire bed tilts, turning it into a dump truck. It’s not hydraulically activated, so you’ve got to lift it yourself. But if you were carrying a bunch of stuff back there like a pile of raked leaves, dirt, or even just wanted to tilt up the bed to hose it down, you can do it. Show me a common pickup truck with a dumping bed – I’ll wait.
You can see all of these features and more in my walkaround and test ride video.
How much can it haul?
I’ve had this electric rickshaw for about six weeks now, and I’ve already used it to carry a ton of stuff. I have no idea what the weight limit is for the back, but the rear axle-mounted motor is quite powerful at just under 4,000W of peak power.
It even has a low/high gear selector that drops the top speed in half but doubles the torque, making it easier to haul heavier stuff or climb hills.
Speaking of speed, it maxes out at 28 mph (45 km/h), though I’ve never attempted to go that fast. It seems happier at slower speeds, which is fine, because this is in a city after all. The suspension isn’t anything to write home about, so slowing down for pot holes and speed bumps is definitely recommended.
The biggest load I’ve hauled so far has been a double bed with headboard when helping a family member move. Since we live in a city, most of the family either doesn’t own a car or has a sedan. No one could move a bed. Well, no one except for me. Imagine the smug look on my face when I told my wife, “See?! I knew it’d come in handy!”
For those few times that you need to haul something bigger than will fit in a car trunk, something like this is perfect. Look at just about every pickup truck you see on the road. I’d wager that 90% of them are either driving around with empty beds or they have the equivalent of a backpack full of random crap floating around back there. What a waste! This bed might be a bit smaller, but the entire vehicle is also smaller at just 10 feet (3 m) long.
That makes it easier to maneuver, uses less fuel and simply fits better in a city. When you need a bed, it’s there. But when you don’t need it, it doesn’t take up as much space as a massive truck (or cause the same danger to everyone around you).
In fact, check out the size of my electric rickshaw compared to the pickup truck below. My vehicle is much smaller, but the bed is only slightly smaller.
And parking this thing is a dream thanks to its small size (though the reverse gear helps, too).
You can see in the picture below how much less of a parking spot it takes up than a car (and these are already small Tel Aviv parking spaces).
I’ve since figured out the right Tetris moves to fit my two electric scooters and my electric rickshaw into a single parking space, with room left over on the side. I think that means I need to get another electric scooter.
In fact, the electric rickshaw is so narrow that I can even lane split. That means when there are 30 cars backed up at a red light waiting for it to change, I can just slip right down along the side of everyone to the front of the line.
Before you get angry, note that this is in Tel Aviv, where lane splitting is not only legal but also encouraged as the safest and most efficient method for everyone. Small vehicles don’t wait in traffic, but rather squirt out ahead where they get out of the way and are also readily seen by all the
death machines cars behind them).
How much did it cost?
Here’s another huge advantage over having a “real” truck or SUV in the city. This thing only cost me about $4,500, which is obviously much cheaper than a $60,000-$80,000 F150 Lightning. Can it go as far? No. Is it as powerful? No. Can it tow a boat? No. But no one living in a city needs it to do any of those things. My city is roughly 10 km (6 miles) wide. My estimated range of around 25 miles (40 km) is more than enough.
Plus, it’s so much cheaper to use; a full charge costs me around $0.50, which is basically rounding error. If you just said it’s free to charge, you’d be pretty close.
At some point I’ll probably do a lithium-ion battery swap on it to replace the 3 kWh lead acid battery pack, but that might be a year or two down the road. Until then, it’s basically free to operate. And the lithium-ion upgrade isn’t even necessary (thousands of these things zip around my city with 100 year old lead acid battery technology), but I’m just a battery snob and love the idea of lithium beneath me.
When searching for the right electric rickshaw to buy, I was pretty set on getting one with a canopy. Not only does it give you bigger and more visible front lights, but it’s of course a great weatherproofing solution.
When it rains, the canopy keeps me 98% dry. Strong winds during a rain storm can occasionally blow a bit of mist into the cabin, but that doesn’t happen much. In fact, it doesn’t really rain that often here. That means I mostly use the cabin for sun shade. Convertibles are fun, but sometimes you’re just sitting there baking in the sun, thinking, “Hmmm, now I see why cars usually have roofs.”
The cute little windshield wiper is more or less effective, but it’s not a particularly high quality piece of gear.
Is an electric rickshaw street legal?
So here’s the thing: If you live in the US, then this option unfortunately won’t be available to you in most areas. These would usually be classified as motorcycles in most states, meaning they’d have to meet NHTSA regulations for motorcycles. That’s why you just don’t see that many of these in the US.
Here in Tel Aviv, though, they kind of fit into a grey area of mobility scooters, which allows them to be more or less street legal. Technically they aren’t in any category, but they’re legally imported (mine was built in Turkey) and they are used all over the city. The three most common uses I see are for delivery couriers, supermarket restocking drivers, and scooter share operators for picking up and redistributing electric scooters on the streets.
The only police interaction I’ve ever seen was that one instance I mentioned above, where a cop stopped someone with two passengers in the bed and made them get out. Otherwise, they’re basically accepted as street legal. Shortly after they became popular here, a law was passed that prevented their use in bicycle lanes, which makes sense to me. So you have to drive them on the road, but otherwise you really don’t have any other rules (other than obeying traffic laws). They don’t require registration or insurance. They don’t pay for parking. They don’t even need a driver’s license to operate.
Would I recommend an electric tuk-tuk?
If you only need to wiggle around your city, an e-bike or e-moped is probably a better option. But if you generally move things, a vehicle like this is super convenient in urban areas. I’m often building things, and so I’ve visited the lumber yard multiple times with my electric rickshaw. I’ve picked up random furniture that people threw out on the curb. I’ve helped family move apartments. Sometimes I just drive it for fun!
As a work vehicle, it feels like the perfect size for city use. Of course it can’t compete on most performance metrics with “real” trucks, but it doesn’t have to. It just has to do what normal, average folks need.
No contractor is going to make this his work truck. He can shell out for a $50k truck if he wants. But for average folks that buy trucks for the lifestyle, I think this could actually be a better option. It won’t mix well with fragile masculinity, but if you’re confident that your vehicle isn’t indicative of your manhood, then this is the ticket. And for what it’s worth, I’ve actually been stopped by multiple women on the street curious about my ride. Ask my wife how many times I’ve told that story…
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