MANHATTAN — With arms covered in tattoos, hair pulled back in a ponytail, and a rocker's goatee, Donald Ince looks every bit the heavy metal bassist. It's Saturday night, and he wants to take you home tonight.
Don't worry, it's a good thing.
Ince and his crew have spent the past three years pedaling Manhattan into the mid-19th century courtesy of the rickshaw — a compact open-air cab pulled around by a bicycle. The group travels throughout Aggieville and surrounding neighborhoods offering leg-powered rides to any and all. There aren't any set fees. The enterprise is entirely tip driven.
"If it's level I'll get there," Ince said. "For a huge tip I'll go to the Holiday Inn, but I'll take the Linear Trail up there.
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"When you give me south or east, I can go either direction. If you want to go north I'm not going any further than Raton. If you want to go west I'm not going any further than 17th."
What began as a ride for the bourgeois in mid-1800s Japan has become a trendy alternative to driving in large, traffic-congested U.S. cities and a good way to get home after festivities.
Ince bought his cab from a friend and a veteran of the Phoenix rickshaw crowd. Since then, Ince has added his own modifications, brakes, lights and swag.
All of the riders provide their own bikes, and quality is important. Even with good bikes, good cabs and level surfaces, hauling people around all night is tiring work.
"We've had a lot of people that kind of ride a night and give up," he said.
But open-air transportation and Kansas winters are not a good combination. Even if the cabbies are capable of holding up in cold weather, the exposed riders often catch the brunt of the wind.
"People get on it and they're like, 'Wow, this is colder than walking.. ,' " he said. "When it turns into that, I just don't bother coming out."
Students and rides are scarcer during the summer, but the casual atmosphere usually means the tippers are more generous.
Barring weather, Ince said branding remains another challenge for the Manhattan rickshaw group. Somehow, he said, the group has become associated with SafeRide, a free program for K-State students who need a ride home.
Pedaling for tips also brings the danger of deadbeats.
"We've gotten stiffed before, (and) we just try to remember," Ince said. "We remember faces. This ain't a big town."
But for Ince, what started as a way to pick up some spare money has grown into a full mobile enterprise.
"I started with one," he said. "I ended up buying six by the time I was done."