The idea hit me somewhere between Last Chance and Brush, Colorado. The former used to be the last chance to get ice cream, but now it isn’t even that, just a place with a few houses and boarded-up buildings where travelers on north-south Highway 71 have to stop before they cross east-west Highway 36. Brush, on the other hand, is a perfect place for a mid-trip break. It has wide, tree-lined streets that make it a pleasant place for a walk, and there’s a restaurant on Main Street where in the past few years the owners and menus have changed three times but the low prices and tiny but clean bathrooms have stayed the same.
Anyway, the idea. Driving from South Dakota to New Mexico and back gives a person plenty of opportunities for thinking. Especially if you happen to be the one driving and your companion happens to be sleeping. This idea came to me on the second day of our recent trip home, as I was marching in place with my feet to restore the circulation in my legs and trying to turn the other cheek in a way that might relieve the numbness in portions of my posterior.
What this country needs is a new kind of hybrid car. One with pedals. Think Fred Flintstone, only high-tech.
Not being an automotive engineer, I’m a little vague on the details, but here’s the concept. Install foot pedals for both the driver and at least the front-seat passenger, rather like those stationary bike pedals you can put in front of your chair to use while you watch TV. Just hit the road, set the cruise control, and start pedaling like Lance Armstrong. Skip the performance-enhancing substances, please. The energy you produce would go to some sort of generator or battery and help operate the car.
The impact on your gas mileage probably wouldn’t be a lot, but at today’s prices every little bit would help. And the biggest benefit would be to your health. If you put the pedals to the metal fast enough, you might even burn sufficient calories to munch on classic road-trip food like sunflower seeds or corn nuts without guilt.
I suppose the argument could be made that this might distract the driver. But I don’t see that pedaling would be any more of a distraction than radio station surfing, listening to audio books, refereeing fights among the kids in the back seat, or moaning about your aching legs and backside.
The engineers would need to work out a few little details, like how to transfer energy from the pedals to the engine, and where to put the pedals, and whether they would need to be retractable, and how to easily adjust them for different-sized drivers. But, hey, solving little problems like that is exactly the kind of challenge that engineers love.
The hybrid pedal car, for better gas mileage and healthier traveling. It’s an idea whose time has come. And I’m sure an entrepreneur wanting to start a factory could get a great deal on a building in Last Chance, Colorado.