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Tuesday, May 5th 2009


Quadracycling in Montreal

On the first weekend in May Ruth and I decided to go to Montreal to celebrate our tenth anniversary. While we were there we did what all the tourists do in Montreal - saw the sights, including the Redpath Museum, climbed the mountain, ate some bagels, explored the underground city, visited the gardens and, of course, went to the planetarium. We also went down to the docks and Old Montreal, which has been converted into a tourist area and rented a quadracycle!

Even though we are now into our own third season of quadracycle ownership, we have never rented one in another city. Actually I am aware of only two places in Canada that you can do this, Montreal and Toronto's Centre Island. Centre Island features International Surrey Company quadracycles. The quadracycles in Old Montreal are made by Quadricycle International of Montreal. In fact the company not only builds the vehicles, but also runs the rental operation on the Jacques Cartier pier as well.

I had previously been through the Quadricycle International website and they have a very unique design for a rental vehicle in their Quad-3 model. I have wanted to give them a try to see how they are built for some time and also to compare rental quadracycles in general to touring quadracycles. We had a chance to do all that and more.

We found the Quadricycle International booth staffed by two teen-aged girls. They really didn't know anything about quadracycles at all, including who built these ones. They were just there to collect our money, take Ruth's driver's licence as a deposit and make sure the quadracycle came back at the end of the rental period. The company has three models available that we saw: The modern-looking Quad-3 and the antique-car-resembling Q-cycle 3 and 6, all built by Quadricycle International. The company does build a Quad-6, but we didn't see any of those on site.

The rental rates are not cheap. They charge $20 for a half an hour for a Quad-3, with the six seater Q-cycle-6 going for $30 per half hour. The Quad-3 costs Cdn$3150 to buy so it seems that you could pay for one in just 78.75 rental hours. The day we were there it was cool and windy and well before tourist season, but still there were three or four quadracycles out on rental. I imagine in the summertime they are out making money all day and evening long. The fact that they were all fitted with lights makes me think that evening rentals can be factored in.

We started off with a close look at the Quad-3. The vehicle is actually fairly conventionally built from both square and round welded steel tube. The square tube is all one inch and makes up the main structural elements. Some parts, like the seats, are bolted in place. The welding is all first rate and looks solid, indeed the company claims that the Quad-3 weighs in at 180 lbs, so it is very solid.

The seating is a non-adjustable bench seat for three people, with the outer two positions pedalling and a foot rest for the centre seat. There is a seat in front for two small children, although we used it for baggage instead. All the seats are vinyl-covered and padded somewhat. The seating is durable, which is good for the rigours of a rental environment, but not all that comfortable. The seat cushions are thin and I get the impression that after more than an hour or so you would feel it. The ergonomics of the fixed seats were problematic. Ruth is 5'6" and found that she had to sit forward on the seat to pedal and steer properly. At 6'4" I found that the passenger seat left me with the pedals too close. I was able to pedal, but not develop much strength doing it. In trying out the driver's seat I found that my knees would contact the steering wheel, so Ruth did the driving and we both pedalled. The seating is probably an adequate compromise for a rental vehicle, as you have to fit a variety of different sized people and adjustable seats are an inconvenience.

The Quad-3 does have some nice passenger conveniences, including cup holders! As mentioned we used the front child seat for our baggage, but there is a space and even mounting holes under the seat for a cargo rack or basket, although it was not installed. The canopy top is what grabs the eye when you first encounter the Quad-3. It is mounted on a sweepingly curved steel frame and is what gives the quadracycle what the company website says is its "contemporary look". As a real sunshade it works okay as long as the sun is high in the sky, although I suspect it fulfils more of a style function than anything else. The square channel-style chain guards are a good idea and keep the renters' pant cuffs out of the oily chains. Four-wheel mudguards seem to be standard on this model as well.

The running gear is worthy of note. It is a very conventional front sprocket, chain and rear sprocket. The most obvious feature is that both sprockets are the same size! This, combined with the fact that there are no gears to shift, means you won't set any speed records. We found that top speed is about 8 km/h, as the website advertises and above that you just over-speed yourself pedalling. Obviously this one-speed set-up would never do in a touring quadracycle, but it works well in a rental environment as it keeps speeds down and means that there will be no derailleurs to adjust or thrown chains to worry about. It all adds up to a safe and worry-free experience for the renters.

Of interest there is no rear axle. Instead each set of pedals drives its own side rear wheel only. This is obviously a far-cry from the Rhoades Car's posi-traction, which is an absolute requirement for uneven surfaces and off-roading. But the Quad-3 design is adequate on hard and even surfaces and that is all you have to ride on, down on the water front in Old Montreal - they don't let you take them off-roading anyway.

The brakes are what we used to call "coaster brakes" on kid's bikes, in other words you pedal backwards to engage the internal drum brake system. At first blush this seems odd, again because the pedalling is totally independent and therefore the braking is as well. This means that the occupant of either front seat can brake. On our Rhoades Car the brakes are both hand-controlled and solely in the driver's hands. Once again though the set-up on the Quad-3 makes sense - lots of renters put their kids in the left seat to give them a chance to drive the vehicle and this gives the passenger the ability to stop the vehicle, which is a good idea. The brakes work really well, too. From about 5 km/h we called a coordinated stop, applied both our brakes at the same time and it stopped right away, in about four feet. The brakes actually work much better than even the dual disc brakes on the Rhoades Car do.

Once out on the car-free road along the waterfront Ruth had a chance to try out the steering. The steering is via a car-like steering wheel. The mechanism is well-designed, with roller bearings throughout the rack-and-pinion design and is light enough to turn easily. It is set-up with a very low ratio though, meaning you have to turn the wheel a lot to get a tight turn out of the Quad-3. This is bad for avoiding obstacles, but prevents tight turns and possible roll-overs. Combined with the 8 km/h top speed it makes for a very safe rental quadracycle.

Once out on the open road along the waterfront we waved to the other tourists, who then hustled off to rent their own quadracycles. We crossed railway tracks, which the Quad-3 handled well, despite the lack of suspension and headed up a slight slope to the end of the road. With both of us pedalling and the less-than perfect ergonomic constraints we were easily able to handle the slope; of course the low 1:1 gear ratio helped us out there. Once Ruth turned us around we went back down the slope and still didn't pick up much speed. I think the draggy canopy top helped keep us to a low terminal velocity!

When we had finished our ride we returned the Quad-3 and Ruth got her driver's licence back.

Overall I would say that with its ample seating for five, rugged heavy duty construction and built-in safety features, including dual independent braking and an 8 km/h top speed the Quad-3 is almost an ideal tourist destination rental quadracycle. Maintenance would be very minimal and the return on investment should be quite good!

All the things that make the Quad-3 a great rental though would make it a rotten private ownership touring quadracycle. In comparing it to the Rhoades Car 4W2PCP, which is a pretty good heavy duty touring quadracycle it is easy to see why. The 4W2PCP can cruise at 25 km/h, has adjustable and very comfortable seats and has a base weight that is only 64% of the Quad-3's base weight. The 4W2PCP can also handle a lot more freight, making it a useful personal pick-up truck. As is evident, the two vehicles are really built for two completely different roles and clearly what makes a good personal quadracycle would make a poor rental and vice-versa.

There was one thing that occurred to me, while we were enjoying ourselves quadracycling along the waterfront in Montreal and that is that while it was great fun for a half an hour, I think that tourist rentals actually work against the concept of privately-owned touring quadracycles. I would think that anyone who rents one of these for a half an hour would think they were fun, but impractical and probably never consider that there would be a whole different class of quadracycles that are useful as personal transportation. The tourist rental quadracycle is really a novelty market and it may just instil the idea in the renter's mind that therefore all quadracycles are mere novelties.

I posted a video of the Quad-3 also.

Total quadracycling for 2009 so far - 47 km

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