ON A ROLL: A Q&A session with Ottawa Rickshaws’ Brian Clarke

ON A ROLL: A Q&A session with Ottawa Rickshaws’ Brian Clarke

He’s a man with pull. After three years as a rickshaw runner, Brian Clarke bought into the company in 2010, joining fellow partners Adam Slight and Chris Lalonde. He sat down with Misa Kobayashi to talk about funny rickshaw experiences and the importance of business blogging.

This story appears in the Summer edition of Ottawa Magazine. Buy the magazine on newsstands or order your online edition.

Photography by Trevor Lush.

Why do you think rickshaws are something Ottawa needs?
In the Market, there’s so much that’s hidden from view. A good example is the hidden courtyards between George and York and between Murray and Clarence. Most tourists, and even people who live in Ottawa, miss finding them. Rickshaws give a pedestrian point of view but with the speed and mobility of a tour service.

You and your partners blog on the Ottawa Rickshaws website. Why?
One of the trends we’ve been reading about is using blogging as a tool for business. The nature of the job means we’re really knowledgeable about downtown, so having the blog helps us share this knowledge. It also helps us brand Ottawa Rickshaws so that people know it’s not just this little cart that drunk people take from bar to bar — we also showcase Ottawa.

What do you blog about?
There are a lot of Ottawa tourism and Ottawa culture-type posts, with a focus on the ByWard Market. But we also blog about health and fitness, because people often ask us questions about being in good shape when we’re working. And Adam does a “rickshaw retrospective” about silly things we’ve witnessed in our time rickshawing.

Speaking of which, is there a particular fare that stands out in your mind?
My favourite memory was the longest ride I ever did. It was a busy night, and a couple couldn’t find a cab, so they asked me to take them to their house in Chinatown. It took 45 minutes, and they didn’t have enough money to tip, so they ran into the house and came out with a really nice bottle of red wine for me.

Photography by Trevor Lush.

What do you love about the job?
It’s the money that keeps you motivated when it’s at its toughest — for instance, when you’re running up a hill. But even when it’s physically challenging, nothing feels better than knowing you did it. And for the most part, passengers are a lot of fun. If they notice you’re getting tired, they’ll often say, “Just walk and have a conversation with us.” Obviously, if they wanted to get to their destination quickly, they would be taking something other than a rickshaw. So they’re in it more for the experience.

What makes a good rickshaw runner?
You have to be outgoing. A good work ethic is also key, because each runner makes his or her own hours. And you have to be somewhat athletic. Even though people have the impression that you have to be a world-class athlete to do this, I don’t think athleticism is as important as the other traits.

How do you see the business evolving?
We really want to expand so that we can do this all year round. We started doing a lot of events this winter for local businesses, so we think part of the business that can grow is with these events. In the longer term, once we perfect our business model in Ottawa, we’ll start to look to franchise to other cities.