Mark Williams is the owner of Palisade Pedicab and the driving force behind community groups like Bike Palisade and On Palisade. Bike Palisade organizes regular community cruiser rides and bike nights to get locals out and about on bikes in Palisade. On Palisade posts weekly Palisade event listings.
Mark and I chat about how he got into pedicabbing, lessons he’s learned along the way, what an ideal bike-friendly Palisade would look like, and lots more. We also hear from a few locals about what the weekly community rides mean to them.
For more info about Palisade Pedicab, check out their website: palisadepedicab.com.
Hello and welcome to Postcards from Palisade, the podcast that shares a snapshot of the people and places that make this slice of western Colorado wonderful. I’m your host, Lisa McNamara.
Today I’m talking with Mark Williams, the owner of Palisade Pedicab and the driving force behind community groups like Bike Palisade and On Palisade. And Mark always has a handful of other ideas and projects in the works.
Mark and I chat about how he got into pedicabbing, lessons he’s learned along the way, what an ideal bike-friendly Palisade would look like, and lots more.
Mark talks about what cycling thousands of miles around Palisade has taught him:
MW: I’ve gotten to know all the contours of this town, very well. All the bumps, all the contours. All the potholes.
What it’s like to run a pedicab business:
MW: You kind of have to be a crazy person to do this. Honestly. It’s just really stressful and it takes over your whole life a lot of times.
And why he thinks more people should get on a bike:
MW: I think biking can improve your life in just an infinite amount of ways. Just being outside. I think, being outside and then just taking time to get places, those two things together, do crazy stuff for your mental health and your life in general.
We’ll also hear from a few locals about what the weekly rides mean to them.
All that and more, on today’s Postcard From Palisade.
Mark Williams (MW): I’m Mark Williams. Do I need to say what I do, too, I guess?
Lisa McNamara (LM): Yep!
MW: OK. I’m Mark Williams. I own Palisade Pedicab and do bike stuff in Palisade.
LM: How would you describe a pedicab to somebody who doesn’t know what it is?
MW: Yeah, it’s kinda hard, because pedicab is a really bad word for pedicabs, but I usually say it’s either a rickshaw or a bike taxi, that sort of thing, and then people know what it is. But yeah, pedicab’s an unfortunate word. It doesn’t really make sense.
LM: So, basically, bicycle in the front, people carrier in the back?
MW: Yeah, pretty much, yeah.
LM: And so what kind of things do you do? Who rides around in a typical pedicab?
MW: Well, in Palisade, we mostly focus on wine tours. And for that we do a five hour tour that kind of takes people around, shows everyone everything. Go to wineries, farm stands, restaurants. Really, whatever they need to have an awesome time, that’s what we do. For five hours. And we also act like a taxi, kinda late night, and for festivals as well. We do festivals all over Colorado as well, so we’re kind of expanding into that this year, which is cool.
LM: So it’s not just you, you have people who help you out, right?
MW: No. I think I have five employees now. I’m hoping to get more. We’ll see how it goes. It’s hard to find the right people for this. It’s a process for sure.
LM: Yeah, what’s the right person like? What’s the best pedicab driver?
MW: Well, it has to be someone that wants to do it, which, that excludes 99% of the people. And they have to be reliable, which that excludes a lot more people. And then you have to have the right attitude. It’s kind of a – I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like, it’s like if you just show people an awesome time, it’ll be worth it. That kind of attitude. That’s the best way to describe it.
LM: So it’s sort of – you’re not really just biking people around, you’re giving them a tour.
MW: Yeah, we’re entertaining people. That’s what we are. Yeah. Transportation is only 10% of it.
LM: Does that kind of wear you out, like when you’re done with the day, you just want to relax? Not talk to anybody?
MW: Yeah, that’s usually how it goes. Yeah.
LM: How did you get into running a pedicab business?
MW: I just saw people doing it. I was living in Oklahoma City at the time, and I saw people doing it and asked them how they did it. And then they invited me in to work. And then I haven’t looked back since and that was like fifteen years ago. So, yeah. And when I was living there, I realized the potential for traveling while you’re doing it. So I bought a van and I built it out to kind of live in the pedicab with my van – or, live in the van with my pedicab – and traveled the United States for five years.
And then, in that process I discovered Palisade. I came here to ride bikes. I came here to ride Kokopelli’s Trail, which is from Grand Junction to Moab. And then the last day, I ended up here. And I just realized how awesome it would be for pedicabs, and so I did it. And now I’m here for good! Yeah. It’s great!
LM: Awesome! So, when you were traveling around, different places, where did you go?
MW: All over! Yeah, so there’s kind of a traveling festival circuit for pedicabs. So you go around and work all the big festivals, kind of like Coachella and Electric Daisy Carnival and there’s like ten of them. And so I would do that, on and off. And then I would also seek out my own events. I would just find random places that I thought would be good, that’s, yeah, I have like ten or twenty of those that I would do. And then I would be based in Denver most of the time, so I’d come back there. And that’s pretty much how it works.
LM: What places did you like the most and least?
MW: Well, there are some Colorado towns that I like the most. Can’t really talk about it because it’s kind of a secret. Yeah. The least. The ones I like the least are big cities. Pretty much any big city. I mean, you can make pretty good money, but it’s just really competitive. The people aren’t as fun. It’s just not as much fun, so, you know, you can go there if you need to, but I’d rather not.
LM: So you still do it, like, for festivals.
MW: Yeah, for bigger events, I’ll go to Denver. Denver’s really the only city I work in now.
LM: How did you find Palisade? Did you know about Palisade before, or did you only know about it through the Kokopelli Trail?
MW: I didn’t know anything about Palisade, and then, we did the Kokopelli trail, and the last day, we just decided to come over here. And I think I went to Maison la Belle Vie, probably. I didn’t know anything about wine. I actually didn’t like it when I tasted it. Not because Maison’s bad, it’s just because I didn’t like wine at that time. But, I just realized it’s a really awesome place that I wanted to be, and it’s just perfect for pedicabs.
Everything is too long to walk but not long enough to drive, and that’s where pedicabs excel. So, I mean, it’s pretty much perfect. Especially with motors. So in the last five years, motors have become a thing on pedicabs, so that kind of makes, that’s what made this place possible was that sort of thing. We set up the motors to be within the regulations of a bicycle, so we’re still a bicycle but we have a little bit of help, and it makes it all possible. It’s great.
LM: I can see how that would be really useful!
MW: Yeah, I don’t think Palisade would be possible without it. Yeah, they call it last mile transportation, it’s a whole thing.
LM: So how many miles do you think you’ve ridden around Palisade? Or how many do you think you do in a normal year?
MW: Oh, a year? I haven’t thought about it but, you know, I think, the bigger events like Winefest or Peach Fest, we’ll easily do a hundred in a day per pedicab. I think a regular wine tour’s about twenty miles. Maybe a little more. Depending on what you do. So, I haven’t done the math, but that’s a lot of miles.
LM: That’s like thousands of miles, every year.
MW: That would be fun to calculate it. I might do that this year.
LM: Does that make you less likely to want to ride a bike for fun?
MW: Yeah, I don’t ride as much as I used to, I guess. I don’t know if that’s because I’m so busy, or if I don’t want to. I really don’t know. Because I’m really busy, so.
LM: Well, and you, you enjoy driving pedicab too, right?
MW: Yeah, yeah. I guess it’s pretty much the same. I do like mountain biking, and I don’t do that enough, so, you know. It’d be great to do more of that for sure.
LM: Did you do the Kokopelli Trail, the whole thing?
LM: Oh man.
MW: Yeah. It was hard.
LM: It looks so hard. I thought I could do it, then I started reading about it and I was like…um, I can’t do this.
MW: Yeah, it’s hard. We ran out of water, twice. Yeah. Yeah, don’t believe the internet when they say where the water is. It’s not right. You have to stash water. I don’t think there’s any way to do it without it.
LM: Right, right. So what did you do?
MW: We uh, we just waited, waited until we saw someone and then we just bummed water from them. It was pretty, it was not ideal. But we made it. We were determined. We made it.
LM: OK, so would you ever do it again?
MW: Yeah, I’d love to do it again. I’d probably go the other way, though. Because from Moab to Grand Junction, it’s a lot easier because it’s downhill, you don’t have to do that last day where it’s, I don’t know how many feet it is. 5,000 feet. Yeah. You’re going downhill for that instead of uphill.
LM: OK, why doesn’t everybody do it that way, then?
MW: Because people like to suffer, I guess.
LM: OK, that’s good to know! What would you say, like what are the biggest challenges and best parts of running your own business?
MW: Obviously the best part is it’s all on your own terms. Yeah. I mean, It’s pretty awesome. And it’s like, you’re creating something new and you’re basically just making a dream come true. It’s really awesome to work really hard and for that to be a reality is really awesome. But, the negative side is, there’s a lot, for sure. You kind of have to be a crazy person to do this. Honestly. It’s just really stressful and it takes over your whole life a lot of times. And if it’s, for me, this is really the only thing I have to make money from, so there’s that stress too. It’s kind of a livelihood thing. But, I’ve learned a lot, and I deal with all of that pretty well now.
LM: It’s gotta be hard to know when to kind of stop. Like what is the right size, right? What is the right amount of growth?
MW: Oh yeah, I have that problem. Yeah. I, yeah. We have so much potential to expand, but I’m only one person. I’ve made a lot of mistakes doing that, actually. So, yeah, I’ve learned that it’s better just to be really careful with expansion rather than just to go for it. Yeah.
LM: What’s you’re favorite stretch of road to bike around here?
MW: Oh. Let me think about that. For short range, pedicab stuff, I would say the vinelands is really great. If you ride through the vinelands up to Bookcliff, that’s really cool. That’s probably my favorite route. Outside of that, I would say around Horse Mountain for gravel riding and stuff like that. But for pedicab routes, it’s from town to Bookcliff through the vinelands. That’s the best.
LM: That’s a good one. A little steep at the end!
MW: Yeah. Oh yeah. We know that, very well. Yeah, I’ve gotten to know all the contours of this town, very well. All the bumps, all the contours. All the potholes. Yeah.
LM: I bet! So I noticed on the pedicabs that there’s a sponsor on the side, so what’s the deal with that?
MW: Yeah, so this year we got a sponsor for all the festivals we’re doing and so because of that, we’re giving free rides at pretty much all Palisade festivals, except for Winefest. We’re charging for that but we’re only charging $5 a person, so not too bad. Yeah and they sponsor us, they pay us just to give free rides and they put their ads on our bikes. It’s pretty awesome.
I guess I should say it’s Atlasta Solar Center that’s sponsoring us this year. They’re really awesome because it’s allowing us to do so much more than we would have otherwise. It’s really great. Just knowing that we’re going to have the income for the events, the sponsorships, it allows me to branch out to more things that we’re doing. And I can try new things. Just knowing that I have that income makes it a lot easier to expand.
LM: It’s like a win-win, because then they also get free rides.
MW: Yeah, it’s a win for everybody, I think.
LM: In addition to running Palisade Pedicab, Mark started a community group called Bike Palisade, which is made up of a small group of locals who are advocating for cycling and community in the Palisade area. Perhaps most visibly to other locals, Bike Palisade holds community cruiser rides once a week on Mondays and once a month on Thursdays.
LM: What would you say your goal is for the bike community stuff here?
MW: I want to develop bike culture here, I guess. That’s the best way to describe it. I don’t know, really I just want to, I just want more people to ride bikes. And I want to provide fun things to do while riding a bike. And the community part too, it’s, because it can be hard to meet people here, so I wanted to create something where it’s like a regular thing where people can meet with common interests to get to know people. That was probably the biggest motivation in the bike ride.
LM: So what’s the story with how it started?
MW: It was a long time ago! It’s kind of hard to remember the details. Yeah, I just wanted to start it. It was the first year I was here, and so, I think I was just talking with Jeff and Jody, Spoke & Vine, and some other people and we just did it, and then it kind of caught on. It was actually kind of big the first year, and that was before locals Monday was a thing at Spoke & Vine.
And I don’t remember why we chose Monday, I think I chose it because it was the best day for me and so, yeah, that’s why we went with Monday. And then the first year it was pretty big. There were probably twenty people at the rides, and we started later in the year so it was nice weather, too. Yeah, that was before they had a bar, too, so it was just us riding and yeah, it was fun. That’s mostly what I remember!
Spoke and Vine was just a perfect place to have it, because they have that little area to hang out. It might have been before they had that little area. But either way, it’s just still an awesome place to be. It’s a good place to meet. And you know, Jeff and Jody are awesome, so they wanted to be a part of it.
LM: Why do you want more people to bike, and why do you want to show that presence to the community every week?
MW: I think biking can improve your life in just an infinite amount of ways. Just being outside. I think, being outside and then just taking time to get places, those two things together, do crazy stuff for your mental health and your life in general. And just being outside and being active. That’s probably the best way to describe it.
LM: Yeah, that’s good stuff! I do see complaints from people about, you know, drunk tourists on bikes, so I think it is really important to say, there are also locals who love to bike and we’re not just biking around like drunk, you know, tourists, but we’re here too. We also love to bike.
MW: Yeah, the drunk cycling thing here is unfortunate, but it really is a minority of people. It’s not very many people. Most people that do it are super responsible.
LM: Yeah. I agree. I think you do occasionally see a problem, but unfortunately that is always what sticks in people’s minds. So I think that the more we can get out there and be not drunk tourists, that’s what will stick in people’s minds. If Palisade was the perfect bike-friendly town, what would that look like?
MW: We would definitely have a separate bike path. Just something separate from the road. Just to all the main destinations because yeah, I guess that would be all along First Street, all the way out to Maison, and then you could just continue it from town, across the bridge, all the way out to the rim trail. That would be ideal, just that. But that’s super complicated, so.
LM: It’s a little discouraging how complicated it is. I had no idea. I thought, oh, big deal, it’s a sidewalk or whatever. It’s a path. But I had no idea that there are the three difference jurisdictions that are responsible for different parts of the same road.
MW: Yeah, you have to deal with that and then you have to deal with the private land issue as well, so there’s multiple layers of things. And then you have to pay for it. So.
LM: Right, yeah, it’s a little discouraging, honestly. But we’re not going to give up.
MW: No, we’ll make it happen. Maybe. In like 20 years. It’s a 20 year plan.
LM: I’m staying here for 20 years, hopefully!
MW: I’m down.
LM: So, what’s your favorite thing about the Palisade community?
MW: It’s very inclusive. That’s probably the best thing about it. Especially compared to a lot of other Colorado communities. Man, Colorado’s hard, for sure. I think because mainly because it’s so hard to live here, so expensive, that a lot of people are just barely surviving, so it just makes it hard to develop any community around that. But Palisade is not that way. And that’s the main reason I like it.
LM: When you get a day off, how do you enjoy it?
MW: Usually go hiking with Sarah and our dog Zappa. Somewhere. Hiking is usually what we do. Or, getting some time on the river. Trying to get back into rock climbing, but that’s hard. Maybe that’ll be a thing this year. And mountain biking, although I don’t do that much anymore, I want to do that more. Hopefully this year.
LM: Are there any events you’re looking forward to, for the event itself, or is it mostly just work?
MW: For the event itself, probably Palisade Bluegrass Bash is the best one. Which happened already. But Palisade Bluegrass Festival too is really awesome. They’re probably equal in my mind, they’re just different in so many ways. But yeah, Bluegrass and Roots is what it’s called. That one’s great. It’s just down by the river. There’s a lot of great artists and yeah, super fun to hang out at that. Do you have time right now? Or do you have a place to be?
LM: Yeah, well yeah but I have to say thank you for your time!
MW: Oh dang, alright, let’s do that.
LM: Thanks for your time, Mark!
MW: You’re welcome, thanks for having me, this was awesome. Really love what you do.
LM: Oh gosh, OK. I’m going to delete that. Thank you.
LM: Mark and his girlfriend Sarah are some of the first people we got to know in Palisade. And, full disclosure, I work with Mark on the Bike Palisade and On Palisade groups, too. I actually found it hard to objectively quote unquote interview Mark, because I already feel like I know what he does and doesn’t want to have as part of his official story.
But one thing that I felt should be part of the story about Mark is those community bike rides. I’ve already talked on previous episodes about how much the community bike rides mean to Paul and me. I suspected that they were at least as meaningful to the other people who show up as well. So I asked a few people after one of our rides: how long have you been coming and why do you show up? Here’s what they had to say.
Gary’s bell: the official sound of the community ride. Thanks, Mark, for everything you do to make Palisade a great place to be.
Hey, do you like to ride bikes? Are you in the Palisade area? Check out our group on Facebook, Bike Palisade, for more information about community cruiser rides and come join us! We always love to meet new neighbors and see familiar faces.
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Thanks for listening. With love, from Palisade.