Meet Peru’s transportation oddity, the Mototaxi, a Honda 125 or 150 city bike–or more likely a Chinese copy of one–with two wheels and a couch stuck on where the swingarm should be. Never has something with so little power looked so cool to so many.
Eighteen-year-olds in Mototaxis run the streets in Peru. Fares are
settled before the ride; a 5 kilometer trip might cost 3 Sols (about
$1). The same ride in a regular four-wheeled taxi would be 5 Sols.
The first Mototaxi was probably the brainchild of a Peruvian
motorcycle-taxi owner who welded a couch and wheels onto his bike so he
could carry more than one or two passengers. The next step was a vinyl
roof to differentiate his one-wheel drive Mototaxi from sidecars and
trikes. Today, most Mototaxis are fully enclosed and have been
customized to look like futuristic space transport (our bone-stock
Lifan ‘taxi was roof-only). A typical Mototaxi has front and
parallelogram-swinging rear doors, a leather bench seat in the back and
all manner of superhero and go-fast stickery. More heavily customized
‘taxis have jingle-playing horns, car-battery-powered stereos, batman
symbol-shaped tinted rear windows and Octopus-waddle watershields on
the front of the cabin.
That the Mototaxi is one-wheel drive could almost be forgiven, except
that the left wheel is the driven wheel. If the road has any sort of
crown it is necessary to push hard on the right grip and to tug on the
left to go in a straight line. Ours had a gearbox with a neutral-up,
five-down gear arrangement and shortened gearing that refused to climb
any sort of incline if the engine weren’t spinning above 6,000rpm.
Keep in mind though that it was a 125 carrying a passenger and 30kg of
gear and that we were riding between 3000m and 4500m during our 1250km
trip. The thin air and luggage meant there wasn’t enough power to
slide the thing and it took a great effort to turn the bike to the
right or the left due to the motorcycle front end being unable to lean.
The vast majority of taxis have mag wheels; our spoked wheels were
plagued with loosening spokes stemming from the immense side loads
While it would seem that a fully-laden Mototaxi might have trouble
keeping up with traffic, it turns out that except in Lima, Peruvian
intersections generally don’t have traffic lights — people honk and
continue through intersections if there is no traffic coming. That
makes each junction a 4-way caution rather than a 4-way stop and one
must actively change course and avoid other road users to conserve
momentum. Such freedom means that drivers pay great attention to the
roads and it’s possible to cross an entire city just by modulating the
throttle and aiming for the gaps in traffic.
There are other interesting ways to navigate Peru besides Mototaxis. In every city, Toyota HiAces wander the streets with women
hanging out the sliding door yelling the destination of the van. For
as little as 50 Centimos (about $0.20), they’ll take you to the city
center or wherever else they might be headed. That’s around one-fifth
the cost of a Mototaxi, so they have to pick up far more people to
break even. During one ride we counted seventeen people in our HiAce;
during another the sliding-door woman sat on our lap after she gave the
last empty corner of a seat to a mother and her baby. At the other end
of the spectrum are colorful reverse-trike pedicabs, whose rates are
even cheaper than the Mototaxis. The trikes are a pastoral way to get
around, but it can get awkward if you’re in Puno and your spindly
fifty-year-old chauffeur begins huffing away behind you in the thin
3,800 meter air.