By Jonathan Brenneman
Before becoming a tour guide for Victoria Pedicab Company (VPC), I’d spent most of my career working as a radio DJ, travel journalist, and podcaster in Austria. “Shifting gears” to a new role on the roads and bike paths of inner Victoria has definitely presented some challenges, but in the end my transformation into a “pedicabster” has been a very rewarding one.
VPC’s electric-assist pedicabs allow me to focus more on the creative aspect of this job and less on the effort of pedalling, but don’t be fooled: this is a slow way to travel, with lots of time to smell the roses. And I wouldn’t have it any other way! From the teacup tree on Clarence Street to the Chinese Public School on Fisgard Street, I’ve discovered Victoria is a city full of stories, both historic and contemporary, inspiring and tragic in equal measure.
I’m here to answer the most burning questions about this very unusual job.
What’s your favourite story to tell?
There’s the true story of a guest at the Empress hotel who received a lifetime ban a little more than twenty years ago for an incident involving expensive sausages and a flock of a hundred or so seagulls. It’s outrageous, hilarious, and I’ve yet to see a guest not crack a smile when I tell it.
What time does your alarm clock usually go off at?
If there’s no early morning cruise ship to meet, I often don’t set it at all! I wake up naturally (usually around 8 a.m.) and check the weather forecast over a cup of coffee. If the weather is bad, I will consider splitting my day up into sections. One of the first things Andrew Capeau (VPC boss) told me, which I think is very good advice, is to think of this job as a marathon rather than a sprint. I want to do as many quality tours as possible, and to accomplish that, downtime is as important as uptime.
What are your favourite places to take passengers?
I’m hugely partial to the beautifully-preserved historic James Bay neighbourhood and Beacon Hill Park. What I love most about James Bay is that its heritage has collected no dust; the neighbourhood has preserved so much of its historic character in its modern form, and I love how easy it is to weave stories around heritage-designated character houses that remain loved and lived in even today.
You mentioned cruise ships. Is that where you find most of your passengers?
Many, but a surprising number of our guests are actually locals and I fully support this: even if you think you know your own city, there are still many intriguing stories you’d have no reason to know just living here.
What’s the toughest part of the job for you?
Well, so far I have to admit my storytelling is stronger than my pedalling, and my knees complain a lot after a long day on my pedicab. Perils of turning 40, I guess! I’ve been bribing my sore joints and muscles with regular hot baths full of Epsom salt, so for now my knees and I have found our way to an awkward truce.
Consistently “recommended on TripAdvisor” since 2015, VPC’s tours are one of the highlights of any tourist trip in Victoria. Learn more and book a tour of your own with one of the operators at victoriapedicabs.com; alternatively, you can book a tour with Johnny specifically at journeybyjohnny.com.