PHILADELPHIA (AP) — For bicyclist Rudi Saldia, you could say a cat is his co-pilot.
Saldia often buzzes around Philadelphia with his year-old feline Mary Jane perched on his shoulder. Their urban adventures have turned heads on the street and garnered big hits on YouTube.
The 26-year-old bike courier didn't intend to become Internet-famous. He originally shot footage of the outings only to prove to his mom that he was taking Mary Jane — nicknamed MJ — for a spin.
"She said, 'No way! You're not taking your cat out for the ride,' which is the reaction I still get even after people see this video," Saldia said.
Saldia used a GoPro sports camera mounted on his bike to capture images of him and MJ, a brown and black tabby with bright yellow eyes. She seems to take the trips in stride, even nuzzling her owner as he pedals, though she gets a bit spooked by sirens and buses.
"She enjoys seeing everything and having the wind blow in her ears, especially being an indoors cat. This is really her only time outside," he said. "On the shoulder, she loves it. She's in total zen mode."
The first video, which he posted last October, has more than 1.2 million views on YouTube. GoPro spokeswoman AnneMarie Hennes said she saw it earlier this year and was blown away. She immediately reached out to Saldia to get permission to use the footage in a camera ad, which was posted online last month.
"It's just unique and he did a really good job shooting it," said Hennes. "We hooked him up with some cameras so he can make more cool MJ content."
Saldia, who also belongs to long-distance riding club, said he began taking out MJ when she was 2 months old, at first just along his quiet street in downtown Philadelphia. The rides eventually went farther, with positive reactions from both MJ and passers-by.
"People are thrilled to see the guy with the cat ride his bike down the street," Saldia said.
But online commenters have been less kind, questioning whether the unharnessed cat is safe. Saldia noted he is equally vulnerable while riding in the city and takes necessary precautions.
"I'm very confident that the cat would be better off in an accident than I would be, so I'm not worried about taking her out," he said.
Saldia's mom said although she didn't believe her son at first, she now thinks the tandem rides are "kind of cool."
"He enjoys it, the cat loves to be with him (and) it's better than being home alone," said Sarah Saldia, of Sewell, N.J. "I don't think they're hurting anybody."
Saldia's video: http://bit.ly/ZdGK4U
GoPro video: http://bit.ly/1a70dUa
Follow Kathy Matheson at www.twitter.com/kmatheson.