Nightwatch: Bicycle built for BREW

  • Article by: TOM HORGEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 30, 2007 - 5:03 PM

Leave it to Lance Armstrong to race for the finish. Folks on the PedalPub race to the Guinness.

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PedalPub co-owners Eric Olson (far left) and Al Boyce (driving) lead customers on a 6-mph voyage to northeast Minneapolis bars.

Photo: Photo by Tom Wallace,

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We meet at one of northeast Minneapolis' perennial dives, the 1029 Bar, starting point for a most peculiar pub crawl on this sunny day in early August. We're going on a three-hour tour ("... a three-hour tour"), in which our mode of transportation can be best described as, well, totally insane.

It's the size of a minivan and weighs more than a ton (empty). It's also passenger-powered. So we hop onto stools and belly up to a bar top, five of us on each side. Our feet rest on bike pedals.

Behold, the PedalPub.

And we're off, the wind blowing through our hair, smiles on our faces. Maximum speed: 6 mph. After we hug the shoulder along Marshall Street, a couple of parked cars force us out into the road -- they don't make bike lanes wide enough for us. Our driver, seated in front, yells: "Merging!" An SUV comes blazing up behind us and everybody shrieks.

"AAAAAAAAAHHH!"

The PedalPub offers tours of different Twin Cities neighborhoods -- mostly bar tours, of course. While it looks like a bar and even has a spot for a keg, state law prohibits drinking on the PedalPub. Its owners hope to get their contraption grouped with limos and party buses, which would allow drinks on board (anything non-alcoholic is allowed). Its newness -- there's nothing like it in the state and perhaps the country -- means the legal landscape is bumpy.

"They've never seen anything like this in America," said co-owner Al Boyce.

The people we passed on the street sure hadn't. Many even stopped their cars or got off their bikes to snap pictures on cell phones. We just waved, feeling like rock stars. But of course, the real star was the PedalPub.

Coming to America

PedalPub's debut is the work of two guys with a dream.

OK, maybe not a dream, but just a really deep affinity for beer and things associated with beer.

It started in March 2006 when Boyce, a computer programmer and vice president of the Minnesota Home Brewers Association, saw a photo of the Fietscafe (PedalPub) in Amsterdam, where the concept originates.

"I was excited but wasn't all that serious about it," Boyce said. "I thought it would be the coolest home-brew vehicle for parades and events."

A home-brewing buddy named Eric Olson, who works as a mortgage loan officer and part-time teacher, was captivated by this bar-on-wheels, too. But both thought the price was too high for a novelty ($30,000 to $40,000). So the two friends -- both going gray but with years of partying ahead of them -- decided to make a business out of it.

They flew to Amsterdam to meet its inventors, brothers Zwier and Henk Van Laar, who now make and sell the party bike. There are 31 running in the Netherlands and a few more elsewhere in Europe. Boyce and Olson bought one, renamed it PedalPub, and struck a deal with the brothers to be the lone operation in North America, meaning anyone who wants to start a PedalPub business in this hemisphere must go through them.

In March, their PedalPub arrived in a 20-foot-long cargo shipping container. The Van Laar brothers flew in to help put it together. The 2,340-pound behemoth is made out of used Opel car parts, a Volkswagen steering wheel and wood. Tours started in April and will run until the snow flies in late November.

"We still think it's crazy," Boyce said. "But we worked the numbers up and down and we're confident that we will be well-rewarded for being crazy."

The first few months have been good, except for one speed bump. Their permit to travel on Minneapolis parkways has been revoked, Olson said, which means two popular destinations are out: the Lake of the Isles and the Stone Arch Bridge area.

  • PEDAL PUB

    It has routes all over the Twin Cities, or you can create your own. Each runs at least two hours ($300 per group) and can go all day. Call 952-703-9000 or visit www.pedalpub.com.

    ONLINE EXTRA

    Go to startribune.com/a3251 to see/hear a PedalPub bachelorette party. ("Woooo!")

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