Leave it to Lance Armstrong to race for the finish. Folks on the PedalPub race to the Guinness.
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.
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.
"[Park] staff believes that it goes far too slow to be on the parkways, so it would stop traffic," said Annie Young, a parks commissioner. "A lot of people had concerns about the intonations of the name. So I would say that's another barrier."
Life on the road
"Is it safe?" is the second question people usually ask about the PedalPub (after "Can we drink on it"?). Olson and Boyce say they haven't had any problems. Before riding, you have to sign a waiver acknowledging the risk. They offer helmets, too.
"There was only one insurance company in the country that would cover us, so we've got to be careful," Olson said.
Understood. But you'd have to try pretty hard to fall off the PedalPub. With a top speed of 6 miles per hour, you're in no danger of flying off. But you won't be falling asleep, either.
The slightest decline in the road can give the PedalPub some welcomed speed. Near the end of our Northeast tour, barreling down the street at a good, oh, 8 miles per hour -- light speed by PedalPub standards -- we came upon Mayslack's. Boyce decided to give us a good show, so we hit the turn into Mayslack's parking lot at full speed (no braking). We shrieked again:
And then bam, we lurched to a stop. The bar's patio was full of people, all of whom stopped in mid-gulp, dumbstruck by our slow-speed, action-packed entrance. Boyce saw the perfect opportunity to hand out brochures. One guy, slouched in front of a pitcher of beer, took Boyce's info and said, "Yeah, I like to be active."
Which makes you wonder: Do drinking and exercise really go together? One of our fellow riders had a hard time persuading his drinking buddies to go along.
"My first thought was, 'Oh, all my friends would love this.' Which didn't turn out to be the case," said Jason Shapiro, 34. "They wanted me to scout it out first."
What a scouting trip it was. During our journey -- each PedalPub ride should be a journey -- a delicate balance between drinking and exercise revealed itself. Very Zen-like. Maybe that's the PedalPub's greatest achievement. You drink, you work it off, you drink again.
It's a win-win -- for body and belly.