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The bar-meets-bike business called pedalpub is on a roll

Think of it as bar meets bike. It also happens to be one of the most toast-worthy pastimes in the Twin Cities when the mercury starts to climb.

The PedalPub, as a vehicle, is basically a party on wheels--you rent time on it for your group, supplying whatever drinks or food you want to consume. The creative contraption, invented by the Dutch, holds 16 people and requires pedal power to move. Local brew enthusiasts Al Boyce and Eric Olson opened PedalPub--the business--here in Minnesota in 2007. In the past year, the company has picked up some serious speed. Besides reporting a record number of tours last season, PedalPub has sold vehicles to Amstel Light and to businesses in ten different cities. The latest ventures are just getting started in Madison, Boulder, Fort Collins, Denver, and Portland. The entrepreneurs are also carving out a market in Chicago and hope to expand to other parts of North America.

"We've had a lot of irons in a lot of fires for a long time--it's just popping now. We knew it would happen," Boyce attests. "We're in the business of selling fun and who doesn't want to buy fun?"

Pedaling Through Recession

In spite of turbulent economic times, the business has actually grown. In fact, Boyce believes PedalPub may have benefited from the recession. "Bread and circuses. When people are down on their luck, bread and circuses are what they want. So we're the circus part," he says.

The ride began in 2006 when Boyce received a funny email. The PedalPub, known in Europe as Fiets Caf´┐Ż, was pictured as the punch line to a joke. Boyce relished the idea of pedaling around town in a moving bar and suggested members of the Minnesota Home Brewers Association buy one. The only bite came from Eric Olson, a business professor at Normandale College. The two traveled to Holland to meet the inventors and ended up negotiating exclusive distribution rights for the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. Aware that Minneapolis ordinances would forbid consumption of alcohol on the PedalPub but optimistic about their chances for getting the state law on which the ordinances were based changed, the pair began by operating the business "dry," but later lobbied, successfully, to legalize on-board imbibing.

"They said it couldn't be done here because Minnesota's alcohol laws are pretty strict," Boyce says. "What's exciting is we can tell other cities it worked in the Twin Cities so why not Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles, or Miami?"

The Designated Pilot

Part of state law requires having a sober driver, or pilot, who is supplied by the company. Boyce describes the job as half party host, half bouncer. The pilot is in charge of navigating the vehicle and also enforcing the rules. The PedalPub itself has a designated space for a bartender, but renters must provide all of the food and beverages for the ride. While beer and wine are permitted, hard liquor is a no-no. Extreme intoxication and vulgar behavior are not tolerated. Still, PedalPub gets its share of lively and boisterous crowds, even when alcohol isn't on board.

"You can hear us coming down the road. We're definitely not going to sneak up on anyone," says PedalPub pilot, Melissa Summers.

The Twin Cities currently has six PedalPubs that are rented out in two- or three-hour blocks daily, except Mondays. The season goes from April through October--no matter what Mother Nature throws at Minnesota. Renters have the option of choosing from several different routes in Minneapolis and St. Paul, with many of the tours mapped out around local watering holes.

The PedalPub can reach a top speed of 5 mph. Of course, that's on flat land with some serious pedal power. Boyce admits that it takes work to move the 2,300-pound vehicle and points out that as alcohol consumption goes up, the desire to pedal usually goes down.

"You'll glisten. Yeah, you'll sweat. People like the down part of hills, not the up part. We can go a five percent grade for a little while and then people start to get grouchy," Boyce says.

"It can be a workout. You always want to recruit friends with good legs," Summers adds.

Start recruiting now because Pedal Pub is on a roll. Although it's still early in the season, tours are booking up quickly. The first fully-owned expansion, PedalPub Chicago, is just getting started with pilot rides. Boyce says the company is also setting its sights on some popular tourist destinations south of the border. "In the next few years, I wouldn't be surprised if we quadrupled the number of cities we are in. It's just a cool thing."

Lori Storm's last article for The Line profiled a local couple who import South African wines into the Twin Cities, in our August 4, 2010 issue.

Photos, top to bottom:

Let the good times roll: a PedalPub in traffic

A Pub in its Southeast Minneapolis garage

A group gets ready for a PedalPub excursion.

A close-up view of the bike-as-bar scene

All photos by Bill Kelley

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