Like Santa Claus, the beer bike is known by many names. Fietscafe in the Netherlands. Das BierBike in Germany. Pedibus in London. The PedalPub in Minneapolis.
While it's called many things, it's recognizable all around the world. It looks like a pub on wheels: a bar in the middle with a beer barrel at one end, surrounded by a handful of stools with pedals beneath. Those seated at the bar pedal the bike around. And voila, you have a beer bike.
Beer and biking isn't a new combination for Pittsburgh. The city is already home to one of the most beloved cycling bars around — Over the Bar Bicycle Café — as well as the Keg Ride, a fundraiser in which cyclists haul kegs of East End Brewing Company beer to mystery destinations before tapping the brew. But biking while enjoying a brew could be a viable new way to see the City of Bridges, safely and sustainably.
The beer bike is believed to have originated in the Netherlands in the 1990s, according to a 2012 New York Times article on the growing popularity of bars on wheels. But while it started in Europe, its popularity is growing in the States.
Minneapolis hosted the PedalPub's U.S. debut. Imported from Amsterdam by Minneapolis residents Al Boyce and Eric Olson, the PedalPub began because of an email the pair circulated to fellow Minneapolis homebrewers. The email contained a photo of a beer bike and its riders hoisting 2-liter mugs of beer, with a suggestion about how to get in shape after a long winter of drinking.
"We thought it was hilarious," Boyce says. And the resulting friendly banter turned into "Let's buy one."
The pair flew to Amsterdam in 2006 to check out the bike; by 2007, they'd started PedalPub in the Twin Cities area. PedalPub is a 16-passenger bike that weighs 2,300 pounds without any riders. Riders reserve the bike rental before their event, determine the route, then hop on and enjoy. A "pilot" — a PedalPub employee — stands in the center, acting as a server and steering the bike. While Boyce says "propelling it is no small feat," the bike is geared low so it's not difficult to pedal.
"It's totally green. It's totally unplugged," says Boyce. "People are just sitting across from each other and talking, and that's something that's lost these days."
The bike travels down regular city roads, where the speed limit doesn't exceed 35 mph and there are wide shoulders. And to head off the danger of cyclists getting rowdy, riders sign a contract that includes a "substantial" financial penalty if the rules are violated, Boyce says.
PedalPub currently operates in Minneapolis, Chicago, St. Petersburg and Honolulu, with licensees around the country. But not every U.S. state where the beer bike operates allows open containers of alcohol. PedalPub had to work with Minnesota legislators to amend the state's open-bottle law to permit the Twin Cities bikes to be BYOB, Boyce says.
In Pennsylvania, things could be trickier. While there's only one statewide statute that deals with open containers — in the vehicle code — Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board spokeswoman Stacy Kriedeman says the bikes would be subject to local ordinances that control BYOB and open-container ordinances where they operate within the Commonwealth. But she notes that from the PLCB's perspective, "There is nothing in the Liquor Code or Board's regulations that would prohibit a vehicle such as this one, assuming it is truly a BYOB." However, the city of Pittsburgh has an open-container ordinance which is enforced by city police, unless it's in a restricted area, or a permit or variance is granted, as in cases like St. Patrick's Day or neighborhood festivals. Police spokeswoman Diane Richard says that while she's not familiar with the PedalPub, "it would violate our open-container ordinance."
Regardless of drinking on board, the PedalPub can be a safe way to hit multiple breweries for a bar crawl, as well as offer an opportunity for a nonprofit fundraiser. The Northeast Minneapolis Riverfront District, for example, holds a PedalPub relay race each year as a fundraiser. Other uses have included a tour of city ice-cream hotspots for seniors; a 24-hour riding marathon for a Minneapolis charity; and even a wedding.
"I think the draw is the glee, quite frankly," says Boyce. "You've got to do it to believe it. There is no way to describe how much fun it is."