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Portland’s pedal-powered pub crawls are becoming big business

Posted by on June 11th, 2013 at 9:44 am

Pedalounge owner John Boblett at the helm.
(Photo © Michael Andersen/BikePortland)

The sun was setting over the back parking lot of the Blitz Ladd when John Boblett flipped a switch on his custom aluminum dashboard and was immediately surrounded by soaring Columbian pop music and the hoots and hollers of 16 middle-aged professionals pedaling as fast as they could toward their first pint.

For Boblett, that’s the start of a summertime Friday on the Pedalounge. And he hasn’t even added that stripper pole yet.

As Portland’s summer heats up, the pedal-powered microbrew tour business is booming — and changing fast.

“Even if you’re not a biker, when you’re in Portland you want to feel like you are.”
— Andrea Lins, Brewcycle

“It used to be just myself and my boyfriend who kind of ran it, and then my brother moved up to help us,” said Andrea Lins of BrewCycle, which now operates three party bikes of 11 to 15 seats each based in the Pearl District and is now training six part-time drivers to operate the vehicles under pedicab licenses.

The four-wheeled cycles rent for $25 or less per seat for a tour, which typically lasts two to 2.5 hours. At the city’s insistence, no alcohol is allowed on board — the vehicles are just a fun way to bar-hop in a squad.

“Everyone on the bike faces each other,” said Boblett of Pedalounge, which operates one cycle in the Ladd’s Addition area and now a second one on North Mississippi Avenue. “They’re taking pics of each other, talking to each other across the bar.”

The contraptions are especially popular with tourists.

“Even if you’re not a biker, when you’re in Portland you want to feel like you are,” Lins said.

BrewCycle has been so successful that later this year it plans to open a bar, Brewstop PDX, to serve as a permanent headquarters for its fleet. The site at 1425 NW Flanders, which Lins said will offer 24 taps of mostly local beers, is awaiting building and alcohol permits.

“Groups that don’t even know each other during the tour meet each other and want to hang out afterwards,” Lins said.

Vernonia Overnighter

The Brewcycle is hard to miss.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Boblett said he wants to start offering singles nights: eight men and eight women, for example, meeting and mingling at each microbrewery they hit. Both Pedalounge and Brew Cycle have both started offering corporate teambuilding events.

And Boblett seems to be serious about adding a stripper pole – plus a 50-foot shower curtain, tucked underneath to catch the loose dollar bills — “once or twice a year.”

“I’m afraid to do it because I think it would get so popular,” he said.

This summer, Brew Cycle is also experimenting with a new themed tour aimed at tourists: a “Portland Weird” ride that includes Old Town’s so-called Shanghai tunnels and ends at Voodoo Doughnuts.

Pedal buses have been popular in Europe for years and are spreading to U.S. cities as unlikely as Lincoln, Neb., and Boise, Idaho. But in Portland – once memorably described as “essentially just a city of bars, coffee shops, and bike shops connected by bike lanes” – this seems to be a business model with legs.

“Some of the trips, I kind of get goose bumps — there’s so much energy here, really good energy,” said Boblett. “They’re old friends. They have all the inside jokes, they tease each other and they really enjoy it.”

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  • Craig Harlow June 11, 2013 at 11:08 am

    I can see the morning school carpools getting done on that rig :^)

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    • Justin June 12, 2013 at 9:15 am

      That’s brilliant, actually. Like the walking school bus.

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  • Carl June 11, 2013 at 11:48 am

    I’m naturally averse to loud clusters of people doing silly things in the street unless I’m one of them. Not surprisingly, I hated these things until I tried one (Thanks Paul!). They’re a bunch of fun, allow folks to dip their toes into biking in Portland, and provide terrific traffic calming.

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  • Kristen June 11, 2013 at 12:08 pm

    I had no idea that you weren’t allowed to drink on board. That’s kind of disappointing. Is it even possible for inebriated partygoers to steer the thing off course?

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    • Joseph E June 11, 2013 at 12:22 pm

      From what I’ve read, only the driver steers, and they don’t drink. The other folks provide the pedal power.

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  • Ayleen June 11, 2013 at 12:40 pm

    There’s no need to drink on the bike – the stops are frequent enough that all you have time to do is rock out to a couple songs (you can bring your own) and interact with the people you pass by.

    I’ve been twice: once for a birthday party and once with my parents and friends – four rad people in their late 60’s. It’s a cool vantage point from which to explore a small section of the city, and the other riders are generally light-hearted people you’ll want to get to know.

    On top of that, John is a spectacular host, totally making it a party machine on wheels.

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    • A.K. June 11, 2013 at 1:47 pm

      How fast do they go? I’ve only ever seen them parked, never actually in motion.

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      • lyle w. June 11, 2013 at 3:51 pm

        5-10 mph, at most, probably. Basically walking speed.

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  • bendite June 11, 2013 at 11:07 pm

    In Bend you can drink on the Cyclepub. They make an exemption for open container and consider the ‘driver’ separate from the others, like a limousine. Make it happen, Portland.

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  • d June 13, 2013 at 4:45 pm

    In the second picture they appear to be driving in the bike lane and forcing the 2 cyclists to take the street in order to pass. That thing can’t possible be considered a bicycle…

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