Could Your Bar Business Profit from Buying a Pedal Pub?These "party bikes" are rolling through more and more cities. Here's what to know before jumping on the bandwagon.
You already own a brick-and-mortar bar (or maybe you don’t). Should buying a bar on wheels be your next business venture?
Pedal bars — aka party bikes, bike bars, pubs on wheels, pedal taverns, cycle pubs, cycle bars, etc. — are rolling through more and more cities, traveling at about 5 mph powered by people who are imbibing as they pedal. A driver does the steering, and often, a bartender serves up the adult beverages.
Whether you’re thinking of buying or renting one as an independent business or an expansion of your bar business, there are important legal, financial and logistical considerations to weigh.
Know the law
In some states, drinking and pedaling is perfectly legal. In 2015, Ohio passed a law exempting passengers of any commercially operated “quadricycle” from open-container restrictions, provided each passenger has no more than 36 ounces of beer or 18 ounces of wine and the driver, or captain, is sober.
But laws vary among states. For example:
- In Oregon, you cannot drink while onboard a pedal pub, so tour operators rent out the vehicles for patrons to pedal from one pub to another.
- In Arizona, a pedal pub manufacturer petitioned the state to allow individual municipalities to decide laws about party bikes. Per a law enacted in 2014, owners can apply for an open container exemption under limousine, bus and taxi laws. Passengers have to bring their own beverages, which must remain on the vehicle.
- Wisconsin cracked down in 2012 and no longer allows imbibing on board.
- In Michigan, Gov. Rick Snyder signed a law in 2015 allowing pedal pub passengers to consume alcohol while onboard. Local governments, however, can still prevent a business from allowing alcohol onboard.
- In California and Wisconsin, pedal pubs are still dry by law, but owners are petitioning for exemptions.
- In Texas, open-container laws are relatively lax, and customers are able to carry alcohol onboard. “You can bring cans or a keg, easy-peasy,” said Gene Landry, who owns Pedal Party in Houston.
Understand the locals
Do you live in a college town? Does your city have lots of twentysomethings, or a career-driven crowd that likes to let loose when the day is done? If not — if the populace is more conservative and reserved — opening a pedal pub might not pay.
According to Robert Mayer, the pedal pub manufacturer who petitioned the state of Arizona, customers tend to be tourists and party groups celebrating everything from a college student’s birthday to a retirement.
“[I]f I was to generalize an age group with which this was the most popular, it would definitely be millennials,” Mayer told CityLab.
Know the costs, and factor in time for red tape
Buying a pedal bike and getting it on the streets isn’t necessarily cheap or easy. Mayer sold about 10 bikes between 2013 and 2015 at a price starting from $38,000. He also helps potential clients navigate the laws in their area to get their bikes on the streets.
Adding to your costs: permits. Permit costs and types vary by state and municipality. And things can get very complicated when you’re dealing in a business that’s hard to classify, so be prepared for logistical setbacks. One Chicago pedal pub tried for two years to get a permit from the city, was fined for operating without a license and was ultimately shut down.
Decide on buying vs. renting
If you can get a permit, the next question is, buy or rent? If you buy, you can run tours anytime, even when your bar is closed, essentially as a separate business.
Or you can do what Martha King and Seth Gross do in Durham, North Carolina. Gross is owner of Bull City Burger Brewery and co-owner of Biker Bar NC along with King. The pair formed a partnership in 2013 for a bike tour service.
They rent vehicles from a local manufacturer and offer several tour packages that start and end at Bull City. They charge about $325, or about $23 per person for a 14-person vehicle. Other packages include full brewery tours and meals, historic and agricultural tours and moonlight rides. Since it’s BYOB, many customers buy growlers of Bull City beer or bottles of wine, along with a local snacking staple called bull nuts, for the ride.
“Incorporating Biker Bar NC has benefitted our business,” Gross said. “It helps Bull City Burger Brewery because a lot of times bike customers will eat there before or after and purchase beer for their ride.”
Choose the right routes
Where are the tourist spots in your city? What about the best bars, burger joints, hotels, stadiums, theaters? Do you know the best routes to navigate between them without hitting traffic snarls or long traffic signals?
Well-paying customers expect a top-notch experience. They’re already doing a fraction of the work required to keep your vehicle in motion. And since some of them are likely to be tourists, it’s important to make the trip worthwhile by providing some meaningful background on the sights they’re seeing.
As an added bonus, if you offer stops at other bars you might reach out to those bars to coordinate drink specials for your customers, as Milwaukee’s Pedal Tavern did with its choose-your-own-adventure-style pub crawls.
Statistics on the profitability of pedal pubs are hard to come by. As with any business venture, if you’re thinking of opening a pedal pub, be sure to do your homework — and the math — before you start rolling.