As the peculiar yellow vehicle moved into the Short North neighborhood north of downtown, bewildered pedestrians stopped in their tracks, fumbling for their cellphone cameras.
Drivers honked car horns and gave thumbs-up signs out the windows.
A dog on a walk began barking uncontrollably.
Everyone, it seems, marveled at the Cycle Tavern, a 16-passenger bicycle built for bar-crawling that went on its first tours July 30.
The riders, as excited as the spectators, briefly forgot to power the motor-less vehicle as they gave cheers and returned waves to admirers.
“Pedal! Pedal! Pedal!” yelled one of the bike owners, reminding the partyers to keep pushing the pedals below their bike-seat barstools.
Dayna and Dusty Wymer, both 33, purchased the Cycle Tavern after a trip in the spring to Minneapolis, where the “party bike” concept has become so popular that the Pedal Pub there operates eight such bicycles.
The couple from Lewis Center thought the bike would fit well in the Short North and the Columbus Arena District – for bachelor and bachelorette parties, corporate retreats or just gatherings of friends interested in a unique night-life experience.
“Especially when you get to a certain age group, you need an excuse to go out,” said Dayna Wymer, a stay-at-home mother who is overseeing the bike business while her husband continues working in medical-device sales.
Plus, she said, booking the $190-an-hour bike – which must be reserved for at least two hours – can be less expensive (and maybe more fun) than renting a party bus or limousine.
Since the Cycle Tavern’s debut, the most-asked question has been “Can we drink on it?”
The bikes are traveling pubs in European countries – including Germany, home to 50 of them, and the Netherlands, where the company Het Fietscafe manufactures the vehicles with the intent that passengers at the rectangular bar will be served by a bartender pouring beer from an on-board keg.
In Columbus, though, the bike isn’t actually a “tavern”: City and state open-container laws prohibit the consumption of alcohol on the vehicle.
The Pedal Pub, a distributor for Het Fietscafe since 2007, has sold the $40,000 bikes to owners in Columbus and 12 other cities, some of which allow drinking while pedaling.
With the help of a lawyer, the company owners successfully persuaded the Minnesota Legislature to consider the bikes like limos in exempting them from the state open-container law.
To protect themselves from the antics of drunken passengers, the Wymers bought a $2million insurance policy and require passengers to sign a liability waiver and a code of conduct that, if broken, results in the end of the tour and a $200 fine.
The owners have also obtained a vendor’s license from the city, license officer Ralph Jones said, and are awaiting a ruling from the city attorney about whether the bike qualifies as a “livery vehicle” – requiring it to adhere to the stricter routing and scheduling rules followed by limos.
Still, a Columbus police spokesman warned that unruly passengers could be cited for disorderly conduct and raised some safety concerns.
“If you have somebody who is stumbling drunk, how can you expect them to stay on a chair without falling into traffic?” Sgt. Rich Weiner said.
The Cycle Tavern’s top speed, though, is about 8 mph – far slower than people riding two-wheeled bicycles.
“Race her! Race her!” the Saturday night passengers yelled as a biker whizzed by.
Their tour – organized by Kevin Brubaker, owner of the warehouse where the Cycle Tavern will be stored – probably wasn’t typical for the bike, which will frequent Short North and Arena District bars in proximity.
After the first stop at restaurant Basi Italia in the Victorian Village neighborhood, Brubaker, 51, and his friends decided (after some debate) to pedal all the way to Milestone 229, the new restaurant on the Scioto Mile.
During their 1.8-mile journey, the bikers were greeted by baseball fans at Huntington Park; wedding-reception guests at North Bank Park; and a taxi driver who, while driving behind them, took his hands off the wheel to applaud them.
Aside from a few hills, the pedaling wasn’t too strenuous, said Kim Sheehan, 51, of the Italian Village neighborhood.
“I love that you’re facing everyone; you can have full conversations,” she said. “I thought it’d be a lot more difficult, but I could see having a few drinks and still being OK.”
Between stops, David Cooke said, he enjoyed the views of downtown.
“These are the types of things that make the city really fun,” said Cooke, 63, of Italian Village. “You can’t do this in (suburban) Bexley or New Albany.”
On the way to the final destination, Level Dining Lounge in the Short North, tiring Cycle Tavern passengers motioned for cars to pass them on Front Street.
“Oh, thanks for moving at a glacier pace,” Cooke said sarcastically as one car barely inched by them.
The driver, so amazed with the spectacle, was actually shooting a video.
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