Pub bike launches downtown on Saturday

Aug. 22, 2013 @ 12:01 AM

A bicycle. Powered by pedaling people. Who may be drinking beer and wine. And also learning about the city’s history. Or about its culinary scene, or its breweries, or its bars.

That’s the idea behind Biker Bar NC, a new pub bike that’s planned to launch downtown on Saturday.

It’s a project of Seth Gross, the owner of Bull City Burger and Brewery, as well as of Martha Philpott King, a Durham real estate agent who said she also works at the downtown restaurant and brewery.

With the bike, they’re planning to offer bookings for historic rides, tours of the city’s culinary offerings, brewery tours, pub crawls, bachelor and bachelorette parties, team building rides, family reunions, and non-profit fundraisers, according to a news release from the Durham News Service.

Tours will start and end at Bull City Burger and Brewery Bull City on East Parrish Street downtown.

“We just thought that this would be a great thing to bring to Durham; we hope that it will become sort of an icon to the city, sort of a city mascot,” King said. “We think people can have fun on the bike and see the great things that are happening in downtown Durham,” she added.

To clear the way for the new venture, the Durham City Council approved in April a change to a city open container ordinance. The amendment made pub bikes an exception to a city prohibition on possession and consumption of open containers of beer or unfortified wine in public streets.

Durham City Attorney Patrick Baker said in an email that there is a state law that prohibits open containers in motor vehicles, but he said the word “vehicle” has a very specific definition and the pub bike doesn’t meet it.

Mayor Bill Bell said he initially had questions about whether the bike could be operated legally and safely and whether there was a precedent set for it in other cities. But he spoke positively on Monday about the new venture.

“It adds another level of experience for people who come to Durham or people who are in Durham for entertainment, eating, and having an opportunity to have meals, and hopefully have an opportunity to drink alcohol in a safe way,” Bell said.

Bell, along with Frank Stasio, the radio host of NPR’s “The State of Things,” is slated to participate in an inaugural ride on the bike on Saturday, according to the release. The other 12 seats for the first ride are being auctioned off as a fundraiser for the John Avery Boys & Girls Club of Durham.

There is another pub bike operation in Raleigh called Trolley Pub Raleigh, which first launched in April of last year. Kai Kaapro, Trolley Pub’s managing partner, said the location was the company’s second behind another operation in Tucson, Ariz., that has since closed.

The business started very slowly in Raleigh, he said. In the first month, he said they had four bookings. However, now the Tucson location has closed -- largely because of a street construction project there, he said -- and business in Raleigh has done “very well.”

“We are very busy, we’re happy, with how much traffic we have,” he said.

Trolley Pub added a second trolley in Raleigh in October, he said, and has launched in Arlington, Va. He said they plan to add one in Wilmington in the fall or spring. Kaapro said he had scouted the Bull City as a potential location for his trolley business, but decided against it.

“I think Durham is a really great place and I love the restaurants there, but I wasn’t convinced that there was enough population density for what we do, or that the route really worked for us, but I’m curious to see how it does,” he said.

According to the news release, Durham’s bike was built in Bend, Ore., with features reminiscent of a steam-powered vehicle known as the “Stanley Steamer.” According to information in a compilation of columns in The Durham Sun by Wyatt T. Dixon published in the book “How Times Do Change,” the automobile made its first appearance in the city in 1901 in the form of a Stanley Steamer.

According to the release, Durham’s pub bike has a paint scheme, brass name plates, an antique horn, and other features similar to a model of the vehicle.

While the Biker Bar NC bike will be powered by its riders, a captain will be in charge of steering, braking, as well as providing the guided tour. There are seats for up to 14 people. Riders must be 16 years of age or older. There is a bench seat in the back for people who don’t want to pedal.

Alcohol will be allowed on board with some restrictions. Tours last about two hours on average. The cost is $325 for a standard ride, which breaks down to about $23 per person, according to www.bikerbarnc.com. The cost of food and drinks is not included.