Summer is almost here. In Denver this means more weekends spent in the city as opposed to snow-filled trips to the mountains. As the warmer weather draws out more Denverites and visitors to everything from rooftop bars to Rockies’ games, there has been a relatively new industry taking advantage of Denver’s vibrant downtown social scene during the summers. They’re part bicycle, part bar, and part limo and they’re completely taking over the streets in downtowns across the country. Whether you call them pedal pubs, party bikes, pedal bars, or bike bars, you have surly seen one before while driving in downtown Denver during a summer weekend over the last couple of years.
Regardless what you may call them, they’ve been entertaining people and vexing regulators in U.S. cities for years. While still a novelty these pedal bars cause state and city lawmakers to struggle with whether to allow them, and if so, what rules they must follow to keep all involved as safe as possible.
Pedal bars consist of a singular driver, a sober employee of the particular pedal bar company who both steers and pedals at the head of the structure. The 8-16 passengers on the pedal bar sit in the limo-style trailer and only contribute their pedaling power in stationary seats. Some pedal bars also include electrical assistance in powering the mechanism but almost all pedal bars are still too slow to keep pace with the flow of traffic and are too large for bike lanes.
Currently in Denver, pedal bars fall under the category of “Off-highway vehicles” as opposed to either bicycles or electronic bicycles. In Denver, an off-highway vehicle means any self-propelled vehicle which is designed to travel on wheels or tracks in contact with the ground, which is designed primarily for use off of the public highways, and which is generally and commonly used to transport persons for recreational purposes. Off-highway vehicles follow the same rules of the road as any other operating motor vehicle on the streets. However, these pedal bars present additional safety concerns while on the streets.
Pedal Bars are unpredictable. While most lack break lights and turn signals, pedal bar vessels rely on hand signals from the singular driver who is all the way in the front. With most passengers standing, pedaling, or moving about in the back of the pedal bar, it can be hard for nearby vehicles to notice or view this singular operator, much less his or her hand motions. In addition, Pedal bars frequently stop to drop off their passengers at surrounding bars and restaurants. If unprepared for these sudden stops, vehicles can find themselves coming into contact with the pedal bar, or even a parting passenger, by not stopping in time.
Pedal bars move at glacial speeds. Slower than traditional bicycles and even bike cabs, pedal bars create traffic in their wake. Following vehicles frequently bypass pedal bars to avoid the slow-down. If vehicles are not careful in downtown’s busy streets, these moves to bypass a pedal bar can be dangerous with oncoming traffic or pedestrians.
Traveling from bar to bar on a pedal-powered vehicle is a concept that is here to stay in Denver, a city where both the beer and bicycling scenes are always in high gear. As legislation in Denver is sure to arrive in the coming years regarding pedal bars and their safety, please be aware and careful of these operations in the meantime while driving as they’ll be in full force come summer time in our great city.