- Associated Press - Monday, May 23, 2016

DETROIT (AP) - Chains whir. People laugh, smile and wave as nine pairs of feet pedal a large, wooden bar on wheels through downtown Detroit. But something’s missing: This bar is dry.

The Michigan Legislature last summer made it legal for alcohol to be consumed on quadricycles, spurring investment in the eye-catching rigs for downtown tours, the Detroit Free Press (https://on.freep.com/2568dXx ) reported. In Ann Arbor or Traverse City, it’s bring-your-own-beer (or wine). But in Detroit, it’s bring-coffee-cup-with-lid-and-don’t-get-caught or wait ‘til the bar.

Existing city code prohibits consuming alcoholic beverages “on any street or sidewalk,” and the three pedal-pub companies operating in the city say Detroit prohibits beer on board, for now.

We asked the city about this, and it released a statement from City Attorney Butch Hollowell: “In light of this new change in state law allowing for the consumption of alcohol on commercial quadricycles, the Law Department and other city agencies are carefully examining how this new law squares with the city code and whether any changes in city ordinances are required to allow for the operation of these vehicles.”

We took a sample tour with HandleBar Detroit on Monday evening for the recording of the Free Press’s Detours podcast, with downtown stops at Grand Trunk Pub and Town Pump. It was great fun - drawing friendly waves from motorists, pedestrians and a police officer. The wooden bar’s cup-holders were empty, and multiple onlookers asked whether we could drink on the tour.

HandleBar, the Michigan Pedaler and Detroit Cycle Pub all offer quadricycle tours in downtown. Alcohol isn’t allowed on board, but they’re working together in hopes of an ordinance to change that. The business owners say they would have more people participating if beer and wine were allowed, and some riders expect it because of what they’ve seen in other cities or online.

Nick Blaszczyk, owner of Detroit Cycle Pub, said letting people sip a beer adds value to the experience.

“It would make a huge difference, and I think it would do really well for the economy, too, bring more people to the city,” he said. Reservations this summer have already been made to accommodate 7,000 riders, he said.

The tours normally are bar-hopping adventures, with two to three stops along the way, and some bars offer drink specials for participants. People take them for birthday parties, bachelorette and bachelor parties, family reunions and corporate events. The cost among the quadricycle companies usually comes out to about $20 per person for a two-hour group tour.

The state law prohibits the guides from serving alcohol to riders, so the standard is to bring your own. And the people drinking aren’t steering. They provide the pedaling power, while the guide steers an actual steering wheel, complete with brakes and exterior lights. The state law mandates that the guide keep a blood-alcohol content of “0.00.”

The pedal pub and its variants has become a popular way to tour cities across the country. Participants can bring along beer in Indianapolis, Cleveland, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Nashville and Milwaukee, among other cities. Detroit isn’t alone; both Royal Oak or Grand Rapids prohibit quadricyclers from drinking while pedaling.

Blaszczyk said that “nine times out of 10,” the participants exploring Detroit on quadricycle weren’t previously aware of new businesses they were seeing.

“Most people come to a sporting event, and then they leave,” Blaszczyk said. “We take them to the city we show them around.”

In Royal Oak, city officials denied alcohol on board because of concerns people would step off with a drink in hand, violating an open container law, the Free Press reported in August.

Ohio’s quadricycle law was approved a couple months before the Michigan one. Cleveland Cycle Tours allows for riders to bring beer and wine, and it’s had “zero issues since the law passed,” according to Michael Stanek, with the Cleveland-based tour company.

Brian Lindsay, who co-owns HandleBar Detroit with his brother, Stephen, said the state law makes clear that having alcohol on a quadricycle isn’t the same as having it on the street. But the city has the right to enact a ban.

“I want a good relationship with the city,” Lindsay said, adding that he hopes for this to be a long-term business endeavor here. Non-alcoholic beverages are allowed on the tours, and he said there are concerns of people sneaking on hard liquor.

Mike Gill started the Michigan Pedaler around St. Patrick’s Day this year. He’s hopeful that as people become more familiar with the tours, they’ll support them.

“It’s something that’s new for everybody… the city of Detroit has never had to deal with quadricycles before,” he said, adding that alcohol could make the experience “a little more fun” for people but isn’t essential. “What we’re finding is people have a great time on party bikes, regardless of whether they’re drinking on the bike or not.”

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It’s like “a giant bicycle,” said HandleBar Detroit co-owner Brian Lindsay. “It’s basically the framework from a car.”

“Lights, steering wheel, brakes, sober driver,” he said. “And everybody else is just the gas, I guess you could call it.”

The two quadricycles his company uses each have 10 seats for pedaling and six for riding, plus the guide’s spot behind a steering wheel; there’s also a stereo and controls for the exterior lighting. It cost about $30,000 and was shipped from Amsterdam.

The quadricycles usually move at roughly 5 m.p.h. Car and Driver ran a test and got one up to 12 mph.

The tours run rain or shine, and Lindsay said the tours are sometimes extra fun in rain; there’s a covered roof, so the riders stay pretty dry. Helmets are optional, and participants are required to sign a waiver.

The Free Press offered a few seats on our ride Monday to people through our Twitter feed. Here’s what a couple of them thought:

“Oh my gosh, I had so much fun,” Alicia Holmes, 25, of Detroit said. “I thought it was going to be terribly difficult, but it was not. And I got in my work out for the week.”

Amanda Thompson, 27, of Birmingham, said she’s now planning to do a trip in June for her birthday.

“I can’t wait; I’m super excited,” she said. “I don’t like working out. … But this is the best thing ever. I feel like I got a good cardio workout.”

Lindsay said he and his brother are from Michigan, but they first started doing the tours in Indianapolis, where open alcohol isn’t prohibited. They now have six quadricycles there, along with others in Australia and one in Scottsdale, Ariz.

He said the quadricycle was invented by two brothers in Amsterdam who made it as a float in a Queen’s Day parade. The Lindsays bought the bikes for Detroit in August, and they gave their first tour in September. They stopped in December but, because of the mild winter, started up again in February.

As the rides become more popular, they want to offer individual rides to people who show up on the street. But for now, they just book group reservations.

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Information from: Detroit Free Press, https://www.freep.com

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