By Jason Arndt
Some residents and visitors to downtown Burlington have seen a pedal bike – or more precisely, a pedal pub – holding dozens of people traveling along city streets since the start of the summer.
The participants, meanwhile, have shown enthusiasm by waving at onlookers while they visit local taverns for a quick sip of beer or wine.
The relatively new venture comes courtesy of Carriage House Pedal Tours, which began in the City of Racine, before expanding operations in the City of Burlington.
Racine tavern owner Doug Nicholson, proprietor of Carriage House, said the pedal pub’s initial launch in Burlington has drawn rave reviews.
“The reception has been excellent in Burlington,” he said at his downtown Racine establishment on Sept. 7. “We have had a lot of bookings. Everybody has a lot of fun.”
The pedal tavern looks similar to 20th century trolley cars, with side seating for the peddlers, a bunch seat in the rear, as well as rack-and-pinion steering, according to a document provided to the City of Burlington.
As many as 16 people can fit on the bike and groups rent them for bachelor parties, birthdays, graduations and corporate events, Nicholson said.
People can bring their own beer on the pedal tavern. However, beverages are limited to 36 ounces per person.
The pedal tavern typically takes participants to local establishments, such as John’s Main Event, Bubba’s Brickyard, BJ Wentkers, Archives Bar and Grill or the Log Cabin, among other taverns, based on riders’ preferences.
The pedal pub has also visited the Runaway Micropub and Nanobrewery and Low Daily, which serves as the starting location for the pedal tour, according to Nicholson.
Nicholson said participating establishments have welcomed the new addition.
“Everybody was receptive to it,” Nicholson said. “We try to give (establishments) a heads up when we pop in, or we call sometimes if it is a busy occasion because you certainly don’t want to bring people to an establishment if they are having a private event, or at full capacity.”
Nicholson, meanwhile, said the trial run offered the pedal tour an opportunity to make the necessary adjustments, particularly related to traffic, which became a concern for some members of the Common Council in late June.
“There have absolutely been no issues or problems and I believe the establishments out there like it,” he said.
“This was a great trial run this year because we found different paths so we don’t interfere with traffic.”
Executive Director M.T. Boyle, of Experience Burlington, first approached Nicholson about bringing the pedal tavern to Burlington several months before the launch.
Since the Common Council endorsed the business license for Carriage House on June 20 and the establishment began operations in Burlington, Boyle has reported positive reviews on the new addition.
“The Carriage House Pedal Tour was such a great addition to our summer events in Burlington,” she said. “The feedback from local bars and businesses was really positive and riders had a blast.”
Boyle, meanwhile, experienced the pedal tour herself with her extended family.
“I personally booked a tour with my extended family from all over the country, and my brothers and sisters were so impressed with not only the pedal tours but the city itself,” she said. “They kept telling me how friendly the people were and how nice the city is, and how impressed they were with the whole experience.”
Nicholson said Carriage House Pedal Tours has served as an attraction not just for Burlington residents, but beyond, with visitors coming from all areas such as Waterford and Lake Geneva.
“Lake Geneva has an ordinance in place where you can’t have a beer on a pedal tavern, so there are no operating pedal taverns in Lake Geneva,” Nicholson said. “Now we got those Lake Geneva people coming to Burlington. They are spending their money, which is a win-win.”
Carriage House Pedal Tours started in the City of Racine two years ago.
However, he has seen just as much engagement, if not more, in the City of Burlington related to the pedal pub.
“Racine has been a little bit slower than our bookings in Burlington, actually, which was a nice, welcome surprise for Burlington,” he said.
Nicholson, however, said the increased demand in Burlington could be attributed to less available time slots compared to the City of Racine.
When Carriage House Pedal Tours isn’t running operations in Burlington, the establishment runs in Racine because the establishment has one bike, Nicholson said.
While Nicholson has lauded Burlington’s enthusiasm, he noted parties still have time to book an event, with the final weekend set for Sept. 28-Oct. 1 in the downtown area.
Groups interested in signing up for a pedal tour can visit carriagepub.com, where they can access necessary waiver forms and make payments, Nicholson said.
During the June 20 Common Council meeting, Nicholson told officials he would pursue another year, if Carriage House Pedal Tours shows potential in Burlington.
Since then, Nicholson said he believes Burlington is ready for another year on the bike, and hopes to begin discussions with Boyle and the Common Council once the inaugural season commences.
“I hope the Burlington Common Council has us back,” Nicholson said. “We will be setting up meetings when this fall winds down.”
For Boyle, she welcomes the discussion and wants to have the feature become a normal fixture in the Burlington community.
“Experience Burlington is grateful that Doug Nicholson invested his time and energy in Burlington and really look forward to having the Pedal Tour back next year,” Boyle said.