From the Netherlands with Love: Examining the U.S. Party Bike Phenomenon

Every person loves a party, and it requires some sober and clever thinking to ensure the party continues safely, legally and uninterrupted. Hence the invention of the “party bike,” whichc was invented in the Netherlands but has made its way over to the Western hemisphere. What fuels this phenomenon, and what are the legal implications?

It’s a Party….Bike?

You’ve heard of a pub crawl, but have you seen goers hopping from bar to bar via a multi-person bicycle? The party bike, otherwise known as a fietscafe, pedal crawler, pedibus, beer bike, and other aliases, is fit with neon lights, stereo systems, a bartender and a party’s worth of riders. Bikes are built for parties larger than six. However, there is one integral element; the driver is sober while the rest of the pack is free to consume alcohol.

The Add-Ons

Like automobiles and limousines, party bikes are not all alike. They are fit for six people or more. Aside from upholstered seats for pedalers, some are equipped with seats for non-peddlers on the back. In the center is room for bartenders or servers, as well as the driver. Like electric bikes, the pedaling is supplemented by an electric motor, which is convenient for tackling hills.

Of course, the engineers who make the bikes have safety in mind, since a number of passengers are involved. For one, the speed of the bikes are usually kept well below 20 miles per hour. Secondly, smart charging systems ensure that batteries are always reliable. Thirdly, many bikes are equipped with automotive tires with a low-rolling coefficient, so bikes are easy to maneuver.

Its Origin

The trend has landed in the United States, but the first party bike blazed its trail in the Netherlands in 1997. The concept quickly gained traction in Europe, since most cities allow cyclists to enjoy beverages while the navigator remains sober. The partiers are along for the ride while the sober person is responsible for steering and braking, basically operating the vehicle.

An Industrious Idea

One entrepreneur took the idea of a party bike a step further and designed the Pedal Crawler, for sale in the United States. The entrepreneur has sold a bunch of bikes priced at $38,000 each, but that’s just the base price; buyers pay more for add-ons such as stereos and glowing lights. The US-based manufacturer’s bikes have landed in Tucson, Dallas, Nashville, LA County and Philadelphia. However, selling party bikes is not all fun and games; the manufacturer must deal with a number of law-based challenges.

A Legal Party

A number of municipalities allow for a party bike, but not all of them condone riders “partying” while it’s in operation. Laws vary across cities and states. For example, in Arizona, owners can apply for open container exemptions, similar to those given to limousine, bus and taxi services. Passengers must bring their own beverages and remain on the vehicle. Riders are not actually in control of the vehicle; they’re pedaling, but a sober driver is the one in ultimate control of the bike. No DUI or BUI can occur.

Other entrepreneurs do well in getting the help of legal experts who can help them navigate their city and state’s open container laws. Why should an entrepreneur go through the motions of investing over $40,000 in a bike and then attempting to jump through legalities? For one, there is an ongoing demand for the service. An Arizona entrepreneur gets repeat clients who want to go on themed rides focused on the 80s, super heroes, etc. The entrepreneur also admits that party bikes are popular with bachelorette parties and tourists who love wearing beer cycling jerseys.

In the spring of 2015, “beer bikes” got the green light in Sacramento, California. The bill to allow bikes to operate with on-board consumption of alcohol passed the state Senate unanimously and moved on to the state assembly. Advocates for the party bikes draw attention to limousines, which share a number of similarities; the driver, who remains sober, drives the automobile, while passengers are allowed to consume alcohol in the back.

Bill SB-530 was filed in early October of 2015. Some of the requirements associated with the bill include:

• The pedicab cannot seat more than 15 people
• The operator of the pedicab should be at least 21 years of age and have a California license
• The pedicab cannot load or unload passengers in the middle of the highway or on roadways
• Pedicabs must operate as close to the right side of the road except to avoid traffic, stationary objects, or when preparing to make a left turn

Ed Pope is co-owner of Circle City Bicycles in Indianapolis. He has been an active cyclist in 1982. His longest cycling tour was a 1,300 mile ride from Indianapolis to New Hampshire.