Onboard Detroit Cycle Boat, pedalers drink and dance
Similar to cycle pubs you see on the streets of Detroit, the Detroit Cycle Boat pedals down the Detroit River for a cruising good time.
The Detroit Cycle Boat launched in May, offering a pedal-powered booze cruise on the Detroit River
Detroit River — Midway through a two-hour tour, the Detroit Cycle Boat captain turned down the country music and told the 10 pedalers to listen up.
“Everyone needs at least two cold beers in front of them,” said Nicholas Grobbel, as he steered the cycle boat south on the Detroit River.
“You’re going to drink when you hear ‘Roxanne,’ and you will keep drinking until you hear it again,” Grobbel continued.
Grobbel’s first mate turned up the Police hit, and the game began.
It’s all a part of the one of the latest unique Detroit experiences making a splash this summer.
The Detroit Cycle Boat claims to be Michigan’s first and only pedal-powered boat. With seats for 10 pedalers and six more passengers, the 31-foot boat with a big, blue paddle wheel departs from Sindbad’s Restaurant and Marina in Detroit.
Passengers bring their own bottles and food for the Detroit River tour that costs $28 to $33 per person, depending on the day. While passengers must be at least 21 to drink, all ages are welcome to pedal.
The boat has a 30-horsepower motor, so it can get where it needs to go if the pedalers get pooped.
There are a few rules: No jumping off the boat and no throwing things in the water. There are life jackets aboard, but guests aren’t required to wear them. Pedalers must sign a waiver before riding.
Co-owner Nick Blaszczyk also owns the Detroit Rolling Pub, formerly called the Detroit Cycle Pub — he recently changed the name to avoid confusion between the bike and boat.
The 32-year-old Royal Oak resident launched the 15-passenger pedal bike in 2015. The downtown Detroit drinking experience quickly proved successful, as the quadricycle has attracted over 15,000 riders.
Blaszczyk explained he and his wife, Jody, were relaxing along the water last summer when inspiration struck.
“We had the cycle pubs, and we were like, ‘How awesome would it be to have a cycle boat?’ ” Blaszczyk said.
So they did some research and found it didn’t exist in Michigan. But there was a company, Cascade Cycle Boats in Oregon, that builds cycle boats and has sold them to operators in 20 cities — the closest being Cleveland.
“My wife was like, ‘No way we’re doing this,’ ” Blaszczyk said, “I’m like, ‘Oh, we’re doing it.’ ”
On May 26, the Detroit Cycle Boat set sail on the Detroit River. Operating seven days a week since then, Blaszczyk said they’ve given 128 tours and have another 476 booked until the season ends Sept. 30. About 90 percent of customers come from the suburbs.
“We’re sold out every weekend until September,” he said. “We have people wanting to book for next year now.”
Next year, Blaszczyk and his business partner Tina Mighion plan to add two more boats in Detroit and expand to Traverse City, Grand Haven and possibly Ann Arbor.
The route depends on the weather and waves, but the captain typically heads north and loops back south, passing by the Manoogian Mansion and Kid Rock’s house.
“He was out a couple weeks ago watching the Tigers game. He waved,” said Blaszczyk, explaining the rocker’s Detroit-made beer, American Badass, sponsors the boat and three quadricycles.
The boat also passes Belle Isle and the Detroit Yacht Club. For pedalers who need a pit stop, they’ll head back to Sindbad’s.
Sindbad owner Marc Blancke is thrilled the boat docks outside his family-owned restaurant. Often, groups will grab a bite to eat before or after their ride.
“Not only is it bringing in customers, it’s bringing in new customers. And Sindbad’s been here a long time,” said Blancke, referencing its 68-year run. “It’s bringing in young people. That’s a great thing for us.”
Brian Lindsay, owner of the HandleBar, the first pedal pub that launched in Detroit two years ago, supports that the Detroit Cycle Boat is attracting more people downtown. Though it’s a similar concept — pedaling while drinking — he doesn’t view the boat as competition.
“On the surface, people see ‘oh, pedaling and drinking on this big thing, it’s the same,’ but when you get down to it, there’s a lot of differences. One of the cool things about being on a pedal pub is you can drink and they can’t,” said Lindsay, referring to vehicle drivers. “When you’re on the water, other boats can drink.”
Coast Guard Sector Detroit Lt. Ben Chamberlain said the Detroit Cycle Boat is “unique to the area,” and the Coast Guard hasn’t encountered anything like it. But they don’t have any problem with passengers playing drinking games.
“There’s novelty to their approach,” Chamberlain said, “and as long as they can operate within the boundaries of their certificate of inspection, we certainly wish them the best of luck with their endeavors.”
Passengers were enthusiastic during a recent outing.
Andrew Wren clanked his beer bottle with his co-workers’ as the speakers belted Lee Brice singing “We belong to the drinking class.”
The 34-year-old mortgage banking director took a swig and explained the group represented the top producing bankers from One Reverse Mortgage in Detroit.
“We decided to take everyone out on the boat and treat them to a dinner just to get everybody out and have some fun,” he said.
Banker Kim Slavik, 59 of Beverly Hills, appreciated the 4:45 p.m. outing.
“It’s nice to get out of the office, and it’s kind of fun to do it in the middle of the day,” she said.
Taking a break from pedaling in her white sandals, she added: “I like that it works if you pedal, or you don’t pedal.”
While Jody Blaszczyk may have doubted her husband’s idea at first, she attests it’s a one-of-a-kind boat ride.
“When I was first out on the boat, I was like, ‘Wow. This is really cool to see the Detroit skyline from the water,’ ” she said. “I never had a chance to do that before.”
Detroit Cycle Boat
Tours depart 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday-Wednesday; 10 a.m. to 9:15 p.m. Thursday-Sunday
Make reservations at detroitcycleboat.com or call 231-286-5257.