Debate over pedal trolley booze goes round and round

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Kevin Farron gets the same repeated phone call from potential customers asking if they can drink on-board his pedal-powered trolley as they ride from brewery to brewery in downtown Traverse City.

"Every day people call and say, 'Can we drink on it?' and we say, 'No you can't' and we lose a lot of business," said Farron, co-owner of the TC Cycle Pub, a minivan-size pedaling cab that tours around the northern Michigan microbrewing mecca.

Samantha Denkhaus, left, pedals with friends on TC Cycle Pub’s pedal-powered trolley through downtown Traverse City.

The Michigan Legislature sent Gov. Rick Snyder legislation this week that would make it legal to drink beer or wine while riding on a licensed open air quadricycle. There are operators of "pub cycles" in Traverse City, Marquette, Bay City and Grand Rapids.

But the owner of the Grand Rapids pedaling trolley opposes the legislation and is concerned drunken patrons could fall off her bike.

"It's really easy when you hit a bump to get ejected from it," said Laurie Ryan, owner of the Great Lakes Pub Cruiser in Grand Rapids. "I'm absolutely against this bill."

Ryan said her insurance company has indicated her annual $13,000 liability policy would double if drinking is allowed on board the 15-seat trolley.

The two-bill package requires commercial quadricycles be licensed as limousines, allow riders to transport beer or wine and impose a zero-tolerance law prohibiting alcohol consumption by drivers while guiding tours on the motorless four-wheel vehicles.

Republican Sen. Wayne Schmidt, sponsor of one of the bills, said it will allow tourists in his hometown of Traverse City to buy a growler or six-pack at a brewery and consume it on board the TC Cycle Pub, which is the only pedal cab operating in the city.

"You wouldn't be selling alcohol on-board — all of the liquor laws apply," Schmidt said. "... Protections are still in place. And with oversight by local government, we think this will be just another fun way to ... enjoy Pure Michigan hospitality."

Pub cycle tours have become popular in cities with a high concentration of breweries such as Minneapolis; Chicago; Boise, Idaho; and Bend, Oregon. The pedaling trolleys attract bachelor and bachelorette parties, large families celebrating a birthday or anniversary and companies looking for a team-building exercise, operators say.

"I don't see any danger to it at all," said Jesse Schramm, owner of the U.P. Pedal Cruiser in Marquette. "The driver still has control of the brakes and the steering."

In Marquette, the tours are less about going on a pedaling bar crawl and more about taking in the Upper Peninsula city's rolling hills along the shore of Lake Superior, Schramm said.

"A lot of people think those things are situated around drinking, and they're really not," Schramm said "There's not a lot of time to be drinking and pedaling."

In Traverse City, the TC Cycle Pub starts each tour of the city at The Filing Station microbrewery, about eight blocks south of the city's downtown corridor.

Farron's customers will often drink a pint before the tour begins and order a pizza and more beer when they return from the two-hour cruise, said Todd Klepper, part-owner and general manager at The Filing Station.

"It's been a nice way to expose folks to know where we're at, and we get a chance to impress them while they're here," Klepper said.

Klepper said he thinks the ability of riders to drink on-board the TC Cycle Pub will slow their alcohol consumption, not increase it. Currently, riders have 20 minutes at each bar their tour stops at to consume an alcoholic beverage, he said.

"There's kind of this need to get to a spot, drink really fast and get back on it," Klepper said. "I think it will kind of slow people down and they'll be able to enjoy riding the bike and not be in such a hurry to get place to place (and drink). I think it's better to consume at your leisure."

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