Tom and Amy Lawson were about to dive into the next chapter of their lives. After 40-year careers, Tom as a carpenter and Amy as a teacher, they bought an open-air, pedal-powered bus for double the price of most cars, and prepared it for tours of Bellingham’s breweries.
Before their first paid tour on Thursday, June 11, they weren’t nervous. They had the proper permits — the City determined they needed a taxi license, among other things — and they had rehearsed by pedaling the one-ton, 15-seat rig on a few practice tours, including a spin through the Blossom Time Grand Parade on Memorial Day Weekend with the mayor and county executive on board.
They were eager to try a tour with paying guests and eager to start making money after sinking so much into the business.
When all the guests arrived for the first tour — a birthday ride to Kulshan Brewing, Wander Brewing, and Aslan Brewing — they heard the rules (no beer on board, only two people at a time can dance in the aisle) and rolled out of the vehicle’s home in a warehouse behind Fanatik Bike Co. on State Street with Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville” playing on the sound system.
Amy and Tom Lawsons’ daughter talked them into starting the business. The three of them went for a tour on a similar pedal bus last year in Portland, Oregon, and loved it.
“Why not?” Amy Lawson thought when her daughter suggested they start a pedal tour business in Bellingham. “Let’s take a chance. We’re moving on to our next slice of life.”
Pedal party tours are popping up across the country. Seattle has the Cycle Saloon; Bend, Oregon, has Cycle Pub; Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, have the PedalPub; and Portland, Oregon, has BrewCycle and the Pedalounge.
As the names suggest, most of these vehicles cruise from one watering hole to the next and participants sample beer along the way. Pedal Party NW plans to follow this model, but Tom Lawson said he can also work with clients to create custom tours.
Though most cities with similar pedal-powered tours are bigger than Bellingham, Tom Lawson thinks he can find a market here. At the time of the first tour, he had about 10 others booked.
“It’s been so well received,” he said. “Everyone says it’s perfect for Bellingham.”
Despite the excitement, it will take a couple years to pay off the pedal bus, he said.
Pedal Party NW can do 16 tours a week and has openings for tours everyday but Monday. Tours last about two hours and cost $25 per person.
The pedal bus, which came from a Minneapolis factory with the name “Moonshine Roadster,” can accommodate groups of 15 people and needs at least 10 pedalers to make it go. The bus has six adjustable seats on each side of the vehicle — five pedaling seats and one with no pedals — and a “princess” bench in the back that can seat three people. For now, the Lawsons are only booking tours for whole groups, rather than selling them by the seat.
The vehicle has an electric motor that kicks in to help the bus accelerate, climb hills and back up. It also has brakes, lights, a sound system and USB chargers for passengers to charge their cell phones.
From the steering wheel at the front of the bus, Tom Lawson navigated his first group of paying customers to one of the more challenging spots in the triangle of breweries — a stop light on State Street. It took a while for the pedalers to roll the bus across State Street and onto Grant Street, but they made it before the light turned red.
“Get ready,” he said, as cars on State Street stopped.
The light turned green and the Moonshine Roadster crawled through the intersection, reaching the other side as the light turned yellow. The drivers behind just smiled and waved —Tom Lawson said he hasn’t had any drivers get upset with his slow rig yet.
Once safely on Grant Street, the pedalers sweated up a slight incline toward Kulshan Brewing Co. at about five miles an hour, faster than walking but slower than bicycling.
“Our first impression was it was a little bit more heavy in biking muscles than the casual biker is used to,” said Tina Ruff, who was celebrating her birthday on the inaugural tour. “Once you find the rhythm it seemed easier. We had such a great time. You end up in your own little world on the bike.”
And the workout made the beer all the more refreshing, she said.
Oliver Lazenby, associate editor of The Bellingham Business Journal, can be reached at 360-647-8805, Ext. 5052, or firstname.lastname@example.org.