It’s no secret that there have been many efforts to make downtown Fort Wayne a more walkable and bikeable place.
The city has worked to improve our streets and storefronts. Visit Fort Wayne provided signage to direct us to local attractions, and the Fort Wayne Trails system is connecting our attractions with bike paths so we can get where we want to go without driving.
But as helpful as these efforts have been, a new attraction is getting people out of their cars and onto the streets of downtown unlike ever before. It’s a 15-person pedal cart often referred to as a “beer bike” because it looks like a mini bar on wheels. Its real name is Pedal City, and it turns out it’s more than a moving bar.
Janelle Ford, who co-owns the company, said the three Pedal City bikes that started touring downtown on St. Patrick’s Day have been well-booked with parties and company outings all season. The business has had some repeat customers, and it’s getting ready to expand by adding a beer garden and a micro brewery of sorts to its launch site at 1215 W. Main St.
Ford hopes the hype will attract bicyclists from the Rivergreenway and bring more people to a less-developed area of downtown just over the West Main Street bridge.
But along with bringing new life to more remote parts of the city center, she’s noticed that about 70 percent of the people taking the bike tours are unfamiliar with even the most popular attractions downtown.
“A lot of people say, ‘We don’t know where to go because we don’t ever come downtown,'” Ford said.
So Pedal City helps visitors by providing them with a map of popular bars and restaurants, some of which even offer discounts and deals for riders.
On a two-hour tour, bikers can usually make about two stops, Ford said. But the fact that people don’t know where to go speaks to the fact that the bikes are helping more of Fort Wayne discover downtown and find new favorite things to do there.
Does that mean “beer on wheels” is the city’s much sought-after answer to getting people out and about? Not exactly, according to Adam Murphy, Ford’s co-owner and tour driver.
As much as the adult beverages play into the fun factor for some, not everyone who rides the bike is interested in drinking, and if anyone in your party is younger than 21, alcohol is not even allowed.
But that doesn’t kill the mood for customers who are more interested in exploring and rediscovering the city from a big bike. Murphy said he’s taken a wide variety of groups on tours, from 9-year-olds to 90-year-olds.
Each group can bring its own drinks, food, music and even decorations for the bike to tailor to the experience to the individuals on board. Some opt for morning tours with mimosas. Others go for a leisurely afternoon ride to Coney Island, and some want to go bar-hopping at night.
Up to 15 people can ride the bike at a time, and not everyone who rides needs to pedal. There are six bike-like seats on each side of the cart for the workhorses of the group, and there’s a bench on the end for two riders, along with room for one person to be the resident bartender or server and stand in the middle. An official Pedal City driver keeps the group out of trouble on the road.
Near the end of the workday on July 18, cars on West Main Street passed a Pedal City crew headed toward the launch location.
Patrick Florea, an account executive at JH Specialty, booked the tour that day for his party of co-workers and clients as a team-building exercise.
“It started as a business meeting at the beginning, and after everyone had a few drinks, it turned into more of a relationship-building time,” Florea said.
His party came back to the launch location laughing and blaring music from the bike. He said they stopped at JK O’Donnell’s downtown and found a new favorite called Rudy's Shop near Parkview Field that sells craft beer, wine, cigars and chocolate.
“We wouldn’t have noticed a place like Rudy’s if it wasn’t for Pedal City,” Florea said.
After the tour, he said he wants to go back to Rudy’s sometime soon. He found something he enjoyed downtown, and that’s the key to making downtown a more popular place.
Pedal City is booking bike tours until the first snow in Fort Wayne or whenever people stop booking for the season, Murphy said. A two-hour tour is $200 Monday through Thursday, and $300 on Friday, Saturday or on a holiday. It is closed on Sunday. All other days, Pedal City is open from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 260-415-6167.