Matthew Graham has a surefire way to tell whether Chicago drivers are annoyed by his 17-person party bike.
“I’ve been doing this for six years, and I’ve gotten flipped off maybe two or three times,” he said.
Graham’s Pedal Pub bike rental company would like to open a branch to rent the multi-rider conveyances in Forest Park.
“Our interaction with drivers is, they honk and wave at us. Sometimes they turn around and take a picture.”
But Forest Park’s village administrator, however, is not so sure. At Monday’s meeting, the village council voted to delay the business license for the Minnesota-founded company until the Traffic and Safety Committee had taken a look at traffic issues.
“We just don’t know if they will block traffic and what the effects will be,” said Village Administrator Tim Gillian.
But Graham insists traffic blocking is not a problem with his bike.
“We generally stay out of traffic if it’s bad,” said Graham, noting that parties rent the bikes for events such as pub crawls, birthday parties and progressive dinners and travel a prescribed route around the neighborhood.
Graham, who is referred to as “pilot” doesn’t pedal himself. Up to 10 riders pedal, but seven others can ride effort-free, he said.
A large barrel sits on the front of the bike, and a vehicle-length counter runs down the middle of the Pedal Pub. In spite of the company name, Illinois state law says alcohol cannot be consumed on the bike. Food and other beverages are allowed, however.
“I encourage people to bring their bottled water because you’re going to be thirsty.”
“Part of the fun is being on the bike and pedaling around. People just start giggling the minute they see the bike,” he said.
“We do an average of four tours a day, so we’re on a stretch of road no more than four times in a day,” Graham said. For pub crawls or progressive dinners, “I stay with the bike, which is parked out of traffic on a side street.”
He regularly rides the 9-foot-tall, school bus-yellow pedal trolley with safety lights down Western Avenue in Chicago where, “traffic is decidedly more aggressive than on Madison Street. I’ve never had anyone tell me to speed up or get out of the way.”
Like Chicago food trucks, pedi-cabs, and Segway tours, the company couldn’t immediately get a license in the city, although at the advice of their lawyers, they are operating anyway.
“We are working with our alderman. The pedi-cabs have been working for 10 years while they waited to get a business license from the city,” Graham said.
The concept was imported from Amsterdam, first to Minneapolis seven years ago and now it’s in 28 cities in the U.S. including Milwaukee and St. Petersburg, Fla.
Pedal Pub came to Chicago in 2011. The bikes cost $190 to rent for an hour, and are in operation between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m., according to the company website. Graham is in talks with Doc Ryan’s to possibly store the vehicle behind or near the bar.
Graham said his clients come from areas around the region like Downers Grove, Joliet, “even Iowa.”
“Our average customers are women age 35 to 50. They are not necessarily hardcore bicyclists,” he said. “I’ve had 80-year-olds on the bike and people celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary.”
Graham said the village of Forest Park might be having a “hard time wrapping their heads around the concept.”
“On my bike I [can] bring about 3,000 people into the village a year. On average, they bring about $40 each. The [businesses in town], they’re all going to get a part of that.”
He was frustrated by how long the village is taking to process his application. The seasonal business only runs from April 1 to Nov. 31 (or the first hard freeze), according to their website.
The Village Council delayed taking action by kicking the proposal to the Traffic Committee, even though Commissioner Rory Hoskins noted that Pedal Pub lists Forest Park as a site on their website.
“They might be a little bit too zealous,” said Mayor Anthony Calderone.
“The delays that [the village] is making us incur are difficult,” Graham said.
Pedal Pub will begin operations in Berwyn, April 1, according to their website.