MADISON, Wis. -- On the list of things to do at a bachelor or bachelorette party, pedaling a bicycle-like device probably doesn't often come up.
But for a group of women pedaling through a campus bar district here to the sounds of 1990s pop music one recent Friday night, pedaling a quadracycle was a hoot.
"It's like being in a parade," said Jen Johnson, part of a bachelorette party that rented the quadracycle, a pedal-powered tavern, to bar hop in Madison. Johnson's group honked horns and waved at amused pedestrians as they ambled down the road.
"We're smiling, they are smiling," she said.
Within the last few years, human-powered taverns have become fixtures in more than two-dozen U.S. cities, including San Diego; Nashville; Houston; Flagstaff, Ariz.; and Minneapolis.
The bikes represent new downtown attractions, as well as new regulatory challenges for city and state officials who never anticipated such a device rolling down the street.
The big questions seem to be how to classify these vehicles and whether or not to allow alcohol on them.
"(Madison officials) didn't know what we were," said Linda Besser, one of two retired police officers who started the Capitol Peddlar in 2011. Today Besser said her bike is currently licensed as a taxicab and is permitted as a pedicab (a bicycle rickshaw), even though she said her bike is technically neither.
The bikes vary a bit in design but generally look a little like an old-fashioned trolley or train car. There's no engine, just the legs of the passengers, who sit around a bar, facing each other. As many as 16 people can fit on the bikes and groups rent them for bachelor parties, birthdays and corporate events.
In cities around the country, the bikes slowly prowl entertainment districts, making pit stops at bars and in some cases, allowing clients to imbibe.
Pedal pub operators say laws and regulations vary by state.
"It's a patchwork," said Eric Olson, managing Partner with PedalPub, a company that is a distributor of the bikes and has done tours in Minneapolis for about four years. Alcohol on the bikes there is allowed.
"Different cities have different rules and different attitudes," Olson said. "There's no federal laws regulating it."
In Wisconsin, per state law, the bikes are dry. Pedal pub owners are now lobbying the state for a law change to allow alcohol on board. Derek Collins, owner of the Pedal Tavern in Milwaukee said that his company had allowed alcohol on its bikes for three years but stopped after a city attorney determined in October that under state law the practice was illegal.
Jeff Stone, a Republican state Representative from Greenfield, Wis., recently introduced a bill that would allow municipalities to allow alcohol on pedal taverns.
"In my mind, it's very similar to a limousine or a commercial bus where people can have an open container, and there's a licensed commercial driver responsible for operating the vehicle," Stone said. The bill has not yet had a hearing or a vote.
Laura Rovick, owner of Social Cycle in San Diego, can't have alcohol on her bike, because of California's open container laws.
"It's kind of disappointing that you can't here," Rovick said. "We would be a lot more busy, definitely."
Rovick said when she launched her business, she said she ran into permitting battles with her city.
"They didn't know what to do with us," she said.
In Houston, Gene Landry, owner of a company called Pedal Party, said liquor laws in Texas are fairly relaxed and his customers are able to carry alcohol on board his bike.
"You can bring cans or a keg, easy-peasy," he said. "Texas is very sort of mind-your-own business kind of state and people (here) like to be able to do their own thing."
As she prepared to pub hop on a bike in Madison, Anna Frey said allowing beer would add to the appeal of the bikes in her city.
"By biking to bars, you are attracting a certain crowd," Frey said. "By having alcohol on board you would probably further attract that crowd."
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