MAIN STREET — Santa Monica encourages bicycles for commuting, daily errands and fitness.
Why not barhopping?
That was Frank Congine’s thought when he caught his first glimpse of what he would later call the Beach Barcycle rolling its way down the streets of Minneapolis.
The contraption had a row of seats on three sides of what appeared to be a bar counter. At every seat, riders operated foot pedals which pushed the vehicle along as a (presumably) sober driver steered and operated the brakes to each sudsy destination.
Congine thought of his sister, a radio producer who lives in Manhattan Beach, and an unlikely idea occurred.
“These things would be great in beach towns,” he said. “I’ve been on bar crawls where everyone rides their bikes, talking and pedaling. It would tag in with the tourism here. Go slow along the ocean, check out stuff at a slower pace.”
So Congine made a choice. He left his regular job as a forensic psychology expert for the courts in Minnesota, packed up and started exploring what, exactly, it would take to operate a barhopping pedicab in the beach towns of southern California.
Now, a year later, the Beach Barcycle operates in Hermosa Beach and Redondo Beach. Unlike its northern inspiration, the bicycle is decorated with surf boards, electric lights and a radio so that guests can dig the beach vibe as they coast down local roads.
Only in the last month did it break new ground into Venice and Santa Monica with one route through the bar-heavy section of Main Street and another down the scenic Ocean Avenue.
Congine and his company got a second cycle from Bend, Ore. which was made up in orange and blue by Bodie Stroud, the man responsible for fabricating cars for Jay Leno and Adam Corolla.
“It’s all Santa Monica’d up,” Congine said.
Perhaps stranger than the idea itself is that it never took root in California’s hospitable climes before.
Similar vehicles have popped up under a variety of themed names all across the country. In Michigan, it’s known as the Pub Cruiser. A Cycle Tavern turned up in Ohio, and the Brewcycle cruises the streets of Portland, Ore.
According to reports, most faced what Congine found to be his most obvious obstacle.
“The biggest hurdle would be permitting,” Congine said. “If I could get the permits, it was a great idea.”
Unlike the larger cities, operating the Beach Barcycle presented a larger challenge because of the number of different municipalities he had to work with to set up appropriate routes.
In some states, the vehicles get a classification similar to that of a limousine. That allows patrons to bring alcohol onto the bicycle with them, rather than waiting to stop at a bar.
In California, bicycles are treated similarly to cars, and that’s a no-go, Congine said.
Instead, the company provides a driver while the party of up to 16 pedals as steadily as possible. When the vehicle needs to stop, the driver rings a bell and calls out instructions to his tipsy crew.
“At no point do you get to drive it,” Congine said.
After the tedium of public process came the real legwork.
“You have to do a lot of homework finding out what routes will work,” Congine said. “You have to not impede traffic, keep safe and still have something fun at the same time that can be supported by people from the cities and all of the businesses around.”
Businesses in Santa Monica are sweet on the idea because it brings in crowds of happy customers in the afternoon, when bars are usually quiet.
“It’s a great innovation for Santa Monica, and it’s good entertainment on weekends,” said Eugene Ganley, the bartender at Finn McCool’s on Main Street.
The bar makes sure that Beach Barcycle patrons feel welcome at their establishment, offering a variety of half-price appetizers, beers and well drinks.
On the Ocean Avenue route, the Shore Hotel jumped in on the action, seeing a way to up its eco-friendly image.
The lights and radio that bring the Beach Barcycle to life are all solar-powered, and of course the vehicle itself is run on people power rather than fossil fuels.
“The Beach Barcycle is a completely green form of transportation, which compliments Shore Hotel’s eco-conscious amenities and procedures,” said Steve Farzam, chief operations officer at the Shore Hotel. “We are thrilled to partner with a local organization that shares our strong commitment to the environment.”
Congine does miss his former profession in psychology — there’s a reason someone gets a master’s degree — but he’s chosen to devote himself fully to the new enterprise.
Beach Barcycle is looking to break into new territory on the Westside like West Hollywood and Beverly Hills and further south to Newport Beach and San Diego.
“The business model and potential of this really draw me,” Congine said. “I do miss being able to turn things off at night. This is a lot more responsibility.”