Slowride Pedal Tours add intriguing twist to Champaign bar scene


Photo courtesy of Rod Roberts

By Megan Bradley, Staff writer

University students are used to seeing bikers on the Main Quad during their commute to classes. Now, students can expect to see a different kind of bike on campus and around Champaign. Slowride Pedal Tours is bringing a bar on wheels to pedal through town.

Pedal buses have risen in popularity in places like Nashville, Tenn., which is where the president and creator of Slowride, Steve Bloomstrand, was vacationing when he and his wife came up with the idea for their business.

“We thought it was a pretty neat idea, and on the way back, we both decided this would be something really kind of unique to start in the area if the community would accept it,” Bloomstrand said. “And so that’s what gave us the idea and I approached the city, and they were receptive of it.”

After approaching the city of Champaign, Bloomstrand’s idea was approved May 2016, and he was ready to start tours in the summer of 2016.

Because Slowride is the first of its kind in the Champaign area, Bloomstrand said the hardest part was finding the right way to go about getting insurance. Insurance companies do not have specific classifications for pedal buses because they are such a new industry.

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“I really had to create this business model myself; I mean I knew what ultimately I was going to accomplish,” Bloomstrand said. “I was going to have a bike out on the street, and we were going to serve beverages.”

The pedal bus has room for 15 people. Riders pay a flat rate to rent the pedal bus for a two-hour tour. Slowride has a liquor license, so riders can bring their own beverages ranging from coffee to alcoholic drinks, and a host on board serves them.

“When you think of a pedal bike or pedal bus, it’s gotten popularity from being a pedal bar; it’s a way to go around and drink. But I like to promote the fact that it’s any beverage, not alcohol necessarily,” Bloomstrand said, “If you want to bring coffee and donuts, bring coffee and donuts. We’ve had cupcakes, birthday cakes, all kinds of snacks. I’ve even had people eat pizza on it before. It’s your two hours to have fun.”

Riders meet for their pedalbus tour at the Tumble Inn in Champaign and from there are able to decide where they would like their tour to go. Lon Pitcher, Slowride’s staff manager, works to help manage the personnel for the company. Each ride has two staff members on board, a driver and a host. Pitcher even drives for select tours as well.

“When I first meet the person who comes on scene to ride, I ask them if they have places they want to go, or I offer my own course through downtown, a lap over to campus and back to finish the tour in downtown,” Pitcher said. “A lot of people like that because they want to see campus too.”

The rides have been pretty popular since they first started May, and a lot of people use them to celebrate birthdays, graduations, corporate events or just to spend time with friends.

“We had over 200, close to 225 rides, last year from May to the end of the year. So I thought that was pretty good for the first year,” Bloomstrand said. “And we started off just this last weekend for mom’s weekend — we even had a waiting list.”

The bike is equipped with a TV monitor that Bloomstrand wants to encourage businesses to use for PowerPoints, a stereo system with Bluetooth for riders to play their own music, USB charging cords and even water misters for the hot summer months.

Slowride has introduced karaoke on board, has price specials for early riders and is working on introducing a historic Champaign tour. Bloomstrand has worked to make Slowride something for everyone to enjoy.

Riders have the option of having two hours of pedaling around town or adding stops to their tours. Bloomstrand said some riders even make their tours into bar crawls with five or six stops.

Sandra McGrath rode on the pedalbus with her daughter for Mom’s Weekend and really enjoyed the ride. She said it is a great idea and a fun activity to do in Champaign for people looking for a more interactive experience.

“Our host was great and super helpful. I think the whole idea is really great, and I loved how it could even be an awesome experience for families,” McGrath said. “The pedalbus through Champaign showed me some really cool things.”

The bike tours offer riders unique experiences through Champaign and the campus area. Pitcher said that most riders are happy to pedal because they feel like they can get a workout in while enjoying their time; however, there are a few seats available for people who would prefer not to pedal.

“You get to see parts of town that you’ve never seen before when you’re riding on the bike. You know, when you’re in a car you only go on the street. But we go in between the buildings, and you get to see the buildings,” Pitcher said. “And they really like to pedal, and when they pedal, I always hear about ‘oh we’re burning calories getting exercise.’ They really enjoy it.”

Slowride is booking tours through the fall and is already having a lot of popularity around the University for graduation and other special days that families want to enjoy together.

“We’ve even had people last year who rode three times through the season; they enjoyed it that much,” Pitcher said.

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