16-seat bicycle puts new spin on celebrations, tours

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The vehicle itself is bound to bring in a few stares -- a bicycle built for 16. But filled with pirates, it brought double takes.

The Pittsburgh Party Pedaler was out and about on a recent Saturday night filled with a group of 16 celebrating Halloween early.

Party Pedaler is a company that takes groups of eight to 16 out on tour -- a tour in which the guests supply the power.

On this special bike built in the Netherlands, each participant has a bike-like seat with pedals, and each actually does the pedaling as the bike makes its way through parts of the city and some surrounding suburbs -- a route chosen by the bikers.

The vehicle has a rectangular countertop and a company driver who sits in the middle and does the steering and braking. Music is supplied through a stereo system, and the bike is often decorated for the appropriate theme -- cobwebs and a pirate flag for the early Halloween jaunt, for example.

"I first saw one in Minneapolis and told my husband, 'I have to get on that.' The next thing I said was, 'We need one of those in Pittsburgh,' " said owner Sue Joseph of Jefferson Hills.

When she first spotted such a pedaler, Ms. Joseph was with her husband while he was on a business trip in 2012. Although the two couldn't book a ride on that trip -- the company required a full booking -- she was intrigued by the concept of folks pedaling as they tour.

Ms. Joseph, 58, had worked in the transportation industry nearly 30 years ago before her three sons were born. She was an agent with a flatbed trucking company that worked with steel mills. But, she admits, that's a far cry from owning her own company.

"I do manage some rental property that I have in Seven Springs, but I have really focused on the boys since they were born," she said.

She said other skills that have come in handy for operating her own business were those she learned in managing sports teams and parent booster clubs.

"You learn a lot of people skills when you are involved with your sons' sports teams," she said.

Ms. Joseph's three sons, Bryan, 26, Corey, 24, and Dan, 23, all work as drivers for their mother's company; her husband, Ron, does, too.

Ms. Joseph purchased her two special bikes from a company in Amsterdam for $26,000 each and paid an $11,000 shipping fee to get them here. She also pays a licensing fee to the Party Pedaler association.

"I told my husband we were buying two bikes because I had to pay for the crate and it was going to be full," she said.

"It is a start-up business. Just like any other small business, it is expensive to set up," she said.

One of the bikes is housed in a warehouse in the Strip District and the other on the North Side, but she plans to find a new location.

Pittsburgh Party Pedaler began its tours in July. The firm has several routes that customers can choose from, then add more time or distance if they wish. Stops along the route are up to the customers, Ms. Joseph noted.

The flexibility in working with customers was a key benefit to Lindsey Biocki, 25, of Mount Washington, who was the organizer behind the recent Halloween costume ride. Ms. Biocki had been on a party pedaler in Raleigh, N.C., and loved it.

"I was hoping we would get one in Pittsburgh. A few months ago when one of my friends said they had seen the craziest thing, I knew exactly what it was," she said.

"I'm obsessed with Halloween and love dressing up," she said. She decided to enlist friends to dress up as Pirates and go on the pedaler.

The group brought decorations and made a sign they posted on the back of the pedaler that read, "Surrender your booty." The group rode from the Strip District to Market Square, making various stops along the way.

"It was great; people were taking photos and honking their horns," Ms. Biocki said.

Jordan Gray, 22, also of Mount Washington, came with a friend.

"I didn't know very many people from the group, but by the end of the evening, we were all friends," he said.

Mr. Gray said he researched the pedaler after being invited and thought it sounded like an "awesome experience."

He wasn't disappointed.

"It was really cool. We had so much fun and you really have to work together to get up some of the hills. It was a great team-building experience," he said.

Corporate groups and other groups have booked the pedaler for tours, but it is usually for sightseeing, not team building. However, that is something Ms. Joseph said she will consider. So far, she has had tourists, bachelor parties, family groups and a 70-year-old's birthday party booked for tours.

The birthday party was a group of women who pedaled from the Strip District to Market Square, had tea, then rode back.

"They were fantastic," she said.

Ms. Joseph said she hopes to continue tours through the holiday season, complete with Christmas carols and decorations, then will start the 2014 around St. Patrick's Day.

"We want to be in the St. Patrick's Day Parade," she said.

That is perfect for Ms. Biocki's plan for her next ride.

"We want to do something for St. Patrick's Day. Maybe we will have someone dress as a leprechaun," she said.

Details: www.pittsburghpartypedaler.com or 412-228-7476. Tours start at $325, but pricing varies for different times of day.

Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com.

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