Bar hoppers and tourists now can roll through Durham in a whole new way.
A Durham-based company called Biker Bar NC rents out a 14-person bar-bicycle vehicle for tours around the city. Opened on August 24, the company is owned by Seth Gross and Martha King. Gross said that there are about a dozen bikes like this throughout the country, and when he read about them, he thought that the bike would be a good addition to Durham.
“It seemed like a very Durham thing, because of the opportunities for tourism, fun on the bike, learning the history, exploring Durham’s restaurants and enjoying the city,” Gross said.
According to the company’s website, BikerBarNC.com, the bike can be used for events ranging from pub crawls and parties to historic tours and meetings. Rides usually last about two hours and are booked in groups of up to 14. Prices vary, but the typical cost is $325 for a ride—which averages to about $23 per person on a 14-person ride. The bike itself is 16’8” long and weighs 1,700 pounds, and travels between three to five miles per hour. Though Biker Bar NC provides a captain to steer the bike, the patrons provide the power by pedaling as they sit, talk and/or drink.
The project has been in the works for about a year, as the owners wanted to make sure that the city was on board. He said he spoke to Durham Mayor Bill Bell, the Durham Police Department and the City Council to make sure the bike did not violate any city ordinances.
“It was a pretty sizeable investment so we wanted to make sure to approach all of the relevant people,” Gross said. "The response has been overwhelmingly positive."
Gross said that he wants to use the bike to promote civic pride for Durham and see it as "a symbol of the city." The bike itself is modeled after the Stanley Steamer automobile, which is believed to have been the first automobile on Durham’s streets.
The city, he said, even changed a statute law so that having alcohol on the bike would not be an open container law violation.
The vehicle is referred to as a “bar on wheels,” but Biker Bar NC does not provide its own alcohol. Instead, groups must bring their own snacks and drinks. Beer and wine are permitted on board, but hard liquor, fortified wine and kegs are prohibited. North Carolina law forbids riders from exiting the bike with an open container.
Mike Myers, a junior, witnessed a similar contraption while studying abroad through Duke in Berlin. He said that the bike was a great vehicle for sightseeing around the city.
"It worked great in Berlin, but I don’t know how much demand there is for traveling slowly around Durham with beer," Myers said. "Certainly more than there would be for traveling slowly without beer."
However, he said it might help to bring attention to Durham's beer scene.
"I like the concept for Durham because we have a lot of breweries and micro-breweries, and this could help develop our beer culture," Myers said.
The Aug. 24 opening featured an inaugural ride, whose riders included Bell and Frank Stasio, host of "The State of Things" on WUNC. The other twelve seats were filled by the highest bidders in an auction whose proceeds benefited the John Avery Boys and Girls Club of Durham. Gross noted that he hopes the bike will be used for more charity events in the future.
Gross explained that one of the biggest challenges so far has been getting people to visualize and understand what the bike really is. He added, though, that when people do hear about it, the response is positive.
"We’ve already had a ton of emails requesting the bike for various events, even though the booking function of the website doesn’t officially open until Tuesday,” Gross said.
Anyone over the age of 16 can ride the bike but in accordance with the law, only those over 21 can drink on it. Gross noted that he would like the bike to help students come together to get to know the city.
“I think it’d be cool,” said freshman Peter Moran. “You’d get to look around the city while having a meal. As an engineer, I think the design’s cool. I’d be really interested in seeing how they pull it off.”
Gross said that he could see it being used for student tours and parents’ weekend, as it can help people learn about the city, its history and local sites.
Gross also explained that the company has teamed up with Preservation Durham—which aims to protect the city's historic assets—to offer a historical tour. Gross said the tour features information about Durham landmarks and its role in the civil rights movement, among other historical facts.
“We’re excited to bring the bike to Durham,” Gross said. “Whenever we take the bike out, we have people taking dozens of cell phone pictures, so we really think that this could become a symbol of the city.”