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Saturday, May 28, 2022
Capitol Pedaler

Passengers wave as they ride around the Capitol Square on one of Capitol Pedaler's foot-powered taverns.

Capitol Pedaler gives new meaning to ethanol fuel

Gone are the Saturday SERF sessions to burn off and sweat out beverages consumed the night before if a new Madison business has anything to say about it. The Capitol Pedaler owners are ushering in the era of exercising while you drink.

Capitol Pedaler owns and operates two human-powered, 14-passenger bicycle pubs in the downtown area and near-west side, which they rent out to groups searching for a new Madison bar experience. A licensed driver controls steering and braking.

Two former Madison Police Department employees opened the business in 2011, hoping the growing European “beer bike” trend would catch on in Madison.

However, until this past spring, founders Linda Besser, a retired detective, and Sandy Theune, a retired lieutenant, were legally prohibited from allowing passengers to consume alcohol on board. Capitol Pedalers were simply a novel transportation option to and from bars.

That is, until Gov. Scott Walker signed a law in December 2013 authorizing municipalities to independently rule on the legality of consumption aboard pedal taverns in their respective jurisdictions, provided they not exceed 36 ounces of “fermented malt beverages.”

Madison’s Common Council then passed an ordinance April 29 permitting Capitol Pedaler customers to consume no more than 24 ounces, the equivalent of two beers, while on board, which manager Emily Wirkus said boosted business.

“We saw a huge increase this summer,” she said.

According to their website, Capitol Pedaler also allows wine, but not hard liquor.

Educating passengers about the specificity of drinking laws is now a loftier concern in lieu of the new allowance.

For example, Wirkus said “they can have beer on the bike, and they can have beer at the bar, but when you step foot on the ground, it becomes an open intoxicant.”

Wirkus listed bachelorette parties as the most frequently booked events, followed closely by birthday celebrations and bachelor parties.

Capitol Pedaler also offers mixer nights for those with fewer than 14 people in their party to cycle and sip together, according to its website.

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“It’s a lot of fun,” Wirkus said. “It’s exercising while drinking while socializing.”

A 0.02 legal blood alcohol content restriction applies to the driver, who is also prohibited from consuming such beverages while operating the vehicle.

Capitol Pedaler offers 10 tour slots on the weekends, and eight on weekdays.

Wirkus said bookings will be available through the first weekend in November, when Capitol Pedaler will take its winter hiatus. The exact reopening date next year will depend on the weather.

Just because their wheels will not be rolling through the streets, however, Wirkus ensured they will still be turning out creative new business ventures.

“One of my focuses to do during the off-season is to talk to some establishments that we tend to frequent and make some deals with them, like some bar specials for participants on the pedaler,” Wirkus said. 

Wirkus also divulged plans to add a third vehicle to the fleet this spring, and hopefully open up a route on Williamson Street.

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