The Party Bus

August 24, 2012

Republicans are headed to Tampa this weekend, and Democrats will descend on Charlotte the next. And although they don’t agree about, well, anything, there’s one thing both parties will be going the same way on: “bus-cycles.”

Health-care company Humana brought bike-sharing to the two convention cities four years ago. This time around, it needed to dream up an entirely new mode of transportation for its Freewheelin 2012 program.

“In Florida, it rains in the afternoon, and bikes would be iffy,” Humana’s Scott Latimer says. So the design team added roofs, threw in a social component and ended up with motor-free buses — made right here in the good old U.S. of A. — that are steered by professional drivers and pedal-powered by up to eight passengers.

The aim is still to give conventioneers (and anyone else in town) free exercise and fresh air. Riders won’t get to tool around wherever they want this time, however, because these buses have set routes. Humana is trying to make up for that by placing stations stocked with water and fruit along the way.

Latimer suspects the vehicles will appeal to a larger demographic than the bikes did four years ago. Curious cyclists will want to try them out, and the bus-cycles won’t intimidate people who are uncomfortable riding a bike in traffic.

“It doesn’t take talent other than pedaling,” Latimer says.

It can still be a workout, though, especially if several seats are empty. Latimer hopes the team approach will encourage folks to meet and mingle. “Unlike being in a cab, where I’d look at my smartphone, you want to talk,” he says.

Given the political parties’ respective stances on transportation policy, perhaps it’s no surprise that Dems were more likely to use the bikes in 2008. Could this be the GOP’s year to come out on top? “We have a healthy competition. Whoever does it the most is the winner,” Latimer says. (You can follow the miles logged on Freewheelin2012.com.)

We’ll have to wait and see not just who wins the bus-cycle battle, but what the future holds for these new vehicles. After the 2008 conventions, Humana left the bikes behind in Denver and Minneapolis. It’s not clear whether Tampa or Charlotte is the right home for the buses, which require drivers.

Maybe the bus-cycles will find a niche in retirement communities, where golf carts are popular but provide no physical activity, Latimer says. Or maybe they’re the right fit for some city’s entertainment district.

I’m voting for Washington, of course. The problem is just mapping out the route as it gets to the Capitol. Turn left or right?

Drinking Buddy

The bus-cycle is a new creation, but you may have encountered its ancestor the fietscafe (aka bierfiets, beer bike or party bike). That vehicle — popular in Germany and the Netherlands — has riders face inward. The other big difference? There’s usually lots of alcohol involved. Freewheelin ain’t that free: There’s no room for a keg on bus-cycles, and the cup holders are designed for water bottles.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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