Pedal bus hits the rail trail in Easthampton, causing some concerns

  • Pedal N’ Party, an Easthampton business, began offering visitors a new way to cruise through the city and visit local breweries on Sunday. STAFF PHOTO/DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

  • Pedal N' Party, an Easthampton-based business, takes visitors down the Manhan Rail Trail on Sunday. The company uses its electric-assisted bicycle to take 14 passenger-pedalers — plus a steering bike driver and a host — to several destinations in the city. —DUSTY CHRISTENSEN

Published: 6/9/2019 5:46:35 PM

EASTHAMPTON — The sounds of laughter and the Miley Cyrus song “Party In The U.S.A.” drifted up Payson Avenue on Sunday as a large, bus-like bike rolled up the street to the Manhan Rail Trail, 14 passengers pedaling along.

This new way to cruise through the city and visit local breweries began on Sunday when Pedal N’ Party started rolling. The electric-assisted bicycle seats 14 passenger-pedalers, plus a steering bike driver and a host, and will take riders to several destinations in Easthampton.

“We’re a slow-moving, safe, outdoor activity that is working to make amazing tours and great memories in Easthampton,” said business owner Nick Vautrin, 29, of Chicopee.

The large bicycle, often dubbed a “pedal tavern” in other parts of the country, has two standing bars facing each other, is just under 8 feet wide by about 17 feet long and is 8½ feet high on top of four wheels.

“It’s almost like a pedal Uber,” Vautrin said.

The first tour went from the Municipal Building to Mill 180 for a combined Pilates and yoga class and then back to downtown. At noon, a tour of the city’s Abandoned Building, New City and Fort Hill breweries gave participants a little exercise punctuated by 30-minute stops for beer. But not everyone was breaking a sweat.

“It was awesome,” said Teley Quarshie, 31, of Enfield, Conn. Quarshie was one of the four passengers who were sitting in non-pedal seats on Sunday afternoon, and she said she preferred it that way. She learned about Pedal ‘N Party when her friend sent her information about the company, and it seemed fun enough to check out. “I looked on their website and I said, ‘Let’s do it!’”

Vautrin, who was the bike driver on Sunday, said his venture is bringing people like Quarshie from out of town to Easthampton, where they are patronizing local businesses. They go slow and fit on one side of the bike path, he added.

Pedal N’ Party will offer different routes through Easthampton:

■Tour West will take riders from the Manhan Rail Trail entrance on Route 5 to the three breweries, and will be available Thursdays and Fridays at 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 3 p.m.

■Tour East will begin at the Municipal Building and go to the three breweries.

■Brew N’ Back, the only tour that returns to the starting point, is the same route as Tour East.

In the fall of 2018, Vautrin pitched an idea to city officials that has been put on hold. He envisioned allowing riders to bring their own beer aboard the bike as is common in other major cities that have pedal taverns, such as Nashville, Tennessee, and San Diego.

Vautrin told the city’s licensing board on Nov. 5, “All seats have seat belts, and people bring their own drinks … We ask them to give us the beer to put in a cooler so that drinking can be monitored.”

For months, Vautrin sought clarification from the city’s licensing board, the Manhan Rail Trail Committee and the City Council on what type of approval would be needed for the BYOB service.

But after “opening a can of worms” by attempting to get an exception for the open container law, Vautrin said he decided to move forward without it, although he said he still hopes to get an exception to the city’s open container bylaws.

Even as Vautrin has put his plans for including BYOB aside for the moment, the announcement of Pedal N’ Party’s opening has been met with skepticism by City Councilor Owen Zaret.

In a public Facebook post last week, Zaret raised concerns about public safety with Pedal N’ Party on the Manhan Rail Trail, and its “overall classification and permissible use” in Easthampton.

“Is this a bicycle, an electric-assist bicycle, or a motorized vehicle?” Zaret asked in an interview with the Gazette. “Does it need to be registered? And on top of that, what does the city feel is appropriate?”

Zaret said he and city officials are seeking clarification from Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and said he believes this “pedal tavern” to be the first of its kind in the state.

“It’s a long process to dig through DOT regulations and Mass. general law and ordinances to define the vehicle, and beyond in how it fits into the city,” Zaret said.

In terms of permitting or licenses, there are none for the city to give for Pedal N’ Party, Zaret said, and he said his concern remains on the impact the business might have on the rail trial.

“There are many questions still to be answered,” Zaret said. Nevertheless, he said, “How (Vautrin) chooses to start his business is ultimately his decision.”

As the Pedal N’ Party bike rolled down the rail trail on Sunday — at a leisurely 3 mph, according to Vautrin — onlookers stared, some more surprised than others.

“It looks cool,” said Melissa Lyons, 29, of Northampton.

When the bike approached Abandoned Building Brewery on the rail trail, Vautrin let the passengers off before pulling onto the grass on the side of the trail to wait for the bargoers to return. Kellie Lynt, 39, of Easthampton, paused to watch as the group returned to the bike, climbed aboard and headed down the trail.

“I think it’s neat,” Lynt said. “It looks like fun.”

However, when asked about the concerns those like Zaret have expressed about Pedal N’ Party, Lynt did say the slow-moving bike might be difficult to pass on the rail trail.

“I can’t see around this thing to see if the other direction is clear,” Lynt said. “So I could see where that would be an issue.”

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