The giant bicycles are unmistakable: huge foot-powered trolleys that reach only about 5 to 8 mph on city streets — enough to stir the sweet summer breeze but never in danger of breaking any speed records.
The bikes, which hold more than a dozen passengers, are variously called cycle trolleys, pedal pubs and party bikes. The Commonwealth of Kentucky calls them "commercial quadricycles:" four-wheeled cycle vehicles available for rental.
Already a fixture in Nashville and Louisville, two such services are now operating in Lexington: The Thirsty Pedaler and Big Blue Pedaler.
In Nashville and Milwaukee, the pedal pubs are called Pedal Tavern; in Cincinnati, Pedal Wagon.
Lexington has long had a smaller bicycle cab service called Sprocket Jockeys, in which a single rider drives only a few passengers at a time. The pedal pubs are much larger and are built to carry groups and tours; on the pedal pubs, passengers often pedal, the same way you would on a regular bicycle.
Scott Benningfield, who with his wife, Jennifer, has owned The Thirsty Pedaler in Louisville for more than three years, said extending the brand's availability to Lexington started with a visit to the newly revitalized area.
Benningfield saw a hopping pub scene in downtown Lexington, with plenty of people having to walk or drive between destinations. The opportunity to sell them a seat on the pedal pub on a more than two-hour tour awaited.
The Thirsty Pedaler, which operates seven days a week and runs from March to November, begins and ends all its tours at 170 North Upper Street, near Gratz Park Inn. From there, it makes a route down Main and Vine streets and Jefferson and Limestone, past Natasha's to Paulie's Toasted Barrel, to West Sixth Brewery, to Atomic Cafe.
"This is such an integral part of a city getting people to come back to those downtown areas," Benningfield said.
Plus, the pedal pubs are visually striking: a clutch of people on an open-air vehicle, some of them providing pedal power.
No liquor, beer or wine is allowed on the pedal pubs, so you have to do your drinking where you stop. Seats range from $17 to $30, with whole vehicle rates starting at $250 on Tuesday.
But that's not the only pedal pub service in downtown Lexington. The Big Blue Pedaler has taken to the streets during the past week, according to its owner, Lloyd Woods.
Woods, who also runs an Internet technology company, said the Big Blue Pedaler was born because he and his wife bought a home downtown and he saw similar pedal pubs when visiting other cities. Nashville and Milwaukee both have services called Pedal Tavern, offering transport and drink specials for people and groups at the taverns at which they stop.
The Big Blue Pedaler will be based at the Chase Taproom at 266 Jefferson Street. Both Lexington services take reservations with credit cards in advance.
"I just caught the downtown bug like crazy," Woods said. "My thoughts led to, what can we do to make the city cooler and help out other businesses and have something that Lexington doesn't have?"
The Big Blue Pedaler, now booking through November, will have an electrical assist motor and will take reservations seven days a week, Woods said. For the pedal pubs to work, a few passengers must pedal — usually at least four to six.
"We'll do whatever you want to do," Woods said. "We do want to be a family-friendly business."
He anticipates that the pedaler will be most popular on Thursday to Saturday evenings going to pubs and breweries, but he anticipates offering other tours, such as historic Lexington or a Saturday morning boutique shopping tour.
Howard Florence, a Lexington police officer in the downtown entertainment district, said the bike trolleys, although wider than standard bikes, are considered bicycles for traffic purposes.
He compares them to horse-drawn tourist carriages: "They trot along, and they probably go slower than those bikes do. I've been here 22 years and I don't know we've ever had an accident involving a carriage."
The advantage of the pub bikes, Benningfield said, is that it forces people to slow down and really see the city as it was originally intended to be seen: slowly.
"It really forces them to see what's downtown," Benningfield said. "It re-introduces even locals back to the city."