A bicycle built for seven peddles world peaceby Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio
Looking for a new place to have a meeting? Meetings, more than bread or beer, are the staff of life. We have meetings to plan for meetings, the meeting and then meetings to discuss what happened at the meeting. Meeting mavens have a brand new place to have a meeting. It's called the conference bike.
Minneapolis, Minn. — Invented by artist Eric Staller the conference bike seats seven. Riders sit in a circle and everyone pedals.
Staller, who lives in Amsterdam, says at first glance the red, three-wheeled contraption looks like a ride that escaped from an amusement park.
"You're going to be looked at," he says. "People are going to be pointing and laughing and asking questions as we're pedaling by."
On a weekday afternoon trip on the Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis riders are arrayed around the conference bike's circular handlebar. Paul Selcke is at the steering wheel. As far as he knows his is the only conference bike in Minnesota.
Except for Selcke, who's facing forward, everyone else is facing either backward or sideways and as rider Sharon Rodning Bash notes, drawing lots of stares.
"I think it's great to look sideways. You can wave to everybody," she says. "Very social, very social."
This is one of conference bike inventor Eric Staller's goals. He wants the machine used not only as transportation but also as a meeting place.
"The riders, the seven crew are dropping their inhibitions and getting this infectious silliness. Complete strangers on the bike will start having all sorts of conversations," he says.
Staller views the machine as nothing short of a tool for achieving world peace.
On one of his first outings Staller and six other pedalers dressed as world leaders and convened a mock summit on the bike.
He says the conference bike's intimate circular seating arrangement and the imperative of communal work to make it go seem conducive to generating new ways of looking at life.
"The bikes are starting to be used for corporate team building and even therapy," he says. "You can get a group of kids on there, maybe teenagers in trouble, with a leader and he makes a workout out of it. He keeps the riders honest. Everyone has to contribute to the forward motion."
Back on the Nicollett Mall Minneapolis conference bike owner operator Paul Selcke buys into all the touchy feely talk about the conference bike's potential but he also sees it as transit.
His point is not lost on his fellow pedalers. At midafternoon the half dozen or so huge Metro Transit buses crawling along Nicollet Mall are nearly empty.
"You might see two or three people on a bus and imagine how much a bus costs. I paid $13,000 for this, compared to the cost of a bus. This is a pretty good deal," he says. "Look at that, there's one person on that bus and we've got six."
Nicollet Mall users have been seeing Paul Selcke's red seven seat conference bike Friday and Saturday evenings since he started his pedicab business there last November.
Selcke's day job is teaching English to adults at the Mall of America school.
Many of his conference bike customers are out-of-towners, convention-goers and thrill-seekers including a few tipsy late-night pedalers who can get a little rowdy. But so far Selcke says there have been no casualties, no injuries and no close calls.
Should additional funding cuts imperil his teaching job Selcke says he'll try make a go of conference bike business full time.
Notwithstanding Minneapolis' arcane pedicab licensing requirements and having to contend with buses that seem stopped most of the time, Selcke is undaunted in pursuit of his conference bike business.
"It's a real magnet. People are just drawn to it. And it becomes another good reason for someone to go into the city whether it's downtown, uptown, Dinkytown, downtown St. Paul," he says.
Paul Selcke says he'll try link up with conference bike inventor Eric Staller this spring. Staller says he's planning a coast to coast conference bike tour as a follow up to his Boston to Florida conference bike trip last year.
- All Things Considered, 04/28/2006, 4:53 p.m.