Couve Cycle is off and rolling on the streets of downtown Vancouver, and owner Michael Palensky is learning as he goes about how to build his pedal-powered venture into a popular attraction for locals and visitors.
Palensky launched the party cycle service with his custom vehicle — which accommodates 10 pedalers and four bench passengers — on April 1. The four-wheeler makes the rounds to downtown sights and brewpub watering holes on rides that last two hours, including three 20-minute stopovers. The Vancouver resident says business is picking up as more people learn about or see his Couve Cycle and as the weather turns warmer. Friday was his best day so far, with three rides that kept him on the road from 1:30 to 10 p.m., counting prep and wrap-up work times.
“I’m really happy with how we’ve started,” said Palensky, who launched the business with his wife, Maureen. “Having three (tours) in a weekend is wonderful.” He calculates that he needs an average of six tours a month to break even, which means he’ll need more business in summer months to make up for the dark, cold days of winter, when business is certain to be slow.
Palensky knows he needs visibility to grow his business, and he got that on Wednesday morning at the Greater Vancouver Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Crawl in Uptown Village. There, Mayor Tim Leavitt was among the visitors who got a look at the Couve Cycle parked outside Bleu Door Bakery on Main Street.
While Portland and other large cities have party cycle services, Palensky’s is a first for Vancouver. His goal is to tap into a market of locals and visitors willing to buy a seat on Couve Cycle to bar hop to three downtown brewpubs or restaurants, out of a dozen choices. But he’s already broadened his offerings with a morning “wake up” ride around town, with stops for coffee and pastries.
Prices run from $27 for an individual ride to $375 for a private tour with up to 14 passengers. The “wake up” ride is $20. Each service requires a minimum of eight riders, according to the company’s website, although Palensky said he’s considering a lower minimum.
Over time, Palensky hopes to attract wedding-related parties, business groups, and children’s parties. He said he’s talking to the Hilton Vancouver Washington about offering his service to tourists staying at the hotel.
“I really want to make it family-friendly,” said Palensky, father of two daughters ages 4 and 7. “I can see having ice cream and root beer.”
All of the rides start and end at the Tap Union Freehouse, 300 Washington St. at Luepke Station, where the cycle is stored. The rides cover about 3 miles, although guests on private tours can choose their own destinations, within time constraints, as well as their own music. One thing passengers can’t bring on board is beer.
“Everyone’s first question is ‘Why can’t we have a beer on board?’ ” said Palensky, adding that he’s checking on whether alcoholic beverages could be allowed.
One of his biggest challenges to date, Palensky said, is figuring how to manage reservations so that he doesn’t turn down a potential private tour while holding the cycle open when he has a few passengers wanting to ride as individuals. Ultimately he’d like to buy a second cycle to reduce such conflicts, but the builder requires one year for construction and a $5,000 deposit for the $50,000 vehicle.
Having launched an Indiegogo funding campaign to help cover startup costs for his service, Palensky said he’s not ready yet to make that investment.