Winter hasn't stopped riders of ice bikes
If it were possible for anything to be hot in Buffalo, N.Y., this winter, it was the newfangled "ice bikes." They made their debut at an outdoor skating rink.
The bicycles on ice skates were an immediate hit. They glided onto the Ice at Canalside the day the new rink opened on the city's waterfront.
That was in December. Since then, bundled riders have ignored breath-taking cold to rent them. It convinced inventor Lisa Florczak that she's onto something. That, and the inquiries from several other cold-weather cities. Localities in Wyoming, Michigan, Minnesota and Canada that are interested in rolling them out next year.
"I had no idea if this would work or how people would respond," Florczak said. "I thought I might end up being the laughingstock of the city."
Instead, she is relishing being part of Buffalo's efforts to revitalize its waterfront. The city wants to draw people year-round. That includes when the cold breeze off Lake Erie is something more endured than enjoyed. The bikes give even nonskaters a chance to try out the ice. There also are warm nuts and hot cocoa sold at nearby kiosks.
Florczak's family business is Water Bikes of Buffalo. It was renting pontoon bikes that let riders pedal the Buffalo River in warmer months. Then economic development officials put out a call for ideas for a 33,000-square-foot ice rink. It was being built nearby on a recreation area of the Erie Canal.
"They said the ice is going to be pretty large. And they thought they might need something more than just skating," Florczak said.
Curling, hockey and broomball leagues emerged.
"I thought: 'What a perfect opportunity to go from water biking to ice biking,'" Florczak said.
She bought a bike off the rack at Wal-Mart. Then she worked with General Welding and Fabricating in Elma, N.Y., on a design. The bikes had to be sturdy. They could not tip. They had to co-exist with ice skaters. Prototype testing showed that sharper blades, like on ice skates, were too fast. So were flat blades that worked like a ski.
The finished product is a 26-inch bike. It sits on a rectangular base. A duller blade replaces the front wheel. The bikes are made of stainless steel. They don't rust in the snow. They ride like a regular bicycle only they have no need to balance. Riders brake by pedaling backward.
"It's pretty neat," said Dave Wolf, of East Amherst. "They take a little getting used to. No sharp turns. But once you get used to it, it's a pretty nice ride."
Wolf has Parkinson's disease. He said he rides a three-wheel bike in the nice weather. Now he likes the idea of a winter alternative.
The inaugural year had 15 bikes on the ice on weekends only. Riders pay $10 for a half-hour turn. There are plans to sell kits that will let people convert their own bicycles for about $1,500. The company is hoping for orders from other cities that will make for a busy "offseason."
Ice Bikes of Buffalo is the name Florczak chose for the venture. The name is laser-cut into the running board. It was important, she said, that her city get its due if the bikes took off. She also wants to keep production local. That is because some of her relatives lost jobs during Buffalo's economic struggles.
"It's been an incredible ride so far," she said.
Critical thinking challenge: Why is Buffalo challenged to develop its waterfront year round?