Pedal buses built for nine will be rolling through downtown Tampa during the Republican National Convention.
The steel and aluminum vehicles were unveiled Tuesday at the Tampa convention center. They were touted by Mayor Bob Buckhorn as a fun, healthy alternative for getting around town when an estimated 50,000 people are clogging downtown streets during the Aug. 27-30 convention.
"That's my kind of bike," Buckhorn said as he got his first look at the foot-powered vehicle, which looks like a stretched-out golf cart with pedals. He joked that he was thinking of substituting a pedal bus for his official city vehicle — a GMC Yukon that police seized from a convicted criminal.
"I think I'm going to trade in the big, black SUV that we took from a pimp and make this the new Mayor Mobile," Buckhorn said.
Twenty Freewheelin bus cycles, developed by health insurance company Humana, will operate during the convention. The vehicles hold up to eight passengers and one licensed Freewheelin driver. Riders can hop aboard, as long as there are seats available, anywhere along a route from the Straz Center to Ybor City.
The bus cycles go as fast as people can pedal and the operators recommend that all riders pull their own weight, said Humana's Scott Latimer.
"I don't think there's a speed limit," Latimer said.
Riding the pedal buses is free. Children can ride the vehicles with parental consent.
Three stations offering health screenings, fruit and cold water to riders are spaced along the route. The stations will be open from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Aug 26 and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Aug. 27-30.
Freewheelin fruit carts also will be set up downtown on Ashley Drive and Jackson and Whiting streets.
"This is a great way to exercise and socialize. It's just plain fun," Jan Larimer, co-chairwoman of the convention, said of the pedal buses.
She said the green and white Freewheelin pedal buses will help alleviate some traffic concerns.
"We're going to host many tens of thousands of people for four days," Larimer said. "That's a daunting challenge to us."
Buckhorn said he's confident people will want to use the shaded vehicles despite the hot temperatures expected at the end of the month.
"It's a good way to get around in a congested environment," Buckhorn said. "And it's a great eye-catching tool. It'll add some pizzazz to the convention."
Buckhorn said the arrival of the pedal buses is another component that shows Tampa is ready for the GOP convention and the international attention it brings.
"Everything is buttoned up and ready to go," he said. "This is our coming out party, folks. Ten years from now, we'll look back and say this is where Tampa turned the corner."
The mayor also addressed concerns that residents want to steer clear from downtown during the convention.
"There will be a lot of people here, a lot of activity, a lot of everything," he said. "But it's a dynamic that's part of the democratic process. We're just going to have to get used to it for a few days. It's the biggest thing Tampa has ever done."
Buckhorn and Larimer then jumped into the pedal bus for its first spin, taking three laps around the Tampa Convention Center's front plaza.
"You're not going to make us work, are you?" Buckhorn asked the Freewheelin driver before they started pedaling.
After the convention ends in Tampa, the 20 pedal buses, three stations and two fruit carts will then make their way to Charlotte, N.C., for the Democratic National Convention next month, Latimer said.
The Freewheelin bus cycles evolved from Humana's bicycling program, introduced during the 2008 Republican and Democratic conventions in Denver, Colo., and St. Paul, Minn. Each city was given 1,000 bicycles for event-goers.