TAMPA — Buffered from the swells of Tampa Bay, the calm waters outside the Tampa Convention Center are pretty much plain sailing.
But plain biking?
A Tampa startup company is launching a water bike rental service it hopes will make the unusual pedal-powered vessels as much a fixture of the city’s growing waterfront as sculling crews and motor boats.
The activity will be another addition to the attractions on the city’s downtown waterfront, which includes Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park and boat rental services like eBoats Tampa. With the Kennedy Boulevard section of Riverwalk expected to open in March, it will cater to an increasing number of residents and visitors who will be looking for more activities, said Shaun Drinkard, executive director of Friends of the Riverwalk.
“Now, the big focus should be what do you do on the Riverwalk?” Drinkard said. “This is perfect. It’s something we don’t’ have around here and it helps to take advantage of the waterfront.”
After a soft opening before New Year’s, the Tampa Bay Water Bike Co. began operating this week from a rented boat slip outside the Sail Pavilion next to the Tampa Convention Center.
The water bikes, which retail for about $2,500, are nothing like traditional pedal boats. Think of a modified bike frame affixed atop two 10-foot yellow pontoons that provide buoyancy and stability. Pedaling turns a small propeller at the back of the craft. The handlebars control a small rudder at the front.
The bikes go faster than pedal boats, too, and with less effort, said Dan Fleischbein, who started the company with his wife, Amanda. With fast pedaling, the bikes cruise at about 10 mph. Even moderate effort generates a 5 mph turn of speed. A dry box below the handlebars keeps valuables away from any splashes.
“They’re unique; they’re different,” Fleischbein said. “When you’re on land, you can’t really see the beauty of Tampa.”
A former U.S. Air Force serviceman, Fleischbein, 29, became familiar with Tampa’s bays and channels while patrolling the waters around MacDill Air Force Base.
After leaving the service, he earned a degree and began work as a recruitment agent. But he tired of desk work and began investigating water bikes after reading an article about a man who cycled one across San Francisco Bay.
Renting the bikes will cost $30 an hour, although the company is using social media to offer cheaper deals.
Customers are advised to explore the Hillsborough River, the Garrison and Seddon channels and around Davis Islands but not to venture out into the rougher waters of Tampa Bay. Life jackets are issued, but adults can tie them to the bike if they wish, Fleischbein said.
Some customers have already used the pontoon platforms to bring their dogs along for the ride.
Most of his customers during the soft opening came from the nearby hotels, but Fleischbein hopes that once the Riverwalk is extended toward Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, the city’s young professionals will see the bikes as a fun way to keep fit or to reach new fishing spots.
“This is kind of the new Bayshore,” he said. “You can run or bike on it.”