Kris McClure sits astride one of his three pedicabs. McClure started Alaska Pedicab last fall. Now in its first season, the business offers shuttle rides and downtown tours to locals and cruise passengers alike.

Kris McClure sits astride one of his three pedicabs. McClure started Alaska Pedicab last fall. Now in its first season, the business offers shuttle rides and downtown tours to locals and cruise passengers alike.

Peddling tours: Pedicab business offers new way to see Juneau

From the backseat of one of Juneau’s three new pedicabs, life is easy. Riders get to kick back and enjoy their pedal-powered tour of downtown. From behind the handlebars, the experience is entirely different.

“When I first got these pedicabs, I was surprised how challenging they were to operate,” Kris McClure, the owner of Alaska Pedicab, said while peddling me around downtown. “I took one of the cabs up one of the hills, and I questioned whether this business was a good idea or not.”

Good or bad, the idea came to McClure last September while he was selling tours on the cruise ship docks downtown. He noticed that Juneau, unlike other towns he’d lived in, had no pedicabs. He wasn’t sure why the apparent hole existed, but he became determined to fill it.

Shortly after he began researching pedicab businesses to see whether one could thrive in Juneau, which he suspected was possible, McClure found three lightly used pedicabs on Craigslist. A man in Sitka was selling the cabs, originally from Colorado, and McClure jumped on the opportunity to begin building his fleet.

“It all came together faster than I’d originally intended,” he said. Now in its first full season here, business has been going well.

He was able to snag his pedicabs, which usually retain for about $5,000 each, at a discount (though he wouldn’t say how much). Cabs weren’t the only thing McClure had to find in order to get his business off the ground. He also had to find drivers to help him run — or rather pedal — his business.

“We’ve got to find people who are willing to pedal a bicycle for six hours in the rain,” he said.

And luckily he found that in Sue York, Melissa DeCook and Anna Chornyak, his fiancé. McClure still sells tours on the docks, so most days the other drivers take the lead in shuttling passengers around downtown.

Tours typically run about 45 minutes and will run riders $30 per passenger. But the cabs are also available to shuttle people around downtown at rates that vary depending on distance. Each cab can carry up to three passengers, but McClure has managed to squeeze more passengers in on occasion. He once hauled a family of four, one of whom was a small child, through downtown.

The more people the more difficult the tour becomes for the driver though. Now accustomed to his pedicabs, McClure said that they aren’t as challenging as they once were.

“It’s not as hard as people might think, but I try not to tell people that because it might hurt tips,” he added with a laugh.

As soon as we finished our brief tour, McClure let me get behind the handle bars and take him for a spin around the docks. Even on terrain more forgiving than a lot of downtown’s steep streets, it was easy to see how pedaling the cabs could become difficult after a while, especially in inclement weather.

DeCook, who has been driving for Alaska Pedicabs since the cruise season started, confirmed my suspicion about the weather shortly after I finished my brief ride.

“The worst thing about the weather isn’t the rain; it’s the wind,” she told me. “If it’s windy, it’s like dragging a parachute.”

And this much was apparent from my five minutes on the cab. The weather was fairly calm for me, but the slightest wind still either gave a nice boost from behind or — as DeCook noted — created a “parachute” effect.

York, another pedicab driver, said she took the job to earn some “travel cash” during the summer. She cycles competitively and competes in triathlons, but like everybody else working for McClure, she had never pulled a pedicab until this summer. She, too, has had experience with nasty weather.

On April 30, the first day of the cruise season and Alaska Pedicabs first real day in business, the drivers had to give tours in traditional Juneau weather. It was cold and rainy.

“We were basically just peddling to stay warm,” York said.

She and the other drivers are typically working four to eight hour days, depending on cruise traffic. Though she, DeCook and McClure admitted that the job was difficult at times, they all seem to like it.

“This is the most fun job I’ve had in 35 years,” 35-year-old McClure said.

Though it’s still too early to tell what changes he’ll make to his business in the coming years, McClure said he is looking to add two pedicabs into his line-up at some point.

He also plans to buy electric assists for his current cabs, so that he and his drivers can explore more of downtown with their riders. They currently don’t take passengers any further into downtown than the intersection of Front and Main streets, because the road is too steep.

Currently, McClure plans to close his business once the cruise season is over and stow his cabs away in storage. Though the pedicabs will be gone from October until April, McClure said that everybody can expect to see them back next summer.

“There’s definitely a place for pedicabs in Juneau,” he said.

• Contact reporter Sam DeGrave at 523-2279 or at sam.degrave@juneauempire.com.

Kris McClure sits astride one of his three pedicabs. McClure started Alaska Pedicab last fall. Now in its first season, the business offers shuttle rides and downtown tours to locals and cruise passengers alike.

Kris McClure sits astride one of his three pedicabs. McClure started Alaska Pedicab last fall. Now in its first season, the business offers shuttle rides and downtown tours to locals and cruise passengers alike.

Kristopher McClure of Alaska Pedicab offers his services in front of the Red Dog Saloon in early June.

Kristopher McClure of Alaska Pedicab offers his services in front of the Red Dog Saloon in early June.

Melissa DeCook of Alaska Pedicab gives a couple a tour on South Franklin Street in early June.

Melissa DeCook of Alaska Pedicab gives a couple a tour on South Franklin Street in early June.

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