We know that Buffalo is the birthplace of the chicken wing. Makes you wonder if the ice bike might be the next big Buffalo contribution to national pop culture.
You’re forgiven if you do a double-take at the sight of people pedaling bicycles around Canalside’s new ice skating rink.
Those ice bikes are unusual contraptions, dreamed up by Lisa Florczak of Lancaster, who co-owns the family-owned Water Bikes company that operates on the wharf in the summer.
Florczak and other Canalside vendors were encouraged to come up with alternatives to skating by Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp., which oversees waterfront development, and Global Spectrum, which manages the site.
She wondered if a bike could be operated on ice and found on the internet a recumbent bicycle made for ice in Beijing, which places the rider in a reclining position. After being unable to find additional information, she worked on her own ideas for a conventional bike, and then took them to General Welding and Fabricating in Elma, which also owns the Made in America stores.
The bikes have a blade in the front, a studded back wheel and blades under a structural frame.
A prototype was developed and tested at Holiday Twin Rinks in Cheektowaga in September, before being tweaked further for safety – braking is done with a simple backward pedal motion – and aesthetics.
“We tried to address every possible safety issue that might come up. Some blades flew too fast, which made them unsafe for a rink full of people,” Florczak said.
“When we tested the bike, one of our concerns was what it could do to the ice. The rink guards said they did as much to the ice as a 5-year-old would do while ice skating,” Florczak said.
With revisions complete, the ice bikes went into production earlier this month and have garnered positive reviews since the Ice at Canalside opened Dec. 18. All dozen bikes were in constant use.
“To know we’ve created this, and to see how well it was received by the public, meant so much,” Florczak said. “We are just so excited about everything going on in this city right now.”
The bike rentals have gotten off to a brisk start, with people enjoying the novelty of pedaling on ice.
“It’s such a great alternative to ice skating, especially since I am super clumsy and usually can’t last on skates long,” said Stacey Gawel, who rode an ice bike earlier this month. “My friends and I are always looking for fun things to do in the winter, but we really don’t feel like driving to Ellicottville to do so. So once we heard about the bikes, we figured we would give them a try.”
“We felt totally safe on the bikes, finding it very hard to tip over,” added Christina Shults, a 22-year-old graphic designer at Fisher-Price who just moved to Buffalo from Rochester. “Following in with everyone was also surprisingly easy.”
The bikes rent for $10.87 a half-hour, including tax. Riders need to be at least 48 inches tall, wear a helmet and sign a waiver. No training is required.
Florczak said that she’s glad the bikes allow people to be out on the ice even if they can’t skate.
She’s also proud that Buffalo is now the birthplace of the ice bike in the United States.
“Maybe we’ll turn out to be like chicken wings some day,” Florczak laughed.