Electric bikes the newest way to tour Raleigh

Otis Croner prepares for an 8.7 mile electric bike tour of Raleigh on Sunday, June 14, 2015.
Otis Croner prepares for an 8.7 mile electric bike tour of Raleigh on Sunday, June 14, 2015. tjohnston@newsobserver.com

In the past seven years, 50,000 people have taken Segway tours of historical areas in and around downtown Raleigh from Triangle Glides. Armed with a new type of trendy transportation, the company is offering an expanded tour that covers even more ground.

Todd Masinter, who owns Triangle Glides with wife Sandy, said electric bikes have caught on in Europe and Asia, but not so much in this country, yet.

“You’re part of a special club,” he tells tour groups before they set out from City Market. “We’re the only company in the entire country that does tours on these because they’re so expensive and state-of-the-art.”

The bikes, which have allowed the company to diversify in a growing Raleigh tourism market, are three GoCycles. Riders must pedal the $5,000 machine like a regular bike, but it has a small motor to help them make it up hills effortlessly or to build up speed in flat sections.

Masinter said he likes the bikes in large part because they allow him to schedule tours of eight or nine miles, compared to four or five miles for Segway tours. As Raleigh’s population has grown, so have the number of tours, historic and otherwise.

More than 13 million people visited Wake County in 2013, according to the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau. And many of them, Masinter has found, want to take tours of the city.

“Most of our tours are people from in town with out-of-town guests,” he said.

From ‘brew tours’ to balloons

There are several other options for people seeking historic downtown tours, including a trolley operated by the City of Raleigh and rickshaws from Crank Arm Brewing. Visitors to North Raleigh can get an aerial view with hot air balloon trips from Hot Air Marketing.

The visitors bureau also lists beer-themed “brew tours” of both Raleigh and Cary, and Crank Arm offers a downtown bar crawl as does the Raleigh Trolley Pub – which, like the electric bikes, requires a minimal amount of pedaling to power its electric motor. And Raleigh Ghost Tours offers spooky tours and bar crawls for visitors on foot or in vans, buses or trolleys.

So while Triangle Glides is far from the only tour provider in the area, it is one of the more diverse. In addition to the Segway and electric bicycle tours, the company offers paddleboard lessons at Lake Wheeler.

Masinter, a former professional photographer, also occasionally schedules a walking tour of Raleigh that doubles as a photography class. It has proven so popular that Triangle Glides is going to start a regular walking tour within the next month.

He said people are gravitating away from tours on buses or other enclosed vehicles toward tours that let the participants be outside and get right up next to the trees, houses and monuments along the route.

“It’s a much more personal experience,” he said.

‘I never knew’

Masinter said his bike tours have all been sold out since they started three weeks ago, and a reservation calendar online shows June and July mostly booked.

But even in the summer heat, thanks to the electric motor, it’s rare to find someone breathing hard on the bike tour, which lasts between 90 minutes and two hours.

On Sunday, four friends took the tour around lunchtime, encompassing a variety of sights that included Oakwood Cemetery, Mordecai and the state government complex.

Melvina Croner said she had a friend who raved about the Segway tours, so when she heard about the bike tour, she bought the $55 tickets for herself and her husband Otis Croner, an avid biker, as an early Father’s Day present.

“We haven’t done anything outdoors together in forever,” Melvina said.

Even though they live in Fuquay-Varina and visit Raleigh regularly, the Croners said, they had never taken a tour of the city before. They didn’t realize there were “so many things you just drive past and don’t realize what it is,” Melvina said.

“I never knew there was so much here,” said one of their friends, Mack McKithan of Goldsboro.

Doran: 919-460-2604; Twitter: @will_doran