Ice bikes gain traction in bitterly cold Buffalo

Monday, March 9, 2015

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- If it were possible for anything to be hot in Buffalo this winter, it was the "ice bikes" that debuted at an outdoor skating rink.

The bicycles on ice skates were an immediate hit when they glided onto the Ice at Canalside the day the rink opened on the city's waterfront.

Since that December day, the bundled riders who have ignored breathtaking cold to rent them have convinced inventor Lisa Florczak she's onto something. That, and the inquiries from several other cold-weather cities in Wyoming, Michigan, Minnesota and Canada interested in rolling them out next year.

"I had no idea if this would work or how people would respond," Florczak said on a recent afternoon as some Parkinson's disease patients tested the bikes for their exercise potential. "I thought I might end up being the laughingstock of the city."

Instead, she is relishing being part of Buffalo's efforts to revitalize its waterfront and draw people year-round, even when the Lake Erie breeze is something more endured than enjoyed. The bikes give even nonskaters a chance to try out the ice, along with the warm nuts, hot cocoa and craft beer sold at nearby kiosks.

Florczak's family business, Water Bikes of Buffalo, was renting pontoon bikes that let riders pedal the Buffalo River in warmer months when economic development officials put out a call for ideas for the 33,000-square-foot ice rink being built nearby on a recreation of the Erie Canal.

Florczak bought a bike off the rack at Wal-Mart and worked with General Welding and Fabricating in Elma, New York, on a design. The finished product is a 26-inch bike that sits on a rectangular base with a duller blade replacing the front wheel. Riders brake by pedaling backward.

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