BUFFALO – Very few bicycles are rolling along the 643-kilometre-long Erie Canal towpath in winter, but many are riding on the canal itself.
Lisa Florczak’s Ice Bikes are a popular feature at Canalside, a waterpark that turned derelict lands on the Buffalo waterfront into a people place.
She converted a couple dozen traditional bicycles to glide along on ice without tipping over and she rents them out to those wanting to go riding on the old Erie Canal.
She expects to see them wheeling and sliding along the Rideau Canal in Ottawa as well this winter. The skateway on the Rideau is 7.8 kilometres long, much longer than Canalside. Cedric Pelltier of the National Capital Commission said skaters were on the canal before Christmas.
Florczak said entrepreneurs in Toronto and Montreal are also interested in putting her bikes on ice rinks in those cities.
Her Ice Bikes were busy at Canalside in late November because there was already thick ice on the old canal – artificial ice created by the generators that once created ice for the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium where the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League played until 1996.
The Aud, as it was known, was built in 1940 on grounds where the Erie Canal once emptied into Lake Erie. But the Aud was torn down in 2009 and the old canal has been dug out and restored for summer and winter fun. It’s now Buffalo’s most popular recreation and entertainment area.
When the formerly depressed and derelict area started to morph into a people place Florczak introduced 18 water bikes for visitors to peddle around the Buffalo waterfront and its expansive wet lands. But the water bikes sat idle all winter.
She came up with a design to alter her water bikes to ride on ice instead of water. A metal frame keeps the bike upright and stable. The front wheel is replaced by a long skate blade and the back wheel has studs to propel the bike across the ice.
The Sabres, owned by Terry Pegula and his wife Kim who also own the Buffalo Bills of the National Football League, have moved into a new arena at Canalside and the couple has built a new entertainment centre and hotel on the banks of the old canal.
The Ice Bikes share the canal’s ice surface with hundreds of skaters each weekend. Many of those skaters lace up their skates by sitting in chairs preserved from the old Buffalo Auditorium.
Florczak said she has sold a dozen of her Ice Bikes to the Green Bay Packers NFL team to be used by the public on an ice track around Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wisconsin. And that’s all that is happening at Lambeau Field this winter. The Packers failed to reach the playoffs for the first time in eight years.