Imagine a world where the long commute to work becomes an opportunity to work out. A world where you can bike to your job — on a bus.
The way Eric and Seema Brodie see it, this is the commute of the future. And you can experience it now.
The Brodies are fit 40-somethings and erstwhile attorneys who have created “BikeBus” — a standard-size city bus rigged with stationary bikes instead of seats. Its passengers take part in a high-intensity spinning class, to the martial encouragement of an instructor crying out over a pulsating soundtrack, while the vehicle negotiates congested city streets. The married creators, who live in Newton, got the idea for a mobile gym at a family dinner, and decided to pursue it after reading articles about how sitting in the car for hours can be directly linked to chronic diseases.
“Everyone experiences painful commutes, and that is the primary reason we’ve developed this, is to prevent sedentary life taking over our existence,” said Seema Brodie, a former prosecutor for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.
On a recent Thursday, Seema led the spinning class while her husband negotiated stop-and-go traffic from Cambridge into the Back Bay and back. Brodie’s bike at the front of the bus faced the eight passenger bikes, all bolted securely to the floor. The riders included two Globe reporters, one in shape and one not so much, and six members of the MIT athletic department staff, all of them harnessed in with a system the Brodies designed with the help of structural engineers (they declined to say how much all this cost).
Google “bike bus” and you’ll see why its creators saw a void in the market: Several cities offer trolley-like “buses” that passengers power by pedaling, and that look appropriate for parks or touristy places, but BikeBus is the only one that comes up as an engine-powered city bus that can travel at highway speed.
Eric Brodie, who spent two years managing operations for a bus company, said he knows of another entrepreneur, on Long Island, who runs a bus that brings a mobile gym to you, but that bus is parked during workouts.
Doesn’t a rolling spin class present a busload of safety issues? Not according to Eric Brodie.
“As far as safety goes, you’re already going to have your hands on the handlebars, and your feet either clipped or caged in, so your extremities are fairly stable,” he said.
To stabilize the rest, the Brodies designed a restraint system that they believe makes a ride on the BikeBus “actually far safer than a ride on your typical city bus, where you’re often holding onto just a single bar, if even that.”
State regulators evidently agreed, because the bus passed safety inspections and began operating last year. For now, the Brodies operate the bus like a charter: For an hourlong ride, they charge $299 for the exclusive use of the vehicle by up to eight riders. They will pick up a group and take them anywhere that can be reached by bus within an hour. Someday, they hope commuters will be able to catch the bus along established routes, but for now, they are taking requests.
“The bread and butter for our operation has been private parties, bachelor parties, or corporate wellness events,” said Eric Brodie. “We just got a request for someone who’s turning 50 to take a bus from Beacon Hill and we’re going to be dropping them off in Brookline, where they’re going to have brunch.”
So what’s it like? If you’re one of these people who hates gyms where passersby can look in and watch you work out, BikeBus is not for you. As our bus tooled down Boylston Street, and back up Newbury Street, pedestrians pointed at us through the large windows. At one point, two police officers on motorcycles quizzically turned their heads as we crept along.
All the music and effort made it hard to notice the city passing by outside, though the MIT riders on board expressed appreciation.
“It’s pretty neat when you see the reactions of people on the street,” said Katie Hoppe, 29. “Their reactions are kind of motivating in themselves because they double-take trying to figure out what’s going on on the bus.”
Not everyone thinks the bus is a great idea.
Eric Brodie argues that BikeBus goes places that people can’t bike — state highways and interstates — and if used as a means of transportation to work, would reduce the carbon footprint of its riders (while protecting them from potholes, the weather, and inattentive motorists).
For now, it’s a novelty. And a prototype.
“We are hopeful that our next bus can focus more on efficiency and sustainability, such as a hybrid electric that would allow us to capture some of the power generated by the riders,” Brodie said. “Stay tuned.”