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Video: BikeBus idea takes Colorado alum for quite a ride

BikeBus in action

Curt Cavnar's Breckenridge BikeBus.

When it comes to business, Curt Cavnar ’80 likes to start something, build it up, watch it grow, and then get out on his own terms and move on to the next challenge.

Cavnar’s latest creation is guaranteed to give him quite a ride.

Cavnar is the founder of Breckenridge BikeBus, a unique bicycle built for 16 people that visitors rent to pedal themselves up and down the Colorado resort town’s main drag. After his big head-turning debut last summer, Cavnar is hoping his second season can turn his passion project into a profitable one.

“It’s definitely been the most fun I’ve ever had,” he said. “I can’t ask for a better situation.”

Curt and Lee smile

BikeBus owner Curt Cavnar and his neighbor, Lee Kendrick, who built it.

BikeBus carries 10 pedaling riders, five freeloaders, and a group “biketender” who stands in the center to serve drinks, while a BikeBus staffer brakes and steers. It can hit speeds of 5-7 miles per hour and works on pedal power 99.9 percent of the time, though a supplemental, solar-powered electric motor is on board too.

Cavnar got his idea after renting a similar vehicle in Denver. He was impressed by the concept and considered buying one from a manufacturer, only to be convinced by a mechanically inclined neighbor that they could build it themselves in his garage. Turns out they were right, though it was tricky.

Cavnar’s entrepreneurial roots go deep. The School of Communication broadcasting graduate, who won Illinois State’s Outstanding Young Alumni Award in 1997, spent most of his life in Chicago. He owned his own media production company up until 2000, when he sold his share of the company. He was burned out.

“I’ve never been one to stay with something for 20 years,” he said. “I get antsy and want to explore other things.”

After a stint in Cincinnati, he took a job in Colorado as communications director for a large, media-savvy church. He left that job in 2006 and spent some time freelancing before the BikeBus idea surfaced.

That idea didn’t turn into a money-maker overnight. Cavnar hit some major delays while he and his neighbor built his “magnificent machine,” delaying his launch from Memorial Day 2012 to the Fourth of July. And when BikeBus was ready to ride for Breckenridge’s July 4 parade, the motor was so strained it literally caught fire.

Now on its third motor, Cavnar’s got the kinks out and is operating BikeBus safely and efficiently, renting it out to groups for excursions ranging from pub crawls to charity events.

Cavnar lives in Westminster, Colorado, between Boulder and Denver, but will spend most of his summer again in Breckenridge, a resort town known for its skiing and other outdoor activities. It was the perfect spot for BikeBus because its Main Street is only a mile long, Cavnar says. And BikeBus is a big hit with local businesses because riders can take a break from pedaling to step into a bar or restaurant, he said.

“It’s a real ambassador for the town. It’s a rolling mascot now,” said Cavnar. “I like the fact that it’s such a part of Breckenridge now.”

After introducing it to Breckenridge last year, Cavnar’s goal for the second season is to make BikeBus as profitable as possible. After that, you might start seeing BikeBuses pop up in other U.S. cities.

“If I could find six more Breckenridges to put this thing in, I’d do it tomorrow,” Cavnar said.

Ryan Denham can be reached at rmdenha@ilstu.edu.

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