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All words by Elsie Yang

You could think of the Potomac Paddle Club as a Peloton meets a party boat, but with a much, much, much greater emphasis on the party than on the Peloton. For the last two years, co-founders Jack Maher and Jack Walten have been moving so-called Cycleboats up and down the Potomac river, from the Georgetown riverfront to the Columbia Island Marina and back again, much to the delight of passenger-slash-pedallers. And in the time of the pandemic, this may just be one of the most fun, if not funniest, ways to go about having a socially distant good time on the water. 

Maher and Walten, childhood friends (who introduce themselves by saying, “We’re Jack”), launched their first Cycleboat in 2018. “We’d both been on a party bike before,” the Jacks said, referencing the comical multi-person tandem bikes that terrorize the streets of some cities with bikers who imbibe and pedal simultaneously (and are guided, of course, by a sober driver). “Then we thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we could do this on the water?’” And so, as the unlikely story goes, a business was born. 

Two years later, Potomac Paddle Club has two boats in its fleet (the second took its maiden voyage just a few weeks ago), and is attracting locals, tourists, teams, and everyone in between with their COVID-friendly fun. The Cycleboat itself looks something like a large pontoon boat with a paddle wheel on the back (turned, of course, by cycling power). The watercraft is motorized (no, you don’t have to paddle) and guided by a (sober) captain, which makes the BYO component of the Potomac Paddle Club much more palatable.

The Club runs anywhere from 7 to 12 tours a day, and during the pandemic, all tours must be booked as private excursions (which means that all passengers on a boat are part of the same group). Boats can accommodate anywhere between 8 and 12 people (it’s normally 16, but alas, COVID-19 restrictions), though only 10 people can pedal at any given time. That said, those who aren’t pedalling may be having a slightly more relaxed time, and can enjoy the furnished lounge area, complete with seated space and a phenomenal view of both the river and the attractions alongside it. 

Departing from the Georgetown waterfront, the tours sail down the Potomac, with phenomenal views of DC’s iconic landmarks, including the Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument. While the Jacks insist that the pedaling does, in fact, help move the boat along, those who would prefer to simply take in the sights can do so without worrying that they’ll end up stranded on the river. 

Parties looking for an extra bit of fun will be pleased to know that the Club is both BYO beer and wine (no liquor allowed), and BYO food (bring on the cheese plates and the chips and dip). The central mahogany bar makes for an ideal place to sip and snack while enjoying a view of DC from the river. And if the sound of your friends’, family’s, or colleagues’ voices isn’t a pleasant enough soundtrack, fret not — the Jacks have ensured that a built-in bluetooth speaker is made available to the resident DJs in each crowd.

Aside from the entertainment, the safety precautions exercised in light of the ongoing pandemic are also more than up to snuff. All crew and staff maintain a distance of at least six feet from passengers (during COVID-19 times, the two bike seats closest to the staff are required to be kept vacant), and don protective masks throughout the cruise. There’s also a physical line on the deck of the vessel to indicate off-limits areas for passengers to ensure not only their safety, but that of the crew as well. And of course, there’s plenty of hand sanitizer to be found across the vessel. 

Tours last 90 minutes, with a 10-minute restroom break in the middle of the cruise (an extremely considerate and, in some cases, necessary precaution). And given that prices start at $450 for a pod of 8, and reach $550 for a pod of 12 (which keeps average prices per person at around $50), the Potomac Paddle Club may just be the best way to mix up your pandemic pastime. 


Featured photo via Potomac Paddle Club’s Instagram