PICTURED: Enjoying Wheel Fun Rentals on the beach. Photo by Chris Mortenson

If you’ve been down by the beach in either Oxnard or Ventura, you’ve almost certainly heard the cheerful bells and seen the brightly colored tops and flags of a Wheel Fun Surrey cycle — a four-wheeled carriage operated by foot pedals. Those sounds and sights are almost always accompanied by peals of laughter and beaming smiles as well, for good reason: It’s a lot of fun, and can accommodate multiple riders.

Wheel Fun Rentals is the company responsible for those human-powered vehicles. But they offer traditional bicycles, electric bikes and recumbent models, too. As the busy summer season gets underway, we talked to Wheel Fun’s Director of Marketing Sheena Walenta about how the company got started, its evolution through the decades and what makes it such a great activity for people of all ages and abilities.

What was the original inspiration behind Wheel Fun Rentals?

While vacationing in Italy in 1987, our founder, Brian McInerney, came across the four-wheel multi-passenger Surrey cycle. Having had a long affinity for bicycles, he sought out the manufacturer and purchased a container of Surreys before returning to the States. And that’s how it all got started.

When and where did Wheel Fun Rentals first open?

Our first bike rental shop was opened here in Ventura in the late 1980s shortly after Brian got back from Italy. He purchased some additional two-wheel bikes to round out the fleet, but the real star was the Surrey cycle. In 1999, Wheel Fun Rentals was formally established when Brian McInerney combined forces with Al Stonehouse, former president of Diamondback Bicycles.

What were the first vehicles that Wheel Fun Rentals offered?

The ever-popular Surrey cycles have always been a main attraction at our rental locations. By 2001 we were manufacturing our own Surreys built specifically for the rigors of the rental market.

 What other vehicles did Wheel Fun incorporate through the years?

Amy Wilkinson pedals along the beach near Ventura Pier with kids Benjamin and Abigail in a Wheel Fun Surrey. Photo by Chris Mortenson

Shortly after 2001, we began manufacturing other unique cycles to add to the fleet. And today our locations offer a variety of different types of rentals, from specialty cycles, two-wheel bicycles, beach rentals, and select locations around the country offer pedal boat rentals, kayaks, surfboards and more!

How has your business grown and evolved since you opened? What have been the biggest or most significant changes?

In the early 2000s, Wheel Fun Rentals began franchising rental locations and today we have over 100 locations nationwide!

What are among the most popular items that people like to rent?

Nationally, Wheel Fun Rentals has nearly three million customers getting on and off our product each year. The Surrey cycle has always been our most popular bike. However, in the last few years, our iconic swan boats at Echo Park in Los Angeles, Rainbow Lagoon in Long Beach, Lake Balboa in Van Nuys, and other locations across the country have become increasingly popular, in part due to the incredible power of social media.   

How did the pandemic affect your business?

We did have to close most all locations very briefly at the beginning of the pandemic. But shortly thereafter, we were deemed an essential business providing outdoor transportation and recreation to the community.  We operated (and continue to operate in 2022) with enhanced safety measures such as plexi-glass shields at the cash register, touchless payment, digital receipts, disinfecting rental product, and more.

The CDC made the following statement during the height of the pandemic, “Low-contact outdoor activities like bike riding is a great way to get your body moving, and relieve stress while getting fresh air.” And because staying physically active is one of the best ways to keep your mind and body healthy, we were busier than ever. And we continue to see a steady rate of new and returning customers.

 What’s most rewarding about this business?

We believe that age, inexperience or other physical limitations should not prevent someone from enjoying a bike ride and exploring the great outdoors. That’s why we offer a variety of rental products perfect for all ages and rider abilities. That has to be the most rewarding part about what we do. We regularly see elderly grandparents out on a Surrey with multiple generations of family members pedaling. We have injured veterans come out and ride our double recumbent bike called the Deuce Coupe with loved ones. We regularly host Hearts for Sight, an organization that provides services and activities for the visually impaired. It’s an honor to bring joy to everyone that comes out to ride our products.

What is your favorite vehicle to ride?

Right now, one of our favorite products we offer is the electric bike. They are so fun to ride, and you can cover so much ground without ever breaking a sweat. This allows the rider to travel farther and explore more than they would typically see on a standard bike.

What are you looking forward to most this summer?

As with every summer, we most look forward to the smiling faces of the families and friends that get outside for a ride together. Even in today’s fast-paced, electronics-driven world, there is no substitution for fresh air, physical fitness and good ol’ quality time with loved ones. We pride ourselves in having been able to provide that to communities around the country for over 30 years.

Wheel Fun Rentals, wheelfunrentals.com/Ventura

Ventura State Beach: 901 San Pedro St., Ventura, 805-650-7770

Ventura Pier: 850 E. Harbor Blvd., Ventura, 805-765-5795

Embassy Suites Mandalay Beach Resort: 2101 Mandalay Beach Road, Oxnard, 805-984-1994

Channel Islands Marine Emporium Landing: 3600 Harbor Blvd., Oxnard, 805-910-7257

—Nancy D. Lackey Shaffer