- Jonathan Boncek/Scott Suchy
Like many things, the phrase "Charleston is bikeable!" depends on your frame of reference. Lots of people bike here, yes, but if you come from the land of ample bike lanes, prepare for a reality check. Biking downtown is pretty simple — there are almost no bike lanes, but the grid network includes many quiet streets where cycling along is a breeze. If you ever move off the peninsula, it will quickly get a lot less fun. There are a few trails (like the West Ashley Greenway), but biking outside of downtown is a sad story of crowded roads, fast cars, and no space for bikes.
If you're wavering between needing a bike and not needing a bike, there are a few options:
College of Charleston offers a FREE bike share program to students — just head to the Stern Center with your Cougar Card, and you can check out a bike for the day.
Failing that, Charleston has two separate bike share systems — MUSC-sponsored newcomer Holy Spokes, which has more bikes and locations, and the older Affordabike, run by the local cycle shop of the same name. We did a full comparison of the dueling systems' differing prices and rules earlier this year — check it out at charlestoncitypaper.com. The main takeaway? Holy Spokes is the better option, but you can't beat free with a Cougar Card.
On the other hand, you may decide to strike out on your own and buy a bike. Where to start? First off, the College's Student Government Association auctions all the bikes the campus police confiscate for abandonment or rule violations. It's cash or check only, and the auction is usually in late August. If you'd rather buy new, your choices downtown are Affordabike and The Bicycle Shoppe, and there are numerous options outside the peninsula.
Now you've got your shiny new bike. Or your less shiny used bike. How should you keep it from ending up in the confiscated bikes auction?
The first step is registration. College of Charleston requires all bikes on campus be registered with the Department of Public Safety, unless they're already registered with the City of Charleston (that costs $1). Ride over to the Public Safety offices at 89 St. Philip St., fill out a few forms, and affix your new registration sticker to your bike's frame. Easy.
If you skip registration, Public Safety can impound your bike. At some point, it might find its way to the College's bike auction. So, just register your bike.
Prevent thieves from stealing your hard-earned cycle by locking it to an immovable object. Use a U-lock instead of a chain, as most chain locks can easily be snipped with bolt cutters. If you're on campus or King Street, only use one of the provided bike racks. If you choose to use a random street sign, fence, or anything else, the city or college can confiscate your bike.
While riding, make sure you stay safe. There are no helmet laws, but wearing one is recommended. Unexpected, unprotected head-to-asphalt contact is never going to be pleasant. Legally, bikes are classified as vehicles, so you must obey traffic lights, signs, and one way streets. CofC (and the city) also bans biking on sidewalks if there is a parallel roadway, and all bikes are required to have a white front light and red rear light so you can be spotted at night. These lights are available online and in bike shops.