I have a friend who insists there's nothing more beautiful than a woman riding a bicycle.
He's not referring to a woman outfitted in brightly colored spandex holding an "aero" position on a $3,000 bike in an effort to ride 22 mph for two or three hours. Rather, he thinks of the woman wearing clothes appropriate for work, shopping or a lunch date, riding at a more leisurely pace, smiling and hair flowing in the wind.
It's a common sight in many European cities and increasingly in some U.S. cities, where people ride bikes as a practical, inexpensive and eco-friendly form of transportation. The "exercise" is merely incidental.
Now, there's a movement afoot — perhaps "apedal" is more appropriate — that is promoting "Cycle Chic."
About three years ago, Copenhagen filmmaker and photographer Mikael Colville-Andersen coined the term in an effort to normalize urban
cycling and to emphasize "style over speed." A similar effort is called the "Slow Bicycle Movement," playing off the popular anti-fast-food "Slow Food Movement." Both Chic and Slow are spreading across the globe like bike flu.
With Friday being National Bike to Work Day, a local woman hopes to seize the opportunity to jump-start Cycle Chic in Charleston.
Kristin Walker, a local Realtor who shows properties via bike, is promoting it here by holding an informal ride starting at noon Friday from the "round fountain" at Marion Square for an easy three-mile ride. This is a women's-only ride, but Walker jokes that if guys wear high heels, they will be allowed to ride.
It's all about conveying the message of biking civilized — ready for an appointment, a dinner date or dropping in on the farmers market without looking like the stereotypical cyclist.
"I think Charleston is the perfect place for Cycle Chic," says Walker. "Charleston ladies love to be happening and styling. This is about fun, enjoying the ride, saying hi and ringing your bell. It's about connecting to your environment."
But will it catch on in Charleston, where the heat and humidity of long summers can often turn dress clothes into sweat clothes in five minutes? Walker thinks so.
"When you're riding a bike, you're a lot cooler than when you are walking because you have a breeze. And when you're riding Cycle Chic, you're not supposed to be working out. You ride slower." She adds that Charleston benefits from being flat and having relatively mild weather during the other three seasons of the year.
In fact, Cycle Chic may already be here — at least on the peninsula, where there seems to be an uptick in biking. I often see cyclists, usually people in their 20s, riding in dress clothes.
The timing for launching Cycle Chic couldn't be better.
The Spoleto and Piccolo Spoleto festivals start next week. If this season is anything like past ones, downtown streets will be jammed, and cheap, convenient parking scarce. If you live or work downtown, consider cycling chic to festival events.
Like Walker, you also may experience the joy of passing creeping cars and getting to park within steps of your favorite restaurant or performance venue.