Columbia is a city full of beautiful sites. With so much rich history, there’s plenty to take in downtown and in the Vista, and with the ever-growing number of restaurants and bars, there are numerous places to wet one’s whistle or grab a bite to eat. Parking can be challenging, and walking can slow down the progress of a pub crawl, so now there’s a new way to get around to see the sites and have a great time doing it — introducing SC Pedal Parlor, the latest trend in touring around town.
This specially-built party-on-wheels moves under the power of its riders and comes with a driver to steer. Tours last for about two hours and can accommodate up to 16 people plus the driver, who is in charge of steering and conducting the tour.
This isn’t the first venture into party pedaling for Matthew Koleske and Daniel Ritchie. “We’ve managed the Pedal Tavern in Milwaukee, Wis. for the past couple of years,” says Matthew, “and we know almost all of the other licensees throughout the United States.” In fact, such rolling pub crawls are growing in popularity across the country, including cities like Chicago, Las Vegas, Charlotte, Savannah and now, Columbia.
What kind of town is good for this type of touring? “We really liked the idea of putting a bike in Columbia because there are a lot of young professionals here,” says Matthew. “The weather is great, and it’s a really good terrain. You don’t want to be where it’s too hilly,” he says with a laugh. “It’s the perfect type of outing for bachelor and bachelorette parties. We also have a lot of birthday parties, corporate outings or just groups of friends looking for a fun way to spend time together.”
Riders can book a private party and rent the entire bike for up to 16 friends, but a minimum of eight pedalers is required to power the bike. Public tours are also an option where individuals can take available seats along with another group. The cost ranges from $15 to $25 per person, depending on the day of the week and the size of the group.
Even the weather can’t stop the Pedal Parlor. “We’ll go in the rain, although probably not a thunderstorm,” adds Matthew. Riders can book up to 24 hours in advance and can share what type of adventure they are looking for. “We can map out a route that will be fun for everyone. We’ll ask what kind of food they like, if they prefer to go to bars only, and then plan the route accordingly,” says Matthew.
As tour sites are developed, riders meet at a spot near the Horseshoe on the USC campus. “It’s the best starting point because of the terrain,” Matthew notes, “because it’s at the top of the city, and then we can work our way downhill for the most part.” The bike is set up so that anyone who is at least 5 feet and 4 inches tall can pedal, but adjustments can be made for anyone who might not able to reach the pedals. Then everyone climbs on and off they go to the first stop.
“We’ll usually pedal for about 20 minutes until we get to the first stop, then hop off and grab a couple of drinks at a restaurant or bar,” says Matthew about the typical tour. “Then it’s back on the bike and on to the next stop.” The tour can usually accommodate up to four or five stops during a two-hour tour. “It’s important to note that there’s no drinking alcohol while you’re on the bike,” Matthew says, “because South Carolina law prohibits that. We can provide soft drinks and water while you’re pedaling, but any adult beverages have to be consumed while we’re on a stop.”
The inaugural ride for the SC Pedal Parlor came on May 5, when many were celebrating Cinco de Mayo. Ashley Stevens, a manager and bartender at World of Beer located in the Vista, met Matthew and Daniel when they started coming into the bar and shared information about the Pedal Parlor. Once she learned more about it, Ashley thought a ride on the Pedal Parlor would be a great team-building opportunity for the staff. “We work really hard,” Ashley says, “and it’s hard for several of us to be off work all at the same time.”
Ashley was already familiar with the concept of doing a pub crawl via a giant bicycle, having seen a similar one in Asheville, N.C. “I thought it would be fun for everyone. I’m in my late 20s and enjoy hanging out with my friends. The staff seemed excited for the opportunity to give the bike its first test in Columbia. They were really pumped for it,” she recalls.
The group met up at Hunter Gatherer to begin their tour. “That was our gathering spot,” she says. “We had a drink there, then climbed on the bike and headed toward Cantina 76 on Main Street. After a stop there, we went to Uncle Louis’, the Tin Roof, and our final stop was at World of Beer. We picked our places, but it had to be in a certain order. You don’t want to fight to get uphill.”
Parker Melton, also a bartender and manager at World of Beer, thought it was a great idea. “I had a lot of fun on the trip. When we do things outside of work together, it helps build a tighter bond. While we were on the bike, we worked as a team to move the bike. Having some beers, being outside and trying the parlor out for the first time was a great experience.”
Parker does admit pedaling the bike was a little more challenging than he originally thought it might be, even with 10 people pedaling. “Prepare to get a leg workout, even though you have several people pedaling because it’s not quite as easy as it seems. It’s good exercise while you’re bar hopping, so I guess it balances it out,” he says with a smile.
He also recommends dressing comfortably for the tour. “Even for us, it was a nice cool night,” he says. “I was wearing shorts and tennis shoes, and we still got warm. You definitely don’t want to wear flip-flops. I suggest you bring a bottle of water and wear really comfy clothes.”
Ashley feels the tour was a great success. “We had music playing and, because we did it on Cinco de Mayo, we had our own little party with stick-on mustaches,” she says. “It was so much fun!”
Parker says they’ll likely do it again. “I know there were several people who weren’t able to go that night who want to try it. We had a great time and nobody fell off the bike!”
Tours can be booked for any day of the week. “We can take one to two tours during the week and can book as many as five on Saturday and Sunday,” says Matthew. “We only have the one bike right now, but we do hope to add another bike down the road.”
Matthew and Daniel are not only the owners of the SC Pedal parlor; they are the drivers for the bike as well, but they are on the lookout to add to their staff eventually. “When we do hire, we’ll make sure they are people-persons, because it makes the tour more fun for the driver to interact with the riders. We want to make sure they’re focused on safety, and they have to be 21.”
As the popularity of the Pedal Parlor continues to grow, Matthew and Daniel hope to work closely with area restaurants and bars along their routes and be able to offer discounts on food and drink for the riders at the various stops along the way.
Parker predicts a great future for the Pedal Parlor since the group seemed to attract quite a bit of attention as they biked through the Vista. “People were taking pictures as we were riding around and pointing at us. There were folks shouting at us from cars and someone even challenged us to a race, but we declined that.”
The idea of the Pedal Parlor has flourished in other cities. With new restaurants and bars still to come for the Vista and downtown, the group bike will certainly prove to be a draw for groups looking for their next adventure.
“I think it will go over really well,” Ashley says. “Everyone said they had a great time, and they would do it with their own family and friends. Once people see it, they’ll be all about it. It is kind of a foreign concept right now because they don’t really know how it works, but when they understand it, they’ll really like it, and I think it will be huge during football season.
“It’s about the whole experience,” she adds. “You’re on a giant bicycle with your best friends. It’s kind of hard not to enjoy it.”