In Philly, with our robust urban biking community (in 2019 alone, Indego bike share usage increased by 11 percent, to 740,000 trips, and bike traffic last fall increased by 53 percent) it can feel intimidating for newbies to know where, or how, to get started. But with these recommendations from local experts, we’ve got you covered.
Quick tips for new bikers in Philadelphia
1. Where to buy a bike, or get one fixed
If you believe The New York Times, it could be eons before you get your hands on a bike. Philly bicycle shops are now open for both sales and service, and while you may have to schedule a specific time slot to shop, to minimize crowds and maintain social-distancing, this also means you’ll get one-on-one attention to find the right bike for your height, frame and lifestyle. Some beloved local shops to check out: Velo Jawn, Firehouse Bicycles, Cycles PHL and Via Bicycle.
And with many people using the pandemic as a time to Kondo their homes, there are also lots of bikes to be found on social media. Join your neighborhood “Buy Nothing” or “Virtual Yard Sale” group, follow Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, Neighborhood Bike Works, or Folx N Spokes PHL, and, for the love of Carson Wentz, be sure to wear a mask and practice social-distancing when you arrange to pick up your new ride. Which, Kusuma Schofield, one of the volunteer moderators of Folx n Spokes PHL emphasizes, you should plan to bring to your local shop for a tune-up, and to make sure it’s safe and ready to ride.
2. Great places to ride your bike in Philly
Stephanie Fenniri, deputy director of Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia (BCGP), says that one of the safest places to hit the road these days is MLK Drive, which is actually the four-mile stretch from East Falls Bridge to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. While the Drive is always closed to cars on weekends, the group successfully advocated for its full-time closure during the pandemic.
Weekends tend to be busier there; weekdays, not so much. BCGP’s website also lists other great places to ride on their “Where to Ride” tab, including East Fairmount Park, West Fairmount Park, Pennypack Park, and in Southwest Philadelphia at places like Bartram’s Garden, Cobb’s Creek, and the John Heinz National Wildlife Refuge.
3. Learn about safety
Jessica West, executive director at Neighborhood Bikes Works in West Philly, which focuses on equitable access to bikes and biking through youth and community programming, encourages all riders to wear helmets, keep enough space in front of and behind other riders, and use hand signals.
And of course these days, in addition to your helmet and lock, you’ll need to take a face mask along with you.
4. Ride with others
As anyone who’s ever seen a pack of doughy middle-aged white men in head-to-toe spandex on sleek designer bikes can attest, city biking can have an air of elitism about it. But several community groups are working to change that.
There’s the aforementioned Neighborhood Bike Works, which in the non-pandemic era ran its flagship, free Earn-A-Bike program, teaching kids bike mechanics and safe urban biking tactics as well as job-readiness and leadership skills.
Kids would come in and choose a donated bike from the group’s stock; then, over the course of the eight-week class, they’d learn how to get their bike road-ready and how to do some basic maintenance. At the completion of the program, they’d graduate with a bike, as well as a helmet and lock.
Neighborhood Bike Works also runs Mel’s Community DIY Bike Shop, inviting people from the community to bring their bikes in and use the shop’s tools and stands to work on their bikes, with volunteers and expert mechanics on hand.
During the pandemic, they’ve not only switched, um, gears to provide online programming for youth, they’ve also started a program to provide bikes to frontline healthcare workers and the families of their Earn-A-Bike graduates.
They welcome bike donations on Thursdays from noon to 6pm, as well as financial donations online; $100 will provide everything needed to get a safe bike into the hands of a rider who needs one.
There’s also Folx n Spokes PHL, a Facebook-based community that focuses on drawing women and non-binary riders at all levels into the sport. These and other groups are all about removing the financial and social barriers to entry—getting bikes into the hands of people of all ages, genders and socioeconomic status.
5. Ride for a good cause
Mazel tov: Your timing couldn’t be better to put your pedaling to good use, as Main Line Animal Rescue is hosting its Handlebarks Virtual Cycling Event, presented by Audi West Chester, through June 20. They’re inviting riders of all levels (and indoor cyclists) to take on rides ranging from leisurely five -milers all the way to 100-mile rides to raise critical funds for Main Line Animal Rescue.
Registration is $15, and gives cyclists the option to choose their own course, complete the ride on an indoor bike, and finish the ride in a single day or over the course of two weeks. Supporters can also purchase this Handlebarks t-shirt to show their love. Sign up and get more info here.
Happy riding, everyone!Header photo courtesy Lora Reehling Photography / BCGP