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I Bike Philly

The motto for the annual Bike Philly ride is “One Morning, Zero Cars, 8,000 Wheels.”  I was intrigued, so I registered for the ride in August. On Sunday, along with my 13-year-old son, I headed out to Philly at 6:15 am, bikes in tow. Here’s how it went.

1. About Bike Philly: This is an annual event organized by the Bicycle Coalition of Philadelphia. It includes options for 10, 20 and 35-mile rides. The 35-mile ride takes you onto shared roads, but the other rides take place in and around Center City on streets closed to traffic. It begins and ends on Eakins Oval in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and goes past many of the city’s most famous sites: The Constitution Center, Penn’s Landing, Boathouse Row, to name a few.

2. We did 10 miles: When I first registered for this I signed on for the 35-mile route. But on Saturday night, Ian unexpectedly agreed to accompany me. The event is billed as a family friendly ride, and I had tried earlier to convince him to come along. I didn’t think he would handle a 35-mile ride on shared roads well, so I agreed to take a shorter route.

Ian and I at Eakins Oval

3. An early start: Unlike most event rides I’ve done, Bike Philly has a mandatory group start at 8:00 a.m. The website recommended picking up your ride packet at one of several Philadelphia locations the week before to avoid long lines. Since this wasn’t feasible for me–and because I also had to register Ian that morning–we packed our bikes the night before and left before sun-up on Sunday. I learned this: there is no traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway or Route 422 before 7 am on a Sunday morning. The parking lots recommended for the event included one located on N. 23rd St. It was no problem riding to Eakins Oval from there, as there were dozens of cyclists doing the same thing. We just rode with the crowd. When I arrived at the Art Museum, I was dismayed to find there were, in fact, no long lines. Registration took less than five minutes. My “ride packet” consisted of a paper bracelet and a map. We had 50 minutes to wait before the start.

Art Museum steps

4. Early morning at the Art Museum: We were intrigued by the fog that obscured the tops of some buildings, the steady stream of cyclists rolling in to Eakins Oval, and the early morning joggers running up the art museum steps. We had time to appreciate the fountains and study the crowd. We saw a triple tandem bike, which looked like fun. There was a mom toting her two toddlers in a bike with a wooden, wheel barrow-style cart in front. And there were a couple of fairly young children riding skinny wheeled racing bikes. Ian spent most of the time adjusting his bicycle helmet.

5.  The Group Start: The crowd of participants was enormous, snaking around the road in front of the art

Moving to the start

museum and feeding in from Kelly Drive. The ride started on time, with coordinators funneling the cyclists slowly onto the roadway a little at a time. I was impressed by how well organized this was. A group start with thousands of cyclists could have been mayhem, but surprisingly, we never felt like we were riding on top of others or being hemmed in on all sides. It was tight and slow-moving getting up to the starting point, but once we got on the road, we had plenty of room. That may be because with no traffic on the roads, those Philly streets are very wide.

A view of the crowd

6. No better way to see Philly. I always contend that there is no better way to see the world than from your bike. You’re going at the right speed to really take in the sights, and your visibility is fabulous–no roof to obscure what’s above you, no doors, walls or windows around you. The result is you feel like you’re part of the landscape, and not an observer of it.  I’ve been all around the parts of Philly we rode on that day, but I’ve never appreciated it as much.  That’s because I wasn’t stuck in traffic or trying to find my way somewhere. I really felt like the purpose of the ride was just to be there and to experience Philly from a very unique perspective and Ian and I both enjoyed being part of that.

7. Stopped Traffic: As soon as we got into the ride I understood why there was a mandatory group start.  It was imperative that the riders travel during a set time frame because there were police at virtually every intersection stopping traffic. I realized that putting this event together was quite a feat, and one that took a great deal of planning and coordination. It was also interesting to see that there were people here and there out watching the steady stream of cyclists, and you could tell from their expressions that they were enjoying the sight of all those bikes taking over the roadways. I couldn’t see the people stopped in their cars, though. I’m pretty sure their expressions were not so pleasant.

8. How we did: Ian only rides his bike around the neighborhood and, occasionally, accompanies me on a trail ride. I bike to work, so I ride nearly every day from early spring through late fall.  I thought it was really fun to have Ian there, to introduce him to the excitement of an event ride, and to have him ride in a completely different environment that what he is used to. He really enjoyed it. I even tried pretty hard to coax him into doing the 20 mile route, but when the ride split after about 9.5 miles near the Philadelphia Zoo, he was sure he’d had enough. I was aching to go the rest of the way–and the majority of riders did seem to be heading to the 20-mile option–but I didn’t want to ruin the experiece for him.

9. After the ride: All event rides end with food. This one ended for us at about 9:30 a.m., so neither of us wanted pizza, but we did get a soft pretzel and some fruit. There was a vendor handing out juice boxes of coconut water. We tried it, neither of us liked it. Then, we walked around, looked at the vendor tables, picked up a Bike Philly T-shirt, and headed back to the car. I worried about finding the parking lot, but again I just followed the line of cyclists. Shockingly, there was still no traffic on the Schuylkill Expressway. We were home by 11:00 a.m.

10. Next year: I so enjoyed this ride that I hope to do it again next year, and I’d like to try to get some friends to accompany me. It was a great way to spend a morning, and the best way to see many of  Philadelphia’s most famous sights without hitting a lick of traffic.

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