Ride On: Why You Can
(and Should!) Bike Philly

posted by , on May 27, 2014 at 4:35 pm

May is National Bike Month, and with winter finally gone now is the perfect time to consider the benefits of cycling. Whether looking to cut costs, shave time off commutes, shrink your carbon footprint, or add some cardio to your routine, bicycling is a great option for students strapped for time and cash.

Riders in Philadelphia have the particular advantage of living in a city that is ranked in the top 20 for bicycling. While Philadelphia’s flat terrain, grid-like urban planning, and compact design make it a naturally bike-friendly place, the city has made many efforts to further improve the streets for cycling. Many of these innovations are thanks to the efforts of advocates at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, an organization dedicated to making Philadelphia a safe, accessible and fun city for cyclists of all types.

Nicholas Mirra, Communications Manager for the Bicycle Coalition, is passionate about “helping others discover and appreciate the freedom a bicycle brings.” For Mirra, biking is a profoundly accessible activity, “not just for buff guys in Lycra or hipsters riding fixies, but for anyone–working professionals, moms and dads, students, kids.” Mirra is also passionate about the potential for bicycles to provide economic and environmental relief by replacing cars and buses. “Biking means cleaner air, cheaper transportation, healthier bodies. On top of that, Philadelphia is a great city to start biking.”

Although biking is a great choice for any age, it is especially popular among younger people, according to Mirra. “If you’re under 40, you probably either bike or know someone who does.” As a young professional, Mirra was inspired to buy a bike by a friend. “If you’re thinking of getting into biking but not sure how, talk to someone who does bike. They’ll definitely have a lot to say!”

Mirra started off on a used bike from one of Philadelphia’s local shops. “It’s served me well. There’s no need for a brand-new, high-tech bicycle if you don’t want one. Any sturdy bike will do.” What Mirra does emphasize is the need for proper safety gear: a lock, a helmet, and front and rear lights. “It’s incredibly important to be visible at night, and to keep your head protected at all times,” he warns. Once on the road, listening to your instincts is key. “There’s no shame in preferring quieter roads. If you’re not comfortable riding on crowded streets or near buses, there’s always an alternative route to follow,” Mirra advises.

Once you’ve begun to cycle, there are plenty of ways to connect with other bikers in Philadelphia. The Bicycle Coalition and partners like Women Bike PHL organize meet-ups, group rides, workshops and classes throughout the city. These events connect the diverse members of the cycling community to foster friendship and solidarity across the city, while organizations like Safe Routes Philly promote safe practices among younger riders. (Check out our list of upcoming bicycling events for more ideas!)

Although many students take advantage of the ease and speed of biking in city, bikes can also provide a way to escape the city hustle. Many Philadelphia cyclists enjoy routes on the Circuit, a network of trails that, when complete, will provide over 750 miles of pedestrian and bike paths throughout the Greater Philadelphia Area. To date, over 250 miles have already been completed, offering dozens of possible routes through local neighborhoods and parks. In addition to the suggested routes found on the Circuit homepage, bikers can take advantage of an interactive map to plan a leisurely or vigorous ride.

Feeling inspired? This summer is a perfect opportunity to make biking your own. Sign up for the National Bike Challenge to create a distance-tracking profile and join the thousands of others hitting the streets and trails this season. Recruit friends, form a team, and see how far your wheels can take you. According to Mirra, “there’s no wrong way to begin.”