Urban Adventures

Thursday I decided to join my commuting buddy for the Moveable Feast, an evening ride around Fairmount Park after work. The registration fee went  to benefit the Pennsylvania Center for Adapted Sports (PCAS) and we had several riders from PCAS on tandems joining us on this inaugural, unsupported ride. Because it’s getting dark early, lights were mandatory.

We rode in the morning on our usual commute and it felt good – rarely do my legs feel nimble and light when I’m riding my commuter. He said its because I took two days off the bike; I maintain that it was because I had a cup of coffee before leaving my house.

THE WORLD WILL NEVER KNOW.

After work, we had about an hour to kill so we rode out to the Ben Franklin Bridge via the buffered bike lane on Pine St. to enjoy the view. I had no idea there was a pedestrian/cycling part of the bridge … turns out it is above the roadway and a marvel of old school architecture.

Panoramic view of the Delaware River and the Philadelphia Skyline from the Ben Franklin Bridge

Dark clouds were looming over the Philadelphia skyline and soon fat drops of rain were falling.

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The trains shuttling commuters from the city back to New Jersey rumbled below us.

View of New Jersey from the Bridge

On the way back to the start point for the evening ride, we saw a laundry valet by bicycle – a girl towing three 30+ gal laundry bins. Such a cool idea! We arrived back to the ride start in time to check in and chat with some of the riders from PCAS. There was maybe twenty of us. Unfortunately there was also a major auto accident on the adjacent street (up the road) so there was some last-minute scouting to ensure the multi-use path was still open. The 10 mile loop was low-key and fun, if challenging to see the buckles and heaves in the path on the west side of the river.

After the short ride we teamed up with two others from the ride and rode over to the Night Market, which was being held in Chinatown. Night Market is a fun street fair-type atmosphere where local restaurants ply their delicious goods to the hungry masses. It was packed – lots of good people-watching, a DJ on one end and a live band on the other! We were able to find an alcove big enough for four bicycles and devoured some Vietnamese cuisine from Vietnam Restaurant (me the chicken spring rolls with rice noodles; Commuter Friend the tofu sandwich). Then we explored the area in search of a cupcake truck  which we eventually found at the very end of a side street (Jimmy’s).

By this time it’s about 8:40pm and we still have to ride home (which takes an hour and a half and is uphill). We bid our fellow cyclists adieu and headed out back to the path. (On a safety note, I would not have ridden my bike home this late at night by myself. The park is VERY dark and as a female, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable alone.)

This is where you learn that most bike lights are not meant for riding outside of urban environments. My bike light is small and clearly is more for Being Seen not Seeing. My commuter friend has a comparably huge light that cast an adequate amount of light for the two of us to ride closely once we were out of the city and into the black curtain that had enveloped the Wissahickon Park.

Riding at night by the river and the creek was very cool – the water is still, reflecting the boathouse lights and the headlights of cars zipping by under the cover of night. There’s no one around except us and we were able to slide through intersections with ease. We rolled up to our parting point about a mile or so from each of our houses and agreed Friday would be a train commute day.

And that’s how I got over 50 miles on my commuter bike in a single work day. That’s probably the longest distance I’ve ever done on that bike in a single day. Even last year I rented a road bike for a 50-mile day. Muscles still felt good – had some very minor stiffness the next day but not enough to need an ibuprofen.

It was very cool to see different parts of the city from two wheels. It’s so frustrating to try to drive in Philadelphia – but on a bike, you can keep moving and see so many other cool things.

In other news, I am about 278 miles short of my friend Matt’s challenge to hit 1,800 miles this year (triple last year’s total mileage). This feels so achievable as long as the weather holds out and I can keep riding.

See you on the road!

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The Bike Matters

This weekend I decided to ride my hybrid bike to meet some girl friends for brunch on Saturday morning. I chose my hybrid because a 3 mile section of the route goes through a park that has a path of dirt and rocks – not exactly skinny-tire friendly. The rest is all on-street or paved bike path riding.

A wonderful 15 mile ride in, then a 10 mile ride around Fairmount Park before we rode off to eat.  We got a great table by an open window and enjoyed good food and a beautiful day. We then parted ways and I slogged through the 15 miles back home – it was uphill almost the entire way. At the end of the 3 miles of dirt and rocks, there is a 1.32 mile section of the road that is a 2% average incline – not insurmountable but certainly a challenge for any novice cyclist. Especially on a hybrid.

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Let’s talk about bicycle weights here for a second. My hybrid bike is 34 pounds. My road bike is 17 pounds. When you are going uphill, you can definitely feel the weight difference. Where my road bike flies, my hybrid is sluggish. It’s like being with a couch potato (hybrid) or a fitness freak (road).

But to be clear – I ask a lot of my hybrid. It has no business doing 40 miles in a morning – it’s built for casual rides around town running errands or leisurely rides with my kids.

Couple this with my hybrid has platform pedals (the flat ones) whereas my road bike has dual-sided pedals that my shoes clip into, thus transferring power from my legs to the bike. Everyone said clipless pedals would change my life but I wasn’t convinced until I had them l and could literally feel myself become one with my bike and power up a hill. It’s a truly incredible feeling – I highly recommend it.

A key difference also is my hybrid has a triple crank (three front rings) where my road bike has a compact crank (2 front rings). This means I was able to get into the lowest of low gears to slowly but surely get to the top of the hill. I was already pretty fatigued from the earlier riding, which didn’t help the cause any.

Anyway ….the point being your gear can make or break a ride. I was wrecked and spent the rest of the day rehydrating and relaxing. Next time I head downtown for brunch I need to scope a road route so I don’t completely kill my body.

Or maybe I should think of it as really good training? I used to think a ride was only good if you felt wrecked afterwards – but even after 50 miles on my road bike I don’t feel totally wrecked. I like being able to function after a ride.

Today my kids and I went on a 5 mile ride on a beautiful bike path and it was fantastic. They all have mountain bikes so my hybrid was the right choice for gear. I matched my daughter’s pace at 5 mph and it was truly a fun, low-key ride. Exactly what my hybrid is built for.

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Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms out there! Hope you enjoyed your day as much as I did.

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