Review: Philly Bike Tour Co

Friends, today is my husband and I’s sixteenth wedding anniversary. Traditionally we took the day off so we could go to lunch together before splitting up between handing out candy and taking the little ones around trick or treating. Our children are now old enough to go out with their friends or stay home and hand out candy – so doing other things for our anniversary is a total option now.

Yesterday I saw a Twitter contest from Philly Bike Tour Co. to win passes on their bicycle tour of Philadelphia today. Of course I re-tweeted and *then* let the husband know there’s a chance we would be going on a bike tour. That’s just how things go with bicycles and myself, really. So late last night when I got the tweet that we had won, I was totally excited.

Philly Bike Tour Co. started fairly recently because there is a distinct void in how to tour Philadelphia by bicycle. With so many beautiful neighborhoods and historic sites in a dense urban area, the best way to get around the city is on two wheels. There are several options for tours such as a classic tour, northern neighborhoods, movie and tv sites, outdoor art, food & beer, and a tour of Fairmount Park. Each tour is rated for difficulty from Super Easy to Advanced – to you can pick the right tour for yourself and your guests. Most of the tours are rated Easy.

Philly Bike Tour Co. is in partnership with Fairmount Bicycles, a woman-owned bicycle shop that specializes in new and refurbished bikes for commuting, touring, and entry-level road riding. Each tour includes a rental bicycle, helmet, and keepsake water bottle. If you bring your own bike, there is a $5 discount.

My husband and I arrived a few minutes early to sign the usual waivers and get situated on our rental bikes. The rentals were perfect for urban riding – the 7 speed Jamis Hudson Sport. The saddle was extremely comfortable, the upright riding position felt confident, and the wide tires rolled over everything we threw at it, including an entire block of cobblestones. Philadelphia is a fairly flat city – we didn’t have to use the gears much at all.

snapshot of us at the Water Works stop
snapshot of us at the Water Works stop

The tour itself was very good. Our knowledgeable guide, Thom, keep the group together and had just enough history behind each stop on the tour to keep it interesting and not like a crazy-long history lesson. We were predominately on streets with bike lanes or on bike paths with a few sections necessary to be either on the sidewalk or taking the lane. Our friendly sweep, Josh, had more tidbits and was a wonderful conversationalist as we pedaled down the street. The pace was excellent – not too fast, not too slow.

There was a mid-tour break for food in the famous Italian Market. Thom had been talking about taco trucks all morning so naturally we gravitated to the Tacos El Rodeo truck at 10th & Washington. We were not disappointed. I had chicken and my husband had carnitas – both were fresh, authentic, and supremely delicious. $4 for two tacos is a great price.

On our tour we covered about 12 miles in a little less than 3 hours and saw many Philadelphia institutions: Philadelphia Museum of Art, Water Works, Fitler Square, Rittenhouse Square, Italian Market, Washington Square, Independence Mall, Penn’s Landing, Race St Pier, Elfreth Alley, Betsy Ross House, and the Edgar Allan Poe House. It was a wonderful time – one that I wish was around when my in-laws had visited this past summer. The tour took me to so many great gems in Philadelphia that we don’t usually get to because we don’t live in the city. I genuinely look forward to taking visiting family and friends on these tours.

Overall, if you are in the Philadelphia area – live, work, or visiting – take a tour through Philly Bike Tours Co. The bike shop is top-notch, the staff friendly, the tour guide and sweep helpful and knowledgeable. Prices range from $45 to $65 per person, including bike rental, helmet, lock (if needed), water bottle (to take home) and a sense of happiness in the City of Brotherly Love.

**Disclaimer: This review was in no way influenced by the prize passes for the tour. I was so thrilled with the tour I asked if I could review it on my blog. **

Riding to the City: A Love Note

I woke up this morning feeling awesome.

I attribute this mostly to taking yesterday as a Slug Day, a day where my main accomplishment was taking a shower at 7pm. 

It’s amazing how one day … just one little day … of absolving yourself of all responsibilities can have a huge impact on your outlook. 

 

So I rode my bike in to work. I got up a little later than I usually do when I bike commute and left my house later than usual. 

My legs felt heavy as I re-acquainted myself with my commuter bike and a full pannier after taking out my nice (light and fast) road bike this weekend on a fun ride. 

But pedal-along I did and before I knew it I was coming up on the City. 

 

hello my city
hello my city

 

Once I get closer into the city there is so much to enjoy: the turn-of-the-century architecture, old stone bridges, stairs that bring you to the river’s edge. The lush parks are truly oases among concrete and brick – and the traffic imparts the rhythmic heartbeat of the city. The stop and go of everyday life. 

 

There’s something about today that makes it extra special. 

I’m not sure why I love this City. But I do. 

I’ve never felt this way about a city before – they’ve always just been a jumble of buildings and asphalt and concrete. 

But this one is different. This one is slowly becoming My City. 

 

* * * * * 

 

I’ve looked back at my training calendar and realizing things are not as bleak as they appeared last week. I’ve been out fairly consistently even though I’m going through wild mileage fluctuation (400+ miles one month; less than 200 another month). I suspect my frustration is from a lack of routine. Last summer I knew I was going out every Tuesday night and one day each weekend. I added in bike commuting last August once or twice a week (on my 35+ lb comfort hybrid – dear g-d why did I do that to myself??).

I’m just 32 miles shy of 1800 miles for the year, which is roughly what I did in all of last year. I’m going to be fine. I’ve talked to my bike friends about taking a break and they are super supportive … but I think most of it is just re-framing everything in my mind. 

 

I just need to make things organic to my life – and do them on my own terms.

 

Thanks for listening and see you on the road! 

For Sale

Why don’t you just sell your bike? 

That’s not a loaded question or anything.

2011

I had talked about buying a bike for months. My friends were sick of it. Just buy something already! Get out and ride with us!  I’d received notification that I was going to be laid off within the year and it had already been six months. The end was truly near.

I needed something to burn off anxiety. I needed something to go out with my kids. I needed a bike.

I decided to head up to the local bike superstore. I had purchased a Specialized mountain-bike-y hybrid in 2005 but never rode it and had just handed it down to my oldest child as a birthday present (my mom got it tuned up and changed out the seat). I didn’t want to make the same mistake – buy an expensive bike and then never ride it.

Yes. $300 was expensive for me back then.

I slowly walked up each row, pretending I knew what I was looking for. I didn’t want to go the mountain-bike route – getting a mountain-y hybrid clearly didn’t work out. I looked at the flat-bar fitness hybrids – I liked the balance of road and hybrid – but they were almost a thousand dollars. I did not want to make an even more expensive mistake. I looked at the road bikes and just couldn’t swallow the idea of spending $1,500 minimum. So I found the small selection, causally tucked away, of comfort hybrids. The sales guy listened to what I said I was looking for (“…comfortable, easy, riding on the path with my kids…”) and said they would be the best for my needs.

A week later, I took delivery on my new comfort hybrid. I was happy. I rounded up my kids and we rode to the fro-yo shop and back.

The rest is well-known: I started riding by myself on the path. I started riding farther and tried desperately to ride faster. I wanted to keep up with the kids on the road bikes. I wanted it to not suck so bad going up hills. I pushed and pushed and pushed.

2012

I have a job and a bonus. I go out and make a total Fred move: I get a full carbon bike complete with shoes and pedals and everything. I can’t stop smiling. I love this bike. LOVE it. She rides like a dream, once I haul my ass into a clinic for beginners. I’m going faster and farther and loving it.

This is where I started to love cycling.

Comfort Hybrid gets relegated to gravel or cinder paths – which are ridden less and less. I put a rack and fenders on her so I can bike commute. She kicks my ass every time. I’m so sore and tired when I get home – it’s hard to feel motivated to ride to work because I know the ride home will suck. And she’s not fast. We joke on the commutes that she’s our Green Light Good Luck Charm because we always make the green light. I believe it’s because she knows I don’t love her and it trying to make up for it. Prove she has worth.

2013

I pick up a late-80s road machine and begin overhauling and adding to make her my commuter. I love her so much. She rides differently than my Nice Road Bike. She’s steel and even on my 25s, I don’t mind gravel paths. But I love riding her so much. I can’t stop smiling.

Which brings us back to the original line – Why don’t you just sell your bike? 

My husband will tell you I have too many bikes. And while I totally disagree, he has a point. One bike stands out, lonely and a pariah among loved machines. One bike that simply isn’t meant for the abuse I put her through. One bike that gets no love.

So after much agonizing (she’s a decent bike! I can take her on the trails with the kids! What would I replace her with?) I’ve decided it’s time to sell her. I’m still conflicted – she’s transported me over 1,000 miles (over 1,600km) in the past two years. She’s reliable. She’s stable. She’s comfortable.

But I never think “Man, I need to ride my hybrid today.” And I’m sure someone out there is looking for a stable, reliable, comfortable ride and doesn’t want to pay retail. She was $500 new; I’m asking $300 obo for the bike with fenders, a rack, water bottle cage and bell.

I’ve only listed her with my bike club for personal reasons. She may or may not sell, given the small audience. And if she doesn’t, I’ll still take her out sometimes.

But every bike deserves to be loved. I hope I can help someone else love to ride.

* * * * *

Hello friends – I am selling my black 2011 Specialized Crossroads Sport comfort hybrid, size Small. She comes with fenders, a rack, water bottle cage, and bell. Featuring an upright riding position, wide comfortable seat, front suspension (can be locked out), and plenty of gears (triple in front, 7-speed in the back) for any kind of terrain. The 700×38 tires roll over just about anything, ensuring a smooth and comfortable ride. Platform pedals. Excellent for running errands around town or noodling on multi-use paths. $300 obo. Photos available upon request!

Spinning!

I’ve managed to come down with a monster head cold – the kind that has a fever and aches and a head full of snot – so my new year’s eve will be low-key and probably end well before midnight. But before the festivities begin, enjoy this story about my first time spinning and riding in the snow:

 

I’ve ear-marked Saturdays in December for bike rides to get to 2,000 miles for the year. The reality is I sadly did not get out as much as I planned. Nonetheless, my intrepid commuter friend sent out an email Friday asking if anyone wanted to ride Saturday morning. A quick look at the weather report indicated a 90% chance of snow on Saturday – meaning all club rides would probably get cancelled. So I texted him about the weather. He countered with “come to spinning with me!”

I’d never been to a spinning class before and had all kinds of dumb questions. I previously avoided them because my primary focus is always Bike For Fun. Which is really a guise for I Don’t Want To Do Intervals. So of course I said “OK!”

The gym where we were taking the class is only a little over a mile from my house – so of course I just rode my Beast of Burden commuter bike over. The snow had just started to fall and it was lovely to glide down the street with snowflakes on my helmet. (It would be more ethereal to say in my hair but I had a barrier cap under my helmet and Cat Ears on my straps – decidedly un-ethereal and a little more Elvis)

 

she's smiling because class hasn't started yet.
she’s smiling because class hasn’t started yet.

 

The class itself was quite a workout – very different from going out and riding your bike or even watching a movie while spinning away on the trainer. Within ten minutes I was sweating like a pig – and the sweat just kept pouring. I had a headache and felt like I didn’t need to prove anything to myself so I took it easy on some of the “jumps” – going from a sitting to standing position rapidly – by staying seated and spinning as high a cadence as I could.

Couple things I learned:

1. You can’t coast. If you try, your bike will lurch and make a horrible clunking noise and the instructor will ask you if you are OK.

2. Spinning bikes have incredible momentum. According to the cyclometer, I went 26.9  miles in 68 minutes. I find that very hard to believe – although I suspect it’s similar to running on a treadmill. The machine keeps you moving at a steady pace.

3. I spin at a high cadence naturally. When the instructor wanted us at 90-100, I was at 110. When she wanted us at 115, I was at 123. Even when we were “climbing” she would ask us to be at 50-60 and I would end up somewhere in the 70s. If I were to do this again, I would finesse the gearing more and not listen to the gear she wants us to be in – because it was clearly too low. But as a newbie, it made sense to try to follow her direction.

4. Spinning is done in a small dark room (or at least this one was) and NO FANS. It would have been a world of difference to have a fan blowing on your occasionally to help relieve the heat of the room. I have one pointed at me at home when I am on the trainer – and it helps tremendously.

5. I would try this again. I suspect the class would have been significantly better if the instructor matched her cadence to multiples of the beat and better communicated what exactly we were supposed to do.

 

Post-class, we cleaned up and unlocked our bikes and rode over to the diner up the street for a bite. The snow was coming down harder now and in the mile it took to get to the diner our jackets and jeans were soaked. Commuter friend’s wife had already gotten us a table so coffee and assorted yummies were on their way. Wonderful breakfast with wonderful people!

As you may have guessed, the snow was coming down even harder now and an inch of snow had accumulated on our rides. We brushed them off and Commuter friend rode with me most of the way back to my house.

I’m a fairly independent girl but I was glad for the company for no other reason than it was probably not the smartest idea to be out on a bike on the roads. We were on our hybrids with wider tires but the roads were slick and cars were sliding all over the place around us. One guy sped up to turn in front of us and skidding through the whole turn. We managed to pedal up one of the three hills to my house, turned the corner and there was a line of cars stopped for other cars that had slid all over the road. I only lost traction a couple of times but didn’t crash or fall.

We went our separate ways – he back to his house and me dismounting and walking the last two hills (and one downhill which would have been a suicide mission to attempt on my bike) home.

I can’t dismiss that it felt very awesome to be out riding in the snow. It wasn’t terribly brilliant nor would I recommend it as a routine thing to do without proper gear (i.e., fat fat fat tires with excellent traction) … but it was very very very fun.

She got me everywhere today safely!
She got me everywhere safely!

 

See you on the road next year!

Recommendations Requested

 

As you my faithful readers are acutely aware, I’m looking to acquire a different commuter bike.

I’ve oscillated between both ends of the spectrum – from “I HATE THIS BIKE!” to “Maybe I’m coming at it all wrong! The bike is fine, it’s just my attitude and perception!” And there is truth to both statements – the bike is a solid bike but is not built to be ridden the way I have been riding it. It’s for cruising bike paths. That’s what I bought the bike for too – to ride with my kids.

Then I developed a fever and the only prescription was MORE RIDING.

Photo credit: kgradiner (Flikr)

The bike has been a little over 790 miles in the past 16 months. She thankfully has tires with a bead that comes off easily so flat repair has been relatively quick. And she’s heavy so I feel pretty stable with my fully loaded pannier. But that heaviness is a killer on the uphill commute home – even with a triple.

I’ve been looking all over for a new ride to add to my stable – the primary use would be commuting and group riding whenever I didn’t feel like taking my carbon road ride out. I’m looking for relatively cheap (i.e., USED) but sturdy; takes fenders and a rack and wider tires for the few miles of off-road travel on the commute. Nothing flashy though – I will be taking her to downtown Philly regularly. Thinking a touring bike may be best?

(I won’t lie – the current bike is AWESOME on those dirt/gravel areas with her wide tires and heft.)

Everything I’ve seen that I think “wow, that’s cute!” ends up being just as heavy as I’m riding now. Let’s be clear – I’m not looking for an ultra-light bike! I want to be able to commute and not kill myself physically every time. Being able to pick it up and get it onto a train easily from a low platform, should I need to, is a bonus.

What would you recommend as a solid commuter bike for a hilly 15-16mi commute?

(You can also tell me I’m just a whiny person and to suck it up but that’s not very productive. I’m going to keep riding my current bike until a suitable replacement is found.)

 

Milestones

Yesterday I rode out with my fellow Sturdy Girls to get lunch at a farmer’s market in Doylestown. The weather was overcast and a touch on the chilly side, a sharp but somewhat refreshing reminder that summer is waning. The ride was about 52 miles and predominately flat, save a really nice, steep hill on Alms House Road and the rollers I decided would be a fine idea to ride on the final 3 miles home.

Strong, sturdy girls (that’s me, third from the left)

A couple milestones occurred on this ride:

1. The realization that 50miles used to be something to train for. Now it’s just a jaunt to get coffee or a sandwich – a leisure weekend ride with friends.

2. My bike computer’s odometer rolled to 701.

 

701 since the first week of April. This is huge!

 

My total for the year thus far is 977.6mi, including rides on Buzzkill (Heavy Bike has been named!) and a rental Scott CR1.

My goal for this year was originally 1,200mi – averaging 100 miles per month – and I’m well on track to meet this goal. I can’t wait to see my odometer roll over 1,000 mi too. I wish I could share with you exactly how awesome riding my bike makes me feel – there’s no rational reason to love it this much.

 

In other news …

I’ve been conversing with the proprietor over at Sip, Clip, And Go Coffee and she’s got me wondering about this madness known as cyclocross. I did a little snooping and it looks like there are quite a few local events being organized for the upcoming season. Hoping to maybe check out a race. One even had a women’s novice ‘cross clinic for the two hours leading up to the race – Free! I would totally go except I don’t have a cyclocross bike and am already riding another event that day. Will need to keep my eyes on the races and check it out before making any decisions on potential investments.

Data

Just some interesting data

Miles by bike:

hybrid, May 2011-March 2012: 587 mi

hybrid April 2012-July 2012: 67 mi

road bike April 2012-July 2012: 463 mi

rental Scott CR1 road bike 2011-2012: 197 mi

TOTAL miles ridden: 1314 mi

 

Monthly totals, 2011/2012:

April: 0/116 mi

May: 36/131 mi

June: 151/172 mi

July: 151/260 mi and counting

 

Wow. That’s a lot of riding.