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. **

Elephant Rock Ride 2013 Recap

I’m absolutely beat from spending a day in airports and airplanes but I have to share with you, dear reader, what a wonderful time I had in Colorado this past week.

I flew on Frontier Airlines again because if you do the research, they have the most bike-friendly policies of any airline. I can’t recommend them enough. Be vigilant however – some of the smaller/newer airports may not be fully informed and try to charge you oversize AND overweight (Frontier only charges overweight for bikes). I tweeted @FrontierCare a gentle request to remind the staff of said airport about their policy and they tweeted back that they called the staff immediately. I can independently confirm this because I was at a very small (tiny) airport and the only one checking a bike … and the gate agent called me out on it when I was boarding.

You can bet they will remember the bike policy the next time someone checks a bike for a flight through their airport.

Upon landing in beautiful Denver, I drove out to my new favorite independent bike shop – Pedal of Littleton – to have my ride reassembled and a new crankset installed. Turns out the left crank was stripped last year when the mechanic assigned to reassemble my bike didn’t install my pedal correctly. (You may recall I had to fix it on the side of the road during last year’s Elephant Rock Ride) Many thanks for my current shop for pointing out the issue and guiding me in getting a new crankset delivered to Pedal.

Friends, I can’t tell you how well Pedal treated not only me but my family. My bike has not felt this fluid and effortless since she was brand new. They adjusted my fit, answered my questions about my cleats getting stuck last weekend (and loosening my pedals), and made sure I was happy. Then we talked about a rental for my sister, who is a runner and planned to join me for a day on the bike. They treated her with respect and honesty and she did not feel like she was being talked down to when she said she didn’t know the first thing about bikes and needed flat pedals. They tweaked the fit until she felt amazing on the bike. I highly recommend Pedal if you are in the Belleview/Santa Fe area – they are just off the trail and top-notch.

The morning of Elephant Rock my sister and I were shepherded to the start by my most excellent parents. This is no small feat because we had to get up at 4:30am to get to the start and on the road by 6am. I of course felt incredibly nervous and anxious – and this manifests as nausea. Fortunately I warned my sister a few days before to not take it personally if I didn’t talk to her much.

I also failed to check the weather report outside of high temp for the day. Our 6am start brought us 48*F, sunshine, and 20 mph winds. So our shorts, jersey, and light sleeves were significantly subpar.

my sister. we are so cold.
my sister demonstrating we are so cold.

and the WIND! Oh my goodness – we could barely push above 10-13mph and we were spinning like crazy. Crosswinds – headwinds – everything but a tailwind. We would spin up a hill and not even have the benefit of a descent because we’d have to pedal through the headwind going downhill. This gave a whole new meaning to “windswept plains.”

We stopped at the 15mi rest stop – me for real food (since I hadn’t eaten anything yet for fear of losing it), my sister for a way to close the hole in the front seam of her bike shorts (she got a safety-pin). A gentleman commented that “you don’t have views like this in Philadelphia”  referring to the amazing view of Pikes Peak in the background. I swear I said a inflection-neutral “nope” but my sister will tell you I growled at him and was generally hostile. All I remember is nibbling on a banana and sour green grapes and pacing around, trying not to puke. And the wind again.

this is one of my favorite pics from the day - if you look at it full size you can see the cyclists riding up the hill, dotting the horizon.
this is one of my favorite pics from the day – if you look at it full size you can see the cyclists riding up the hill, dotting the horizon.

The 25 mi mark is the route divergence for the full century and the metric century. Given the wind, I suggested to my sister that we pull over and rethink our desire to do the full century route. We were barely averaging 10mph at this point and the winds were showing no sign of letting up. By this point the banana has kicked in and I feel normal again – but my sister is sagging because the wind is literally sucking our energy (and she’s not a cyclist) and her butt was hurting.

Clearly we were not the only ones who decided to pull over and think – there was a quarter of a mile worth of cyclists debating the routes. We learned later that most people opted to curtail their miles because of the wind.

And really, when you are out to have fun – there’s no point in slogging through 20mph winds that are gusting to 30mph. It’s just not fun.

So we aborted our quest for the full century after much deliberation and headed west to the next rest stop at mile 33. Several big inclines lead to delicious descents that became tricky in the gusty wind. These are the times I curse my carbon fiber bike and it’s light weight – I hate spending more energy staying upright on the downhill than I did on the uphill.

We did however get to ride on an aptly named Roller Coaster Road – a swooping set of several rollers that ended up being a highlight of the route.

the half-way point
the half-way point

After a quick pee-and-refill-water-bottles break in Palmer Lake, we set out for the best part of the ride – ten pure miles of downhill protected by pine forest. So there was no wind. And we could pick up the pace. And by “pick up the pace” I mean I shouted “gidd’up,” threw my rig into the big ring, and watched my cyclometer ratchet up to over 40mph.

Yeah, that happened. And it was worth every moment.

Then came the payback – over 2 miles of 4% grade with less than 20 miles to go in the metric. My poor sister was experiencing what we all face in the early season, Sore Butt. She was also running out of gas so we rode side by side up Tomah Road. An older guy struck up a conversation with us part way up the hill and that took her mind off the grind (and her sore booty) for a bit.

my sister contemplating the monster hill we just finished.
my sister contemplating the monster hill we just finished. she’s not happy.

By now it’s also almost 80*F. It feels amazing to be in the sun with very little wind. We zoom to the finish, taking a few breaks here and there for my sister to get off her saddle and stretch a bit. We cheer as we roll into the finish line, grab our post-ride lunch and nosh in the shade celebrating our victory. My parents had watched us on my Garmin LiveTrack and were already on their way to pick us up.

Here’s our stats from the ride: http://app.strava.com/activities/57834471

(keep in mind my sister has ZERO cycling training prior to this ride – she is a runner and hiker – and she threw down a 60 mile ride in 4h 45m. She’s insane. And five years younger than me. LOL)

A couple of side notes:

  • I’m now confident last year’s “altitude sickness” was indeed a virus as I had no ill effects outside of my own usual event anxiety.
  • I loved riding with my sister, even if this ride has solidified for her that she hates cycling. Even though she had fun.
me and my sister enjoying  success ... and the post-ride lunch
me and my sister enjoying success … and the post-ride lunch

My next post will talk about the rest of my vacation, because the cycling didn’t end here.

See you on the road!

Getting In Touch

Like many in this country, we’ve been dealing with a vicious Arctic cold this past week. Sunday seems so far away – a “balmy” 30 degrees when I set out with my daughter in search of a parking lot we could ride around in while she gets comfortable with her bike. We bought it for her last year as a birthday gift, just a touch on the large side so she wouldn’t outgrow it too quickly. She’s now able to get the hand brakes easily and use her twist-shifters more effectively. I grabbed Lady Rainicorn and gave her a test spin, trying to figure out how to both turn and shift my downtube shifters and not fall over.

It’s not as easy when the only road bike you’ve ever had utilizes what is unimaginatively called “brifters” – brake shifters. My instinct is to just click the small levers with my middle finger. Downtube shifters are bringing me more in tune with my bike.

 

As I’m walking home from the train station tonight, it occurs to me that being a cyclist or pedestrian really puts you in tune with your world. You feel the subtle and not-so-subtle swells and depressions. Flats that are really slow and steady inclines or declines. You need to know the weather to prepare your attire accordingly. You can pause to truly enjoy a beautiful sunrise, sunset, or the way the light sparkles like glitter on the new-fallen snow.

 

snapshot from on my way to work
snapshot from on my way to work

 

You can always tell the folks who will hurry out of the train and into their parked car because they aren’t dressed to spend a length of time in the weather.

 

Back to the “new” bike. I’m realizing I need to be OK with a variety of things I haven’t had to worry about up til this point. Things like when to shift up or down, easing up on the pedals to get the front derailleur to guide the chain to the big ring … and back without dropping. Calculating when I need to shift on a hill or descent. Having HALF as many gears to work with in general.

The bikes are in the shop but once they are done, I’ll see you on the road!

 

The Road Less Traveled

… or, there are too many others out on the damn trail.

Today I attended my first mountain biking skills clinic, run by our excellent friends at Cadence Cycles in the Manayunk section of the city. I was pretty nervous – being from Colorado means everyone thinks I mountain bike/ski/snowboard/trail run/uber-outdoor-athlete stuff … but the reality is, I took all that open space and facilities for granted. I only started riding my bike for fun (not just transportation) in May of 2011. So yeah – I have never mountain biked before. And I didn’t want to make a fool out of myself and fall – either in general or off the side of the trail.

Falling is fine – just not in front of 30 other people.

So my commuter friend and I rode in the 10 miles to the bike shop. We arrived a little early because we needed our clipless pedals transferred to the demo bikes and seats adjusted. I was able to demo the Fuji Belle, a full suspension bike. Not sure why I had a full when others had hardtails, but it was nice!  Note to self: try not to wreck the $2000 bike. There were many others who signed up – some cyclocross racers, some road racers, some newbies like me, and everything in between. Fortunately my skills were in the middle of the newbie range.

We rode about a half-mile or so to get to the trails, using this time to get used to the thumb shifters. Didn’t take long to get the hang of it but once we were out on the trails, I kept to the lower end of the gearing. Made it so much easier to get up the hills.

The first hour was spent just going up and down a hill with lots of roots, rocks, and turns. It was sharper but really honed in on the skills you need to successfully get up the tiny steep portions of a climb, over small obstacles, and getting back downhill.

The second hour was a short trail ride – this is why people love mountain biking! Being in the woods, pedaling and feeling like you are floating over the debris, finding your line and the thrill of successful execution. The leafy single track was just fun. I am not even sure I can adequately describe how exhilarating it is to crank up a steep, rocky incline – unsure you will make it over the top – and then trust your bike as you rip down the other side, rocks and roots and debris be damned.

Skills taught to more experienced riders included log-overs, stairs, and getting enough momentum on a short, steep downhill to get up the next hill. Maybe another time when I feel more confident and ready to take my off-road riding to the next level. Today was about trying it out.

Instead of riding out for lunch with my commuter friend to discuss our new-found skills, my husband picked me up and whisked us to our daughter’s swim lessons. Tomorrow we will get a lunch ride in.

All in all – excellent experience. I don’t have plans to go buy a mountain bike right this minute or anything – but I would like to include it in my goals next year. To get off the road a little more and into the woods. To feel more confident on the trails. To have MORE FUN on my bike.

Singletrack in the Wissahickon Valley
That is *not* me on the awesome single track in the Wissahickon Valley

See you on the road!

 

Maintenance

Because our family has been separated by travel so much over the past six weeks or so I turned down an invitation for a lovely 50mi ride on peaceful roads that included a mid-ride sit-down breakfast this past weekend. But another week off the bike means I am jonesing for a ride like nobody’s business.

So what do you do when you can’t ride? You read about riding.

I recently picked up “Bike Snob: Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling” by BikeSnobNYC at my local library (on my bike, of course) and am enjoying it immensely. His wit and humor bring levity to the often pretentious world of cycling and frankly, makes me feel better about myself for not being Super Fast, Super Skinny or my quad’s lack of effective rippling when I walk.

That wouldn’t be scary or anything.

So I get to the chapter that talks about maintenance, specifically the bare minimum any cyclist should be able to do:

  • Flat Repair
  • Chain Maintenance
  • Saddle Adjustments
  • Handlebar Adjustments
  • Wrapping Bars
  • Brake Adjustment
  • a list of your Must Have Tools.

These include a set of Allen keys, a floor pump, and a correctly-sized wrench if you don’t have quick-release wheels. Which of course, prompts me to think about my bike and the few minor adjustments I’ve been meaning to make since my last ride.

As I’m tweaking my handlebars and seat post – in the middle of my living room, much to my husband’s amusement – I’m reminded of a recent thread on the local bike club listserv that became very heated over group ride leader responsibilities and more specifically, should club riders on lower-level rides (D through C+) be required to know how to change their own flats or at the very least have adequate supplies for basic repairs?

(SIDE NOTE: The thread was charged mostly because there was a dispute over whether the group should have waited for the broken-down rider to be picked up or if they were correct in going on after securing contact info and another rider volunteering to stay behind. And before you jump in, keep in mind I am withholding a lot of facts/speculation because a) I wasn’t there and b) am somewhat confused by the whole situation. Interestingly, I had considered going on that very ride but decided I didn’t want to go to the end destination and instead went on a wonderful 40mi ride for coffee with a new cycling friend. That whole weekend was whack.)

I digress!

Can we realistically expect new riders (or low level riders) to know how to do these repairs? Should there be a requirement to attend a basic bike maintenance course when purchasing as a new rider? Many shops in the area host basic bike maintenance clinics once a month … So it’s not that the information isn’t out there. And heaven knows The Google will bring forth most information you seek.

But I’m not really one to talk, right? I am certainly guilty of buying a sweet ride and not knowing how to deal with flats or anything else for that matter. And I was fortunate to be with a great group of riders when I did experience my first on-ride flat. I asked the more experienced cyclists to guide me, since I’m a hands-on learner, and in the end it worked out very well. Can I change a flat quickly? No … But I’ve done it once and that’s more than I have previously. And I always ride prepared with an extra tube, levers, patch kit, and CO2.

Also, in taking with the guys at my shop, I’ve picked up a few things too. Like how to clean and lube my chain and at what intervals. How to adjust my handlebars, cleat position, seat post and saddle. They even showed me how to adjust my brakes and to some extent how to adjust my chain guide thingy. And that’s really where the value is … in developing a relationship with your favorite bike shop. Learning the tricks of the trade so you can maximize your enjoyment. Because the shop wants your business – not your ride in their maintenance queue.

 

In other news, I am pleased to report I am attempting my first bike commute this week. I outfitted my hybrid with a rack and pannier; the fenders and new lights will arrive this weekend. The local shop was having a huge sale so I prepaid and just need installation. Yay! I’ll let you know how it goes …

Specialized Crossroads Sport hybrid
now with sexy new rack and pannier!

See you in the road!

Gratitude

I’d like to take a moment to show gratitude for local independent bike shops.

Over the past year I’ve learned what it means to have a bike shop that knows you and treats you well. They recognize you, answer your questions, don’t make you feel stupid or lame and you don’t feel like you need to posture. The shops staffed by guys and gals who genuinely love cycling in all it’s forms and love helping others find their happiness on two wheels.

Big props to Criterium Bike Shop in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They did not even hesitate when I walked in with my bike box and asked if they could get her put back together today. Of course it can be done – probably by 4. We’ll call you.

Unlike the chain bike store that told me they could work me in on Wednesday.

(Next time I will call in advance and have an appointment set up so it’s easier for everyone … I did feel bad walking in with a giant box. Lesson learned.)

Next time you head out, consider your local independent shop and spend your hard-earned money with people who genuinely care about you and your bike.

See you on the road!

Just the Basics

Yesterday I participated in a skills clinic for novice female cyclists organized by my local female-centric cycling club – Sturdy Girls Cycling. I’ve ridden my (super-sexy) road bike for about a month now so it’s a perfect opportunity to break my bad habits before they take hold.

A wide range of women participated – some on hybrids and urban bikes, some preparing for a triathlon or two, some who just bought a bike and others who just wanted to know how to make their ride more efficient. I fit into the latter two categories – my bike is a pretty recent acquisition and I’m still learning how to use her optimally.

We started out the day with a short jaunt to an empty parking lot for basic drills. Like starting and stopping. Riding a straight line. Looking behind you without weaving your bike all over the place. Basic stuff that most of us don’t really think about but can have an impact on your success.

I learned that I did indeed need to switch the foot I un-clip upon stops (and managed to fall spectacularly in the early attempts to remember which foot to un-clip and which way to lean).

the ground is hard.

 

At least I got that out of the way early. And I like to think it broke the ice for the rest of the group – there were a few more falls. But most people don’t seem to have a problem with deciding when to un-clip as they roll to a stop. It’s just me over-thinking it.

Note to self: find your comfort zone anticipating the need to un-clip.

We then headed out for a short ride to learn hill climbing skills. The hills we were climbing were manageable and achievable – all good things when you are working on building confidence on your bike. We discussed gearing and how no one can tell you what gear will feel best except through time and practice – but that you will find a gear or a range of gears that will help you stay in motion.

Hills are your friend!

We also discussed Constant Motion – always keeping your legs moving. This builds your ability to keep going, even on super-tough climbs, because your body is accustomed to staying in motion. You can also work on not only using your muscles but also your cardiovascular and respiratory systems to keep from fatiguing your muscles too quickly.

The biggest take-away for me from the hills/gears section was just that – smooth, fluid motion the entire way up the hill. Not how fast or hard I could mash the hill – but how smoothly I could do it.

I spent the rest of the clinic at the back of the group as we practiced riding in lines of two and three. How to merge, not surge. How to find a bail-out point if you need it (and regroup at the top). Common group-riding lingo like” GAP” and “ON.” Why “UP” means getting into an easier gear and “DOWN” means getting into a harder gear.

Being in the back meant I needed to monitor my cadence to maintain a smooth, silky cadence. It was tough for me – I like to just GO already, to get up the hill as fast as possible, effort be damned! Plus, I hate riding behind someone as close as I really need to in a group ride. So worried someone will stop suddenly, causing me to either hit them or veer off and crash or fall down.

Not like I haven’t fallen down in front of a bunch of strangers a few times now or anything.

Quite frankly, riding in a group formation – listening to the hum of the wind in our spokes, hearing the clink of cartridge changes – is pretty sweet.

We ended the clinic with a brown-bag lunch and bike anatomy lesson. How to clean and lube your chain and cassette. Different hand positions on the handlebars (for those of us with road bikes). The importance of having a bike that fits you – frame first, everything else can be swapped or upgraded. Recommended timeline to buy new tires (2000-2500 miles). Taking the reflectors off your bike (dorky – I’m guilty as charged!) and replacing them with bike lights to stay visible.

One more quick group ride around the park and we all went our separate ways.  It also sounds like there may be a longer group ride scheduled for those of us at the clinic so we can get together again to practice our skills in a low-key ride.

I can’t stress how happy I am that I did this clinic – one of the goals was to feel more confident on your bike and I definitely feel better about my skills and how to handle myself in a group ride environment. I met a bunch of other awesome women who a new to think like me.

Now to go find my next group ride …