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. **

Scenic Schuylkill Century Recap

Yesterday I conquered my first century. It was brilliant; it was fun; and it was challenging.

I spent a lot of time in the days leading up to the ride oscillating between “OMG I AM THE BIGGEST IDIOT for signing up for this” and “I am going to ROCK THIS THING!” I both doubted my abilities and had confidence that I had trained well.

Saturday night I prepared a carb-tastic dinner of spaghetti and turkey-meatballs for the family (I also had some buttered whole-wheat bread) and went to bed early.

Sunday I was out of bed at 4:45am to get a quick shower (nothing like starting an all-day ride fresh), breakfast, and finish up last-minute preparations. Breakfast consisted of a Morning Star veggie sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit and my daily multi-vitamin washed down with a full glass of water. I carpooled down to the ride start with my commuter friend and another woman from our general neighborhood – they were riding the century on a tandem. (MAJOR props to them)

The weather day-of was spectacular – blue skies with fluffy clouds, high in the mid-70s, low humidity. I found Lou, a guy I’ve ridden with on other Philly Bike Club rides. It’s his first century too … hooray for a ride buddy! Interestingly, there were a lot of first-timers like myself on the century ride – many of them older gentlemen who I’ve ridden with before and thought they ate centuries for breakfast.

The start of the ride was kindof spectacular. 700 riders came out for the event and the century riders were up first in the gate. The sheer spectacle of us coming out of the parking lot and riding around the front Philadelphia Museum of Art was awesome for sure. Spinning down West River Drive to the Falls Bridge en masse – and then rolling into Manayunk and the first of many hills to come.

Happily we did not have to ride the towpath – but it sure is beautiful. (Image credit: http://www.comitta.com/blog/?p=52)

(You may have heard of the Manayunk Wall – a fabled half-mile of sheer 10% grade pain. These weren’t that bad – but still had significant grades around 5%.)

The rest/aid stations are set up in camp facilities – very rustic but welcoming. The mechanics were stationed outside the “mess hall.” The atmosphere around each one was warm and welcoming; the spreads were incredible. Homemade cookies, brownies, fresh fruit like grapes, c antelope and watermelon, pb&j sandwiches on whole wheat … and plenty of ice water and gatorade for all.

A brilliant move on the part of the organizers was positioning the rest/aid stations at varying increments: the first was a mere 13miles in. The next was another 19miles. Then 24 miles. Then 13miles, 25 miles, and 12 miles to finish. Many cyclists skipped the first rest/aid station but Lou and I opted to stop for a few minutes (bathroom break, fuel and water).

Next we rode to Evansburg State Park. The highlight of this portion of the century is riding along Potshop Rd, which has a stunning view of the Schuylkill River Valley and Philadelphia’s skyline in the distance. Truly a sight to behold, especially from two wheels!

31 miles in and still feeling fresh!

Also interesting to see how strung out the riders get over time … for much of the ride, Lou and I didn’t see any other riders around us after we left the second rest stop.

I met a guy named Austin. He’s a PhD candidate in Physics and was riding his Surly CrossCheck (light blue) in linen shorts and a T shirt. Bold move for a first-time century rider – but he hung in our group until very close to the next rest station. I’m hoping to connect with him on MapMyRide – could be an awesome ride buddy.

The next leg of the trip was easily the hilliest portion – to Camp Hope near Schwenksville, PA. Turn after turn of just Going Up. One hill claimed not one but two cyclists who dropped their chains mid-hill – henceforth to be known as Chain Drop Hill. It was a beast of a hill.

(I was kindof annoyed to see my Strava app took into account the time I spent waiting as riding time – it says I only did 3.2mph up the hill, but my on-bike computer registered 6-7mph when I was actually riding. Oh well. )

We just had to laugh when we turned on the road to go the last .7 miles to the rest/aid station and the road turned upward again. You really had to earn that rest stop. We kept our rest station visits to a minimum – 15min or so. Just enough time to use the bathroom, refill water bottles, get a quick snack, and shake out the fatigue. Spent some time talking with Skip, a guy I’ve ridden with on other Philly Bike Club rides. Coming out of Camp Hope resulted in a few more miles of climbing before the flats and descents started to become common.

I also gobbled two ibuprofen to quiet my aching lower back. Note to self: adjust seat position back a touch!

Quick stop back in Evanburg State Park – this one a touch longer because I called my husband to tell him I was about 35 miles from the end and to expect me in about 2.5 hours. I also shut off my Strava app because I was at 25% battery and wanted to be reachable at the finish line. Ended up being a smart move, even though I cheated myself out of more data, because I had 5% remaining at the finish line.

(Note to self – pick up a Garmin of any sort that will give you gps data to upload later!)

Lou and I decided to skip the last rest/aid station and just bring it home. We met another guy – Dima – who ended up in our little group charging to the finish.  Soon after we added another rider into our little peloton – a guy with blonde curly hair henceforth known as Surfer Dude. We rode the last 35 miles hard – pushing 20mph on flats, 12+mph on the hills, and bombing the sharrows through Manayunk. Almost got hit by a car a couple times – people who don’t know how to parallel park are THE WORST.

Did I mention I was leading this little ragtag group of century riders back into the city? Because I totally was. The guys were very thankful I “brought them in.”

All in all, a great day in the saddle – and we got to the finish line 5 minutes before they stopped serving pizza. Hooray – GOAL ATTAINED! My family met me at the pizza tent – I was so happy to see them.

Lou and I at the post-ride pizza party, celebrating the completion of our respective first century rides!

Stats:

101.5 miles

average of 13.2 mph

7 hours, 40 minutes, 12 seconds of ride time

5,797′ of elevation gain (4,022′ in the first 66.5 miles)

route here

Ride Fuel:

three small bananas

two halves of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich on whole wheat

one package of Clif Bloks in black cherry (with caffeine)

one Clif Gel in vanilla (with caffeine)

one Clif bar in white chocolate macadamia nut

three small bunches of grapes

one slice of watermelon

six 24-ounce bottles of Propel Zero in grape flavor

Post-ride fuel:

two slices of plain pizza

one can of Coke

one cheeseburger

handful of potato chips

 

 

See you on the road!