I’ll be the first to admit -- I am pretty much obsessed with bicycles. I wrote my undergraduate anthropology thesis about bikes. I read about streetscape innovations halfway across the world in my spare time. I can’t walk down the street without a pretty parked bike catching my eye. At its core, though, my love for bikes comes down to a series of everyday moments.
If you don’t ride a bike, it might be hard to understand what I mean by that. What follows are five snapshots from my life, all of them from the past month or so. All of them were made possible because I was riding a bike.
It’s a blazing-hot July day, and I am pedaling down Cobb’s Creek Trail, a 3.5-mile bike path stretching from Walnut Street down to Chester Ave. It’s my first time riding on the trail, although I’ve glimpsed parts of it from my car. The shade along the creek is heavenly, and I’m floored by the beauty of this sliver of green space hugging the west edge of the city. I am taking a group of new Philadelphians on a bike ride, helping them explore their new home the best way I know how. I don’t live near Cobb’s Creek Trail, and I can’t imagine I’d ever end up here if I weren’t on a bicycle. I know I’ll be back.
On a routine ride home from work one day, I spot an Action News team outside my neighborhood beer distributor, cameras pointed at the front door. Curious, I slow down and nervously ask one of the reporters what’s going on. He smiles reassuringly, telling me that the winning lottery ticket was purchased at this corner store the day before! We joke about the lucky ticket clearly not being in our personal possession, and I continue on my way. If my daily commute were in a car or on a subway, I would miss out on countless little interactions like this one. Biking helps me feel more directly connected to my environment.
One over-scheduled weekday evening, I find myself needing to get from 49th and Baltimore to 4th and Girard in less than half an hour, alone, just after dark. Subject to the whims of traffic or SEPTA, the journey could be an unpleasant one, and it’s too far to walk. I hop on my bike and set off, managing to cut most of the way across town on streets with bike lanes. Crossing over the South Street Bridge, the Philly skyline sparkles at me. East of Broad, I hit every perfectly timed green light on Pine Street. Zooming under the 5th Street tunnel, I can’t suppress a little-kid “whee!” I’m telling you, nighttime bike rides are nothing less than magical. I arrive right on time, endorphins pumping, feeling grateful for my bicycle.
I’m on vacation in Nashville, Tennessee, with my best friend. The city has a modest, affordable bike share system (only five dollars for a 24-hour pass!). On our second day there, my friend humors me and we borrow a couple of bikes, pedaling them several miles up the “Music City Bikeway” along the Cumberland River. We admire church steeples, picturesque homes, and wildflowers, and even stop to take a photo of the parked tour bus of a famous country star. Our walking tour of Nashville wouldn’t have taken us this far up the river. Bikes let us expand our radius of exploration, showing us a different side of the city.
A powerful rainstorm descends upon Philadelphia, and I am approximately six miles from home, pedaling furiously and mentally berating myself. Why was I too stupid to check the weather this morning? Look at all those dry people inside their cars laughing at me! My mascara is running and I probably look like a monster! Wait, what about my phone?! At that last thought, I slam on my brakes (very carefully, given the wet road) and dig around in my pannier for a plastic bag. Once my phone is safe, I take a deep breath and resign myself to the downpour. A few blocks later, I’m starting to see the humor in the situation. Six wet miles later, I arrive home drenched -- and deeply happy. Even when my bike adventures don’t go according to plan, I rarely regret them.
I don’t go everywhere on my bike. Sometimes cars, trains, buses, subways, or my own two feet make more sense. But any bicyclist will tell you -- there’s nothing quite like riding a bike. At this point, I have learned to expect magical moments from my biking lifestyle. You could, too.