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Photograph: Courtesy CC/Flickr/Kate Ter Haar

5 must-know tips for every new biker in Philadelphia

By Chris Blondell
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Philadelphia is increasingly becoming one of America’s most bike-friendly cities. It’s hard not to find the appeal of cycling in a town that is both compact and easy to navigate. And with SEPTA raising its prices again it’s no surprise that more people will turn to the pedal to get around. That being said, there are a few things you should know before hopping on a bike. These tips just might save your life—or at the very least help you avoid some uncomfortable confrontations on the sometimes-aggressive Philly streets.

Don’t be afraid of the road

There are few things more dangerous than a timid biker. Yes, the road can be a scary place, and it can be intimidating as a new cycler to cruise alongside all the cars, trucks and pedestrians. But don’t be afraid of owning your space. It’s as simple as riding with confidence.

Think of yourself as another car. If you’re in front of another vehicle, then you’re in front. Chances are, they’re more used to you than you are of them. Just ride as if you’ve got the right of way and you should be fine. But be considerate. You have to share the road as well as own it. It’s a tough balance—but if you’re paying attention, you’re golden.

Buy a bike pump. You’ll need it.

Whether you’ve hit a nail, run over some glass, or have a vindictive roommate who pokes a hole in your tire, you’re going to need a bike pump. It may not be on the forefront of your mind, but you should buy this along with your bike lock and helmet when you purchase your bike.

Get to know your local bike shop folks

These bunch of jokesters are your best friends. They’re who you take your bike to when it’s busted, broken or just off. Think of them as your bike doctors.

If you need a recommendation, check out South Philly Bike Shop. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a nicer group of people who really know their shit when it comes to bikes.

Try not to get in a fight

People hate you. It’s not your fault. They hate you because you’re on a bike and you’re not them. Plus, they’re jealous that you can zip through a red and they can’t. Regardless, there will be plenty of road-rage opportunities.

For example, take this scenario: You may be sitting at a red light on 15th in front of Melrose Diner when you slightly veer into the middle of the lane. Suddenly, the car behind you leans on their horn like they’re performing CPR. You may turn around and ask them, “You in a rush to get to that red light?. ” This could make them so upset that they threaten to “rip your fuckin’ head awff” as they unbuckle their seatbelt and open the door.

If this happens (and it will) there are three things you can do: (1) Ignore them. That works just fine, but it’s not always easy to manage. (2) Return the sentiment like a good Philadelphian and tell them to “go fuck themselves.” Chances are they’ll respect that, give you the finger and move on. Or you could really piss them off and (3) blow them a kiss before pedaling on your way.

Give it a test run

If you’d like to get a feel for the road before actually buying a bike and all its accessories, rent some wheels from Philly bike share program Indego. There are locations all around town, they’re cheap, and the bright blue bikes are nice and recognizable, so drivers may be more lenient when they see you on the road (think of it as a student driver kind of situation.)

If you’re looking for good, bike-friendly streets to get comfortable on, stick to 13th and 15th streets. You’ll generally get more leeway from drivers on these roads and they’re super convenient, as they jut right through the city with nary an interruption.

All this being said, Philly is a great city for biking. This town is generally friendly toward bikers, and it’s a great way to get exercise, save money and move quickly—not to mention all the positive effects on the environment. Happy biking!

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