A better commute

Man riding his bike to work

WHAT: Bike commuting. More and more Philadelphians are choosing to start their day on their bikes—a commuting option that allows them to get some early-morning exercise, save money (gas isn’t getting any cheaper), avoid traffic and, in some cases, even shave some time off those dreadful Philly drive times. Recently, we spoke with Michael McGettigan, co-owner of West Philadelphia’s Trophy Bikes, to get some tips for those interested in ditching four-wheel commuting for two.

FIRST THINGS FIRST: Step one, of course, is to get a good bike. And while many riders continue to covet mountain bikes, McGettigan says those off-road machines actually aren’t all that great for long commutes. “For commuting, a ‘hybrid’ bike is far superior than most mountain bikes,” McGettigan says. “Those mountain bikes have big shocks, knobby tires, suspensions. That uses a lot of your energy.” A good hybrid—a bike that straddles the line between a road racing bike and mountain bike—can be bought for about $400.

BUT DON’T SKIMP ON: The accessories. The comfort and safety of a bike commute depends as much on the quality of your accessories as the quality of your bike. So take care when selecting such items as helmets, lights, clothing, fenders, racks and rain gear. “If you have $1,000 to spend,” McGettigan says, “spend half on the bike and half on your gear.”

LOCK IT UP: If you’ve spent the money to buy a good bike, you may as well take care to keep it safe. McGettigan says local bikers would be wise to use two locks when locking up their bike—a cable lock for the front wheel and a U-lock for the back. “The good news is that bike thieves are lazy, and not that smart,” McGettigan says. “If you make an effort, you can keep your bike a long time.”

SECRET ANTI-THEFT DEVICE?: A silver Sharpie. Write your name on your tires, McGettigan says, and thieves are less likely to steal your bike. That’s because they only steal what they think they can sell. “If you name your tires, it’s a huge deterrent,” he says.

DANGER ZONES: West Philly has a few tricky spots that newcomers should be aware of. The South Street Bridge is a consistently scary trip (the Walnut Street bridge is better). At 34th and Spruce, hospital traffic and a high number of “pick up and drop-offs” combine to create a problem spot. And at 40th and Spruce, a tangle of trolley tracks makes for a real hazard, especially for new riders. “We call that a ‘Welcome to Philly Problem,’” McGettigan says. “If you’re new here, you have to learn how to deal with trolley tracks—you have to cross them at a sharp angle.” McGettigan encourages riders to carefully plan their routes: If riders have to go out of their way to avoid dangerous areas, they should.

FOR MORE INFO: Stop in at Trophy Bikes for advice, bikes and accessories. The shop is located at 3131 Walnut Street and, on the web, at www.trophybikes.com.

Originally published on July 5, 2007