Along for the Ride: The Bicycle Club of Philadelphia

by Julie Lorch

I was terrified to ride with the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia (BCP). Mere mention of the group conjures images of sleek cyclists clad in spandex racing up the Manayunk Wall and through the hills of Northwest Philadelphia. They have skinny tires and aerodynamic helmets. You will get dropped.

I met one of BCP’s leaders, Linda McGrane, last March. She is a petite woman with blonde hair and a welcoming smile. That she appears so warm and unassuming only enhances my terror. Linda remembers your name and wants you to join the Club for a ride. On a bike, this woman will crush you.

For months, I scroll through the options on BCP’s website, phillybikeclub.org. There are weekly rides with lengthy descriptions and reams of archived cue sheets. In April, I become a member. I learn about Ride Classifications: Class A, “Difficult, 15 to 100+ miles, 18-20 mph average on flat terrain.” I am not Class A. I scroll down to Class B: “Advanced, 25 to 90 miles, 15-18 mph average on flat terrain.” Right. I do not go for a ride until July.

I would have put it off longer had I not ran into Linda at Neighborhood Bike Works. She encourages me to try an easy ride to get used to cycling in a group. I really like Linda. I go home and scroll through the rides again. I find a Tuesday evening “Delightful, Delicious ‘D’ Ride.” The ride description claims it’s an “easy-paced evening jaunt for novice riders and/or anyone interested in a gentle recovery ride.” Class D rides are “Easy, 10 to 25 miles, 8-11 mph on flat terrain.” D it is!

On Tuesday, I roll up and encounter an older woman riding a 1970s Schwinn cruiser with fat tires (an easy-paced jaunt) and a tall Wharton student with red and white spandex and a matching Trek (recovery ride). Every BCP ride is led by a capable cyclist; they research and prepare the route ahead of time (ride leaders generously volunteer their time and efforts to BCP). Linda happens to be leading tonight’s ride. There are nearly 1,000 members of BCP, but she remembers my name—and the names of the evening’s other cyclists—with ease.

Linda has been a member of BCP since the early ’90s and president since February 2009. She says that joining BCP was one of the best decisions she’s ever made. “I’ve had the good fortune to meet so many marvelous people in the bicycling community,” she explains. “I’ve formed many long-lasting friendships.”
She mentions the great novice rides through flat parts of the city and some of the more challenging BCP favorites through hilly suburbs. “We have a very diverse membership, representing all levels of cycling interest and ability,” she says. “Some of our members are daily bike commuters, others enjoy weekly rides to their favorite eatery and still others do long-distance travel by bike.”

The jaunt is so enjoyable that I go again the following week. The ride departs from the Allens Lane Train Station, along with a more challenging C+ ride. I’m tempted to go with the C’s—they looked so sleek and athletic—but stick with the D’s for a relaxing ride around Chestnut Hill.

On the McCallum Street Bridge, we D’s are “zoomed” by a racing team of cycling stallions. Silent but for the whir of their methodical cadence, this Class A team of rock hard bodies whizz by with graceful precision. Chasing the stallions are a dozen clydesdales. A couple of awkward ponies bring up the rear.

I’m no longer afraid of BCP, and you shouldn’t be either. There are rides for every level, including a list of options designed to help you climb the ladder: the Instructional D Ride for newbies (where no one is left behind), the C Spin-Off that “cheerfully waits to regroup,” and the Saturday Northwest Philly Rides for aspiring B cyclists. The starting points are all over the city and suburbs, and many of the launch sites offer two or more ride options.

If you’ve ever longed for a ready-made bike posse, or just want to explore some new parts of the city with cyclists who know the best roads, then make the move. Heed Linda’s call: “Why don’t you try an easy ride to get used to cycling in a group?” They may challenge you to ride farther and faster than you thought you could, but they’re also pretty darn nice.

Philadelphia Bicycling Club, phillybikeclub.org