Built to Suit

Stephen Bilenky works on a bike at his shop Bilenky Cycle Works. | Photo courtesy Bilenky Cycle Works

Custom bike building sees a resurgence in Philadelphia

While all bikes are good, some are extra special. At Firth & Wilson, the Spring Garden bike shop Simon Firth co-owns with David Wilson, the two will happily fix a flat, adjust a derailleur or upgrade a set of handlebars. Under the name Hanford Cycles, Firth also builds custom bikes, and is one member of a growing community of craftspeople doing so here in Philadelphia.

Custom bike-building, like fitting a suit, begins with a person and a specific set of measurements. While standard bikes are built to bear the weight of the heaviest potential person the manufacturer anticipates will ride them, Mark Weaver, of Weaver Cycles in Collingswood, New Jersey, says that he, and other bike builders, take into consideration a person’s height and weight, as well as the length of their torso, arms and inseam to determine frame shape and size, and the gauge of the tubing for the frame, whether it be steel, aluminum or titanium. Some materials are lighter, some heavier, but just as a suit can be made of wool or linen, “it’s all about the fit,” according to Weaver.

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Rocking Horse Winner: An industrial design career takes an unexpected turn

story by Samantha Wittchen | photos by Albert Yee WHILE PURSUING an industrial design degree at the University of Cincinnati, Carrie Collins had an epiphany: She was making waste. “You’re being trained to design trash,” says Collins, acknowledging that industrial designers are often employed to create short-lived consumer products destined for the landfill. The realization caused a career crisis for Collins, and she decided to take time off from school to reconsider her future.

Three months later she returned to enroll in a new sustainable design course being offered by her favorite professor. The class changed everything for Collins. She finished her degree, and for her senior thesis created a business model for Fabric Horse—a business that would connect design with her passions for sustainability and sewing.

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A New Home for Old Bikes: Help the Abadoned Bike Clean-up project

An abandoned bicycle takes up valuable space at a bike rack.| Image via the Bicycle Coalition of Greater PhiladelphiaYou have all seen them. Those rusty, junky, beat-up bicycles with half their parts missing, locked to a bike rack and taking up precious space. Luckily, these pesky eyesores are slated to become a thing of the past, as Philadelphia launches the Abandoned Bike Clean-up project.

Led by the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) and the Philadelphia Streets Department, the Abandoned Bike Clean-up project aims to remove abandoned bikes from city streets, freeing up bike rack parking space for in-use bicycles and increasing sidewalk space for pedestrians.

Starting on July 23, abandoned bikes will be tagged with notifications of removal and the owners will have one week to remove them before the city picks them up. All abandoned bikes will be donated to local charities to be refurbished and reused.

Help MOTU get a head start by identifying unused bicycles in your own neighborhood. Abandoned bikes are defined as having missing or damaged parts, and have been locked in the same spot for a month or longer. If you have seen one of these vehicles where you live, call 311 and be prepared to provide the bike's physical description and location.

With any luck, you might never have fight abandoned wheels for a space at the bike rack again.

Learn more at the MOTU website

Move Along: The Alliance for Biking and Walking publishes 2012 Benchmarking Report

Image via peoplepoweredmovement.orgBiking and walking are commonplace in Philly, but ever wonder how our city stacks up next to the rest of the nation in its treatment of bicyclists and pedestrians? The Alliance for Biking and Walking recently published its third biannual report on the state of biking and walking in America, which aims to provide the most accurate data to policy makers concerning the nation's walking and biking needs. This year's data demonstrate that Philadelphia is doing its part to show some brotherly love to those who forgo fuel-powered transportation. The 51 largest cities in the nation and all 50 states were surveyed to find out who is most effectively promoting these emissions-free means of transportation.

Here are a couple of reasons to pat your fellow Philly pedestrians and bicyclists on the back:

Philadelphia has the eighth highest rate of citizens who bike or walk to work, with 1.6 percent of commuters biking and another 8.4 percent walking. Of the top ten largest cities in the nation, Philly has the largest percent of bike commuters, according to the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.

Such high rates are thanks in part to the city’s extensive network of bike lanes. Philadelphia has the third highest concentration of bike lanes per square mile – another reason to be thankful for the new lanes on 13th Street.

This city knows how to get out the word. Philadelphia successfully satisfied all categories related to efforts at bike promotion and has one of the oldest bike advocacy organizations, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, founded in 1972.

All that enthusiasm is resulting in real change. Philadelphia has been progressively introducing goals and implementing policies benefiting bicyclists and pedestrians. For example, Philadelphia is one of 19 cities to have a complete streets policy, which seeks to transform streets so that they promote all modes of transportation.

Unfortunately, Philly still favors motorists in terms of traffic laws. We're one of only eight cities to not fine drivers who fail to yield to bicyclists and pedestrians. But bikers must be on the lookout for reckless drivers as Philadelphia has the ninth lowest rate of bicycle and pedestrian fatalities of cities surveyed.

Fast Track: 13th Street bike lane to become a permanent resident


Image via the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia

Good news, cyclists, the 13th Street bike lane is here to stay! The pilot period is coming to an end, and the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities (MOTU) has decided to install a permanent lane within the next few weeks. The lane will stretch from South Street to Hamilton, with plans to extend it to Spring Garden Street after the section of road is resurfaced in 2012.

The MOTU report found that of all the cities with populations more than one million, Philadelphia has the most bike commuters. And yet there are hardly any bike lanes in Center City. MOTU is hard at work to change that. In 2009, they conducted a pilot test of east-west running bike lanes on Spruce and Pine Streets, and in the winter of 2010 they began planning for the north-southbound pilot lanes now in place on 10th and 13th streets.

The study reported that since the installation of the pilot lanes, bicycle traffic has increased without any major affect on vehicle traffic. Data also shows that the bike lanes have reduced car accidents and the number of pedestrians hit by cars along the 13th Street route, while encouraging much safer biking practices (keeping bikers off the sidewalks, for example, and travelling in the direction of traffic instead of against the grain). The 10th Street route is still in the evaluation process. 

View the complete evaluation report here.

For a map of bike lanes, hazards, member-submitted commuter routes and other bike-related tidbits, check out the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia website.

- Anna Louise Neiger

Connecting the Dots: Expanding lanes and trails is part of a grand design.

“How can we all coexist on these very skinny streets?” asks Rina Cutler, Philadelphia’s deputy mayor for transportation and utilities. “We don’t have room to add more, so we have to make better use of the streets. For me, it’s less about biking, [and more about] creating complete streets and giving people choices.”

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