Women Bike PHL
A bicyclist adjusts to life in Philly
Caitlin Quigley works for the Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance and Bread and Roses Community Fund. She lives in West Philadelphia and uses her bike as her primary means of transportation.
What is your history with bikes?
I biked a lot when I was young. My parents were into biking, but not for transportation. I grew up in Cherry Hill, and I started biking as a main form of transportation while living in Bellingham, Washington. It’s a small town and that’s how everyone gets around there. There are fewer bike lanes than there are here, but there are more people biking, so drivers and pedestrians are expecting to see bikers. There’s more awareness, and overall it’s a pretty safe place to bike. People bike with kids, it’s not [considered] hardcore, it’s definitely integrated into lifestyles there. There are a lot of bike racks and bike-y events. We did this thing called Bike-O-Ween, which is a costume bike ride, and there are plaid bike rides. I biked a little bit in college before that. I did mountain biking there.
How do you approach cycling in Philadelphia?
I use my bike to get basically everywhere. Unless I’m going to extreme North or South Philly, that is my main mode of transportation. I have a jar of tokens and use SEPTA maybe once a month.
Do you bike in all kinds of weather?
I bike in most kinds of weather. I try to avoid high winds and drenching rain. But non-drenching rain is fine. Fenders are great. The deep heat of the summer is a little less exciting.
What do you wear? Do you change?
Through the winter I wear a lot of leggings with a skirt or dress that moves, or pants with rubber bands around my ankles. I really like the leggings because then I don’t have to do anything. In the fall I got a pair of fleece-lined leggings, which were pretty great. In the winter, a very specific tip would be to not wear down coats. I usually wear layers and a shell that breathes, and start with a scarf on and end up taking it off. I have a rear wire rack on my bike and having a place to pull off a scarf and reach back to put it away is nice. I don’t really change when I get places. I have a great hat in the winter that ties underneath my chin, just a cotton knit hat that fits under a helmet and that’s very key, because of the cold, cold ears. In the summer I like to wear very little when I’m riding , although I do cover up skin because it is a lot of time in the sun.
What do you do about helmet hair?
Usually I’ll just take all the stuff off of my head and put it in a ponytail or a bun, but I’m not really hair-styled in general.
Tell me about your bike!
My friend Kyle in Bellingham built my bike for me from a frame that ended up in his shop. The frame has stickers from Nebraska and North Dakota bike shops, and Seattle, so it has had many lives. He made it into a commuter bike for me and it has mustache handlebars, so it sits up more than a drop-down, which I like. The handlebars are wide-ish, which I find nice for balancing.
Is it your only bike? Do you have others?
It is my main bike. There’s another one at my parents house that’s an old Peugeot, that is a lot lighter than this bike. I would ride that if I were going to ride 30 miles, because this one is not lightning-fast.
How do you store it?
We have an alcove immediately inside the house where we have five bikes, so I bring it inside and leave it there and then back it up to bring it outside. It’s definitely not the most cumbersome arrangement that exists for bikes in the city. I have to carry it up two little flights of stairs in the front yard and through two doors, not too bad.
At the Bread and Roses building there’s a bike room in the basement, but they also let you take your bike on the elevator and take it up to the office, so that’s really easy.
Can you tell me a little about your commute? Do you have a preferred route?
The South Street bridge is usually how I go into Center City, and I have been coming back on Walnut Street since they re-paved it. It has a little bit more of a buffer and it’s all smooth. I don’t like that one stretch going through Penn on Spruce, people are just darting in front of you while looking exactly the opposite way. I could bike straight down Baltimore ave, but I usually go through back streets even though Baltimore is the hypotenuse and it is shorter. I prefer to be on streets where there are fewer cars, because there are tractor trailers on Baltimore. I also use the Pine and Spruce bike lanes.
How does riding a bike affect your perspective on living in the city as opposed to walking or taking the bus?
It’s so much more flexible and convenient. It’s ready to go whenever you are and you don’t have to park it anywhere far away and a single ride is free. I certainly spend some money to maintain my bike, but not that much. It’s convenient, easy, and it’s exercise. I am always kind of sad to have to take the trolley because I’m just sitting there, I’m not doing anything, I’m not going through the world. Even on days when I don’t really want to go be outside, once I start biking for a couple of minutes I’m really happy to be on my bike instead of in passive transport mode.
Do you do repairs on your own, fix your own flats?
With this bike I’ve had very few problems because Kyle built it so well, but I did take the basic bike maintenance class at Neighborhood Bike Works, which was helpful and I would recommend for people who are worried they will get stuck somewhere and and not know the first thing about how to fix it. I already knew how to fix a flat but there was a lot more to the class. I feel pretty comfortable tightening and adjusting things, and sometimes my fenders get a little wonky and I can fix them.
Do you have a support network for bicycling? Are there other people who are part of a community for you?
My partner and my other housemate both bike as their primary modes of transportation, so I think there is a community in that. I really haven’t had problems with this bike, but Firehouse is directly across the street from me, and that’s really nice. I took my bike there in the fall and they took an old chain and put it into an inner tube to connect the seatpost to the frame so the seatpost can’t get stolen. It also locks in the back light, since you can’t get the light off without getting the seat off.
What does a campaign that encourages more women to bike mean to you?
I really like to see women on bikes because it is a pretty male-dominated space, and for women to be on bikes means that women feel comfortable moving around a city on their own terms. I rode over the South Street Bridge this morning and there were two women ahead of me and two women behind me, and I was like, oh, that’s cool. And they were all wearing helmets because women understand physics!
Have you noticed changes in the city in the time you’ve been biking in Philly?
I moved here in August, but I’ve been back and forth to Philly a lot of times in the intervening years, and the blossoming of bike infrastructure is really cool. The painted bike lanes are great, and Pine and Spruce are awesome. The more things like that show up, the more people are going to feel safe biking. And I think there are a ton more people on bikes than there used to be, and that’s really exciting.
Do you have a favorite place in the city that you wouldn’t go if you didn’t have a bike?
Bartram’s Gardens is a great little bike ride from where I live. I also end up on the Schuylkill banks a lot.
Do you see yourself biking 30, 40, 50 years from now? How do you see your relationship with biking changing?
I think that biking in Bellingham really showed me the range of how people can use bikes, because there are people who bike with kids of various ages. Bikes are ingrained there, there’s a bike that has a little seat behind the other seat and you can go pick someone up, and bikes that are for hauling. Overall I think I am pretty devoted to biking and I think I would want to make it work with whatever I’m trying to transport or wherever I’m trying to go. And I want to continue living places where biking is safe and a lot of people are biking.
It sounds like you really like your bike right now, but if you could have any bike in the world, what would it be?
I did just leave someone a note the other day telling them that their bike was beautiful. It was light green, and had a really beautiful newly painted frame. Overall my bike functions really well and fits me really well and that’s mostly what I look for in a bike. and it’s kind of grungy-enough looking so I don’t think people immediately want to steal it.
Anything you’d like to add?
It is intimidating to start biking in the city. One of my housemates bought a bike in the fall and hasn’t ridden it. It can be really intimidating to be biking and try to make a left turn, but there are a lot of ways to start slowly, like just coming around to the right when you want to take a left and waiting for that light to change. I think that finding someone you know that does bike in the city and going out with them once or twice is a really useful way to start learning.
Interview by Claudia Setubal