By SJ Punderson
A speeding tractor trailer spooked Taylor Lashbrook from behind on Route 23 in Conshohocken on an otherwise peaceful September morning.
Gravel crunched violently as the vehicle swooped by her. In all fairness, when I had agreed to join Lashbrook for her morning commute, she had warned me about that segment of her ride.
“They almost blow me off my bike,” Lashbrook said.
Lashbrook, 37, is a regulatory editor who lives in Wissahickon, a neighborhood sandwiched between East Falls and Manayunk in Philadelphia. She’s a new bike commuter, having only made the two-wheeled trip to Conshohocken for five months. Although she’s a rookie when it comes to riding through city streets, the Phoenixville native refuses to be intimidated by the usual obstacles that Philadelphia’s biking community faces everyday.
Lashbrook moved to the Wissahickon neighborhood in 2015 with her husband Devin, 34, who runs a data center in Center City.
“We liked this neighborhood because of its central location,” she said.
Bicycles decorated the porch of the couple’s row home, as Lashbrook tinkered with last minute checks before our ride. Her tires and brakes felt good. The cats, Chicken, Pauly, Snuffles, Downey and Little Tina peered through window and soaked up the morning light.
According to Lashbook, her quiet block is a combination of college students and retirees. Because of this demographic, there’s an unofficial neighborhood watch.
“Someone is always home,” she said.
Cyclists whizzed by Pilgrim Roasters, one of Lashbrook’s local coffee shops, as she drank an espresso and chatted a few weeks before we planned our ride. Her neighborhood had become a haven for bicyclists, with a handful of bike shops close by to support the demand.
“As a kid, I had a pink, white and black bike,” she said. “I had it until I was 13, and then I didn’t get on a bike for 15 years.”
In a city as flat as Philadelphia, many adults tend to pick up cycling again after a decades-long breather. When the Lashbrooks moved to Wissahickon, Taylor quickly noticed how many people were on bikes.
“I wanted to get back into it,” she said. “But I was really intimidated. One day, I just said: screw it, and bought a bike.”
Lashbrook’s bicycle, the one that welcomed her back into the saddle, was a 1970-something Schwinn. She stopped by her local bike shop, Human Zoom, to see what kind of upkeep the new-to-her vintage ride would need.
“They talked me out of it,” she said.
She didn’t have the confidence she needed to commute with the Schwinn, but for a while, she used the bike socially. When Lashbrook received a promotion at work, she decided to treat herself.
She wanted a newer bike, something that would require less maintenance. She settled on a 2016 Cannondale that came in an understated black matte finish.
“It’s quiet, smooth, and fast,” she said. “My husband liked the fact that he could hear me on the Schwinn. Now, he has no idea if I’m still riding behind him.”
Most of the time, Lashbrook rides the Cannondale to Conshohocken a few days a week.
“It’s really about how early I get up in the morning,” she said.
Her route is about eight miles in distance and 45 minutes in duration, whether by bike, car or train.
The ride begins near the Manayunk Tow Path, over regional rail tracks and along the section of the Schuylkill River Trail (SRT) that parallels both the river and the tracks. As I huffed to keep up, we cruised through forest and along paved trail before stopping for a caffeine fix at the Riverbend Cycles—her usual double espresso.
Outside the cafe, the sounds of the regional rail combined with starling chirps for an enjoyable morning soundtrack. We sat for a few minutes with our drinks.
“When we get closer to work, we’ll cross the Fayette Avenue bridge,” Lashbrook told me. “One of my biggest pet peeves on this ride, if I don’t time it right, is getting stuck behind all of the commuters walking off the train and over the bridge. They all have their headphones in.”
The bridge segment of Lashbrook’s route required both pedestrians and cyclists to move along a slim, protected walkway.
From the cafe, we managed to make it over the bridge bothered by just one headphone offender. And then came the terrifying part.
Route 23 was a scary contrast to the bucolic seven miles we had just biked. Like an off the shoulder dress, we hung to the fringes of the narrow two-lane road desperately. Lashbrook showed no sign of trouble just a few feet ahead.
Not a moment too soon, Lashbrook signaled a turn, and we arrived at our destination. When she dismounted, she took a satisfied breath.
“For me, it’s all about the endorphins,” she said. “I feel amazing right now.”
Nice! That’s a great distance for a morning commute.