It’s safe to say that owners and users of bikes at Penn are a rare breed. Although biking is perhaps the most efficient and cheap method of transportation available, very few students seem to take advantage of all that it has to offer. To be fair, there are legitimate drawbacks to biking around campus, which include (and are not limited to) safety concerns and the potential for theft. But if you’re thinking of getting a bike—and even if you need some convincing—here’s a comprehensive breakdown of everything you should know before you send it.
Finding a Bike
One of the most challenging aspects of biking at Penn is, well, finding a bike in the first place. Buying a new bike on a student’s budget can be difficult—if not impossible—and even then it can be hard to justify such steep prices considering the risk of bike theft. Finding a good used bike isn’t easy as there are very few stores on campus that sell reasonably–priced ones. But don’t let this stop you. If you’re willing to make a trip into West Philly, head to Firehouse Bikes on 50th and Baltimore where used bikes range from $250-$900. If you aren’t down to walk that far, Retrospec.com sells new, high quality, and fashionable bikes starting at $179 that are delivered straight to you door (with instructions for assembly).
Once you have a bike, safety is a primary concern. Not only are the streets around campus filled with potholes and those pesky trolly tracks, but add to the equation that Philadelphia drivers are considered among the nation’s most aggressive and unforgiving. There’s also the issue of one–way streets, meaning you might have to adjust your route accordingly, making your commute a little longer or more labor intensive. However, some bikers—such as Solomon Goldfarb (C’19)—disregard the rules of the road and “gun it down Walnut, going the wrong direction.” Street does not recommend disregarding personal safety to get to class on time, but hey, when you have to be at DRL at 9 a.m., anything goes.
Keep It On Lock
Philadelphia has some of the nation’s worst rates of bike theft and Penn’s campus is no exception. Former Penn biker Bela Parekh (C, W'18) describes the anxiety that comes along with owning a bike, saying “I was constantly worried my bike would get stolen because within my first four weeks of getting a bike at Penn it was stolen from inside my gate.” It’s possible to prevent bike theft, however, by registering your bike as personal property and using the proper U–lock to lock not only the body of the bike but the tire, too. Some students learn this lesson the hard way, like Jill Pesce (C’21), whose bike got stolen from the parking garage of her apartment building, which she describes as a “well–lit area with cameras.” One day she came home to find what remained of her bike, saying “all that was left was the cut chain lock on the floor.” Jill adds that her “roommate’s bike was stolen from the same spot in that same week,” so perhaps this is just one extremely unlucky garage.
The (Philly) World Is Your Oyster
What’s the number one benefit of owning a bike, according to Penn bikers? Philadelphia becomes infinitely more accessible, leading to more adventure and discovery of the wider Philly community. Solomon says that biking has allowed him to get outside the Penn bubble on a frequent basis and that when he bikes, he gets “a better sense of which parts of the city [he wants] to go back to.” Bela adds to this sentiment, mentioning that she “used to bike along the Schuylkill all the time, and there are other biking trails around Philadelphia as well.”
With the only drawbacks being the upfront cost and extra bit of care that must be taken to avoid theft, there is very little reason to not own a bike at Penn. In short: Get yourself a cheap, second hand bike, get to class on time, adventure off campus, and be good to the planet.