Philadelphia is the City of Brotherly Love, and that love extends to bikers in a big way! If you or your kids like to bike, read on to learn the best places to go biking in Philadelphia.
My kids all agree – why walk anywhere when you can ride a bike? Even before winter gives way to spring, they try on bike helmets, fill deflated tires, and adjust seats, perfecting their bicycles for the warmer weather months and bike rides ahead. Though they enjoy tooling around our suburban South Jersey neighborhood, as they reached their tweens and teens, they realized the real fun is riding in the city, which for us means a trek into Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Lucky for us: Philadelphia is considered one of the top biking cities in the country, according to Bicycle Magazine. The city boasts more than 205 miles of bike trails and bike lanes, and is home to the Philadelphia International Bike Race. But despite this, city traffic makes cycling around the many Philly neighborhoods a bit dangerous, especially for young riders. That’s why it’s important to choose an established, safe bike path and stay away from the city streets.
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Fortunately for those of us who live in or visit Philly, there are numerous safe and established bike paths to explore. Here are a few of our favorites, along with information about Philadelphia’s bike sharing program.
KNOW THE RULES OF THE ROAD
If you’re an experienced bicycle rider, you know that bike laws vary from state to state and even from city to city. Coming from New Jersey, I was surprised at some of the laws I encountered while biking in Philadelphia. The biggest surprise: no helmet rule for teens and grown ups. Only riders 13 years of age or younger must wear a bike helmet in Philly. (In fact, you don’t even have to wear a helmet on a motorcycle!) But my family agrees with the advice of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia: wear it anyway. Sure, having the wind blow through your hair as you navigate the Schuylkill banks is fun – but not at the risk of a concussion.
Another rule to note is that all bicycles are required to have a back red reflector and a front white light – even if you never plan to bike ride after dark. These are protective measures so that drivers can see you. Every bike should also have a bell of some sort. A bike rider can’t wear headphones or ear buds while riding (this goes for drivers, too).
FAVORITE BIKE TRAILS IN PHILLY
The Coalition also offers a detailed map of the bike routes, trails and lanes, which is helpful for those who regularly ride in Philly and may want a new path. But for visitors, the map may be a bit confusing without an insider’s help – and that’s where I come in!
KELLY DRIVE LOOP
A ride of just under ten miles, the Kelly Drive Loop is a favorite of bikers in Philadelphia. (And that’s no joke – watch out for both runners and other bikers on this route.) This is a favorite for its visual beauty, taking you down both sides of the Schuylkill River. (That’s SKOO-kill, for you out-of-towners). The area is beyond picturesque, with the quaint boathouses of Boat House Row lining one side of the river, framed with the pink blossoms of the city’s cherry trees.
This path also takes you by one of the most memorable Philly landmarks, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where Rocky Balboa famously ran to the top of the steps while training for his boxing match with Apollo Creed. (Please don’t come to Philadelphia without a passing knowledge of Rocky, okay?) In front of the museum is an Indego bike share station, where you can borrow a bike if you left yours at home. (More on that later.) As you whiz by the art museum, keep an eye out for the Rocky statue at the bottom of the stairs. It’s probably the city’s second-most visited attraction, after the Liberty Bell.
For a more challenging ride, forgo the turnoff at Falls Bridge and keep going straight to cover the full Schuylkill River Trail (26.5 miles). The mostly flat route ends at the Valley Forge National Historical Park (where, hopefully, someone is waiting for pick up!).
THE BEN FRANKLIN BRIDGE
For a shorter ride (but with views just as spectacular) head to the walkway of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge (known just as the Ben Franklin, around these parts). The bridge spans a mile and a half over the Delaware River to New Jersey, and the three-mile round trip will allow you stunning views of the Center City skyline (no better time than sunset, when the view is particularly gorgeous).
TravelingMom Tip: Start and end this ride on the Philly side, where you can take a bike ramp right up to the bridge. Onboarding in New Jersey is a little trickier and involves taking your bike up some steps.
THE BOXERS’ TRAIL
Yes, Rocky Balboa is fictional (although Sylvester Stallone would have us believe otherwise). But many real-life boxers trained in Philly, including Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, who famously battled each other in the Fight of the Century and its follow-ups, Super Fight II and Thrilla in Manila (see, Rocky’s not the only boxer with sequels!). This trail, coming in at just under four miles, commemorates all the boxers who trained in the City of Brotherly Love.
The trail starts by the Sedgely Woods Disc Golf Course and leads you through East Fairmount Park. You ride by the historic mansions of the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood and past the Smith Memorial Playground. If you’re up for a longer challenge, you can connect to the Kelly Drive Loop to add a couple of miles to your trek.
If your kids are anything like mine, you’ll understand the appeal of riding your bikes down Forbidden Drive. This off-the-beaten bike path goes through Wissahickon Valley Park, one of my favorite areas in the city because you’re so deep in the woods, you don’t even remember you’re in Philly at all. The path is known as Forbidden Drive because cars were banned from the path back in the 1920s, making it just perfect for hikers, runners and bike riders.
This seven mile trail follows the Wissahickon Creek. At every mile, you’ll find intriguing dirt paths that beckon you off the flat pebbled trail. (If you’re curious, venture off the trail to visit the Cave of Kelpius, the spot where the country’s first doomsday cult hid awaiting the end days.
PHILADELPHIA’S BIKE SHARING PROGRAM
If you are traveling without your bike, you can still enjoy a ride through the city thanks to Indego, Philadelphia’s official bike share program. The program offers over a thousand blue bikes at kiosks throughout the city. You can purchase a pass online, or you can get a day pass or Indego key at any Indego station.
TravelingMom Tip: Be sure to bring along a debit or credit card, as the attendant will not accept cash at the kiosk.
Check a bike out of the dock, and ride it anywhere in the city! The beauty of Indego is that you don’t have to return the bike to the kiosk where you picked it up. Instead, you can return it to any of the hundreds of stations in the city. So ride from Center City to Pennypack Park, check out the shops on South Street, explore the history of Broad Street or try one of the circuit trails. Your ride can end wherever you want it to; just return the bike to any station.
NOTE: You must be 14 to drive an Indego bike. All riders under 15 must be accompanied by an adult.
Pricing for the bike share is subject to change, but as of this writing you can get a Day Pass, which allows you an unlimited number of 30-minute rides in a 24 hour period for $12. Monthly passes (known as Indego30) are $17 a month and allow unlimited one hour rides for 30 days. Annual passes are available for $156.
Philly Final Notes
Whether you bring your own bike or borrow one here, you’ll find Philadelphia to be a very biker-friendly town. Try out these paths, or discover one of your own as you explore the City of Brotherly Love.
Want to know more about my city – and places you can bike to in Philadelphia? Check out the following TravelingMom posts: