Women constitute only one-third of the total bicycle trips taken in Philadelphia. We hope this series encourages more women to give bicycling a try and enriches the conversation about what bicycling is and who it is for. We encourage you to forward these interviews to others and talk to us about them, either in the comments or on Facebook or Twitter.
If you are, or know, a woman who would be a good subject for a profile, contact Katie Monroe at email@example.com.
Teri Gerbec, Creative Director at Tierney
How did you get started bike commuting?
I lived in New York for six years, and I started seeing more and more people bicycling. So I bought a bike at a flea market on 6th Avenue, I guess it was 10 years ago. When I first started cycling in Manhattan it was terrifying. I learned quickly that if you took your time about it, then it was ok. But if I was trying to catch a light, or get behind a bus, then the anxiety that came with it almost made it not worth it. If you think about how much quicker it is to bike instead of walk, even if you take your time, you’re still tremendously more efficient.
When we moved back to Philadelphia, bicycling was already a way of life for us. And then when my daughter came along we weren't ready to give it up. So we got a little bike seat and we plopped her on it and then the other one came along, so we got another bike seat, and we plopped him on it, and it’s terrific.
How do the logistics of biking with kids work?
We bike in together, with one child on each bike. Then I take the kids into childcare in the morning and start my day a little later. My husband leaves work earlier and gets them out the door, then I meet them and we all bike home together. Though lately, he’s been fantasizing about one of those cargo bikes so he can take both of them by himself.
How young was your daughter when you first started putting her in the bike seat?
They have to be a year to wear a helmet. When we first put her on the bike she loved it, and now she’s sort of a four-year-old diva and she would rather be in the car, which is really too bad, because we didn't even have a car when she was born. My son on the other hand, the first time we put him in and took him around he screamed the whole way. But now he loves it! Now if we get in the car he has a fit because we’re not getting on the bike. When we’re going somewhere all together its great, and now with the weather getting warmer we’ll go over to Sister Cities park with them, or maybe down to the pier on Race street or Franklin Square, just those sort of short trips.
Do you bike in all weather?
Not all weather. Definitely not snow, so on and off through the winter. The winters are usually mild enough here that I would say at least once a month we can get on our bikes. Minus say, January. If its colder than 20 we don’t go.
Do you have any practical tips when it comes to actually making biking work on a day-to-day basis?
I got inspired by a friend of mine in New York who worked in fashion. She biked in anything! It didn’t matter what she was doing, if she had a meeting, if she wanted to wear a short skirt, she just got on the bike and she didn’t really care, and I thought: oh, that’s right, I can do that! I never bring a change of clothes anywhere. Maybe I should.
But that was really sort of liberating to me, that you can wear what you wore through your day. I do get the helmet strip on my forehead, and hat and helmet hair is bad, that combo. When I’m trying to get my hat underneath the helmet is really bad, but it’s fine. I’m going slow enough, and I have a ladies bike, not a racing bike. I’ll ride in Frye boots, heels. Actually, when I bike to work I can wear a pair of heels that I couldn't walk to work in.
Tell me more about your bike.
It’s a Raleigh Robin Hood. It’s pretty old. I think it’s an original from the 50’s. It weighs a ton, there’s nothing practical about it. But it is sort of a road horse, I feel very stable on it.
How do you store it?
At home we have a garage. I used to take it into my office, but I needed to carry it up half a dozen steps to get it inside, so now I put a U-Lock on the front tire and leave it outside. If it’s raining I just put a bag on the front seat; the kid seat has a removable cushion.
Do you do repairs yourself? Take it to a bike shop?
No, I usually take it to Via on 9th street, because they have so many older bikes there, they tend to have the parts lying around. I did see a bike that I loved in Portland, but there’s no reason for me to buy a new bike, my bike is perfectly acceptable.
Beyond using bikes as transportation, do you still get out there to ride for fun?
Not really, it’s almost always functional. Once we took a ride along the Schuylkill with the kids just to take a ride, but their attention span is so short, they’ll hang out to get somewhere but they won’t hang out just to hang out.
What’s unique about biking in Philadelphia?
I think probably the size of the city. You can bike all over New York, if you have the time, but in Philadelphia you can be anywhere on a bike in 15 minutes, which is awesome. I work in Center City right by City Hall and I can meet a friend in West Philly for lunch in 15 minutes. I couldn't do that if I was walking or taking the bus. Somebody described being on a bike as “having the keys to the city.” I don’t have to think about parking, and I don’t have to think about paying a meter, I’m just there! Philly is the perfect size to bike in.
We went to the Barnes Foundation for lunch the other day. That’s the kind of thing we wouldn't be able to do if we didn't have bikes.
Any challenges you've found while biking in Philadelphia?
When they put the Pine and Spruce bike lanes in I couldn't believe it. I think that really shows a commitment to making it a bike-friendly city. And I was thrilled to see one going in on 10th street, but was disappointed to see Chinatown up in arms about it. I see plenty of people in Chinatown bicycling, I would think they would benefit from it as well. But I was glad that the City stuck to the plan and just skipped those three blocks. Though it would've been nice to have it go straight through. One of my neighbors sent me an email last week that said, “I just started biking to work, I got inspired by you!” She was looking for a good southbound street, and I think that’s actually kind of tough. 10th is good, now that we have that lane all the way up here. 6th is good but the way that it just ends at Chestnut street is a little unnerving because the road gets really narrow. So it does feel like there’s good northbound access, but southbound, well, it’s getting there.
How do you handle things that are more cargo-oriented, like grocery shopping? Do you use your car for that?
We do a walk to Reading Terminal every Saturday. Most of our groceries come from there, and if I need incremental stuff during the week I have a basket. I did bring our Thanksgiving turkey home from Reading Terminal in the child seat, buckled in.
Are there other lessons you feel like you've learned that can only come with time?
I think it’s important, in addition to taking your time, to be as defensive as possible and not need to be right. Drivers are in a hurry, so if you and the driver are both in a hurry it’s a recipe for disaster. Just be patient, and let people do what they’re going to do, and keep an eye out. My friend’s husband described it as, “it’s fine as long as you keep your head on a swivel,” so just looking all over the place all the time. The more patient and forgiving you can be, even if you’re right and they’re wrong, the better for everyone.
Did you ride through both your pregnancies?
Maybe the first six months. I got to a point in my second pregnancy where my thighs were hitting my belly, and I thought: ok, its time.
Do you think that biking has made it more likely for you to stay in the city with kids, as opposed to moving to the suburbs?
It certainly makes it easier. I think we would've stayed either way, and I do wonder what we’re going to do when the kids are too big to stick on the backs of the bikes, because I don’t think I’m ready to put them on a bike in the streets. It didn't keep us here but it definitely makes it easier.
Do you get the chance to interact with more people on a bike?
That’s sort of the downside to being on bikes, because when you’re walking with someone you can chat, and when you’re in the car with someone you can chat. When I walked home from work that would be a good time to call my mom and I can’t do that kind of stuff on a bike. I’m not catching up on any of my reading on my bike. But the benefits certainly far outweigh it.
Does biking substitute for a workout?
I would like to hope so, because I never get any exercise anymore. With the kids and working full time it just doesn't happen. I would like to think that the reason I haven’t gained 30 pounds since my kids were born is because I've been biking.
-Interview conducted and transcribed by Claudia Setubal. Photos by Claudia Setubal.