America is a land of awful sandwiches, of industrially produced, sugary bread; of rubbery, microwaved half-meats; of watery, shredded lettuce. The one city that doesn’t tolerate mediocrity is Philly, where quality begets quality, and citizens use the word hoagie to place some distance between their native sandwiches and what the rest of the country thinks of as sandwiches. Philly’s urban density means there is a never-ending appetite for classic comfort as well as hoagie experimentation, and that density gave me the idea to do a Philly sandwich tour by bike.

a logo of a pig wearing a bib with a bike in the background


A bike trip would place others and myself at minimal risk of Covid-19 transmission, while allowing me to see the city on a human level. It would be my first road trip exploration of another city without the windshield perspective.

Here’s what happened when I brought my bike from NYC to PHL via Amtrak last fall to explore the deeply rooted culture of great sandwiches. If you want to know more about the why, how, and bike culture, see the “Nuts, Bolts, & Biking” section at the end.

I’m not gonna make you wait for the sandwiches.

Manic Sandwich Board: Ba Le Banh Mi | Caffe Chicco Roast Beef | Dalessandro’s Cheesesteak | Wawa Buffalo Chicken | John’s Roast Pork | Angelo’s John Dough | Nuts, Bolts, & Biking

Sandwich No. 1: Ba Le Banh Mi (Biking cross-Philly, exploring Jefferson Square)

A hand holds a banh mi in sunlight

Don’t waste your time arguing with me that a banh mi is neither a hoagie nor an iconic Philly sandwich — it’s certainly the latter and may now have an honest claim to being the former. Real banh mi are rare in NYC, at least per capita. The proliferance of great Vietnamese sandwich joints in Philly speaks to the city’s ability to extend financial and cultural welcome mats to waves of newcomers. New Philadelphians actively contribute to the accretion of sandwich culture, and sometimes that means honoring and expanding traditions that evolved elsewhere.

I learned in Boston’s Chinatown that the best banh mi come from places that make their own bread (see Mei Sum Bakery, a hole-in-the-wall of a parking garage). So Philly’s Ba Le Bakery sounded like a safe bet. My train from NYC arrived before 9 a.m on a Tuesday, so I needed to find a place that would be serving lunch sandwiches for breakfast.

Biking at a leisurely pace from 30th Street Station, I passed through an eerily dead Center City, then started to see locals going about their business when I hit Rittenhouse Square. I followed 19th into South Philly, then rode the trash-strewn Washington Avenue bike lane straight to Ba Le. The whole first leg took just nineteen minutes.

Once at the strip mall that housed Ba Le, I locked my bike to a railing as I’d seen people do on Street View. Inside there was a small crowd of people waiting for their orders. Everybody looked surprisingly hungover following a pandemic Monday night.

a bike parked outside a building with a vinyl sign advertising 16 different banh mi sandwiches

Having been to Vietnam myself, I was blown away by the assortment of house-made breads, sweets, and charcuterie on display — it was the most I’d ever seen in one place in the U.S. I ordered the banh mi thit nuong (grilled pork), requested extra chillies, and was out of Ba Le by 9:59 a.m. I’d been up for five hours, and I was starving.

I needed a place to eat. I walked my bike and sandwich along Washington past Sacks Playground, noting ominously that the playground’s public restrooms were locked and the water fountains turned off. This would turn out to be a problem with every park, for the entire trip.

A bike sits against a park bench

The next large park, Jefferson Square, turned out to be delightful and reminded me of home. As I took off my Camelbak and made camp on a bench in the shade, I watched as locals awakened and came outside. One guy set up a beach chair in the grass and started to read a book. A volunteer picked up litter with a grabber. Many walked dogs. People started to say “Good morning!” to me as I unwrapped my sandwich.

And the sandwich was a perfect banh mi. House baked, crusty French bread. Sliced, marinated, grilled pork, with just the right balance of fat and muscle. Pickled daikon and fresh cilantro, with a splash of fish sauce to unite and augment all the flavors. Such a perfect sandwich, yet so eternally elusive in New York.

I was already glad I’d come to Philly. I put some thoughts down in my notebook and tried to digest for a little bit. Then I fired up my GoPro and headed to my next stop: Caffe Chicco.

Sandwich No. 2: Caffe Chicco Roast Beef (Biking farther south to Oregon Ave., exploring Marconi Plaza Columbus Statue)

A juicy roast beef on a round roll

Truth be told, I had wanted to make Chicco my first stop after hearing about it from my Manic partner-in-crime, Dan Meade. He’d actually walked there from Center City just to see them put the CLOSED sign in the window. I decided I had to get there for both of us.

But, the day before my trip, I realized that there might not be much of a market for heavy-duty roast beef sandwiches at 9 a.m. I called to make sure.

“Cheee-co,” sang the voice of an Italian grandmother, sounding much like my own grandmother, on the other end of the line.

“Hello! What time do you start serving the roast beef?”

“‘Round eleven o’clock,” said the grandmotherly voice. Thus I knew Chicco would be my second lunch.

I left Jefferson Square and headed south down 6th, expecting repeated altercations with drivers. But as I cruised by Mexican-American murals, construction sites, and even a Buddhist temple, I noticed that everyone was nice. People stopped at stop signs. They signaled with hands: go ahead, you go first. I had never seen any of these things biking in Boston or New York. The only exception was the PPA guy, zipping about in a van, trying to ticket people for blocking crosswalks when they parked illegally to run into corner stores.

I reached Oregon Avenue, the farthest south I’d ever been in Philly, and turned west toward Broad. There was a Jackson Heights vibe, and an interesting assortment of fish and crab mongers selling from their vehicles. I was surprised by all the unused-but-in-good-shape trolley tracks embedded in the road.

At one intersection, a pedestrian had dropped her sweater while waiting to cross the street, but she was wearing earbuds and no one could get her attention. So I did, using my bike’s AirZound horn. It was the first time I’d used my horn all day, even after biking into crowded, pre-dawn Manhattan to catch my train.

I reached Broad and Oregon sooner than expected, and decided to check out Marconi Plaza. Earlier in 2020, the Christopher Columbus statue there became a lightning rod for both BLM protestors and the armed vigilantes who didn’t want to see the statue toppled. I found metal barricades surrounding the statue, and the statue itself was hidden away in a giant plywood box. One guy inside the barricades slept on a bench — a vigilante watchman? Who knew? I biked the remaining two blocks to Chicco.

a bike with red and blue tires parked next to a fence with an american flag. in the background, a statue is in a wooden box.

Chicco is a Caffe, and it was unusually hot for October, so I decided to grab an iced coffee while I waited for a friend. I locked my bike to a parking meter post, since there was no official bike parking in sight. Chicco’s glass door was locked. I checked the time on my phone. A young woman ran up to the door, unlocked it with a key, and held it about three inches ajar.

“Hi, are you serving?” I asked.

“Yeah, but we’re not just letting anyone in the building.” Philly was taking this pandemic way more seriously than New York.

a small brick cafe with a green awning

I paid cash for a strong iced coffee. When my friend arrived, I phoned in our order from the sidewalk: two roast beef, both with sharp provolone, one with cherry peppers. I was confused as to why Chicco asked me if I wanted mild or sharp provolone. What’s the point of mild provolone?

My friend and I walked to an open playground at the top of Marconi to eat the sandwiches. There was a perfect balance of crustiness and juiciness. The meat was a perfect medium before slicing, a little less pink than New England roast beef. But that allowed it to soak up the Italian-spiced beef gravy — brown jus, not red Sunday sauce. My sliced cherry peppers came in a little baggie, like some kind of drug. I added them to my sandwich one at a time until they were all gone.

After Chicco we got sangria at Barcelona, a tapas bar on Passyunk with great outdoor space. It was 3 p.m., and the first time I was able to pee since leaving the train station at 9 a.m. Good thing both sandwiches had been a little salty.

My last stop for the day was another friend’s South Philly stoop, for an end-of-workday wine toast (note: I am a bourbon and beer guy). I got to meet the new pit bull next door.

A man's tattooed arms hold back a pit bull puppy

With the first two sandwiches literally under my belt, I ended up checking into my hotel and getting takeout falafel in Old City before passing out and sleeping for 12 hours.

A cat sits in a window of a brick row house and looks upward


Sandwich No. 3: Dalessandro’s Cheesesteak (Riding the Schuylkill and Wissahickon trails, Exploring Roxborough)

a close-up of a cheesesteak hoagie that has been bitten into

Dalessandro’s seemed like a fridge too far: while it was only about 9 miles from my hotel, the ride would require nearly 300 feet of elevation gain in the Wissahickon Valley. If I could make it there, I could make it… anywhere else in Philly.

Dalessando’s is known for their cheesesteak. Of course, non-Philly people think of the cheesesteak as an iconic yet boring sandwich, since they base their opinions on the awful versions of the cheesesteak that exist everywhere else. In Boston, pizza shop cooks throw individual portions of frozen, shaved steak on the griddle to make “steak and cheese.” In New York, many halal carts display the same clipart photo of a “Philly cheesesteak” that has more lettuce and tomatoes than meat. Lettuce and tomatoes… on a cheesesteak.

I wanted to find a good example of Philly’s most famous sandwich in a non-tourist area. D’s, in Roxborough, seemed like a good bet. And going to Roxborough would give me the chance to check out the husk of a venue where my band once played.

After breakfast near my hotel, I rode across Center City to the Schuylkill, then rode northwest along the river trail. Even though it was mid-morning on a Wednesday, lots of people were out jogging and biking. I passed by the famous boathouses and “discovered” the neighborhood of East Falls, whose Appalachia-like splendor surprised me. I hooked into Wissahickon Valley Park and paralleled the Creek, passing under the Henry Avenue Bridge 170 feet above me. The cheesesteaks were up there! I dropped into low gear for the final climb up to Walnut Lane (eventually I’ll post video footage of the awesome ride through the park). My cheap, slick tires performed really well on the gravel.

Walnut Lane through Wissahickon Valley Park is fairly highway-like, and there was one traffic circle I was worried about. But drivers respected the bike lanes, and I made it to Dallesandro’s ahead of schedule.

Dalessandro’s occupies the ground floor at the end of a rowhouse. They normally have a few steel picnic tables outside, meaning they would be the first sandwich shop to provide an actual outdoor dining experience.

A hoagie business housed in a row house

There was a “velvet rope” leading guys (all guys) to the order window, and a handwritten sign informing us not to approach the pickup window until after our orders were called. I waited my turn in line and asked for grilled (fried) onions, banana peppers, and provolone. Again, the lady taking orders asked if I wanted sharp or mild provolone. Why?

Most of the other customers were tradesmen and truck drivers. I later found out that the guys at the very next table were sandwich tourists from DC because I ran into them later in the day! I felt a little guilty about taking a whole table for myself, but then I reasoned that none of the other guys had biked from Center City and up the ridge.

When I unwrapped my sandwich, my heart sank. The banana peppers — yet another item that just isn’t on the menu in NYC — were nowhere to be found. I really didn’t want to interrupt the flow of the line to ask for them, so I just bit into the sandwich. And there they were! The pickled peppers just happened to be tucked away behind the slightly melted provolone, which had absorbed the heat of the thinly sliced, perfectly salted steak. Both bread and meat had what I called a fluffy texture. I found that this encouraged me to eat every bite. Fortunately, you get two foil wrappers so that you can use one to funnel wayward steak and onions back into your bread.

A cheesesteak at a business displaying a Philadephia Flyers neon sign

When I lived in Boston, people drenched their “steak and cheese” with ketchup, because the meat was utterly flavorless. Not so here. The soft bread, salty and juicy meat, plus my add-ons of (SHARP) provolone, grilled onions, and banana peppers made Sandwich No. 3 truly memorable.

After lunch, I biked farther into Roxborough and past the former Coyle’s Rox Box, where INFRASTRUCTURE had played back in 2010. The bar and venue appeared long closed, and both their buildings were for-sale. I stopped into a chain coffee shop for cold brew and bathroom, verifying that the bathroom was open before I ordered. Then I reversed my route to Center City, adding a brief aside to see more of, and film, East Falls. The river trail was simultaneously more crowded and more peaceful, except for times when a dumb muscle car growled through the silence.

A paved trail between trees along a river

Despite being mid-October, it was almost 80 degrees, and I realized how lucky I was to be outside, off a computer, and fueled by a perfect cheesesteak.


Sandwich No. 4: Wawa Buffalo Chicken (Walking from South Philly to Old City)

a closeup of a buffalo chicken hoagie

Yes, Wawa is normally a gas station. No, this visit was not planned — but it was my backup plan all along.

After getting a few outdoor drinks at the Pub on Passyunk East, I planned to grab a sandwich at the highly recommended Angelo’s. But I stupidly decided to walk to the bar from Old City, and once you start biking everywhere, you never quite get used to the slowness of walking again. I knew I was running out of time to get to Angelo’s before they ran out of bread.

Two halloween pumpkins on a marble stoop, one wearing a mask and one with spikes


By the time I got to Angelo’s, the SOLD OUT sign was in the window, and the lights were out. I dejectedly walked two blocks until I saw the South Street Wawa. Despite the lack of fuel islands, this was my chance to get the best gas station Buffalo chicken hoagie in America.

And it would be better than 99% of the Buffalo chicken sandwiches in NYC, where I’ve gotten frozen nuggets from Costco microwaved and dumped into a hero roll.

the exterior of a Wawa convenience store

Wawa is known for its elevated gas station cuisine, meaning that their ingredients are multiple levels above Subway. Good chicken tenders that can be reheated in a convection oven, not a F’n microwave. Solid Buffalo sauce. The only tradeoff is that you have to accept ranch dressing instead of proper blue cheese.

If you’ve never been to a Wawa, you order sandwiches using touchscreens. For some reason, the computers rebelled, and neither chicken tenders nor Buffalo sauce would appear in the menu of options. Three guys came out from behind the counter to help. After uttering many F words in frustration, the workers just told me to order a pepperoni pizza hoagie and then they made me a Buffalo chicken one anyway.

As I walked back to my hotel with Wawa in tow, I realized I wasn’t even hungry. But I also knew that Sandwich No. 4 would be the best Buffalo chicken I’d had in months, therefore too good not to eat. The hoagie and a flask of bourbon got me through that night’s Vice Presidential Debate (the one with the fly).

a welcome mat on a small stoop surrounded by an iron fence


Sandwich No. 5: John’s Roast Pork (Exploring the South Philly Industrial Landscape)

a roast pork hoagie shown in bright sun while a man in red sweatpants walks by

I have no idea how I’d been to Philly maybe a dozen times, yet had never been to John’s Roast Pork. There was simply no excuse. John’s has been in the same building near South Philly’s marine terminals since 1930, decades before the Delaware Expressway/I-95 cut off the waterfront from the rest of the city.

I woke up on my third and last morning in Philly insanely hungover. I got coffee and a banana, then checked out of the hotel and tried to find my way to John’s. There was something wrong with every street I took. Active construction, with sewage being pumped up out of holes and onto the pavement. Inactive construction: streets milled but not paved. Cobblestones. Not to mention the close-passing Jersey drivers commuting in from the suburbs.

Eventually I ended up on South Street, which seemed to have done a better job of staying the East Village than the actual East Village. Agéd punks walked about with coffee, cigarettes, and breakfast takeout. I passed by the husk of The Legendary Dobbs, yet another venue I’d played that was now out of business with the building for sale.

Detours eventually led me to the last place in the world I wanted to go: the Columbus Boulevard bike lane. Though a “street” of Philadelphia, Columbus is essentially an 8-lane highway with freight railroad tracks running down the middle and rail spurs running outward across the travel lanes. Oh, and there’s a bike lane painted on the asphalt between the outermost car lanes.

I pedaled down Columbus to Snyder before a texting driver with NJ plates could rear-end me while going 45 mph. Once at Snyder, I took a look to my left and saw a huge cargo ship using its cranes to unload. To my right was John’s, housed in a squat building next to a chemical plant.


A ship unloads cargo at the end of a busy streeta roast pork hoagie restaurant in front of a chemical plant


There were no tourists at John’s that day. A few people milled about outside, but the benches out back were empty. As I’d gotten used to, there was nowhere to lock my bike except for a single signpost, which I quickly claimed.

“GET THE STEAKS!” said a construction guy as I looked at the menu. “THE STEAKS ARE THE BEST!”

a large printed hoagie menu tacked to an exterior wall

John’s was only accepting orders by phone, and it took me nine tries to get through. I ordered a roast pork with provolone (SHARP) and spinach.

While I waited, a police bomb squad K9 SUV pulled up, and the cop got out to pick up a sandwich. Someone asked him if he was working the airport — he was — and whether it was busy.

“It’s not what it was,” he said.

And then the arrival of my sandwich was announced over the intercom. I have to think that John’s roast pork is what it always was: a heavy-duty, hearty lunch for people doing real work or biking to more sandwiches. Deboned pork loin is simmered with whole black peppercorns and rosemary, then sliced into a waiting, provolone-lined roll. The warmth of the sliced meat actually causes the cheese to melt softly into the bread. I added the spinach, too. Some jus from the roasting pan ties it all together.

The people watching was the best of the trip.

an older woman wearing all black and a face mask sits with her leopard print luggage at the bench of a hoagie restaurant

There aren’t many places where you can enjoy a 90-year-old recipe in a large U.S. city while surrounded by elements of the city’s past, present, and future. Now that I’ve been informed about the steaks, I’d like to visit John’s again sometime. I won’t be taking the Columbus Boulevard bike lane.

Sandwich No. 6: Angelo’s John Dough (Biking Back to 30th Street Station)

a meatball hoagie topped with a green long hot pepper

If the other sandwich joints were more about carrying on traditions, Angelo’s seemed to be the bodacious newcomer loudly updating the pizzascape and hoagiescape at the same time. With a huge social media following, a high Barstool slice rating, a charismatic owner, and universally-sung praises for the quality of its food, Angelo’s is the only pizzeria I know of that functions like a great barbecue joint. That is to say: when the dough runs out, and the day’s hoagie rolls are gone, it’s lights out.

Just before my trip, Angelo’s advertised a hoagie called the John Dough. It was an amalgam of things I, an Italian-American, loved. Spicy meatballs. Fresh mozzarella. Long hots — the true pepper of Philly — stuffed with prosciutto and cheese, then roasted.

I longed for this sandwich. But even the smaller serving of John’s Roast Pork’s roast pork had done me in. I couldn’t possibly eat any more. It was the third consecutive day of perfect weather, so I headed back to Barcelona on Passyunk, where I could sit outside, drink sangria like a lazy fat guy, and read.

About an hour and a half before my train back to NYC would depart, I called Angelo’s and placed my pickup order.

“Gimme 20 minutes,” said the guy. It was on.

When I arrived at Angelo’s I found a storefront packed with masked workers, and my sandwich sitting in a small holding oven with the other pickup orders — brilliant! Why doesn’t every takeout place do this?

The counter guy explained that the stuffed long hots were a regular thing (not in New York….) and that you could request them on any sandwich. Excited to think about future possibilities, I tied my takeout bag onto the bike’s handlebars and prepared to zip across Center City at pandemic rush hour.

a bike with a bag hanging from its handlebars parked in front of a restaurant called Angelo's Pizzeria

This time I tried out the newish Spruce Street protected bike lane. It is actually not protected from anything when there are moving vans parked in it. I cut north to Market and east across the Schuylkill to 30th Street Station.

I had completed all my biking and sandwich objectives. I won.

At 30th Street, I planned to use the outdoor seating plaza, where I fully expected a hellscape (skellscape?) of panhandlers. Earlier years of traveling the Northeast via long-haul bus trained me to have a couple dollar bills at the ready. But with travel down to maybe 10% of pre-pandemic levels, there was only one panhandler working. I gladly gave her a buck.

a cross-section of a hoagie containing meatballs, cheeses, and a long hot pepper stuffed with cheese and salami

I then enjoyed the privilege of unwrapping the John Dough in fiery, golden hour sun. Shavings of high-quality provolone fell out of the white paper wrapper. I hadn’t even expected to see them. The sandwich was mindblowing. I tried to engineer bites that were equal cross-sections of all the ingredients. I can’t even explain how much I enjoyed this sandwich.

I got half of it down before I needed to run inside to catch my train.


* * *

Nuts, Bolts, & Biking

Why Did I Do This?

Are you not tired of being indoors? During the pandemic, I discovered that I could use my bike to power whole vacations, including two overnight trips to Rockaway Beach. By October, I wanted to go somewhere other than NYC, and I wanted any trip I took to pose little or no risk to others and myself.

A few weeks before this hoagie quest, I was eating (outdoor) lunch with a friend and somehow Philly food came up. I mentioned that Philly had the best sandwiches — better than NYC where I grew up and now live, better than Boston where I spent 15 years. I mentioned that I would one day love to do a bikeshare food tour of Philly, but that it would be even cooler if I could bring my own bike.

When I got back to my desk after eating my mediocre sandwich, the first thing I saw on Twitter was an ad announcing that you could bring your bike on Amtrak’s Keystone trains for $20 each way.

How Did I Do this? 

These are the routes I took:

a satellite map of Philadelphia showing three different routes the author biked

This trip happened in early October 2020, well before the daily numbers of Covid-19 cases and deaths quintupled almost overnight after Thanksgiving. At the time, Philly’s positivity rate was around 4% and NYC’s around 3%. Election information and misinformation were starting to appear everywhere you looked — or didn’t. Amidst this climate, I realized that I had taken only 5 days off all year, and I needed a break.

I started to do my research. Many Amtrak trains run between New York and Philly, but the Keystone is the only one subsidized by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, because it really runs between the state capital of Harrisburg and Penn Station. It’s this specific train that offers $20 bike passes.

My potential trip started to sound a lot more feasible when I saw that Amtrak — unlike the airlines — was capping trains at 50% occupancy. Even better, the Amtrak website showed how fully booked each train was. Keystone bookings were only at 5-10% of capacity.

I discussed the idea with my partner. She agreed that it seemed to pose very little risk, so I booked my tickets.

To catch the train, I had to be at Penn Station by 7 a.m, which meant leaving my place by 6 (I’m not a morning person). There were only three passengers in my southbound Amtrak car, and two of us had bikes. There were no bike racks, so we just left our bikes together at the end of the car.

Coming back, the train was a bit more crowded. Maybe there were 12 people in my car, still far fewer than the pre-pandemic 70 or so, and nothing compared to a NYC Subway car in January 2021. On the return trip, the Amtrak conductor insisted that I actually use the folding bike rack at the end of the car. Doing so required me to take off my front wheel.

a bike with red and blue tires in a hotel room

Via Kayak, I found a great deal at the Wyndham Historic District in Old City, which came to about $100 per night. Normally a tourist hotel, it’s fairly nice but hasn’t been updated in a while (you may care about this, but I don’t). They had some decent Covid protocols in place: room key or doorbell use required to enter the lobby from outside, staff cleaning rooms only after completed stays. No one gave me a hard time about the bike. In fact, the employees were really friendly and seemed to think it was cool that I wasn’t doing “normal” tourist shite.

Driving and Biking Culture in Philadelphia

a raised garage door bears a painting of two bikers

As I mentioned, I found (South) Philly drivers to be surprisingly courteous, always aware of their surroundings, and willing to share the road. I suspect that this is a product of living in a very dense environment, where there are always other people around. You need to be aware of your surroundings to survive. And everyone knows where you live.

Unsurprisingly, South Philly had the largest number of bikes on the street. Broadly speaking, those bikes seemed to reflect the income levels of the people who used them. There were lots of sub-$200 mountain bikes used by working-class commuters, mixed with pricier hipster and hipster-parent bikes. I even started to see Arrow e-bikes, the heavy-duty bikes favored by food delivery workers in NYC.

a composite image of four different bicycles

Bike parking remains a bit of a problem. City government does not install bike racks, period. Yet City Hall offers extensive guidelines for property owners who want to install their own bike racks. TL;DR: you can install very specific types of racks, but if you install them, you are responsible for maintaining them.

The end result is that very few property owners take it upon themselves to install bike racks. I suspect that the two racks I used were actually installed by the local Business Improvement Districts, not the city itself.

It seemed like there were both new and improved bike lanes, but there were also some connectivity issues. For example, the bike lanes on Market Street and Benjamin Franklin Parkway are great, but segments tend to appear and disappear without warning. The cross-city, semi-protected routes on Spruce and Pine are rather nice, but there are no designated loading zones for trucks, and nothing to stop drivers from parking in those bike lanes.

Bike lanes that force you to zip in and out of vehicle traffic are dangerous and often useless. And I can’t say enough bad things about the Columbus Boulevard bike lane. As with all city riding, sometimes you’re better off ignoring the bike lanes altogether and choosing a safer route, as is your right.

That said, Philly has all the ingredients for the making of a great bike city. In fact, they’re the same ingredients that have already made it the best sandwich city: density, affordability, creativity. Biking is simply the most efficient way to get around a densely populated area that already has many businesses — in addition to restaurants — that reflect the interests, wants, and needs of the people who live there.

The more people who bike, the more who will advocate for better bike infrastructure, including badly needed bike parking. And maybe more outside weirdos like me will head to Philly to explore the city on two wheels. I’m excited to see what happens next, and to be a part of it.

The Bike

a bike with red and blue tires locked to a one way sign across from a beer and hoagie restaurant

My bike is a 2008 Gary Fisher Artemis, bought new at Somerville’s Wheel Works. I wanted a rugged bike for year-round riding on Boston’s terrible pavement. I specifically asked the clerk for a mountain bike with no shock (which would just wear out), no grip shifts (which I hate), and fat, slick tires. They had one model that fit the bill, and it’s lasted almost 13 years because it’s the right tool for the job. It’s the best $400 I ever spent.

Somehow my bike still has its original chain and heavily worn sprockets. It came with Bontrager Hank slicks (2.2”), but I replaced those with red and blue Cheng Shing Sunlite City slicks (2.125”) this past Fourth of July. The Sunlite City tires are nylon, so they are not particularly fancy or durable. I carried a spare tube in my backpack, but never needed it in Philly.

Since Covid-19 struck, this bike has done two long-weekend vacations to Rockaway Beach (36 miles roundtrip), been to the northern tip of Manhattan, ridden in several Justice Ride rallies all over NYC, and also did 40 miles around Philly.

I recorded my Philly rides using a GoPro Fusion and will one day post video.

The Sequels

I can’t wait to redo this Philly trip when it’s safe to travel again. There are plenty of other restaurants I wanted to visit, but I also realized I could just go to the same places and get different sandwiches!

Speaking more broadly, the pandemic forced me to reinvent travel on a different level, seeing new-to-me places as a local would, using the bike I already owned. Post-pandemic, I hope that more people embrace this type of travel. It’s hard to count all the benefits of bike tourism, from supporting local businesses to reducing carbon emissions.

A produce market at night

But, back to Philly. Even though large swaths of the city were clear-cut during the age of Interstate construction, the entire city was not demolished and rebuilt as a strip mall — something that is all too common in the Midwest and South. Philly’s walkability and bikeability, combined with its affordability and deeply rooted identity, will continue to make it a desirable place to live, eat, bike, and create. My only wish is that more independent music venues spring up post-Covid.

Where should I go on the next Philly sandwich tour? Email me at and let me know.


Photos, words, and biking by Rob Bellinger

Published: 1/31/2021

Trip dates: 10/6-8/2020


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