South Philadelphia does Christmas best. There are some beautiful displays in the Northeast, in West Philly, and, of course, in the old John Wanamaker store (a.k.a. Macy's), but the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia knows where its holiday ride must go.

"Have you seen it?" asks Jorge Brito, the coalition's riders and volunteer coordinator, when asked why South Philly hosts the annual Holiday Lights Ride. "It's beautiful down there. It's a chance to go see different neighborhoods and get a feel for a part of the city you might not usually visit. That's the point of cycling in the city."

This is the first year the ride is open to the public. It runs seven miles, but unfolds at a relaxed pace, so it takes roughly two hours. The route Thursday begins at Performance Bicycle on Columbus Boulevard, and wends its way through South Philadelphia before ending up at the newly opened SouthHouse pub, just east of Broad at 2535 S. 13th St.

Previous years have included bicycles wreathed in lights, riders decked out in Santa garb, and a few crafty souls trailing papier-mache sleds.

Attire is all-important. Trench coats and excessively long scarves are out, but basically every other form of warm clothing is in. The trick, Brito says, is to sheath yourself in as many layers as possible. If it's too much, you can always take something off.

The reverse doesn't work nearly so well. Wool is a good bet, and remember to cover extremities. Head, feet, and hands tend to get really chilly really fast. Cold biking makes for distracted biking. Helmets are required and bike lights are strongly suggested: The ride starts early, but it gets dark early, too.

Last year, about 60 people participated, but about 80 are signed up for this year already. There could be two waves, leaving 15 minutes apart, depending on turnout.

Only a heavy rain or a snow dump of epic proportions can cancel the ride. Otherwise, there's no healthier way to celebrate the holidays - at least until you get to the bar.

2014 Holiday Lights Ride


Thursday, December 18, 2014
5:00PM - 9:00PM


Performance Bikes Parking Lot
1300 South Columbus Blvd, Riverview Plaza
Philadelphia, PA

More details available on the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia's website.