Strange bikefellows take to the road for charity in ‘Byko’s Safe Ride’

The Byko Ride pairs unexpected allies looking to help the People's Emergency Center. (Signe Wilkinson)

The Byko Ride pairs unexpected allies looking to help the People's Emergency Center. (Signe Wilkinson)

On Saturday, two enemies will put down their swords and go on a bike ride together.

Stu Bykofsky, columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, and the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia are hosting “Byko’s Safe Bike Ride.” The 11-mile loop through the city will begin at City Hall at 11 a.m. and ends about three hours later at McGillin’s Olde Ale House, at 13th and Drury.

For years, the columnist and the coalition have sparred over how much of the city’s streets should be devoted to bicycles.

Their unlikely pairing came about after a ride organizer — Alexandria Schneider — contacted Bykofsky after she was mentioned in his newspaper column. Schneider had organized the PopeRide, a bike ride through downtown streets closed to traffic due to the visit by Pope Francis in September.

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The surprising popularity of the ride, spread mostly by word of mouth and Facebook, sparked a discussion to create Open Streets, a block of time and designated zone wherein automobile traffic would be temporarily restricted.

Bykofsky shot back at bicycle advocates, “What is this thing they have against cars?”

In his article, “Cyclists are Never Satisfied,” he called out Schneider by name.

She didn’t mind the criticism.

“No, I was fan-girling like mad,” said Schneider. “I’ve been reading Stu since I was 12. To be personally called out by a columnist … I was fan-girling, I admit it.”

Once their Facebook conversations cooled to cordial, the idea of getting Byko on a bike was broached. Bykofsky, who had no desire to straddle a bicycle, agreed on two conditions — that the riders follow every rule of the road (“My big complaint with bicyclists is they break the law”) and the ride raise money for charity (the $20 registration fee benefits the People’s Emergency Center, a West Philadelphia community nonprofit).

The coalition was happy to arrange it.

“We are in 90 percent agreement on most things,” said Randy LoBasso, a coalition spokesman, citing enforcement of traffic laws chief among them.

But the “frenemies” (Bykofsy’s word) aren’t exactly holding hands. It doesn’t take much scratching to reveal where the partnership breaks down, primarily regarding the prevalence of bike lanes and statistics of urban ridership.

Bykofsky says bike riders are a small segment of the population reaching for a too-large slice of the urban pie. The Bicycle Coalition says bike lanes make for more riders, which make the streets safer for everyone.

Their conversation can be heard via the audio button, above.

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