Like many others who grew up in Roxborough and Manayunk, Robin Carpenter has early and fond memories of the annual bike race.
Carpenter grew up on Dexter Street — right at the top of the steep section of the wall — and has fond memories of being amongst the crowds, cheering on the cyclists and the year he and some family friends decided to run a lemonade stand.
The Philadelphia hometown hero
But last year, Carpenter formed a new memory of the bike race — one to which very few locals can relate.
At the age of 20 Carpenter competed in the newly instated Parx Casino Philly Cycling Classic. Lining up at the start, having his name announced as the Philadelphia hometown hero is a moment he says he will never forget.
“I think I received more cheers than some of cycling’s top champions,” he recalled. “By far my best bike race memory.”
And as Carpenter gears up for his second attempt at the Parx Casino Philly Cycling Classic, he reflects upon the ways by which growing up in Manayunk has shaped the cyclist he has become.
For Carpenter, entering the world of professional cycling has been a natural progression. While most cyclists his age found the sport through BMX riding, mountain biking or track cycling, Robin calls his discovery something more “organic.”
“I’ve simply been riding the road since I was 10 or 11 years old,” Carpenter said.
He competed in his first race when he was 12 — a hill climb up the Wall the Friday before race day. “I was on some Huffy toy store mountain bike,” he said. “And there was all these people in spandex… I had no idea.”
When his father starting cycling as a means to get fit, Carpenter would tag along.
A self proclaimed “endurance junkie,” he said casual weekend rides grew into tests of length and distance. With the web of trails winding through, in, and around the city, the pair was never without a new route to explore.
“I have a mental map of just about every road in a 20-mile radius,” said the cyclist. His favorite ride is out towards West Chester with the occasional stop for apple cider donuts at Northbrook Farms.
“Philadelphia has a really healthy cycling culture, but I think it’s in Manayunk where you see it the most,” Carpenter said. “It’s really influenced the rider I’ve become.”
It wasn’t until he was in college that Carpenter realized he might be able to turn his love for cycling into something more than just a hobby.
Looking ahead to race day
Determined to juggle both his education and cycling, Carpenter, an economics major at Swarthmore College finished his degree in three years. His graduation this year falls on June 1 — race day.
“There is going to be a lot to look forward to for that Sunday,” Carpenter said.
His team, Hincapie Sportswear Development, is looking to take first place. A domestic cycling team focused on developing young riders under the age of 25, Hincapie’s Joey Rosskopf finished third in last year’s Parx Casino Philly Cycling Classic.
“I was of course happy to do the race last year,” Carpenter said. “But I wasn’t as healthy as I had wanted to be. I had just gotten back from racing in Europe and had gotten sick so I wasn’t able to train as much…This year, I’m hoping to animate the race and be more active.”
Maybe if he’s lucky, there will be a lemonade stand at the finish line.
This is part three in a five-part series leading up to this year’s Parx Casino Philly Cycling Classic in Manayunk. The Bike Race Chronicles will take a look at the people, places and history behind the annual bike race.