Cycling The City’s Border

November 7, 2013 |  by  |  Buzz  |  ,


The 72 mile bike course on the city's border | Image: Googlemaps, courtesy of Shawn McKenna

The 72 mile bike course on the city’s border | Image: Googlemaps, courtesy of Shawn McKenna

What do you do while waiting–sans device–in the massive jury duty holding room? If you’re like Shawn McKenna, you dream up a “potentially brilliant/disastrous idea:” to circumnavigate the city on bike. “I started drawing it and realized that (a) it is probably possible to do pretty accurately with some exceptions (can’t exactly ride on 95 in the south), (b) not a lot of people are probably that familiar with the whole city, and (c) it seemed pretty neat,” he told me by e-mail this morning. So McKenna, a market researcher and a triathlete, and his buddy James Huth–and perhaps some others–will ride the 72 mile border of the city on Saturday morning.

The route, says McKenna, is “a surprisingly accurate rendition” of the city’s shape, the history of which Hidden City writer Steve Currall explored recently HERE.

For McKenna, it is a chance to see and experience parts of the city he isn’t familiar with. “A lot of people,” he says, “tend to stay in their neighborhoods or a few neighborhoods and if they do see other areas of the city, they tend to drive, and when you drive, you never pay attention.”

Despite the carefully laid out route, McKenna expects to have to improvise along the way. “I have no clue what the challenges will be as we have not done this yet, and as we have never done this and have never been to certain sections of the city that we plan to ride,” he says. Still, there are stops planned: at Cadence Cycling in Manayunk, McKenna’s girlfriend’s parent’s house in Mount Airy, “a bar somewhere in the NE, and we know the owners…” The ride will end where it begins, at Yard’s Brewery, where the cyclists will be joined by friends for an afternoon of beer.

About the author

Hidden City co-editor Nathaniel Popkin’s latest book is the novel Lion and Leopard (The Head and The Hand Press). He is also the author of Song of the City (Four Walls Eight Windows/Basic Books) and The Possible City (Camino Books). He is senior writer and script editor of the Emmy-winning documentary series “Philadelphia: The Great Experiment” and the fiction review editor of Cleaver Magazine. Popkin's literary criticism appears in the Wall Street Journal, Public Books, The Kenyon Review, and The Millions. He is writer-in-residence of the Athenaeum of Philadelphia.


  1. Sounds like lots of fun , I hope they put out a more detailed map so others may follow.

  2. Use the PA bike routes if you get lost / stuck in a high traffic area.

  3. Awesome and ambitious idea. 🙂

  4. Walkable Princeton

    This is so weird…just this afternoon I was checking out how many miles it would be to cycle around the border of our town, Princeton NJ! (22 miles, if anybody’s interested!)

  5. My computer algebra system (Maple) worksheet based on 27 key data points for a polygonal approximation to the perimeter leads to 67.2 miles for the approximate circumference of the boundary.

    dr bob at Villanova University Dept of Mathematics and Statistics

    so the question is, how true is the bike route to the actual perimeter? 5 miles difference seems too signficant.

  6. Hello Robert Jantzen,

    Being a human and all, I can’t ride a perfect polygonal approximation.

    I rode it; it came out to be 68 miles. If Maple wants to join us next year, she is more than welcome.

    Thank you,

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