A merry band of bicyclists makes a weekly pretzel trek.
Compared to what it's been over the past few months, the Twisted Tuesday Pretzel Ride crowd is small. Just 30 bikers are waiting at the base of the Art Museum steps.
There are a few dirty mountain bikes, a handful of older models, a couple of shiny new-looking road bikes and a bunch of well-worn workhorses. One guy rolls in on a low-riding recumbent bicycle.
Everyone is milling about, chatting in little groups, blissfully unaware that the launch time--11:45 p.m.--has passed.
Peter Dalkner steps up as the default leader for the evening and bellows, "Let's go!"
And the riders hop on their bicycles, pedal around Eakins Oval, then cruise down the Ben Franklin Parkway. The leisurely paced pack occupies one full car lane, with bikers stretched out for several hundred yards.
They roll toward LOVE Park, make a right on 15th Street, then circle around City Hall. They blow through a red light, head south on Broad and blow through a few more lights.
Some drivers honk their car horns. Others wave as they pass. A few cars slam on their brakes when they see the riders rolling in front of them.
At Washington Avenue the bikers weave through traffic, bring a tourist bus to a halt, then race toward the Center City Soft Pretzel Co., near Ninth and Washington, to get their warm, delicious treat.
"It's a really cool social thing," says Dalkner, 29. "But the number of people is kind of getting out of hand. My roommate swore it off when so many people he didn't know started showing up."
Laura Csira, a 24-year-old Temple University student from Doylestown, started the Pretzel Ride two years ago this month after a similar evening event, Thrashing Thursdays, was initiated.
The Thursday ride meets at LOVE Park for a 5-mile loop followed by an intense, high-speed 20-mile sprint around the city.
That ride is cool and all, Csira says, but there's no reward at the end. "We always talked about making a pretzel run, but it was always too early."
The pretzel factory doesn't open until midnight.
She chose Tuesday for the slower-paced, social-oriented Pretzel Ride that puts the bikers in front of the pretzel shop right when the first steaming pretzels are coming out of the oven.
It started out small--eight or 10 people gathering at the Art Museum at 11:30 p.m. At 11:45 they make the gentle ride through the heart of the city. Occasionally they've pedaled in the rain or sloshed through the snow. On some frigid nights there were only two courageous riders.
"It was like a Tough Man competition," says Dalkner, one of the original riders. "It was a contest to see who was the most dedicated, the most diehard."
As the weather improved and the word slowly spread, the crowds began to grow. Friends of friends arrived, and then random people who happened to stumble across the large group started tagging along. By summer the weekly event had become a major attraction, with more than 60 bikers on some nights.
"At first the pretzel guys were weirded out by us," Csira says. "There's a crapload of kids buying pretzels?"