Our Friend Jerry is Going Coast to Coast: Bike Touring Alaska to D.C.

Over the last couple of years, Felkerino and I have had the pleasure of getting to know Jerry, a local cyclist and fellow D.C. Randonneur who will be riding a solo coast-to-coast tour from Alaska to Washington, D.C.

We first heard rumblings of Jerry’s trip last year. As we rode together through the winter and spring months, we noticed Jerry showing up with new rack attachments and testing pannier setups on his Independent touring frame.

Hmmm, I said to myself, this bike tour talk is not just chatter. I think he’s really going to do it.

And so he is. Next month the adventure begins. Before he sets off, I asked Jerry to share some pre-trip thoughts with us, and he graciously agreed.

Jerry, testing out the setup

What inspired your tour?

Mainly I just wanted to go for a long bike ride. Sometimes when you cycle to work and the weather is beautiful, you don’t want to make that left turn into the parking garage. You feel good, and you imagine cycling on to the other side of the country.

I’ve been very inspired by the randonneurs I’ve met over the last few years. They ride all night and no one cheers them on. They fix any problems that come up and just get back on the bike. They support their comrades and stick together. These are my people.

I also have great respect for Mark Beaumont who set the round-the-world cycling record of 194 days in 2008. People didn’t think too much about fast touring before that. He just rode the length of Africa in 42 days.

How did you decide upon your route and not the more conventional coast-to-coast routes mapped out by, say Adventure Cycling?

I wanted to visit Alaska again after having had a taste on the Big Wild Ride 1200k Grand Randonnee in 2013. A few of us from D.C. Randonneurs rode the event and I remember the incredible evening light casting across these immense landscapes.

Alaska was definitely on my list, and riding back from there to D.C. seemed a logic route to me. You can string together a lot of National Parks like Jasper, Banff, Glacier and Badlands.

I plotted my own route because that’s half the fun. The Adventure Cycling routes don’t cover the country I want to travel through, and besides where’s the adventure in following someone else’s meticulously researched route? Adventure is just bad planning, after all.

Jerry and Ed, top of Edith Gap

What was it like to plan your course? Were there certain factors you kept in mind, or?

Planning and anticipation are half the fun of any trip. You open up your mapping software and dance across the landscape. I use Ride with GPS and look at streetview to see how the roads are and whether the remote gas stations seem to have a convenience store.

I wrote myself a cue sheet, though people like to suggest I should get a GPS device. The whole route fits on five printed sheets. In Canada there is a 1,325km section without a turn.

How are you packing?  How often do you think you’ll end up in hotels?

I’m packing light. I cut the labels out of all my clothes, but it only saved 16 grams, so that was a bit disappointing. But I’ve got all of my gear into two small panniers, a handlebar bag and a small saddle bag.

I want to keep the weight down so that I can still enjoy the cycling and travel a reasonable distance each day. My route is about 9000km and I have 9 weeks before I am due back at work.

Hotels?? They make me feel lonely. I have my tent and as a randonneur I like a good sleep in a ditch.

I’m hoping to stay with a few Warm Showers hosts which should allow me to learn a little more about the places I’m traveling through. And otherwise I’m sure I’ll stay at a few backpacker hostels along the way.

Jerry on Old Rag

What do you imagine it will be like to solo tour for that long?

The African proverb has it that if you want to travel fast, go alone; if you want to travel far, go together. However, it doesn’t elaborate on what to do if you want to go fast and far. Thus left without guidance I’ve plumped for a solo expedition.

I find that when you’re travelling alone you are more open to the culture and people you encounter. I’ve solicited my friends for good topics to think about while I’m riding, so I should be alright. Hopefully I’ll meet some nice cyclists en-route too.

What most excites you about this trip?

The unknown. National parks. Roads that tilt upwards to the sky. Not seeing any hungry bears. Meeting strangers. Not breaking any spokes.

Tailwinds. A few small, but manageable, dramas. Camping amid beautiful landscapes. Just riding my bike. Reaching familiar roads just before I get home.

Jerry

How can we follow along/travel vicariously/send encouragement?

Oh yes, I didn’t mention my support vehicle? It’s called Instagram. What I do is post photos of my journey. The people who follow me then “like” my photos and leave comments. I will find this very supportive.

It’s not the kind of support vehicle where they give you food and you can sleep in the back and get a massage and all. But it’s kind of a support vehicle, and I’ll be happy for it.

If you’d like to follow me, my Instagram name is @tenmetersfromthehut. I’ll post photos on my Facebook page too so you’re welcome to join me there and I’d love to see you.

Bonne route, my friend. We look forward to following your travels from our desks and hope to meet you at the end of your journey.

Mary P. of Women BikeDC: From 12 Miles to an Ironman

For me and a lot of women on my team, there is a direct correlation between our development as endurance athletes—-often literally from practically nothing—-and our development as strong, independent, badass women.

I love seeing both journeys, and the interconnection between them is something that should be celebrated and promoted.

That comment comes from Mary P., cyclist and author of the blog IndyFlies. As an endurance sports enthusiast, I was eager to talk with Mary for the Women BikeDC series to learn more about her progression from recreational rider to four-time finisher of Ironmans(!).

I also wondered how her experiences as a sport and transportation rider inform her views about cycling in the D.C. area. Thank you so much, Mary, for sharing your thoughts with us today!

What word sums up your bicycling experience?

Flying

MaryP 4Tell me a little about yourself and when you started riding.

Like a lot of kids of my generation, I rode my bike all the time as a kid-– to school, to the pool, to my friend’s place. But as an adult, I discovered cars and no longer had any need for bikes as transportation. It didn’t help that I’d moved from my native New Zealand to car obsessed Southern California.

Fast forward to my mid 30s. I’d recently lost a lot of weight and realized that if I wanted to enjoy this new body, I needed to consider my heart and lungs. I started training for a triathlon.

My first formal ride was 12 miles long, and only because I got lost. I was intending to go out for eight miles and I had my partner pick me up and take me to Starbucks for a giant Frappuccino. My second ride was 17 miles, ending at– you guessed it– Starbucks and a giant Frappuccino. The third ride was 27 miles and the treat was a chocolate-covered macaroon. Over the next year, the rides got longer and the treats got smaller until eventually the ride itself was the reward.

And when I completed my first triathlon, I realized no one on a hybrid bike like mine had passed me and I knew that cycling was my favorite of the three sports.

What sorts of things do you do by bike?

Mostly, I train. I train for long distance triathlons or century rides. But it’s a lot more fun than it sounds. I travel all around the DMV and spend hours happily riding up hill and down dale. I ride in rain and wind and cold, and have learned that the most miserable rides are the most memorable.

My partner and I really enjoy bike touring too, although triathlon had tended to restrict our opportunities. We’re looking forward to the FANY (Five hundred Across NY) in July 2015. This will be my first bike tour since 2008. Touring is like being on a multi-day non-chemically induced high.

I do really enjoy commuting by bike too, although I don’t do it as often as I’d like. I’ve recently discovered CaBi and absolutely love the ease of it. For someone who loves going fast, it’s such a pleasure to be forced to slow down and potter along, stopping instead of hammering to beat the light, enjoying the Mall and the Potomac. And what a joy to not have to wrestle with my lock at the end of each ride!

How has riding a bicycle influenced your life?

Probably the funniest thing is that I now think in terms of “bike units.” If we get a tax refund, I think of how many bikes I can buy with it. When my partner was knocked off his bike, we spent the equivalent of a bike on surgery and medical follow-up. That was annoying!

Seriously though, I literally feel as though I’m flying when I’m on my bike. I feel free and powerful and more than a decade after getting fit, I still feel awe of what I am able to do. My bike feels like an extension of that feeling and is the means by which I can live out my (not so) new life.

I particularly love how cycling is fast enough to get from A to B and yet slow enough to enjoy the scenery. It’s the perfect mode of transportation!

In 2014, I had the absolute pleasure of being able to take my commuter bike back home to New Zealand with me and do some riding there. It gave me an even greater appreciation of the beauty of one of the most stunning countries in the world. And because the cycling infrastructure is pretty good down there, I got to see parts of the country that you can only see by foot or by bike. Basically, cycling has completely transformed the person who left there over 20 years ago.

MaryP 1

What features do you think make a city bike-friendly and why?

An extensive bike sharing program like CaBi is hugely important in making a city bike-friendly, and more importantly, bike-safe. It’s raised the visibility of cyclists as ordinary human beings and not the loathed lycra-clad Lance wannabes that you hear complained about. Full disclosure here, I love lycra and I love going fast and you’ll find me firmly planted to my couch for hours in July watching Le Tour. Plus it’s added cycling to so many people’s potential modes of transportation and there’s nothing quite like familiarity to increase awareness and consideration.

I also appreciate the growing network of bike lanes, although which bike I’m riding influences whether I take advantage of them.

Finally, I’d say that what makes a city bike-friendly are the same characteristics that make a city friendly, period. Patience, consideration, meeting each other’s eyes, smiling, and empathy for what the other commuter is going through.

What do you like about riding in the D.C. area?

In general, the weather is wonderful for cycling around here. Aside from the hideous cold of February or the ghastly heat and humidity of August, biking is very pleasurable.

Added to that is a fantastic network of longer trails like the W&OD, Custis, Mt Vernon, Capital Crescent, C&O. Those trails make commuting so easy if you live near one of them.

And finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the scenery. I love cycling along the Potomac, seeing the first hint of pink over on Hains Point in Spring. And within a short drive are the stone fences of Virginia hunt country, the stunning views from the Catoctin hills near Frederick and the ins and outs of the Chesapeake Bay shoreline. It’s all so varied and pretty.

How could the D.C. area improve for cyclists?

In my dreams, whole north/south and east/west streets are closed off for cyclists and pedestrians. A gal can dream, can’t she?

More realistically, I’d like to see “middle mile” connections between bike lanes and major commuting routes. I mean, what the heck is up with how the 15th Street cycleway ends at the Mall? How are cyclists heading towards the 395 bridge supposed to get there without having to negotiate huge buses, food trucks and hordes of tourists (bless them!)?

I’d also like more pressure on federal agencies to consistently offer bike commuter subsidies and pressure the General Services Administration to ensure provision of racks, lockers and showers for bike commuters in both federally owned and leased buildings.

What suggestions do you have for employers who want to be bike-friendly?
  • Secure, plentiful, covered, easy-to-access bike racks
  • Clean showers
  • Set aside a certain number of lockers for permanent or occasional bike commuters so we don’t have to schlep our bathroom gear around
  • Sponsor and encourage participation in things like Capital Bikeshare, Bike to Work Day, and company teams for organized rides like Bike DC or local centuries

MaryP 3

How does it feel to be a woman who rides in an area where women are less than 26% of the riding population?

I can’t say I notice it. I don’t feel any the less a cyclist being a part of a minority and I feel camaraderie with male cyclists too. I think too that women are such a huge percentage of my triathlon team, so I don’t notice the 26% issue.

OTOH, I’ve heard a lot of stories of women feeling intimidated by wrenches or stores that don’t necessarily cater to entry level, nervous, or non-geeky cyclists. I try to support stores that make an effort to make me feel comfortable, don’t talk down to me and have a visible female presence in the mechanic’s area or on the sales floor.

MaryP 5

Tell me about your bikes.

Oh my! I’m one of those people who name everything that’s important to me. So, here goes:

Indiana (Indy) was my first road bike. I bought her in the three weeks between my first two triathlons in 2004 and after only road bikes passed me in my first event. She was a Specialized Dolce Elite and I loved her. In the nine years we were together, I often said that she took me to the moon and back. I named my blog after her – IndyFlies. After I finally replaced her, I donated her to Phoenix Bikes and I hope one day to see her flying down the MVT.

Baby is my commuter bike. She’s a grey (as in Jennifer Gray – nobody puts Baby in a corner) Cannondale with rack and pump and reflectors and disc brakes. Aside from commuting, I’ve had some great adventures on Baby. She and I rode the whole 182 miles of the C&O towpath, camping along the way. And in 2014, she travelled all the way to New Zealand and carried me on some amazing rail to trail conversions, as well as safely around the still broken roads of Christchurch.

Scarlett is my tri-bike. Scarlett is a red (natch) and black Cervelo P2. She and I have had a slightly rocky relationship. I cried the first time I took her out, expecting to be fast as the wind, only to find that the small clusters that come with tri-bikes mean that they can’t climb like my beloved road bike with a triple crank. Plus it snowed!

But, after an upgrade to a climbing cluster and a good fit, she and I have completed three Ironmans and only gotten faster each time. Including the time when her derailleur snapped 6 miles from the finish and a wonderful bike mechanic turned her into Scarlett the Single Speed for me.

Blackbird is my beloved new (well, nearly 18 mth old) road bike. I can’t tell you how much I love this bike. She’s a Specialized Amira and is my first bike with electronic shifting. I will never go back – it’s like having a fairy godmother reach down and shift for you.

She’s light and stiff and responsive – all words that I didn’t even know what they meant until I found her. It took me nearly a year of looking for the perfect bike and pretty much I knew as soon as I took off in the parking lot outside the bike store. We’ve completed the Mountains of Misery century (and will again in May!) and I’m looking forward to our first bike tour in upstate New York this summer.

What bike accessories do you consider must-haves?

Aside from the usual– helmet, shoes, lights– here are my favorites:

  • Lobster gloves for winter cycling (Best. Invention. Ever)
  • Anything wool – balaclava & undershirt to start with. Can you tell I come from a country with 60 million sheep?
  • Desoto tri shorts – I wear them for everything from commuting to centuries
  • Pretty, sexy, “does this make me look badass?” bike jerseys. It’s important to feel good while cycling!

MaryP 2

Best adventure you’ve ever had on a bike?

Do I have to chose only one?

It would have to be my first bike tour– six days in the Adirondacks where I learned to no longer fear hills, rode one loop of the Ironman Lake Placid bike course and decided I’ve NEVER do an Ironman (which is why my mantra is never say never), hit 50 mph on the downhill out of Lake Placid, ate everything and anything I wanted and pretty much felt on a high the whole time.

And I’m going to throw in a second. My third Mountains of Misery finish in 2014. I had a plan, I had an awesome bike, I had the best ride mates possible and we crushed a very difficult route. I kissed Blackbird when I packed her away that day.

What is your greatest accomplishment?

On my triathlon team, new members are often intimidated by all the Ironman/nutrition/distance talk. When I ask them what they have planned for the season, they say they’re “only” training for a sprint or a relay. I don’t believe that anyone who is out training for any distance race should use “only” to describe what they do.

The same is true of all the women in Women & Bicycles. You’re out there cycling, period. Not “only” riding a hybrid, or “only” commuting or “only” doing 20-milers on the weekend.

I’ve completed four Ironman triathlons, yet I feel my greatest accomplishment was the teeny tiny first sprint tri I did in 2004.

The measure of an accomplishment is how far you came to get there, not the distance or the speed.

Women BikeDC with BikeArlington’s Tin Lizzie Rides Again

I’m excited to feature one of my favorite bloggers in today’s Women BikeDC interview. Elizabeth, who writes the blog Tin Lizzie Rides Again, lives and rides in the Arlington area.

Some of her recent posts include tips for effective cycling, clothing reviews, as well as highlights of her own bike-friendly and often-reflective sewing projects. I’m always impressed by the clothing that Elizabeth makes. She has so much talent!

I’ll leave it to Elizabeth to tell us more…

I grew up in Sacramento, California– definitely car country, although I didn’t get my driver’s license until right before my 17th birthday. I’ve never been a big fan of driving. I toured with Disney on Ice for three years, as the wardrobe supervisor, then moved to New York City in 1999, where I worked as a member of the Theatrical Wardrobe Union on Broadway shows for a long time. Eventually I got my Masters in Modern European History and worked as an editor for a human rights nonprofit organization.

A physical therapist in New York City strongly recommended I give up running and bike and/or swim instead, but I didn’t have room for a bike in my tiny Manhattan apartment, and frankly was afraid to bike there anyway. (It’s much more bike-friendly now compared to when I lived there!) So once I had some space in my first Arlington apartment to keep a bike, my parents, visiting from California, helped me get set up. My dad had biked to work for years, so he helped me pick out my first bike and accessories.

Once I started riding my bike around Arlington, it because a bit of a personal challenge – “That was only 20 minutes? I can go further than that!” and I just kept going.

A Ladies’ Night at the Clarendon Revolution Cycles a few years ago encouraged me to try their Sunday morning group ride, and I did – on my 7-speed hybrid bike. So I started exploring more and more of Arlington by bike. It’s so easy, and it was really fun, and I started to get into better shape.

Elizabeth1

How did you start sewing reflective office-friendly bike clothing?

Initially I was considering ways to add fiber optics to clothes to see if I could make them light up, but then stumbled upon Michaux Club bike bags, with their cool cut-out reflective details. Reflective trim is easier than trying to figure out electronics, and more machine-washable, so I found iron-on reflective grosgrain ribbon and made a skirt with it on the hem. It sort of snowballed from there.

Unfortunately, reflective fabric is hard to find and expensive, and my favorite reflective piping is apparently no longer being made, so that will be a challenge at some point. I’ve made 15 or so pieces, and I have at least six more in the works. Sewing is really my main hobby, whereas biking is really what I do to get around. But my bike is an extension of me, and my style, and reflective bike clothes, things I can wear to work, on vacations, or out on the town, are now part of who I am.

What sorts of things do you do by bike?

Mostly I just bike to work. I’m the opposite of a weekend warrior – I rarely do much biking on the weekends. I bike to Target and the JoAnn Fabrics in Seven Corners the most, but we chose to live in a super walkable part of Arlington, so we either walk to the grocery store and restaurants, or take Metro if we are going a lot farther.

I do have a road bike and I’m trying to get back into riding that more often. I did the Sea Gull Century in 2013 and then didn’t touch the bike for over a year. I think all the training burned me out. I have learned that I prefer bicycle touring – I want to explore new places by bike, rather than ride the same trails repeatedly.

I’m hoping that this year I’ll get to try more mountain biking. My husband built me a mountain bike last summer but I only got to try it once. I think I’ll like it – once I get over the fear of going over the handlebars and busting my teeth.

What features do you think make a city bike-friendly and why?

I admit that I’m a bike lanes kind of girl – I am so happy that there are so many bike lanes in both Arlington and D.C., and hope the trend will continue.

I think having Capital Bikeshare in the region makes a big difference because the municipalities have invested in installing bikes and docks and making it easier for people to get around, at least from station to station.

That sort of investment is bigger than just painting in bike lanes. In order to make the system popular and get people to use it, you have to be serious about bicycles as a mode of transportation. Then the bike shops and the bike racks and the bicycle friendly businesses, and the non “bikey” people using the bikes follow.

What do you like about riding in the D.C. area?

Bike lanes! Also, I like the D.C. bike scene because there are more people like me: people on older bikes, bikes with racks and crates and baskets, people in everyday clothes, families with children. It’s a much more diverse bike scene.

I think Arlington is catching up. Recently I have seen more women biking in dresses in Arlington, more casual riders, rather than the hard core, Lycra-clad long-distance riders.

How could the D.C. area improve?

First, take bicyclists seriously. Actually, take vulnerable road users seriously, aka, anyone not in a car. I believe that if we make our streets safer for pedestrians, it falls into place for the rest of us.

Then, more bike lanes! Protected bike lanes! Improve connectivity! It’s nice to have some stretches of buffered or protected lanes, but if they suddenly end in sharrows or nothing at all, that doesn’t help the less confident riders. Better signage would help, too. Oh, and take better care of the pavement, especially in the bike lanes.

Elizabeth 4 Levis 6

What suggestions do you have for employers who want to be bike-friendly?

Showers! It’s hard for some employers to add showers because it’s frequently a building management issue. But having a shower for employees goes beyond being bike-friendly; it’s employee-friendly. Employees might want to run at lunch, or need to stay late and want to freshen up, or what if something happens during the day like you fall into a mud puddle? There are any number of reasons why offices should have showers, and being bike-friendly is one of them.

Also, lighten up about bikes in offices. I know that there are plenty of offices with a no-bike policy, and I think that’s stupid. If it’s purely a space issue, I can understand that a bit more, but if you want to keep it in your cubicle or office, what does that matter? And as a potential employee, if I see bikes in the office, I’ll be more inclined to want to work for you, because it shows that the employer values employee health.

In 10 years, what do you think the D.C. area will be like for cycling?

As long as local leadership understands the importance of biking for transportation, for economic vitality, for health and safety of our communities, and how the investment will more than pay off over time, then they will continue to (or begin to) take bicycling seriously and make the needed infrastructure improvements and actually demand enforcement (i.e., no illegal U-turns on Pennsylvania Avenue).

If that keeps up, in ten years would could have an area more like Copenhagen, where biking for transportation is just what people do, and not just on the weekends for sport.

How has riding a bicycle influenced your life?

Well, it got me my current job and then my husband!

Seriously, I am in better shape now than I was before: my short 30 minutes of biking a day is my minimum exercise (lately it’s been my only exercise, alas). I sleep better. I’m more relaxed. I enjoy my commute.

Biking did help me get my current job, doing transportation demand management (TDM) outreach with employers in Arlington County. It’s easier to talk about a car-free or car-lite lifestyle because I am car-free, and have the background in getting around by bike.

And when I met my husband, we sort of bonded over our interests in bikes. Our second date was a bike mechanics class; he taught me how to patch a tube, adjust my breaks, installed a removable link in my bike chain and so on. Of course, now I just let him do everything! It’s great that we have a shared interest in this. Luckily we have limited space, or we’d probably get more and more bikes.

How does it feel to be a woman who rides in an area where women are less than 26% of the riding population?

I suppose the correct answer is, “It makes me feel like Superwoman!” but I don’t really think about it, I guess. I’ve biked in Montreal, Copenhagen, and around Germany and Switzerland, and enjoyed seeing the range of women biking, but here I’ve never thought, “Oh gee, I’m one-fourth of the people biking in my area.”

What I notice more of is if I see several other people on bikes on my way to work in the morning, and I’m in a skirt or dress pants, and they are all in exercise clothes of some sort, male and female, then I think, “Gee, I’m the only one wearing street clothes.”

What prevents more women from riding?

I get lots of questions about hair and makeup, and changing clothes at work. It’s just one more thing that women have to think about. Guys can show up at work, shower and throw on a shirt and pants. It’s more involved for women, if you aren’t into makeup and jewelry and so on.

It’s always, “How do you keep your hair from looking bad?!” Here’s my tip from my tweens, when I read Seventeen magazine: Reversing your part occasionally adds more body and lift to your hair, so flip your bangs or part just before you put your helmet on. When you take your helmet off, return your hair to it’s normal part, and it won’t be flattened.

Another thing that I think about, and I hope I don’t plant ideas into anyone’s head, is personal safety. Not, “Will I be hit by a car?” but “That person ahead of me looks questionable. Will he jump out at me, try to grab me or mess with me?” It’s not much different than walking past a questionable looking person on the sidewalk, but somehow, sometimes, I feel vulnerable, because it’s just me on a bike, not surrounded by steel and glass.

Elizabeth 2 TNT Poolesville MD cropped

What are the issues you deal with as a woman cyclist, or is it something you think about?

What I’ve already mentioned – personal safety, helmet hair, preferring protected bike lanes over sharrows or nothing, biking in heels. I tend to consider women to be more law-abiding, so I’m always disappointed by the women who blow past me when I’m stopped at red lights.

I’d like to see more women biking, of course, but because women frequently are the ones dealing with children, it’s harder for them because they have to get the kids to school or day care. If those locations are not near home or work, it’s an added trip that is more challenging to figure out. It’s clearly not impossible, but you have to be really dedicated to the bike lifestyle to figure it out.

I don’t meet that many women in my outreach who are willing to make those major changes, and our society isn’t really set up to do that. Families live in the suburbs and need to drive to get anywhere; it’s hard to find cargo bike parking (is there any in the D.C. area?!). It’s now easier to find cargo bike dealers, but they aren’t something every bike shop carries; offices don’t have showers and storage; etc.

And another thing I hear from women is that they don’t go straight home, even after picking up children: they go to the grocery store or pick up dry cleaning, or any number of household errands that need to be done. Again, it’s not impossible, just more challenging.

Tell me about your bikes.

My husband was building my bike when we met; he was planning on leaving it on the George Mason campus to use while he was going to school there. Somehow it turned into my Valentine’s Day present.

I love the color and the pull back handlebars (the “Albatross” bar by Nitto, sold by Rivendell), which are now leather-wrapped. The skirt guard I bought in Malmo, Sweden, and it’s nicely utilitarian, not girly or ruffly or anything.

Since all my bikes are male, this one has to be somewhat masculine. Its name is “Little Lord Fauntleroy” because when my husband first built it up for me, we put my hybrid bike’s white lace plastic basket on it, and it made me think of the painting of The Blue Boy, by Thomas Gainesborough. I wouldn’t change a thing about it, although it does need a paint job.

My road bike is a men’s Cannondale Synapse. It’s matte black and I named it “Donnerwetter,” which is German for “thunder.” I call him “Donner” for short. My husband also has a Cannondale, in bright yellow, named “Blitzen,” or “Lightening.” Unintentionally coordinated!

My mountain bike is named “The Sopwith Camel,” and is painted tan and olive green, with a faux leather saddle and faux wood grain grips. My husband used to have a red mountain bike named “The Red Baron” but he recently replaced it with an acid green frame. He’s not as dedicated to our coordinated bikes, I’m afraid.

What accessories do you consider must-haves and why?

Fenders on my commuter bike – they keep the water and muck off me so I arrive at my destination pretty clean and dry. Plus they look cool.

I love my front bike basket so much that I can’t begin to rave about it enough! I bought it in Copenhagen and my husband managed to pack it in his suitcase. It’s huge and is made of fairly small mesh, so I can just throw my wallet and keys in it and not worry about them falling out. It makes me happy every single day.

Other than that, I love my Basil pannier, because it doesn’t look like a bike bag, and I have used it as my carry-on for trips. I can take it with me to work meetings as well.

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What’s one of the best adventures you’ve ever had on a bike?

The bike tour my husband and I did last summer on our honeymoon. I can’t wait to do something like that again!

We did a 7-day bike tour around Lake Constance, which includes Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The package included rental bikes and panniers, hotels and breakfast, luggage service and all the maps and directions we needed.

The area is one of Germany’s top bicycle vacation destinations, plus it takes you through some bike friendly towns, so it was just this fully supported trip where we never got lost, rarely mixed with cars, were constantly amazed by how easy it all was, and just enjoyed the entire time. Even the two days it rained were still fun. I definitely recommend it!

What is one word or phrase that summarizes your bicycling experience?

My whole biking experience in one word? That’s a challenge! Um… “Adventure.”

I like it! Thank you, again, Elizabeth for being part of the Women BikeDC interview series. 

Randonneuring: Making the Ordinary Extraordinary

Randonneuring events allow ordinary people like me to participate in extraordinary bike rides. Brevets changed my definition of a long day ride, from a century to more than double that– distances I previously could not even conceptualize pedaling.

The randonneuring community helped me feel okay as a rider who does not move particularly fast, but has a body that has proven itself durable over time and distance.

Yes, you must be in some semblance of decent physical shape, own a road-worthy bicycle, and have the free time to take on a brevet. But as long as you maintain an overall speed of 10 miles per hour, an ordinary person will be a successful randonneur.

400K Felkerino D.C. Randonneurs

And to my mind, being a successful randonneur makes you special. Because really, how many of us put the completion of a 250-mile bike ride that starts at 4 a.m. and takes you around and around with a card in your hand over the river and through the woods to all the region’s convenience stores and back to the exact same place you started on the top of our to-do list?

I discovered these randonneuring truths years ago so I’m not sure exactly why I signed up for our club’s 400K. Habit, maybe. A desire to spend the day out with like-minded randos.The thought that if you don’t keep doing 400Ks, you essentially concede that you can’t do them anymore. A notion that you’re only as good as your last brevet. Some mix of all of the above.

The course certainly was a lure. The Northern Exposure route takes a person far away from urban life into rural parts– some of them in Amish country– and offers many spectacular views, all of which are earned through vigorous pedaling. No views come free on DCR rides.

400K tractors

Felkerino and I ended up completing the 249-mile course in 19 hours and 40 minutes, having spent around 2 and 1/2 hours off of the bike. I consider that a respectable time for us, especially given the 14,000 feet of overall climb, and consistent with what we’ve done in the past. Viewed from that perspective, we had a good ride.

But overall the ride was a mixed bag for me. Frankly, it is easier to not endure the Friday post-work rushing required by a 4 a.m. start outside of D.C. and the usually fitful sleep the evening before a ride.

I had a difficult time settling into this brevet, and it was only until just before the century mark that I began to enjoy the beauty Felkerino and I had ridden ourselves into. Even then, the ride was a mental struggle.

A little discomfort and struggle is part of randonneuring. If I don’t want to experience those pieces of an event, or if they outweigh the overall pleasure or sense of accomplishment, then maybe it is time to change pursuits.

400K brevet Theresa and Bo

There were many small moments that justified my decision to ride. A dramatic chase unfolded between rider Theresa and local dog Bo, and Felkerino and I saw it all. Nobody bosses Bo around, especially not randonneurs.

400K dog

Saturday field work was going on in earnest and we even received cheers from a small group of Amish children who were taking some shade by a barn.

Despite its humble exterior, I had a great time hanging out by the “No Loitering” sign at the Food Mart, drinking pop (which I only consume during brevets) and sharing a laugh with fellow riders.

400K Roger Brian Scott D.C. Randonneurs

I relished the summer heat after our region’s cold winter. Even so, our day transitioned from decidedly toasty at 3 p.m. to much more pleasant riding temperatures after a thunderstorm came through.

I predicted that the storm would bum me out. Instead, seeing the rain roll toward us accompanied by the clouds’ low rumblings reminded me of days in Iowa, where storms like this are a regular affair.

400K brevet. Ye Olde Barn and rain

It was awesome to watch new D.C. Randonneurs members Eric W. and David reach a new milestone by finishing their first 400K and their longest rides to date. I see the 400K as a threshold ride, where most riders will start in the dark and finish in the dark, too.

A 400K requires perseverance and a disciplined approach. Like the sign at the Food Mart said, No Loitering. Frittering time away at a control will come back to bite you. Not eating enough, eating too much, or eating the wrong things can send you to a very bad place on a ride of that distance.

400K brevet D.C. Randonneurs Eric

You can’t get too lost in the idea of riding 249 miles or it will overwhelm you. The ride must be broken into distinct segments where progress is recalibrated and made manageable– 15 miles, the next control, 25 miles, over this rise, that telephone pole off in the distance.

Issues with the bike must be handled as best as possible. Some of this is done through preparation, and having the forethought to pack emergency gear, and sometimes you get creative on the road. David’s shifter broke early in the ride, and Eric was able to help him so that David could continue with essentially two gears. Seeing Eric and David manage these elements of a brevet and ultimately achieve that special success of brevet completion filled me with appreciation for the day and for what we all were doing.

Looking back on the weekend, I realize I am not quite ready to put the brakes on randonneuring, but I can’t deny that over the last year something stirs inside me on rides of 400K-plus– a pull to be somewhere else, engage with the world in a different way where the ordinary me can still dip her toes into the extraordinary.

I don’t know where or what that is yet, or if this subtle discontent will pass. In the meantime I enjoy the luxury of these thoughts sifting through my head as I ride long, with hopes that I will eventually understand what’s next. Whatever it may be, I do know that it will involve a bicycle and a certain tandem captain.

Deb of Women BikeDC. Part 2: Woman on a Bike

We’re back with the second half of Deb’s Women BikeDC interview. If you missed Part 1, you can find it here.

Today focuses on what it’s like for Deb as a woman who rides, and the reasons why some women might hesitate to take up bicycling. I found her discussion of identity and women’s ability to identify as cyclists particularly intriguing.

What is a word or phrase that summarizes your bicycling experience?

Empowering.

How does it feel to be a woman who rides in an area where women are less than 26% of the riding population?

For the most part I don’t notice this on a daily basis. I work in tech, so I’m pretty well used to being the lone woman. It is most noticeable when being mansplained, or actually when I see another woman on the bike because it is so rare! (I don’t see many other bike commuters in general.)

At bike shops, there can be quite a bit of attitude. “When you have more experience…” and I’m like “I’m past 40,000 miles, how much more experience do you think I need before I know my own preferences for setting up my own bike?!” I don’t get this at my current bike shop – shout out to the extremely commuter-friendly and women-friendly Spokes in Fairlingon! Yay for Ricky, Sam and Garrett!

What are the issues you deal with as a woman bicyclist, or is it something you think about?

As women in public space, we are subject to male commentary. Sometimes about our bodies (“Nice ass!”) or sometimes mansplaining (“Do you know your lights are on? You don’t need your lights on during the day,” by some wobbly little newbie).

Sometimes the comments are a type of condescending approval or encouragement that really irks me. The dude telling me as I go up Walter Reed “You can do it!” No shit. I’ve been riding up this hill daily for 7 years. I seriously doubt he’d give this kind of comment to a man riding up this hill.

As women we are seen as perpetual cycling infants. And this is attitude extremely obvious at some bike shops.

My advice to women and bike shops: shop around different bike shops. Some are staffed by condescending mansplainers. Others, like Spokes in Fairlington, are staffed by really wonderful people. If you aren’t treated with respect at a bike shop, find one where you get the service you deserve.

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What do you think prevents more women from riding/What are the barriers?

Oh boy. So many barriers! I feel like I’m the wrong person to ask, because I’ve never really fit into the typical mold of women anything. Tomboy growing up, grew up into a tech field where I’m one of the guys (except not)…I feel like I’m out of touch with what prevents women from riding!

Shout out to Elly Blue who has done a lot to educate me on a variety of issues with regards to women in cycling. She’s the one you should be talking to about this! But I’ll do my best…

1. Safety concerns – I don’t want to say this is specific to women, because I hear the same comments from most men as well, about safety. Every single coworker who has ever asked about my bike commute (man or woman) has started with “so you have trails…?” And they are pretty universally horrified when I tell them that there are no trails, just roads and sometimes bike lanes.

But I definitely get the feeling that I am an outlier in general in terms of my willingness to take on roads like Van Dorn (which I didn’t at first, I rode 1.5 miles around it! I only started taking Van Dorn when construction closed my other option for a few weeks.) – and especially an outlier as a woman.

Men have a reputation for being less safety conscious. Is that true? I don’t honestly know, but there are real statistics about the percentage of women cyclists dropping off precipitously outside of areas with solid bike infrastructure.

But…is it only safety concerns? It could be that women living in suburbs have other reasons that biking isn’t an option as compared to women in cities.

2. Time / distance constraints – One of the things that Elly Blue brings up is that women often take on the bulk of the childcare / child transportation duties. This puts a distinct time constraint on your activities. Add in living in suburbs where everything spreads out? The distances you have to travel become a constraint of their own.

When I volunteered at a bike light giveaway one year, as we added lights for some of the men who stopped by, their wives also stopped by in their minivans. This perfectly illustrates what Elly Blue was describing, though in these cases the men were riding due to financial constraints (family could only afford one car).

But at my last location I had a couple coworkers who lived about a mile away, whose kids are grown, and they still drove that mile to work. They would have had to ride a road that had a lot of construction / landscaping trucks driving by. So that goes back to safety. Would they have driven if they’d been a mile down a path like the W&OD? Maybe they would have. But maybe not.

3. Hair/makeup – Is this really a thing? I get the idea that it is. I’ve had at least one woman tell me that she hated wearing helmets because of her hair. And she was talking about riding to the gym!

When riding to work, if you are the kind of person who does their hair (I am not!) then this is going to be a concern, or at least something that has to be dealt with.

Now you are not only taking the time to ride instead of drive (and in the suburbs it is very common for a ride to take much longer than a drive — my 18 mile commute would be only 20 minutes by car, barring construction or accidents), you have to leave time to do your hair and/or makeup, change clothes, etc. It adds up, and maybe you just won’t feel you look at sharp when getting ready in a workplace bathroom as opposed to at home.

Not everyone is going to be comfortable walking into their workplace when they don’t look professional and put together. (So maybe I was too quick to say showers don’t matter in the previous post. Not so much for the showers, but presumably having a gym/locker area you could hit before getting to where your coworkers expect to see you looking professional.) Women are judged more harshly by their appearance in the workplace than men are, from what studies have shown us.

4. Identity – The other three are valid, no question, but sometimes I think that identity is the biggest barrier of all. Women just don’t as readily identify as cyclists.

Men don’t identify women as cyclists either. Real interaction at work– Man: “Oh, you’re the bike commuter! I thought you were a middle aged white man!”

I’ve had women at stop lights tell me I’m inspiring, or that I’m awesome. It has always seemed like a bit of an overreaction to someone who’s just riding her bike, but maybe it’s not. Maybe for them I’ve established a brand new potential identity for them, one that they never considered or thought was available before?

A friend down in the Harrisonburg area is a competitive triathlete. Her daughter believed for a while that men weren’t athletes (even though her dad runs marathons), that it was primarily a woman’s thing.

To me, that highlights the issue of identity. My friend’s daughter would never hesitate to identify as an athlete – runner, triathlete, cyclist, or whatever. And that is because of her mom, and the example she has grown up with. So identity can be a huge influence on what we do or don’t do, what we think we can do, and what we are comfortable doing (what identity we wear).

Thank you again, Deb, for sharing your observations and experiences with us. One day, I hope we meet in real life!

Deb of Women BikeDC. Part 1: Infrastructure Beyond D.C. and Turtle Rescues

Every time I post one of the Women BikeDC interview series I feel proud to be part of the women’s cycling community. No matter the barriers, we ride, and cycling has transformed us in many different ways. Today I’m featuring the first part of my interview with Deb, who some of you may know as @debiguity on the Twitterverse.

A year-round commuter with an 18-mile one-way bike commute in the Virginia suburbs (!), Deb describes bicycling as active meditation. Today she  discusses how bicycling has changed her world view, and the ways our area could be improved for all cyclists. Also, a dramatic tale of a turtle rescue. These turtles are surprisingly more common in the D.C. area than I knew!

Thanks, Deb, for being part of this series– tell us a little about yourself.

I’m your standard government contractor living in the D.C. area. I live in Arlington and commute to Springfield – almost to the Occoquan! I’m vegan, I have 3 cats, I’m a java programmer and I’m 5′ short.

I tell my coworkers that I bike commute because I’m too lazy to go to the gym. It’s not actually why I started bike commuting, but I am indeed too lazy to go to the gym, so it is kind of true.

How has riding a bicycle influenced you?

Riding has changed the way I view the world around me, for certain. I still remember the feeling on my first day of bike commuting. When I first set off, it was this incredible rush, a freedom and a power.

I remember thinking, “I am really going to do this! I’m free of the car!” It felt like a huge weight off my shoulders. And then when I made the final turn that put me just a half mile from work? I realized I really *could* do this. And walking into the bathroom stall to change, I felt like a superhero.

I still sometimes have moments where I’m in awe of being able to propel myself through the world with whatever strength I have in my legs (and with the bike’s mechanical assist). This, in turn, gives me a different body image than I’ve ever had – whatever my body might look like is completely overshadowed by its ability to get me where I need to go.

Of course I also eat a *lot* more. I used to be able to skip meals, but no longer!

But also, bike commuting has been an incredible mood stabilizer, which I desperately needed. I call it an “active meditation.” Not quite the same as sitting meditation, but the constant interruption of thoughts means it is really hard for me to hold onto negative thought cycles. My brain can be my enemy. Biking is a powerful tool to keep that in check!

Deb4
When did you start riding?

When did I start riding or when did I start bike commuting? I started riding as a little kid, I’m not sure how old I was. I remember the banana seat though! The first bike that I chose for myself was a Schwinn Predator, admittedly because of the name! It can still remember that bike, too.

I started bike commuting about seven years ago. I didn’t do a lot of biking after childhood. I did bike around college campus a bit, but then barely biked at all until I started bike commuting. When people say they can’t bike commute because they’re not in good enough shape, I kind of laugh. I got in shape for my original bike commute (which was 14.5 miles each way) by bike commuting!

What sorts of things do you do by bike?

Mostly I bike to and from work. I very quickly found that in my heart of hearts, I’m a utility cyclist. Riding to get somewhere makes me happy. Riding in a circle just to ride doesn’t thrill me as much. Or sometimes at all. And my commute is long – it’s now 18 miles each way – so I don’t have a lot of time (or energy or inclination) for other riding and the weekends are actually a welcome break from the bike!

Of course when I have to go to the bike shop that’s usually a detour on my commute home. And if I am going home near the Clarendon-Ballston area, it’s just easier to ride than drive.

Each summer I go to a few concerts out at Wolf Trap with a friend. We both bike and we have the same taste in music, so it’s a lot of fun. I bring wine, she brings snacks. And we snicker at the people inching their way out of the parking lot at the end of the concert as we scoot by on our bikes.

What features do you think make a city bike-friendly and why?

Bike infrastructure, especially separated infrastructure, is undoubtedly the most significant feature for a bike friendly city. That’s what will make cyclists feel safe, and what will get more cyclists on the road. The fact that riding the W&OD allows you to bypass many lights and intersections, for example, also makes the ride more fun. That it goes through some gorgeous areas that make it hard to believe is still through a city doesn’t hurt!

Bike lanes that aren’t separated are nice too, though it still means you are relying on drivers paying attention to something other than their phone, their laptop, their newspaper on their steering wheel, their kid in the back seat, their coffee, etc.

I hear some scary stories from my driving coworker about what other drivers are up to while they drive. And reading the paper is apparently a thing some of these drivers are doing. The safety that a line painted on the street gives is minimal. However it does help drivers to know what to expect (seems to confuse them less) and for the most part reduces conflict and therefore puts both drivers and cyclists at more ease.

But when you have no infrastructure other than the roads themselves (which is how half of my commute would be described), then it is the drivers themselves that make the entire difference between bike-friendly and not.

I am also now convinced that a narrow twisty road (Old Colchester) induces more polite driver behavior than a wide straight road with long sight-lines (Van Dorn). It reminds me a bit of when I lived in Colorado, and driving in the mountains. Suddenly everyone adopted a different attitude about how their driving behavior impacted others.

Deb1

What do you like about riding in the D.C. area?

I like that trails are real viable options for biking to get somewhere you need to go. I can’t use them to get to work, but when I ride to Wolf Trap, which is about 15 miles from home, it’s almost entirely on the W&OD! I can ride into D.C. on bike trails, or over to Alexandria. It is such a great resource, even if I don’t use it often.

The bike community in D.C. is also awesome. Even though I am not exactly a social butterfly, I have made some really wonderful connections. I’ve even met a couple in person! I’ve gotten endless advice and feedback, weather commiseration, and even a personal bike tour of D.C! Thanks be to Twitter, I feel like I have a community out there supporting me. And of course some of my bike support on Twitter is not even in the D.C. area!

How could the D.C. area be improved for cyclists?

Most of the attention goes to the District itself, and the close suburbs. This makes sense, as this is where the cyclist density is. But I often feel like everyone else is neglected. Not completely – I do have bike lanes on half of my commute, and the 2 major ones (Beulah and Telegraph) are even connected to each other. But there are these giant disconnects in the route as far as reasonable infrastructure goes.

I ride Van Dorn from Braddock to Franconia Road. This is not exactly a recommended road. Most of it isn’t bad, actually, but the key part (and the part that I can’t avoid without adding 1.5 miles to my commute) is the part that gets you outside the beltway. Any time you’re crossing the beltway your options reduce to very few, and those options will be miles apart. This is a burden for cyclists.

I’m sure city planners will look at Van Dorn and point to the side path…on the downhill side of Van Dorn. This just doesn’t work for me.

First of all, it’s on the wrong side of the road. I can go 42 mph downhill on that section, so obviously I don’t have any need of the side path when going downhill unless traffic is backed up and I exercise my dual citizenship (vehicle / pedestrian) to get around the traffic jam.

Second, have they ever ridden that path? The wooden slats are treacherous if they aren’t dry. It is so narrow under the bridge that 2 people can barely pass each other.

And then there is the Tunnel Of Doom! What woman wants to ride through a tunnel that is completely out of sight of everyone who isn’t actually in the tunnel?! And there are swaths of this path that are basically a collection of ruts that I’m not sure anyone with a road bike would want to ride. (I throw my Surly Long Haul Trucker at it, of course, with no worries. It’s not exactly comfortable though.)

Since there are extremely limited options to get from one side of the beltway to the other, city planners need to make those limited options extremely bike and ped friendly. So far they have not done this, at least at Van Dorn. Even worse, the Van Dorn option for getting across the beltway is just down the road from the Van Dorn metro station.

There’s a hotel on the top of the Van Dorn Hill (the metro station is at the bottom, on the other side of the beltway) and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people walking from that hotel along a part of the road where there is no sidewalk, and crossing wherever they can (to get to the side path on the other side) because there is nowhere that is actually legal to cross, and no ped assistance to cross. It is ridiculous. A hotel that is a couple of tenths of a mile from a metro station, and nearly inaccessible other than by car? What are these planners thinking?!

Deb 5

What suggestions do you have for employers who want to be bike-friendly?

a. Parking
b. Clothes dryer

Everyone talks about showers, but I’ve never had one and it’s not a show-stopper, or even close. I think the bike advocacy community is shooting themselves in the foot by putting so much emphasis on showers. I have talked to too many potential commuters who say “but we don’t have showers at work” and can’t get beyond that.

But a clothes dryer…this is my dream. I have a heater under my desk that I use mostly when I’m cold, but also when I have ridden to work in the rain and need to dry my clothes for the ride home. It’s a pain though! I’d love a dryer. And that’s never going to happen!

I don’t even have a bike rack now, so just having some bike parking would be fantastic. Covered parking would be especially nice!

My bar is set low. My employers have been bike friendly in the sense of not giving me any kind of hassle (and verbally encouraging me) and until recently they allowed me to park inside in the loading dock because there literally was nothing to even lock my bike to.

At my new location and new employer, there is now a pole I can lock to right outside the entrance, but still no actual bike parking. We will be moving to a final destination in a few months (yet an additional 0.2 mile further – I can’t get a break) and I’m promised a bike rack then.

Tell me about your bikes.

I have three bikes, but 99% of my riding is on my commuter.

– Surly Long Haul Trucker — This is my commuter. I have something like 42,000 miles on it. I throw it at everything, and it can basically take everything. It is a bit of a frankenbike at this point, but it suits me perfectly. I wish I had a disk trucker (I wear through rims basically yearly thanks to mileage and weather), but they weren’t out when I got my LHT.

– Ice Bike — this is an old mountain bike that I turned into an ice bike with studded tires. I only ride it a few times a year, but when the conditions warrant it, it is golden. This year we had a morning that wasn’t that much snow, but which turned all the roads into hockey rinks. Cars sliding all over the place, unable to get up hills, etc. and I rode right by all of them, rock solid on my ice bike!

– Mountain Bike (Trek something or other) — I haven’t ridden it in a couple of years, because having to drive to go mountain biking means that I almost never go mountain biking! But there is something special about riding through the woods that I love. I just wish we had places like they have out west where you can spend hours exploring. Here we have loops.

What bike accessories do you consider must-haves?
  • mirror
  • lights
  • fenders
  • rack
What’s one of the best adventures you’ve ever had on a bike?

On my way home from my first Wolf Trap concert, I was riding along the W&OD and it was firefly season. They were everywhere! It was magical. I haven’t had any serious bike adventures, so magic will have to do!

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What question did I forget to ask you?

Have you ever rescued / transported an injured turtle by bike?

Why yes! I have! Last year I was on my way home from work, barely a mile down the road, and I rode past something that caught my eye.

I pulled my bike over, basically dropped it on the sidewalk, and ran back to rescue the turtle before my brain fully registered what I’d seen. The turtle was on his back, all his limbs in his shell, so at first glance I wasn’t sure what I was looking at.

I picked him up and jogged back to my bike. I wasn’t sure he was alive, and when I turned him right side up, blood dripped out of his shell. I put him on the grass and after a few minutes I saw his shell open a bit. I peeked in and sure enough, he was looking right at me.

I called the Virginia Wildlife Hotline for advice, and they said to bring him in. Of course “bring him in” meant somewhere way out in Tysons or beyond.

So I put him in my pannier – luckily I have a top portion that is separate from the rest, and I transferred everything to the lower portion, and put the turtle in the top portion. He just fit.

I rode home, checking on him at every stoplight. Once I closed the zipper, he must have felt safe, because he spent the whole ride trying to get out! I then drove him out to the vet and left my name/number and where I found him.

Turtles are very territorial, and they visually orient themselves so it is extremely important that they get released back where they were found. Otherwise, they will wander and wander until they find their way back, so it can be deadly to release them elsewhere.

About a month later I got a call from the Long Branch Wildlife Center, where he had been rehabilitated, so I picked him up and drove him to where I found him. I wasn’t sure which side of the road he’d been headed toward, so I released him, and then when he shot straight toward the road, I picked him up and walked him across the road.

When I put him back down on the other side he made a beeline straight for some bushes. I never would have seen him and been able to rescue him if I hadn’t been on the bike. And upside down…he stood no chance without help.

Emma of Women BikeDC: A Return to Riding as an Adult and a New Velo Orange Campeur

The Women BikeDC interview series rolls on with today’s feature of fellow Midwesterner turned Mid-Atlantic rider, Emma, who became a daily D.C.-area rider in 2011 and hasn’t stopped riding since.

After intensely researching various steel frames, Emma is currently in the process of building up a Velo Orange Campeur. Read on to learn more about her cycling story, as well as how she went about putting together her new Velo Orange (New Bike Day, always so exciting!).

What is one word or phrase that summarizes your bicycling experience?

Exhilarating!

Tell me about when you started riding.

I rode some during my childhood in Kansas City, Missouri. Not a very bike-friendly area, but my family would sometimes take our bikes to a local trail.

Fast forward to summer 2009. Due to health problems, I needed to start doing some sort of physical activity/exercise. I was doing a summer program in Madison, Wisconsin, and I had read about their bike trail along Lake Mendota. So I tuned up my bike and brought it with me. At the end of summer, it went in a bike box and was shipped out to Washington, D.C. I rode it for maybe two weeks before it was stolen.

It wasn’t until fall of 2011 that I got a replacement bicycle, a Globe Work II step through. I started biking about 8 miles to work, from downtown Silver Spring to Mass Ave (American University). Soon after, I bought a rack, fenders, panniers, and a powerful front light.

That spring, Nelle of WABA launched Women & Bicycles. I started going to events and other rides, and I’ve been addicted since!

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How has riding a bicycle influenced your life?

It has improved my health and increased my happiness! What it has done for me is so huge it’s difficult to put into words.

What sorts of things do you do by bike?

I bike to work (now from H St, area to American University still), I bike to the grocery store, I take Capital Bikeshare to the metro when I need to take the metro, I bike to meet up with friends, I bike for fun, and I bike for the occasional long recreational ride.

What do you like about riding in the D.C. area?

All the trails, bike lanes, running into people I know almost every day, the biking community (particularly Women & Bicycles, but also the Bike Arlington/Washington Area Bike Forum [Freezing Saddles for LIFE!]).

What features do you think make a city bike-friendly?
  • Bike lanes help people feel safer (especially protected bike lanes),
  • People in cars who are used to looking out for bicycles,
  • Off-street trails (i.e. Capital Crescent, Met Branch Trail),
  • A great local advocacy organization,
  • Bike share, and
  • A local government that is willing to build bike infrastructure.

These all work together to help people on bikes feel safer, normalize biking (especially bike share, almost anyone can do that), and support people on bikes.

How could the D.C. area improve for cyclists?

I think there are two parts to this: more protected infrastructure and disincentivizing driving. They need to reduce street parking (to make more room for bike and pedestrian infrastructure) and really make it more convenient and affordable to use public transit/active transportation modes.

I understand that many people need cars (due to health issues, transporting kids, living extremely far from work), but are all the individuals with D.C. plates on Massachusetts Avenue every morning really necessary?

Increase gas taxes and parking to pay for better roads and support for all modes of transit, including driving, biking, walking, and metro. I think if driving were made inconvenient, many more people would look at bikes as a serious option.

Something easier the city could do right now is time traffic signals on roads with bike lanes to bike-speed. The city also needs to change contributory negligence and pass legislation to protect all vulnerable road users.

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What do you think prevents more women from riding?

The expectation that women will transport the children to and from daycare/school/activities, the expectation that they need to wear makeup and have their hair done a certain way, and the expectation that they:

  1. Can’t bike in work clothes; and
  2. Can’t keep their work clothes looking professional (i.e. not wrinkly) if they packed them.
  3. Fear of traffic collisions is another one.
How does it feel to be a woman who rides in an area where women are less than 26% of the riding population?

The only time I really notice this is in bike shops, or when I’m shoaled. It is usually guys who shoal me, and most bike shops are dude-dominated.

I do a lot of my riding with women and spend a ton of time on the Women & Bikes Facebook page, so it seems like there is never a shortage when I want to ride.

I also try to get women from Women & Bikes more involved in the larger cycling community. For example, I did Freezing Saddles (informal winter riding competition through the Bike Arlington Forum) for the first time in 2014 (my first year biking to work in all weather), and there were hardly any women (maybe 20 in our group of 100). This year I promoted it on the Facebook page and we had 50+ women in our group of almost 140!

What are the issues you deal with as a woman cyclist, or is it something you think about?

I think the biggest thing I deal with is people (e.g. coworkers, people driving cars, some men on bicycles) thinking I’m not competent at bicycling.

One of my coworkers said, “What if you lose your balance while you’re on the street?” Or, sometimes when I’m on the Capital Crescent or Georgetown Branch Trail, some MAMIL (Middle-Aged Man in Lycra) busts ass to pass me (without calling the pass), then I tail him the rest of the time we’re both on the trail because he is not any faster than me.

Just because I’m a woman, possibly in a dress or any outfit other than a full-on kit, on a heavy, loaded-down hybrid doesn’t mean I’m slow!

What suggestions do you have for employers who want to be bike-friendly?

Showers, lockers, private indoor bike storage (or covered garage). Increase the subsidy beyond the $20 bike commuter check that the federal government currently allows.

I have a friend who gets reimbursed for the actual bicycle he buys, helmet, lock, and lights. I think that would get a lot more people riding.

What are you most afraid of when it comes to riding a bike?

I am most afraid of losing a friend in a bike/car collision. I feel like every week on the group a new member has been hit.

Let’s talk about your bikes!

I have a Globe Work 1 step-through. This bike has gotten me to and from work for 3+ years, taken me on a casual almost-metric-century, carried way too many groceries, and even got me to the airport a couple of times. It is super-dependable, super-comfortable, and durable! I’ve fallen a couple of times with it (nothing too serious), it and seems mostly indestructible. I love that it is a basic transportation bike that I can ride in a skirt/dress if I want to.

I had a road bike from Phoenix Bikes, the frame a Tirreno 2.0 (I think) with some fancier wheels and components. It was a tad too large on me with a long reach. I did ride my first (well, only, so far) century on it, as well as a metric century and various other fun rides, but I’m parting with it (and parting it out, really) to build up my new touring bike!

This new bike is the Velo Orange Campeur. I did have to buy some new parts that I couldn’t get from the road bike, and now all I’m waiting on is the stem. I don’t have a lot to say about this bike, because I haven’t been able to ride it yet! It will take me on more adventures, like more camping trips and this summer’s RAGBRAI.

Emma 1

How did you decide on the Velo Orange Campeur and how did you go about building it up?

Well, I narrowed down what I wanted–a steel frame touring (well, I was debating between touring and more rando-style) bike. I lusted after and researched online the Campeur, the Soma Randonneur and Saga, the Surly Long Haul Trucker, All-City Space Horse, and the Jamis Aurora.

I was debating between a complete bike and a frame, and whether to part out the road bike I had to build up a frame, or if I should just keep the road bike and buy a complete bike.

I went to a shop and tested the All-City Space Horse. I was IN LOVE. I then tested the Surly Long-Haul Trucker (meh), and declined to test the Aurora that day.

I also was going to meet with someone from the Washington Area Bike Forum to test his Soma Saga, but it didn’t work out. Then, at a shop they were discouraging me from getting a Soma bike because right now they are very difficult to obtain due to low or no inventory.

That week, Liz S. and I had already planned to ride out to Annapolis and see if Velo Orange had any bikes built up in my size. Then, we saw they were having a warehouse sale the next day!

We ended up driving out to do a test ride (the weather was still yuck). I tried the Camargue (a similar bike) and a too-small Campeur. These were both nice to ride.

During the car ride back, I debated internally. I went with the Campeur because:

  1. I wanted to just buy a frame.
  2. I could get it the next day ON SALE.
  3. I’ve seen a few Space Horses around, but no Velo Orange bikes.
  4. It was much more in line with my budget ($1,000-ish total for frame + new components vs $1,500).
  5. More carrying capacity!!!.

We returned the next day. I bought the frame and some components that I knew I needed.

The following week, I went to meet with Handy Bikes D.C. with my new frame, components, and the road bike I was parting out. We looked at what I had, what we could take from the road bike, and what I would need to order.

As for components, I took as much as possible from the road bike, including the cassette, saddle, handlebars and brake levers (wow, it doesn’t sound like a lot when I type it).

I needed new brakes, new seat post, new bottom bracket, a new stem (which I am now waiting on!) and some other stuff that I don’t remember.

Bikes need a lot more parts than I thought, but I’m making it under my budget including the cost for my mechanic to build it (Handy Bikes D.C. is awesome, still local, and affordable).

My first big ride on this bike will be the Total 200 (kilometer) ride. The next big one will be RAGBRAI!

I will say, lastly,  that I’m slightly concerned because I didn’t get to test ride the exact bike, but I did ride similar bikes. Still, if it doesn’t work out, I can sell it to someone who it will work for.

What bike accessories do you consider must-haves?

Helmet (although I do believe it is a personal choice whether or not to wear one–two out of the three+ times I’ve fallen I’ve hit my head, but I’m pretty clumsy), lock, and lights are essential.

Fenders, rack, panniers are great if you are commuting or doing any errand-running.

What’s one of the best adventures you’ve ever had on a bike?

So many!!! Hard to pick one, since so many rides can feel like an adventure. A few weekends ago I went bike camping on the C&O trail.

A friend and I packed up our stuff, headed out about 30 miles, and came back the next day. We camped at Horsepen Branch campsite in her two-person tent, made hot dogs and s’mores on her camp stove and enjoyed the fresh air.

Bikes, camping, and s’mores– it’s hard to argue this combination. Good luck with your new bicycle and upcoming summer riding plans. Many thanks, Emma, for talking all things bikes and BikeDC with us today.

Randonnesia Strikes on the Mother of All 300Ks

“We’re too blessed to be depressed,” a church sign at mile 70 read. Our riding group of three shared a chuckle. We had just climbed Wolf Gap, Mill Gap, and were en route to more gaps and roads with words like “church” and “mountain” in their names. The path ahead gave us pause. Continue reading Randonnesia Strikes on the Mother of All 300Ks

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