Cycling to Get Places: Fionnuala of Women BikeDC

Mostly, I ride because it’s my favorite way of getting around. I like seeing street life and buildings as well as the landscape and nature at the pace that I can take them in. I also enjoy the chance everyday encounters as I travel around the community. This isn’t to say you won’t find me ferrying teenagers around the suburbs in my mini-van. But I like to arrange my life so that, when I can and as much as I can, I bike instead.
Fionnuala Quinn

For today’s Women BikeDC interview, we’re going out to the Virginia suburbs to talk with Fionnuala. I’m surprised to note that I’ve never met Fionnuala in person, but have come to know her over the years through the excellent transportation advocacy work she does on behalf of cyclists and pedestrians in our area.

I’m excited to feature Fionnuala for this series. Her knowledge of urban design and infrastructure, as well as her years of riding in different cities around the world, give Fionnuala a unique perspective on what it’s like to ride in the D.C. area.

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

Back when I was eleven years old, we had a nine-week bus strike in Dublin and I started bicycling the four miles to school. But it really wasn’t until college that I started biking absolutely everywhere in my hometown.

After I arrived in the U.S., one of the first things that I went out and bought was a bicycle. While I rode it intermittently to work in the center of Philadelphia, I found the bicycling experience was surprisingly different and not in a good way.

A few years later, as I moved into my new husband’s place, someone smashed my car windows and stole my bike: American husband – 1, favorite bicycle – 0. By the early nineties, we were living in suburban Fairfax and soon had a garage completely occupied on one side with all sorts of bikes and bike attachments.

Then about a decade ago, the road next to us was widened. This transformed my local biking options and allowed me to cycle from my house instead of driving the minivan.

What sorts of things do you do by bike?

During the week, I show up for lunches, meetings, and appointments around the Fairfax area by bike. On those days when I go into D.C., I combine my folding bike with local buses to access the Orange or Silver line.

I get off at Rosslyn and bike along and across the Potomac into D.C. Metro rules allow carrying folding bikes on at any time so I’m not limited by peak restrictions on bicycles.

I also have my bike to get around without worrying about having to leave by a certain time. When I metro back home again, the folding bike allows me to catch any of several buses that get me to within a few biking miles of my house.

On weekends, you’ll find my husband and me at the grocery store filling our panniers or biking one of the gorgeous trails that we are so lucky to have in our region.

FinnQuinn

How has riding a bicycle influenced your life?

Bicycling puts you in direct physical experience with the shape, form and design of our built world. I’m inclined to view the world spatially and riding a bicycle is a great way of taking a close-up look at how we put together our infrastructure and our land uses.

I have a dislike for inefficient or poorly thought out design but unfortunately, you get to see quite a bit of that traveling from A to B by bicycle.

The act of bicycling has made me passionate about expressing how built infrastructure could be improved for everyday living, how those charged with installing and looking after the facilities need to be thinking about cyclists and how we should all speak up about future plans for the community.

I work and speak on these topics so the bicycle has certainly facilitated much of what I think about every day.

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

I cite my experience in Vancouver as an excellent example of experiencing a bike-friendly city. Moments after arriving downtown and running late, I took off from my hotel with some basic directions and managed to easily find my way to an event six miles away. The connected cycle track network helped me find my way stress-free in a city that I had never previously visited.

For any city, there are numerous features and operational aspects that go into being bike-friendly. It’s a whole package including political will, strong advocacy and community engagement. Bicycle-friendly details that help are dedicated facilities, slower speeds, signs, small-turning radii, and space on bridges. It really helps if the needs of cyclists are also considered during temporary situations such as construction, delivery and large events.

A bikeshare system with close-together stations is another amenity that makes a real difference. Widespread quality bike parking facilities supplemented with the likes of bike corrals and bike valet services at big city events are more of what contribute to being bike friendly. I could continue at length on this topic.

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

D.C. is a world-famous place and bicycling is simply the best way to experience and appreciate it. As I ride the Mt. Vernon Trail boardwalk, I marvel that I am less than a mile from the some of the most iconic spots in the world. It’s pretty hard not to get excited crossing into D.C. on the Arlington Memorial Bridge, rounding the front of the Lincoln Memorial and stopping for a few moments to think of famous moments in American history.

Biking down the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue towards the Capitol, I think of the presidential inaugurations and funeral corteges that have traced this same route. While dodging the U-turners, I’m biking where others marched to fight for women’s suffrage, and civil rights.

Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House is on one of my routes home and is always full of drama: protests, school groups, secret service, sudden street clearings, dancing, etc.

Bicycling adds adventure and exhilaration to everyday life far more than my mini-van ever has but the most ordinary rides in D.C. have the added dimension of sharing space with historical memory and new history in the making.

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

For the overall cycling environment to improve, we need lots more folks on biking and those on bike need to look more like the general population (all ages and backgrounds, women, families, teenagers, children).

Somehow, we need to communicate that biking is not a difficult feat as well as how well biking serves the short everyday trips of normal life. Significantly higher participation rates would catalyze necessary changes (design, maintenance, driver awareness, enforcement, cultural, etc.).

What do you think prevents more women from riding?

Each form of transportation involves it’s own particular knowledge and culture. Historically, we have not had a well-developed bicycling travel culture for women: mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and neighbors did not bike as a matter of course for their everyday travel.

Right now we have a broader society that does not particularly support this form of transportation, especially for women. However, these factors are primarily cultural, and culture is always changing and can be changed.

Having role models within daily life seems to go a long way towards enabling women to consider bicycling and having other women to help fill in the small details that all goes into the cultural knowledge helps.

I recently watched the Danish TV series, Borgen. Careful bike-watchers, such as myself, can’t help but note that the principal female characters use bikes to get around during the show. This includes their prime minister and a famous TV news presenter: they do not wear special clothes to bike nor is it even of remark as part of the story lines.

We are far from that type of bicycling culture for women but change is in the air. The low-level barriers that seemed to impact women’s bicycling rates are coming down readily through the likes of the Women & Bicycles program.

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

Once they focus on what’s needed, it is relatively straight-forward for employers to become bike-friendly and they will be rewarded with healthy, happy and productive employees.

A few of the things employers can do include:

  • Parking (short term, long term)
  • Providing incentives
  • Providing changing facilities
  • Relaxing clothes policies
  • Celebrate Bike to Work Day
  • Apply for a Bike Friendly Business award and get feedback on what else they could be doing.
How does it feel to be a woman who rides in an area where women are less than 26% of the riding population?

The rate of women cycling for transportation is likely way below even the 26% in the Fairfax suburbs. The act of cycling has gone from being completely unremarkable in my Dublin days to where it can, at times, cause me to be regarded as almost the seventh wonder of the world when I arrive on two wheels instead of four. I aspire to the day when arriving by bike is no longer of note.

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

The issue that I probably think about the most is the low rate of participation by women in the suburbs. My most ordinary of trips are short and readily bikeable by women of the basic abilities and yet so few seem to consider traveling around my suburb the way I do. That leaves me to stand out when I know many could enjoy and benefit from this means of travel.

However, there are really no issues that I have to deal with as a women in particular riding a bicycle. If anything, the only thing I might suggest is that occasionally bike parking facilities are designed assuming upper body strength that I don’t possess.

Tell me about your bikes…

I have a Trek hybrid for getting around locally while I use a Brompton folding bicycle to connect with the transit system and get in to DC. Prior to Capital Bikeshare coming to town, I was strictly a one-bike person but riding the new-fangled CaBi’s altered my life-long single-bike loyalty.

I came to the realization that a folding bicycle would allow breaking trips into various elements: minivan, bus, and train pieced together with the folding bike. The folder allows me to ride to several different suburban buses that connect into the metro system: I could compensate for their infrequency by covering a wider radius and reaching more bus routes.

It turns out that I really enjoy the riding the folder: it is comfortable and nippy around the city. The smart design is satisfying while the compactness is critical for hustling onto rush hour trains. Upon request, I perform folding demonstrations on platforms and on the streets of D.C. The folder is also a great out-of-town bike and I miss it terribly when I don’t bring it along on trips.

Which bike accessories do you consider must-haves and why?
  • Lights: You never know when you may get delayed and lights are an imperative for interacting safely with motor vehicles.
  • High-powered rechargeable lights: These are a suburban must-have because of the need to light our way as well as be seen.
  • Quality lock: Just never go anywhere without a decent lock.
  • Bell: Because of the nature of our facilities around here, we do a lot of sharing with pedestrians and audible warnings are necessary. The bell supplements calling out and works better for some noise situations.
  • Rear rack (or equivalent): It’s always easier to carry stuff with wheels but you need to have something to attach to.
  • Under-seat bag: There are a handful of things that should always along and having them permanently under the seat means rarely having to think about them.
  • Bottle cage: This is the easiest way to carry water, a necessity in some months no matter how short the trip.
Mother Daughter at the Inauguration
Mother Daughter go to the inauguration (by bike, of course!)
What’s one of the best adventures you’ve ever had on a bike?

Hard to say because riding a bicycle adds adventure and drama to every trip. A favorite biking day was a beautiful climb up and over the mountains, followed by a seven-miles coast down to the Pacific. Then we rode south along Pacific Coast Highway hunting for an art gallery belonging to the uncle of one of my pals here in Virginia.

We found his lovely gallery overlooking the sea in Bodega Bay (where The Birds was filmed). After our visit, he loaded up into his truck and delivered us back into the mountains equipped with winery and eating recommendations. Not so much an adventure as an all-around fun day by bicycle.

How would you summarize your bicycling experience?

I come from sensible stock and cycling feels like the practical way to get places. The bicycle itself is an impressive device and, with all the parts at work, it leaves you feeling like a more competent and capable person for having gotten yourself somewhere.

Hilly Billy Roubaix 2015 on Tandem: Operation Lump of Coal

Over the last three years, I have developed a hopeless crush on the Hilly Billy Roubaix. This 72-mile ride over unpaved state roads out of Morgantown, West Virginia, raises my heart rate and heightens my senses. Despite muddy roads and unrelenting steep gravel climbs and descents, I can’t stay away.

The Hilly Billy Roubaix has little compassion for townies like me and does its best to remind me of my townie roots every chance it gets. It doesn’t care that Felkerino and I show up on our 2004 Cannonade mountain tandem to try and appeal to its romantic side. To the Hilly Billy Roubaix, riding a tandem here is simply a concept ride concocted by naive townies with no sense of their limitations.

A week of wet weather combined with pouring rain in the starting miles made this year’s edition of the Hilly Billy Roubaix the most intimidating yet. I listened to JR give the pre-race announcements and trembled nervously in my Sidis as the rain fell steadily down.

As JR talked, I contemplated the erratic nature of this ride. Unlike other courses I’ve ridden, the Hilly Billy has a distinct spirit– one that is decidedly unsentimental and somewhat crabby, if you ask me. Its ever-morphing landscape makes my heart pound out of fear, respect, and perhaps a little unrequited love.

The Hilly Billy course is like a haunted forest. You don’t know exactly what you’re in for, so you best pay attention. Our first year riding Hilly Billy, the sun shone and the roads were smooth and dry, but each year since the course has become gradually wetter and more daunting.

Hilly Billy start

This year, the infamous Little Indian Creek at mile 8 was a yawning mile of water trying to eat bikes for breakfast. Recent rains had converted another segment not long after Little Indian Creek from a pleasant creek-side road to a raging tributary. Water rushed toward us as we churned our wheels through it.

A new climbing segment added to this year’s route contained big rocks in the middle and peanut butter mud on its sides. As we fixed one of the three chain sucks we suffered throughout the day, I watched fellow randonneur Tim lose his balance and tip spectacularly onto his back, his wheels staring straight at the sky. “Silly townies.” I could hear the Hilly Billy laughing.

All other thoughts except what the next few feet held in store emptied from my mind. Unfortunately– or perhaps fortunately– my position on the back of the tandem didn’t allow a clear view of what lay ahead.

I had to rely on Felkerino telling me, which ended up being a 70-mile vocal recital of different combinations of “Bump! Bump! Slowing. Holy cow! Hang on! Stopping! I can’t believe we’re doing this.”

Indian Creek Road. Photo credit Mike Briggs
Indian Creek Road. Photo credit Mike Briggs

I wished I had brought my magic wand to help with the day, but in its absence I was glad Felkerino had chosen the tires he had. The Kenda Happy Medium 2.1 tires were somewhat heavy, but maintained good traction through sloppier sections.

We could never let the tandem loose on the many winding downhill segments– the surface was too soft and unpredictable for that– and the persistent braking down the steeps steadily chewed away our brake pads.

The sharp ascents and slow going on muddy segments took a toll. By the midpoint aid station, we looked to be on an 8 hour pace, and that deflated our spirits. “What are we doing?” I asked myself. “We’re just a couple of townies who should know better.”

I then recalled how I’d had to muster my courage just to start this year’s Hilly Billy Roubaix, knowing that the day predicted rain and that the course would have soaked up its share of water. It’s easy to ride on a sunny day in the 70s– quite another to go out when conditions are not so inviting.

Thirty-five miles in, and we were still going strong. I mean, strong, relatively speaking. We had chain sucked three times and done a fair amount of walking (especially on Little Indian Creek Road), but the sun was now peeking out, and we had not fallen once. I began to mentally regroup.

I pursed my lips together and focused all thought on taking home the lump of coal for the tandem category. Unless we were pulled off the course, we were going to get that lump of coal. Operation Lump of Coal was now in session.

Operation Lump of Coal (and West Virginia Whiskey Bonus!)
Operation Lump of Coal (and West Virginia Whiskey Bonus!)

I slurped a Coke, wiped my mouth with a gritty gloved hand, gave Felkerino a “Let’s do this” look that may still have come across as a “Why are we doing this?” look, and we took off, reenergized and determined.

The second half of the ride began to relent somewhat, enough that I found myself exclaiming “Oh it’s so pretty!” in several sections. I could feel the Hilly Billy Roubaix take a step back at that. That’s right, Hilly Billy, I think you’re pretty! Clouds began to roll in again.

We rode a mix of paved and unpaved roads to the final formidable section on Smoky Drain Road. I don’t recall the length of Smoky Drain Road, but we used our two-footed gear for it. My socks were bunching up in between all the mud in my shoes as we ran-walked and pushed the bike, but I preferred that to the perils of riding through.

I had developed a secondary goal by this point in the ride. Not only were we executing Operation Lump of Coal, but we were not going to fall down this time, as we had in previous years. I dared not speak this goal to Felkerino, because you know how those things go.

The final grassy section approached, and we slip-slided our way through it, walking only briefly, and falling zero times! Eventually the finish came into view, and relief and elation flowed through my body. I fought back tears as I heard friends yelling our names and JR announcing us on the loudspeaker as the lone tandem finishers for the third year running.

Rainbow at the finish!
Rainbow at the finish!

For the last 7-plus hours, the Hilly Billy Roubaix had shaken everything out of me– my anxieties about riding off-road, worries from my regular life, fear of falling, and my self-consciousness as a bike rider that spends most of her time on pavement. I was left with a lump of coal, a bottle of whiskey, and a sense of catharsis.

I  was also overwhelmed by the positive comments from the people we encountered along the course, both volunteers and fellow riders. Everyone was so kind to us as we two townies from D.C. on an ill-fitting tandem stuttered our way through the ride. I used that positive energy to press me forward during times when I felt like the Hilly Billy was beyond me.

JR is a fantastic race organizer who tries to honor everyone who participates. You can ride fast or slow, as long as you make the time cut offs. JR doesn’t care. Just show up with a good attitude, respect for what you’re getting yourself into, and give it your all.

Final Finisher
Final Finisher

Felkerino and I hung out together at the end for a while, chatting with friends and a couple of people we met through the ride. JR came over and told us the final rider was on the last stretch; he asked if we’d head over the finish to cheer her in. JR thinks about things like that, and it’s one of many reasons we keep coming back for this event.

I may be a townie, but my crush on the Hilly Billy Roubaix is not subsiding. We’ll be back. Many thanks to JR and the volunteers who make this race possible.

Letter from Jerry: 3500 Kilometers into Bike Touring Alaska to D.C.

As I write this, our friend is out on the road somewhere, pedaling steadily eastward. Jerry talked with me before he departed for his big cross-country bike tour, and you can read those thoughts here.

Now that Jerry’s been traveling for a few weeks, I thought it would be great to catch up with him and see how his travels are going. Thanks, Jerry, for sharing your progress with us, both here and through your Instagram (tenmetersfromthehut).  Jerry

Where have you traveled? Any favorite spots?

It’s been quite the adventure so far. I flew to Fairbanks and then cycled north on the Dalton Highway to Deadhorse, Prudhoe Bay. It took me two days to hitchhike back to Fairbanks.

Since then I’ve been riding south and east into Canada. Right now I’m in Dawson Creek, British Columbia– the start of the Alaska Highway.

The section north of Coldfoot on the Dalton Highway is wild and epic. The tundra stretches forever. I rode the last 250 km on the gravel road through the night, arriving in Deadhorse at 5 a.m.

The sun was ahead of me all night, slightly to the left at first then dipping towards the horizon but never reaching it, and then climbing to the right of me. It was quite something to ride alone in the tundra through a night like that.

The landscapes and skies all the way have been beautiful. I liked Kluane Lake in Yukon, and the high plateau between Haines Junction and Haines, Alaska, was remote and rugged.

Haines itself is an awesome little town. I went sea kayaking for the day and saw seals, porpoises and eagles.

I’ve cycled about 3500 km so far.

Jerry
What’s life like on the wildlife front? I see you’ve become an expert at hanging your panniers high.

Lots of wildlife, I wasn’t expecting so much! Caribou, moose, grizzly bears, beavers, porcupines, stone sheep, snowshoe hares, black bears, coyotes, bison, so many birds and really interesting insects. Every day is like a day at the zoo.

I’m getting used to the bears but they do make me anxious. I learnt how to hang my food up high in a tree. I carry pepper spray, but one lady explained to me that that’s just seasoning for them.

Sometimes if I know there are bears around I’ll stop and eat my dinner before making camp further down the road, so I won’t have food smells around camp.

The other unwelcome wildlife are the mosquitos. It’s hard keeping hold of your own blood in this place. Jerry

Is there anything you packed that you wish you hadn’t, or anything you wish you had taken with you?

I’ve been pretty happy with my two small pannier bags. I’ve used everything I brought and haven’t wanted for anything else.

Sometimes other cyclists see my bags and looking down their noses they ask, “Credit card touring?” I reply enthusiastically, “No no, there’s a tent and sleeping bag and cookstove in there!”

Then they doff their caps as their eyes dart quizzically between their bags and mine. The light bags allow me to ride about 150km a day.

I met one cyclist who said, “Ah, you’re the British guy who’s cycling hundreds of kilometres a day?!” Well, I don’t know about hundreds, but I’ve done a few days over 200km and the lighter bags really help. Jerry

Jerry
What’s come in most handy?

A headnet for the bugs is a very useful thing. Clothing made of merino is very handy for a trip like this.

I also have no regrets over remortgaging my apartment to buy a new pair of Assos shorts.

You mention the two seasons of winter and road construction. What has road work been like and how are you navigating through it?

There are some long sections, like up to 20 and 30km in Yukon. Much of the Alaska Highway is chip seal so it really sucks the forward momentum out of your bike. You get used to it though.

The drivers have been pretty good, I’ll say that. Especially on the Dalton Highway. The truck drivers up there know what it means to be vulnerable and can relate to cyclists. Jerry

What about food and refueling? Has that been a concern at all?

This has been a big challenge. Grocery stores can be 500km apart and at first I wasn’t carrying enough food on the bike. I’ve learnt now to eat whatever I can find whenever I find it.

There’s a great cafe and bakery in Haines Junction. I arrived in the evening and had dinner there. Then I camped outside and had a fine breakfast in the morning before setting out for my day. Jerry

A couple of tour highlights?

I’ve met many inspiring people along the way. About 85km out of Fairbanks a lady at the side of the road flagged me down. I thought she might be in distress, but she had passed me in her car and was concerned because she said a storm was coming.

She invited me to pitch my tent at her cabin there and made me dinner. I said this was great and I’d never been invited to stay like that. She replied, “Really?? You can’t have been in Alaska that long”. She made me a lovely breakfast, too, and I was on my way.

In northern British Columbia I hung out for an evening with a family from Montreal. The oldest girl is 16, the boy is 15, and the little girl 9. They were heading out for a 800km canoe trip in the Northwest Territories for three weeks.

Two years ago they all cycled from Vancouver to Montreal. The little girl was seven. Papa fixed up an electric bike to help her a bit, and she joined them for part of the journey, from Vancouver to Calgary. I made a post about them on Instagram and friends asked if they were adopting.

I’ve met so many kind and incredible people. They inspire you to be better and do more.

Thank you for the excellent update, Jerry. You are missed in D.C., but we love following along via your photos and notes on your Instagram.

PBP Qualified…

Our recent finish of the D.C. Randonneurs 600K brevet means that Felkerino and I have now qualified for Paris-Brest-Paris.

Riders must complete four brevets in order to register for PBP. The general sequence of rides is as follows:  200K, 300K, 400K, and 600K brevet. Because Felkerino and I were unable to complete our club’s 200K brevets, we substituted an additional 300K instead.

Scheduling conflicts impeded our completion of a Super Randonneur series; we lack a 200K in our current suite of rides. While I hope we can find a way to still slot in a 200K, it still feels good to have reached the PBP-qualifying milestone.

Although we are a seasoned randonneuring tandem team, completion of the longer brevets is never a given. They require effort and planning, along with a certain degree of physical and mental discomfort somewhere along the way. Successfully reaching the finish line of these rides is always an accomplishment.

Around last year at this time, our ultimate goal was to show up in France for another edition of Paris-Brest-Paris. Now that PBP registration season is upon us, our goals have drifted in a different direction.

In January, I wrote a post that basically outlined the pros and cons of doing PBP again, and received some thought-provoking feedback. A couple people commented about the relatively narrow window that exists to do these sorts of things.

Felkerino on the 600K brevet

Some mentioned the ability to go back and apply experience from our previous PBP rides to make this one even better, and the rare opportunity to ride a large 1200K event with like-minded riders in a place where people don’t question what you are attempting to accomplish.

Others wrote about the importance of exploring new challenges. After weighing it all, I still imagined that we would pack our bags for France when August came.

The landscape changed for me in the months since I wrote that PBP pros and cons list, such that I am yearning to go west and be immersed in the mountains, and to experience that comforting smallness that has always enveloped me when I bike tour there. The clock I want to dominate my movement is the sunrise to sunset clock– not control windows.

The pressure and post-event fatigue that comes with riding a 1200K– even a tandem-friendly one– is not what I hunger for this summer. I desire open road and quiet contemplation, time to stop and look around, and a full night’s sleep.

Part of me would love to be there to meet new randonneurs, see familiar faces, and be part of the largest and most historic randonneuring event, but the eagerness I had about riding PBP has faded, and I must follow the path that truly calls.

Kip, Dylan, and me on the 600K brevet

Instead of PBP, Felkerino and I are currently plotting a two-week tour in the Sawtooth Mountains. We will ride a loop from Boise, Idaho to Missoula, Montana and back.

We’ve spent the last three years riding in Colorado so this year we are seeking out uncharted terrain for our tandem. For those interested, here is a basic Ride With GPS outline of our route– Part 1 and Part 2. If you have toured in the area, please pass along any route suggestions, food recommendations, or any other bits of wisdom!

When August rolls around, I know I’ll be miss being part of PBP. I’ll avidly follow fellow D.C. Randonneurs and other rando-buddies as they make their way out to Brest and back with event’s rider tracking system. Fantasy PBP!

I’m excited to cheer from the sidelines and hear people’s stories upon their return. I wish all the best to those who have qualified for PBP and will be training through the summer for this grand event. It’s going to be awesome.

Freedom on Two Wheels: Grace of Women BikeDC

First and foremost, riding bicycles has brought me closer to the vibrant biking community of D.C. It has heightened my appreciation of nature & my environmental concerns. I also believe it has made me a healthier and much happier individual.
Grace

As I began putting together today’s Women BikeDC feature, I realized that I have known Grace for a few years now, but have never heard her cycling story or thoughts on riding in the D.C. area.

Grace has spent years working in bike shops, and I also knew she was an avid commuter and year-round rider. All this made me eager to talk with her and learn more. Thank you, Grace, for being part of the Women BikeDC interview series!

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

Always have ridden! My first bike was my brother’s Batman bike that he outgrew. I am fortunate to have grown up in a cycling family and I ride with my family pretty often still.

I work at D.C.’s very own BicycleSPACE and have been there since 2013. I also represent Santana Tandems in various East Coast bicycle shows. I love bicycling and I want to get more women out on bicycles every single day!

Grace

What sorts of things do you do by bike?

Everything! I commute to work and school via bicycle, I run errands via bicycle and I also ride for the sheer joy of it.

How has riding a bicycle influenced your life?

First and foremost, riding bicycles has brought me closer to the vibrant biking community of D.C. It has heightened my appreciation of nature & my environmental concerns. I also believe it has made me a healthier and much happier individual.

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

The most important feature is driver awareness, hands down; although tied with that would be bike lanes. The combination of safe(r) drivers and bike lanes put cyclists in a safe and confident position to do everything by bicycle!

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

My favorite thing about riding around here is that I always (without fail) see someone I know out on their bicycle.

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

This goes hand in hand with my answer for a bike-friendly city: making drivers more conscientious and increasing the amount of bike lanes – as well as protected bike lanes! – in and around the city.

Grace (1)

Why do you think more women don’t ride bikes?

I think it’s the long-standing truth that men have always cycled. I think that a lot of women in this area (Nelle of WABA’s Women & Bicycles as well as Laurie of Proteus in College Park) are making great strides to have an encouraging and welcoming environment for women in bicycling.

Probably one of the biggest barriers is that most of the bike shop people are men – thankfully at BicycleSPACE we’ve got lady mechanics and ladies on the sales floor as well. I think one of the biggest hurdles to overcome is getting more women working in bike shops and being more vocal (like you!) on blogs, in the community and in the media in general.

I think once hesitant women realize that there are women here enjoying riding every day, they’ll be more comfortable to get in to the groove of cycling.

You’ve been working in bike shops for several years now (initially at College Park Bikes, and now BicycleSPACE). What has your experience been like?

I started working at College Park Bikes in 2012 with no prior bike shop experience, fresh out of high school. I was a touch intimidated as I was the only woman working there for most of my two-ish years there.

I quickly learned that woman customers felt much more comfortable talking to me rather than my male coworkers about saddles and other women-specific items. I love helping women feel more comfortable at a bicycle shop because I think that will help more women ride consistently.

Once I moved to BicycleSPACE, I was already surrounded with more women. We have ladies both on the sales floor and wrenching. I think by having such a strong women presence, we’ve been able to help increase women ridership.

We teach free classes and lead rides that I believe help beginner riders feel more confident on the road in the city as well as fixing their own bicycles. I’ve noticed that we get a lot of women attending these events and that is awesome!

Grace

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

One must-have is bicycle parking– bonus if it’s protected (garage, locker etc.).  Second, incentivize cycling (and other alternative transportation forms) with commuter checks. A high hope would be employee showers!

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

I feel lucky that we have such a welcoming community (shout out to WABA’s Women & Bicycles program) to make all cyclists feel included and safe.

What are the issues you deal with as a woman cyclist?

Apart from driver/pedestrian cat-calls, it’s not something I think about very much.

Grace
Tell me about your bikes.

I love all my bicycles so much! My first “real” bike is my Burley Kenz, a zippy little road bike I use for my longer fitness rides and for feeling snappy, such an empowering bicycle.

Next, I built up my Surly Cross-Check “Asterix” at 32 lbs, he ain’t light but with full fenders & racks I can take this bad boy out on the C&O camping or just to a long day at school. I built Asterix as a fixed gear and rode that for a year before making the sensible choice to put racks/fenders and a 1×8 gearing on him.

Those are my daily rides. Then I share a Santana Rio tandem with my boyfriend– hoping for some great adventures on that one!

Could you talk about what it was like to build up a bike, and how you went about it?

I enlisted the help of various BicycleSPACErs (most notably Kate and Derek). I bought Asterix fresh from Surly as a single speed/fixed gear, so for a first bike build it was relatively easy. Kate walked me through setting up the brake cables and truing the wheels as well as making sure everything was well-greased and operable.

Once I decided to convert the Surly Cross-Check from fixed to an eight speed to make it a dream-commuter, I knew I had to put a bit more work in. Installing a front rack, a rear rack, full-coverage fenders, new handlebars, new rear derailleur, new shifter cables & levers as well as a new cassette on a new wheel – definitely racked up some work.

With the help of my skilled coworkers, I learned a lot about building bikes and I have my wonderful Asterix to thank for it.

What bike accessories do you consider must-haves and why?

If you’re a daily commuter like myself, I’d definitely say a rack and a nice pannier. Getting a rack and some Ortlieb panniers for my Cross-Check made a huge difference.

I had been riding around with a great bag on my back, but showing up to class every day all sweaty wasn’t great. I can carry way more by using a rack and panniers, and at less expense to myself.

Grace

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

I’d have to say one Saturday when my coworkers (shout out to BicycleSPACE) and I decided we should take an impromptu bicycle-camping trip up the C&O!

This involved muddy single-tracking through the woods and staying up on a rock over the Potomac River to watch the sunrise before catching an hour or so of sleep.

A word or phrase that summarizes your bicycling experience?

Freedom.

Stop telling the bike commuter it’s going to rain: Reba of Women BikeDC

I find the bike riding population in D.C. to be eclectic and interesting. I talk to a lot of people, sometimes I don’t get their name or their history, we just share the moment we are in and then ride on. Biking is about being present in the moment you are in and not trying to predict the next day.
Reba

The Women BikeDC interviews return this week with Reba, another Friday Coffee Club regular (Swing’s Coffee at 17th and G NW in D.C., every Friday, stop by if you can!) and daily bike commuter. Reba rides a round trip commute of 30+ miles and also makes sure to get her century fix when Fall comes around.

Always positive and laid-back, in addition to always riding her bike, I was eager to learn more about Reba’s thoughts on bicycling in the D.C. area, and asked her to be part of this series. Thank you, Reba, for agreeing!  Continue reading Stop telling the bike commuter it’s going to rain: Reba of Women BikeDC

Finding Your Randonneur Superpower

When you begin to dabble in the randonneuring arts, you may have an inkling of what your cycling strengths are. You may develop additional skills for riding long-distance. However, it is only through doing brevets over time that your randonneur superpower will reveal itself to you. Continue reading Finding Your Randonneur Superpower

Randonneuring Beneath the Stars

The sun flares orange and pink, drops behind the mountains, and leaves us. Felkerino and I pause to don night gear, assess our 600K progress, and estimate the hours of night riding ahead. Continue reading Randonneuring Beneath the Stars

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