Paris of Women BikeDC: On Coffee Clubs, Bike Shops, and Testing Boundaries

​My mind is generally moving 100 miles per hour. The squirrels in there never seem to stop spinning. Being on my bike quiets the squirrels and allows my mind to focus on one or two things– avoiding pot holes or other riders, usually. I’ve found that the more I ride, the saner I am. When I have something to work out, I’ll go on a bike ride and allow my brain to quiet down a bit.
Paris

It’s been a privilege to spend the summer talking with each of the women who make up the Women BikeDC interviews, and to learn about what cycling has meant to them over the years and how it continues to shape their lives. It’s also been enlightening to discuss the unique issues women deal with while cycling, as well as the infrastructure issues that affect all riders in an urban area.

Our final interview in the Women BikeDC series is with Paris of Silver Spring, Maryland. Paris is a recreational rider, sometimes bike commuter, and regular attendee of the Downtown Silver Spring Coffee Club (#DTSScoffeeclub).

After “meeting” Paris through Twitter, reading her cycling-centric blog, Confessions of a Turtle, and following her weekend cycling excursions on Instagram, I asked her about being part of Women BikeDC. She said yes, and with that, we have the final installment of the Women BikeDC interviews.

Thank you, Paris, and to all the women on two wheels who have been part of the Women BikeDC series.

SMART Ride10 Paris

Tell me a little about when you started riding.

I began riding my bike as a child. I don’t remember the brand, but my bike in elementary school had a banana seat.

Growing up, my parents and I would go on family rides on the weekends– my dad had a road bike, my mom had an old school 3 speed, and me with the children’s bike and the banana seat. I always looked forward to when we would set out and go visit friends or just ride around.

I got a Sears Schwinn Free Spirit when I was older. I was able to ride alone, and I started just tooling around the neighborhood. I kept going further and further until I would be gone for hours.

I had such freedom on my bike. And this was the early to mid 80’s in Detroit. There were no bike lanes or helmets. ​I don’t remember having any fear at all. It was just great to be on my bike.​

What do you do by bike?

​The vast majority of my riding is recreational (group rides). However, meeting several #BikeDC friends and completing 30 Days of Biking has ​caused a shift.

I live in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, and until 30 Days of Biking I would walk every where. Now, I’m more likely to ride my bike for an errand.

I’ve also started riding to work a bit more. I’m still not meeting my one to two days per week commuting goal, but I’m doing it more than last year.

When I read your blog, an enthusiasm for cycling permeates your writing. What do you love about riding and what influence has cycling had on your life?

​My mind is generally moving 100 miles per hour. The squirrels in there never seem to stop spinning.

Being on my bike quiets the squirrels and allows my mind to focus on one or two things– avoiding pot holes or other riders, usually.

I’ve found that the more I ride, the saner I am. When I have something to work out, I’ll go on a bike ride and allow my brain to quiet down a bit.

Cycling has influenced my life by helping to get me back into shape. I grew up in Detroit. To say that it is the Motor City, is an understatement. There are wide roads that encourage drivers to speed everywhere. The older I got, the easier it was to get off my bike and into a car.

Living in the D.C. area and seeing cyclists everywhere is what made me want to ride again. I quickly realized that it is MUCH hillier here than pancake-flat Detroit.

About a year into group rides, the light bulb went on that if I wasn’t lugging the weight of an elementary school student around, I might enjoy riding a bit more and hills might be a bit easier. I got serious about my eating and fitness, lost 50 pounds, and my enjoyment improved greatly.

Paris wide roads in Detroit

What is the riding like in the Silver Spring area?

​Downtown Silver Spring is good, not great, for cycling. Because I live here, I know the neighborhood streets with low volume and stick to them when going on errands around Silver Spring and Takoma Park.

It is great to see sharrows on Georgia Avenue, Capital Bikeshare stations, and I’ve noticed more and more bikes going to and from the Metro using the higher volume streets like Georgia. I’m just not quite up for that challenge.

Rush hour traffic around Silver Spring can be a bit of a nightmare with rude drivers and I’m a little too skittish to deal with them.

Like every other cyclist in Montgomery County, I would love a dedicated bike lane that runs the length of Georgia Avenue from the D.C. line to the Wheaton or Glenmont Metro stations. Unfortunately, this is a state run road and I’m not sure it will happen.

There are so many multi-lane roads in Montgomery County that are begging for a redesign– Old Georgetown, for example. One of the reasons that I belong to the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), and happily give them my money, is the great advocacy work they are doing. I hope to see changes on some of these roads one day.

I’d also like to see an education campaign targeted at drivers. I think drivers get annoyed with cyclists because they don’t understand why we do things.

When I’ve explained why I move to the front of a queue (to get ahead of traffic and allow for people to more easily pass), why I don’t ride on the shoulder (avoiding glass or other debris), or why I take the lane (so cars don’t try to squeeze past me), people get it.

You currently ride primarily for recreation. Do you ride with groups or solo, and what are some of your favorite places to ride in the D.C. area?

​Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of solo riding. When I first got back into cycling I joined Meetup.com and found a great cycling group out of Northern Virginia (the NoVA Casual Bike Group). They had tons of rides at every level, were truly no drop, and were incredibly welcoming.

I still primarily ride with the NoVA Casual Bike Group for group outings and will ride to and from Shirlington, Virginia, for our group rides. I also ride with Proteus Bicycles out of College Park, Maryland.

Recently, I’ve also starting riding with a group out of Prince George’s County. They do a lot of rides in Upper Marlboro, Bowie, and District Heights. It’s been fun learning about those areas.​

​Hands down, my favorite organized ride is the Covered Bridges Metric Century in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I’ve done this one five years now. The first two years I rode my Bianchi hybrid and I did the ​25K and 50K.

Since getting my road bike, I’ve done the 100K a few times. I look forward to it every year. I love the rolling hills, the Amish buggies, and the route and ride support.

I enjoy rural Montgomery County riding, it’s easy to quickly get outside of the Beltway, and drivers tend to be used to cyclists. I’d like to do more exploration, but don’t like to go too far from my home when I am by myself. Twenty miles out is about my limit.

I want to become more confident with bike mechanics and route planning. Knowing I could quickly get to a bus or Metro or fix a minor mechanical issue would help me venture further away. Right now, changing a flat is about where my comfort level is. I’ve taken the Park Tools class, but practice makes perfect.

Paris Oxford Loop

Tell me about the DTSS Coffee Club!

​My favorite day of the week is Tuesday. On Tuesdays at 7 a.m. you’ll find the DTSS (Downtown Silver Spring) Coffee Club at Kaldi’s Coffee Bar talking about riding our bikes, getting advice on new bikes, or solving the world’s problems.

Our roundup includes: me (@TurtleDub616), Ricky (@bikeeveryday), Caleb (@calebjamesdc), Ken (@DCAKen), Physics Prof Eric (@ebubar), Randonneur Eric (@ewiliams0305), Peter (@jopamora), Ryan (@RyanSigworth), and Don (not on Twitter!). We even had an appearance by Pete (@SilverSpringInc). Notice anything?? I’m the only woman.

The DTSS Coffee Club has truly changed my life. It is because of the guys that I commuted the first time. I spent several weekends “testing” my route, but when the day would come, I’d chicken out. Monitoring Twitter and #BikeDC had me scared to death, quite frankly.

I met @TinLizzieBikes at the Women’s Bike Summit a couple years ago and she encouraged me to just try it and said that it wouldn’t be horrible. @ramblingrider also sent out Tweets of encouragement that year. I still couldn’t seem to get over the hump.

One day last year at DTSS Coffee Club, I admitted to being afraid of commuting to work. Every single one of the guys said that I would be fine and things really weren’t that bad.

I gave it some more thought. Finally, I didn’t tell anyone I was going to do it, I just got up one day, rode my bike to work, and…. it was fantastic.

A highlight of DTSS Coffee Club was this year’s Bike to Work Day when Ricky and Peter led me and The Erics to Friday Coffee Club at Swing’s Coffee in D.C.

I’ve always wanted to go to Friday Coffee Club, but working in Rockville makes that impossible. It was great finally meeting you and all the other #bikedc folks.

DTSSCC invades FCC on Bike to Work Day
DTSSCC invades FCC on Bike to Work Day
What do you think prevents more women from riding a bike? 

​I think physical safety is a barrier for women. In general, women want to be able to get from Point A to Point B without feeling vulnerable. I know that I am hyper aware of my surroundings, especially on empty, wooded trails or when I head out early in the morning. ​

Another issue is how women are treated at bike shops. When I was trying to get back into cycling, I was overweight and had no idea what I wanted. Remember, my last bike was an 80s era Free Spirit.

At the first shop, I was ignored for 10 minutes, put on a road bike that was WAY too small, and the staff was dismissive. Bike shop #2 wasn’t any better and I stood around for 10 minutes before leaving.

Bike shop #3 was *clearly* for the experienced, racer types. I didn’t see any urban or hybrid-type bikes and they seemed annoyed a newbie was asking questions.

I was so demoralized after my bike shop experiences that I resigned myself to not picking up riding again. At the strong encouragement of a friend, I tried one more shop– Proteus Bicycles. The former owner, Jill, was a breath of fresh air after several weekends of frustration.

We sat on the floor(!) and chatted for at least 30 minutes before she ever put me on a bike. I tried at least four different bikes before settling on my Bianchi hybrid.

She wasn’t condescending, listened to me, and asked me what sort of riding I was planning on doing. It is largely because of Jill and Proteus Bikes that I am where I am today.

VASA2015 Paris

What would you tell someone who wants to start riding in the BikeDC area, but hasn’t made the leap?

This is a great area to get your feet wet riding. If city riding, or riding alongside traffic isn’t your thing, there are so many trails in this area to explore.

On a Saturday or Sunday, grab a group of girlfriends, and go have lunch in Bethesda, Georgetown, or Old Town. Head out to College Park and do a loop around Lake Artemesia.

Riding is a great way to enjoy your friends, see different sights, and build up an appetite! Just be sure to have water and properly inflated tires!

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

​I honestly only notice it on Tuesdays at DTSS Coffee Club or the rare occasion I’m on a wooded trail alone. Since I’m more of a tortoise than a hare, on group rides I wind up with a more relaxed group that tends to have a more even gender split. ​

On the days when I commute in, I’ve started paying attention, largely due to John’s (@rootchopper) unscientific poll several weeks ago, and I’m the only woman almost all the time.

One day I saw a woman on a unicycle and I counted her for 5 cyclists. That is the only day women came close to the 26%.

I’m not sure if the lack of women cyclists is due to where I’m cycling (downtown Silver Spring to White Flint) or a true representation of cycling in Montgomery County.

Riding in Tour de Troit
Riding in Tour de Troit
What are the issues you deal with as a woman on a bike?

​The bike shop experience is something that will forever color my view. Being invisible as an overweight, black woman​ ​looking to spend money in someone’s shop was disheartening.

I am acutely aware of how I am treated when I walk into bike shops now. I judge, very carefully, who will get my money.

Because so few women ride, I’ve found a lot of women who are interested in riding seek me out, either at work or when I’m running an errand, and ask where should they go to buy a bike or get their bikes checked out. My list is very, very short and my advice is ​the same- only spend money in bike shops that value you as a customer.

Tell me about your bikes! 

​I have a steel Bianchi Volpe named Sandy the Tank. She’s a cyclocross bike that I use as my commuter bike and the one that I usually take when I ride into D.C. She can handle any terrain, and is solid and comfy. As they say, steel is real.

My road bike is an aluminum Jamis Ventura Race Femme. I call her Greased Lightning. She is only held back by her owner. I like the Jamis because it doesn’t have an aggressive set up and doesn’t feel like she will get away from me.

For future n + 1, I’m seriously considering a custom road bike (lightweight steel or titanium). Being around Ricky (@bikeeveryday) doesn’t help. He’s in constant search for his n+1.

Paris's Volpe
Paris’s Volpe-Sandy the Tank
Which bike accessories do you consider must-haves?

Hmmm… I don’t ever ride without a helmet, Road ID, and telephone.

My “must-have” list has gotten very short. I had a looooong list before 30 Days of Biking, but participating in that really changed my perspective. ​ ​

During the hot and humid days of summer, add a full water bottle to the list.​

And keys! Don’t forget your house keys.

Paris's Jamis-Greased Lightning
Paris’s Jamis-Greased Lightning
What are some of your future cycling plans?

​I really enjoy reading about your bike trips with your husband and loved following along with this spring’s #nowrongplan Great Allegheny Passage and C&O adventure of Ryan, John, and Kevin.

So, with you guys as inspiration, I’m planning a 7-day bike tour of the Upper Peninsula next summer.​ I’m embarrassed to say, growing up in Michigan I never visited the Upper Peninsula. That changes next year.

What has been your most enjoyable experience cycling?

I have two that stand out:

In November, 2013 I participated in the 10th anniversary of the SMART Ride with 10 members of my NoVA cycling group. The SMART Ride is a fundraiser for HIV/AIDS service organizations and is a 165 mile ride from Miami to Key West over 2 days.

SMART Ride has so many corporate sponsors that 100% of funds raised go to the service organizations. ​ ​It was incredible.

I wasn’t prepared to be as moved as I was. There were several times I found myself emotional and brought to tears– the stories told on the opening and closing nights, riding along the Seven Mile Bridge, and the parade through Key West.

I rode with Tim Johnson’s Ride on Washington in 2013. I can’t remember why, but I became a personal project for Richard Fries, the coach, during the community portion of the ride from Proteus to the Capital.

Suddenly he was pushing me up, up, up, to the middle of the pack. I was scared to death. I’d never been in a paceline and these are REAL riders.

Richard Fries kept pushing me back into the line (“You’re sticking out like a sack of mail, Paris.”) and told me to relax. When I finally started breathing, I realized that being there was effortless.

I didn’t cause a crash, they didn’t drop me, everything worked out. The cyclists were INCREDIBLE. I had a ball that day. ​

A phrase that summarizes your bicycling?

​Bicycling has allowed me to test my physical and mental boundaries.​

Coffeeneuring is Coming

Save the Date: October 3 – November 21
7 cups, 7 weeks

image

More details to come…

Seduced by Speed

I have always seen road bikes as superfluous and silly, the toy of transport for the self-indulgent– those who ride for exercise, sport, and speed, with little interest in practicality.

I failed to see the point of a bike with little-to-no fender clearance, narrow tires that suffer through street cracks, and a shameful lack of carrying capacity. My interests veered toward bikes that easily accommodated wider tires, fenders, and racks.

These preferences for a multipurpose setup cultivated a belief that I was prepared for anything, from an unplanned evacuation or cross-country tour to a trip to the grocery store. I patted myself on the back for my devotion to the practical steel touring frame and all its trappings.

Two years ago, impulse overtook my sensible side and I purchased my first road bike, a Bridgestone RB-1. For the next year I let the fenderless skinny-tire bike idle in the Dining Room Bike Shop, denying its occasionally plea to be ridden with weak excuses. It might rain. I might need a triple. Those tires… too narrow for D.C. potholes!

RB-1 Hains

Time passed, and the Bridgestone waited patiently in the Dining Room Bike Shop amid all the touring frames, sure that it would one day have its time.

Felkerino and I put the finishing touches on the RB-1 this spring, and over the summer I took to riding it on sunny weekend days. This little red hot rod showed me the ways of riding light and fast.

That doesn’t mean that I’m actually riding fast, mind you, but compared to our tandem and my other bikes, the RB-1 rides like a rocket. We move swiftly on flats and zip up hills without any additional gravitational pull caused by bags or fenders. Without Felkerino, I’m half a bike!

I smile and pedal away under the summer sun. I feel fit and strong, finally understanding the attraction of riding light. The sensation of speed seduces me, and as soon as my ride ends, I eagerly anticipate the next time I will reunite with my dear little RB-1 hot rod again.

Jerry and part of the Welcome Home posse
Jerry and part of the Welcome Home posse

NOTE:  Shout-out to our friend Jerry, who finished his cross-country tour this weekend– 9,254 kilometers in 9 weeks, including a spectacular rando-style stint between Minneapolis to Pittsburgh (1,570 kilometers in 7 days). You’re amazing!

Unexpected Letdown

Almost two weeks have passed since Felkerino and I were last turning our tandem wheels through Idaho and Montana. This bike tour, combined with my recent work travels, really helped me appreciate my Washington, D.C., home.

The District is bikeable and diverse. Career prospects are good. Over the last decade more and more people have moved into the city proper, and chosen bikes as their main form of transport.

This has led to improved bike infrastructure (not perfect, but better!) and provided opportunities for local businesses and restaurants who can cater to these residents. Travels have taught me that this is not a given in all places.

Capitol

Usually I end our summer bike tours with a sense of sadness or a wish that life on the road would continue, but not this time.  Unlike past trips, I thought our tour lasted just long enough and I welcomed the return to life in the District.

While for some, life inside the Beltway is a subject of constant grousing, I’ve realized that D.C. has become a comfortable home base for Felkerino and me.

The readily available resources within walking and cycling distance spoil me, and sleeping in my own bed and 24-hour access to a washing machine have been a real treat. Life here is good.

Idaho bike tour days, Felkerino and me

I miss aspects of the road, though. My windowless office brings a longing for the outdoors, and the bright sun’s rays on my cheeks and neck. I miss the gradual rise of daily temperatures and the freedom of sweating up and not wearing deodorant.

I love that dusty sweaty odor that builds up on my body and absorbs into my clothing over a full day of riding. It’s refreshing to breathe in the smell of a day outside, the scent of physical effort.

During our bike tour, every site was new. It takes energy to always be wandering through new terrain, but it’s also exciting. We began many days in rural areas. Now it’s a 30-mile ride from the built-up city to the countryside, and almost all of the paths between here and there are familiar.

Idaho bike tour, Felkerino and me

Mostly, I miss riding our tandem on the open road. For now, we’ve ditched our minimalist touring setup for full commute panniers and short rides here and there. We’re tending to business like the flat tire on the Quickbeam that I kept procrastinating (thanks for that, Felkerino).

Oh, and planning future tour. We’re doing that too.  I tend to drift into the post-tour funk, but Felkerino wards it off by thinking ahead. He likes to keep the anticipation of the open road within reach. I married a dreamer, which is a good antidote for the unexpected post-tour letdown.

Running In a Dress: Nuu-Muu Review

Over the last year, one piece of workout gear has firmly inserted itself into my closet– the Nuu-Muu exercise dress. I use them for commuting, running, and even ran a marathon in one earlier this spring. Continue reading Running In a Dress: Nuu-Muu Review

Becoming an Advocate through Bicycling, for Bicycling: Kelley W. of Women BikeDC

I’m over 50, and getting back into biking as a significant part of my lifestyle has led me into a whole new area of serving my community and region as an advocate. I’ve learned about infrastructure, Safe Routes to School, bike master plans, and I’ve met a whole new group of people in each arena of interaction that have enriched my life.

Even when I run into a bike-hater, I’m challenged to be the advocate– to win his/her heart and mind– or at least try to defuse the anger. This volunteer advocacy recently turn into a paying job. It’s something I never thought I’d be doing at this point in life, but I’m doing it because it’s fun.
Kelley W.

Continue reading Becoming an Advocate through Bicycling, for Bicycling: Kelley W. of Women BikeDC

Cascade to Crouch, Idaho: Taking Off the Training Wheels

Greetings from Crouch! It smells delicious here, like a sweet wildflower I don’t recognize. The dry air heightens my senses; the afternoon sky is pure blue, and there is no haze, anywhere. Continue reading Cascade to Crouch, Idaho: Taking Off the Training Wheels

McCall to Cascade: An Invitation to the Idaho Mountains

After days of roadside observation of the stand-offish peaks on our tour, Felkerino and I received an invitation to the mountains in the form of the Adventure Cycling Idaho Hot Springs Mountain Bike Route. And so we went. Continue reading McCall to Cascade: An Invitation to the Idaho Mountains

Riggins to McCall, Idaho: 50 Miles Up

Today Felkerino and I had a hard time getting our bike touring act together and ended up leaving Riggins at 9:30 a.m. Gasp! Continue reading Riggins to McCall, Idaho: 50 Miles Up

Kooskia to Riggins, Idaho

To make up for our 90-mile gradual downhill to Kooskia, we spent much of the following day climbing. Continue reading Kooskia to Riggins, Idaho

135 Miles from Missoula, Montana to Kooskia, Idaho

After our layover day in Missoula, Felkerino and I rose early for a 135-mile day over to Kooskia, Idaho, via Lolo Pass. Continue reading 135 Miles from Missoula, Montana to Kooskia, Idaho

Lost Trail Pass into Montana

After three days of riding and fretting about my bike tour fitness, I’ve now decided that it’s a much better plan to focus on pedaling rather than worrying. This approach makes the day better. Continue reading Lost Trail Pass into Montana

Challis to North Fork, Idaho: Salmon River Serenade

Today’s episode in bike touring found Felkerino and I sidling along the Salmon River for most of the 82 miles we covered. Our route was via highway Idaho 93, but it was quiet except for the perpetual singing of the Salmon River. Now that’s the kind of highway noise I could get used to. Continue reading Challis to North Fork, Idaho: Salmon River Serenade

Pickup Truck Dreams in Idaho: Lowman to Challis

We began today with a quiet exit from Lowman, a town nestled between the mountains. As we rode I wondered how life would be if, in order to go anywhere, I had to climb thousands of feet away from home. Continue reading Pickup Truck Dreams in Idaho: Lowman to Challis

Riding Out the Bike Tour Kinks: Boise to Lowman, Idaho

It’s our first day touring Idaho and I already feel in the teeth of it all. After some urban trail riding out of Boise that took way longer than it should have due to our lack of familiarity with the area, we ascended away from town. Continue reading Riding Out the Bike Tour Kinks: Boise to Lowman, Idaho

on two wheels in washington, d.c.

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