Monthly Archives: March 2011

Cherry Blossoms. They’re still out there!

It’s been a cold week here in the District, with some rain thrown in.

A gray day at the Tidal Basin with the Surly LHT

Do not let that deter you, my friends! While the blossoms may pop more against a clear blue sky, the cold and gray days help make the traffic around the Tidal Basin a thousand times more peaceful. Also, according to the National Cherry Blossom Fesival’s Bloom Watch, the cold weather apparently extends the blooming time for the blossoms. Good news for us!!

Cold Gray Day = Peaceful Hains Point

Even though I have seen the cherry blossoms annually for the past decade or so, I still marvel at their intense and fleeting beauty. I spend more than eleven months passing by these trees, not giving them a lot of thought.

In March, they start to catch my eye as their buds begin to appear. And one day, as I am coming from or going to the office, they have exploded all around Ohio Drive, the Tidal Basin, and Hains Point. How do they do that?! It happens every year, and every year it amazes me.

Cherry blossoms by the Potomac

We are so lucky to have the cherry blossoms in our city. Happy Friday, everybody!

The 15th Street Bike Lane: Pros and Cons

CaBi in the 15th Street Bike Lane

Did you know that the Washington City Paper recently named the 15th Street Bike Lane (or “cycletrack,” as the City Paper said), the “Best Bike Lane of 2011?” I did not even knew this was a “Best of” category.

For those who may not have ridden it yet, the 15th Street Bike Lane is a two-lane bikeway that begins (from south to north) at Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th (of course!), takes the rider up to New York Avenue, through the White House Plaza, reconnects with 15th Street, and then continues north to Euclid Avenue.

Having ridden the 15th Street Bike Lane since it first came to be in December 2010, I have appreciated its existence, but note that it works better for me in some parts than others.

I see this bike lane as two distinct segments:

  1. The section from 15th and Pennsylvania north to the White House Plaza/New York Avenue; and
  2. The section north of the White House Plaza.

1. I think the bike lane segment that runs from Pennsylvania to New York Avenue (White House Plaza) is a big improvement in my commute experience, compared to taking the street.

As cyclists, we are now all routed along the west side of 15th street, which minimizes our exposure to vehicular traffic. Because the west side of 15th street is flanked by the ellipse and the White House, no traffic passes in front of us and no one can make a left turn across the bike lane (except for the minimal official traffic that comes and goes).  We just have to mind the signals and be on the lookout for pedestrians.

Previously I took the street on this section and had to deal with fast-moving traffic, cars making left turns, and cars that wanted to quickly rush around me and then make a right turn right in front of me. That problem is now gone.

The only frustration I occasionally experience on this segment is that sometimes vehicles park in and block the bike lane. This doesn’t leave us with much recourse except to take the street into incoming traffic (not recommended) or walk the bike up onto the sidewalk. This was more of an issue when the lanes were initially added. Overall, this segment is a positive change for cyclists and people have been pretty good about not parking in the lane.

Ped for Stop in the Bike Lane

2. The 15th Street Bike Lane segment that runs north of the White House Plaza has proven problematic for me as a northbound cyclist (particularly K Street up).  There is so much more that I have to be wary about when I’m on the left side of a busy four-lane road.

Cyclists have to be extremely mindful about people coming out of parking garages on the cyclists’ left. These drivers are often looking past the bike lane to the road to see what the cars are doing.

I also have to watch out for the possible left turns of northbound cars. These left turners are hard to see when I am more than two lanes away on the other side of the street going the same direction. I don’t have eyes in the back of my head.

I like the concept of contraflow and keeping cyclists all in one general area of the road. However, it actually seems safer to me to stay out of the designated bike lane on this segment and ride on 15th Street as a car would, especially since I eventually make a right turn off this stretch. This right turn out of the bike lane forces me to cross back over 15th Street. That is not a big deal, but it simplifies things to just ride on the right side of the road.

However, the down side of taking the street on this segment is that, while I may feel safer, I am loathe to court any “Get in the bike lane!” comments. What’s a person to do?

I think the 15th Street Bike Lane is a great solution if you are a southbound moving cyclist, but going north from K Street on it does not feel safe. However, I like that people in D.C. are working seriously to make this a bicycle-friendly city. I continue to be baffled by all the car traffic.

Have you ridden these lanes, and if so, what has your experience been?

D.C. Randonneurs Urbana 200K Brevet

I had a great time this Saturday, making my way 128 miles from Urbana, Maryland, around the Catoctins and South Mountain on the D.C. Randonneurs Urbana 200K (full route description here). Felkerino and I had not ridden a brevet since November so it was fun to carry a card around on an official event with 67 other people.

I know Felkerino will be doing a summary of this brevet so I’ll leave most of that to him over at The Daily Randonneur. I’ll simply say that:

  • I did not like starting in 25-degree temperatures;
  • I liked my toe warmers;
  • I liked that the sun shone all day;
  • I liked that temperatures eventually warmed to the 40s;
  • I did not like the headwind in the first half of the ride (although, if you have to have headwind, I prefer it on the outbound);
  • I liked the draft off the captain;
  • I loved the tailwind in the second half of the ride;
  • I liked the homemade brownie I purchased at the KOA Campground control in Williamsport, Maryland (my post-ride reward);
  • I did not like the timing chain falling off four miles from the end of the ride;
  • I liked Felkerino’s 6-minute timing chain fix (my hero!); and
  • I liked riding with the group, reconnecting with people I had not talked with in a while, and meeting a few new people.

Overall, it was a day well spent on the bike. For a full set of our ride, check out my pictures here. And don’t forget to check out Felkerino’s summary, too!

Cherry Blossom Alert!

Cherry blossoms on Hains Point

What are you doing the next few days? If you are going bicycling in Washington, D.C., you MUST go to Hains Point and check out the cherry blossoms. I shouldn’t even tell you this because I like keeping the population on Hains Point a level below utter chaos, but the perky pink blossoms look so beautiful that I have to encourage you all to go ride among them. You will love it.

The blossoms are blooming away, but have not yet reached their peak. Soon, though, my friends. Then they will scatter like snowflakes and we will have to wait a whole year to ride among them again.

Felkerino and Cherry Blossoms

Weekday mornings are the best for riding Hains Point. Morning light, fresh morning air, no tour buses, and a few cyclists getting in their morning laps. It’s the perfect time of day for a cherry blossom ride. When you get to the office, you can’t help but be in a good mood after taking in all that beauty. SHHHH! Don’t tell anyone I told you that. It’s our little secret.

More cherry blossoms on Hains Point

See you on the Point?

Cycling Memories: RAGBRAI

This week, Girl on a Bike invited people to post their favorite cycling memory to her blog. Prize for posting? A chance to win a $50 gift certificate to Revolution Cycles. (See here for her writeup and contest).

Her post prompted me to dig into my bicycle memory bank. As I thought back, my first time riding RAGBRAI (Register’s Annual Great Bike Ride Across Iowa) entered my head. Thanks, Girl on a Bike, for the opportunity to reminisce!

Bike Friday at RAGBRAI

One of my many favorite cycling memories is of my first time riding across my home state via RAGBRAI. Having grown up in Iowa, I was always somewhat aware of the ride, but could not figure out people’s enthusiasm for it. Ride from the Missouri River to the Mississippi River through little Iowa towns? What is exciting about that? Plus, 500 miles over seven days over the entire state seemed like a long way to ride.

Then I moved to the East Coast, away from my Midwestern roots. After my move, I took up riding. It was exciting to be a cyclist in Washington, D.C. It’s such an active city, and the weather allows riding year-round.

Even though I had grown up riding a bike, I had never done much multi-day riding. I loved all the places I learned about through being on my bicycle, and I realized that I had never done that in my home state, a state that has the largest organized cross-state tour in the country. What was I thinking? I set my heart on riding across Iowa.

Cyclists on the RAGBRAI Route

To make the trip even better, my sister agreed to ride with me and my mom offered to carry our stuff from town to town. It was a perfect setup.

Every day we rode, I thrilled in seeing the towns fill up with cyclists from all over the country. Amy and I savored eating maid-rites and kringla– foods I grew up with but rarely found on the East Coast. I enjoyed pedaling the country roads of our home state, taking photos of barns and cornfields, and feeling the occasional undulations of the road beneath my wheels.

Stop Town on RAGBRAI

The best part of our week was a stop for ice cream in Popejoy, a town of fewer than 100 people and within 30 miles of my hometown. My sisters and I were paying our bill when we heard one of the volunteers say, “Hey, aren’t you Cathy’s kids?” What?! Only in Iowa! That was the essence of RAGBRAI for me. I may have grown up and left Iowa, but it will always be home.

Birthday Cake Commuting: The Felkerino Way

Before I launch into the sweet topic of my post, I’d like to welcome another researcher to the cupcake commuting circle. Girl on a Bike has sucessfully completed her first cupcake experiment. She used cakelove cupcakes. I love how she describes cupcakes as “a frosting transportation device.” She has a point. Read about her experiment here.

And now a return to the topic at hand, birthday cake commuting. This past week I celebrated my birthday. Another year older, another year ____________ (insert clever word here). Because it was my birthday, Felkerino was in charge of tracking down a cake. You just can’t have a birthday without cake, and I don’t believe in cupcakes for birthdays.

Felkerino ordered a vanilla cake with vanilla buttercream frosting from Furin’s of Georgetown and used his bicycle and pannier to pick it up. His commute setup is similar to that of my Surly LHT (except that he is riding a Rivendell Atlantis). We both use a Nitto Camper rear rack and Ortlieb panniers. Below you can see a shot of my Surly LHT (for basic comparison purposes only).

Surly LHT outside of Furin’s

Sometimes I wonder if Felkerino reads my blog. I think I’ve given some good ideas about carrying baked goods, such as cupcakes, and I would have thought these helpful hints might transfer over to cake transport. When I opened up the cake box, here is what I found.

Furin's Cake, post-ride

Felkerino informed me that he inserted the cake with care, and made sure it was laid flat in the bottom of the pannier. He flanked the box on both sides with some sort of material to make sure the box did not wiggle back and forth as he pedaled. However, he also thought it would be a good idea to put something over the top of the box to prevent any upward motion. This last step was the fatal flaw in his cake commuting technique, as this made the box bend inward and left the cake slightly marred.

Birthday Cake

That’s ok. Felkerino’s just a beginner with this stuff. I’m sure his skills will improve over time. Despite the commute-induced cosmetic flaws, the cake was delectable, and I think its taste was improved by the fact that he brought it home by bicycle. I’m off to have another piece right now. Thanks, Felkerino!

And as always, if you have any of your own cake-by-bicycle-transportation stories to share, I’d love to read them. Oh, and if you know of any other bakeries in the area that we should investigate, please let me know. I’m always looking for new places!

Darts and Fleches and Things

This weekend was largely spent on the bike, as Felkerino and I embarked on a couple of back-to-back rides that took us far away from our housework.

Saturday, we checked out part of our fleche route, pedaling from D.C. out and about to: Brunswick, Md.; Harpers Ferry and Shepherdstown, WV; Waynesboro, Guilford, and finally Gettysburg, Pa. We intended to ride 156 miles or so, but by the end of the day I was yearning for shortcuts, and thankfully we ended our day at 146 miles.

Much of the day was spent with a fairly steady headwind and, while not unpleasant, it made the ride a little slower going. Our route took us to Gettysburg, Pa., where we crashed the D.C. Randonneurs Dart party. That was fun. People kept telling us “Congratulations!” I kept saying “Thank you!” and then would remind myself and the others that we had not actually done the Dart. Just a day ride and Dart crash for us. Even so, I was happy.

Sunday, Felkerino and I rode with cycling friends Chuck, Crista, and several others back to Washington, D.C. That route was a little shorter, coming in at just over 100 miles. Mild temps, sun-filled skies, lots of cyclists out and about. It was a beautiful day.

To top it all off, it was my birthday weekend. I couldn’t have asked for a better present than a couple of long days on the bicycle, good weather, and time with friends. Well, ok, maybe if the rides had been 100% tailwinds. That would have made it perfect. I’ll put that on my list for next year.

Below is a smattering of weekend memories. For a full set of my pics, click here. For Felkerino’s, go here for Saturday and here for Sunday.

Spring Blossoms and Capital Bikeshare Tourists

Spring again. Another year of roadies on Hains Point, tour buses, high school classes on the National Mall, and wait!

What’s that? Something’s different this year.

This spring also features Capital Bikeshare tourists. I saw this group as I rode by the Jefferson Memorial on Ohio Drive ealier this week. What a great way to tour the city!

I came upon another group in the 15th Street bike lane, heading toward the White House, but I wasn’t quite as enthusiastic about them. They were riding about 8 miles per hour, and I was running late for work. Hurry up, tourists!

However, I much prefer the Washington, D.C., visitors when they traverse on foot or by bike as opposed to tour buses (where they hopelessly clog up the sidewalks) or cars.

You can cover so much more ground by bike than by foot. CaBi allows riders to rent a bike for $5 for one day or $15 for five days of use. Because riders still have to pay any hourly fees they incur after the initial 30-minutes of riding, I recommend tourists study the Bikeshare map before getting on their bikes.

Due to so many of the sites being located on National Park Service land sans Bikeshare stations, there’s an art to planning a D.C. day tour that allows you to easily pick up and drop off a bike.

It’s fun to pedal around town, but you may want to go into a museum or check out something that requries walking. You don’t want to leave the CaBi bike unsecured. Plus, you know how those hourly charges add up.

People will figure it out, though, just like the guys in this photo are doing. Go tourists, go! Welcome to Washington, D.C. Thanks for using Bikeshare!

It’s that time of year again

Today, on my commute home (in GLORIOUS daylight), I spied this treasure.

Spring Blossoms

That’s right, people. The trees in Washington, D.C, are showing signs of spring.

One mile later, I rode by several of these.

Tour Bus

It’s time to start sneezing and sharing the city again. I love the warmer days, cherry blossoms, evenings of daylight, and even the energy the tourists bring. However, I sure enjoyed the peacefulness of winter.

Welcome to spring commuting, everybody!

Celebrating spring with pink commuting socks

South Mountain X3 Populaire – 84 miles

This past weekend, Felkerino and I ventured out with friends to ride the South Mountain X3 Populaire, which was designed by Crista Borras.  South Mountain X3 is an 84-mile ride that starts in Thurmont, Maryland, and takes you three different ways over – you’ll never guess- South Mountain.

If you’re looking for a ride that is less than a century, offers beautiful climbs, and features diverse terrain, the South Mountain X3 populaire is the ride for you.

The ride begins with over 20 miles of rolling rural roads and gentle terrain to loosen up the legs. The route passes barns, goats, llamas, and cows. That’s a lot of fauna (except for the barns). To make the start extra special, you even ride through a couple of covered bridges.

Riding through the Covered Bridge

After leaving the farms behind, the ride meanders through the cannons, statues, monuments, and terrain of the battlefields in Gettysburg National Military Park.

Paul in Gettysburg

Not long after Gettysburg, the route enters orchard country. Apple trees are everywhere. The route takes roads that make the rider think that the mighty Big Flat is coming up in the near future (OH NO!), but at the last minute the cue sheet directs you away from Big Flat and takes a pleasant meandering climb over South Mountain instead (OH YES!).

Orchard Country

The Michaux State Forest awaits on the next stretch and, upon leaving it, you get a fantastic downhill that seems to last forever, but really only takes you to lunch. Don’t worry though, another wooded South Mountain climb through Caledonia State Park starts right after lunch so I recommend you keep that in mind and don’t eat too much pizza. It also offers up a nice downhill stretch after you reach the top of it, and the next stop is a Sheetz in some small Pennsylvania town. Don’t eat too much here, either, because you might be tasting it again right after you start climbing.

Chris in Caledonia State Park

The final South Mountain ascent at mile 69 is a toughie (up Old Route 16), but nothing unbearable.  For some reason, it doesn’t seem quite as picturesque as the previous two, perhaps because the steeper incline doesn’t allow one to relax and soak in its unique beauty. However, the winding wooded section near Camp Ritchie Road is a delight. Also, after you reach the tip top of the climb, Maryland 550 rewards you for all your effort and rushes you down through more farm country to the posh McDonald’s finish in Thurmont.

Barn on 550

Gentle terrain to start, three extended climbs, three long downhills, orchards, battlefields, farm animals, and lots of quiet roads. 5,000 feet of climb in 84 miles. South Mountain X3 populaire has it all and I highly recommend it.