Category Archives: BikeDC Speaks

What Word Sums Up Your Cycling Experience?

Photo by Felkerino

Photo by Felkerino

With the D.C. area’s celebration of riding your bike to work known as Bike to Work Day happening this Friday, I’m revisiting some inspiring words from the #BikeDC cyclists I interviewed several months ago.

One of several questions I asked of this group was:

What word or phrase describes your D.C. bicycling experience?

I love this question because cycling can mean so many different things to people. Yet common themes also exist among us. Below is what some of the members of #BikeDC had to say in response to that question.

Life-changing!

-Marc M.

Maturity. I was still a neophyte to bicycling when I arrived at DC, and I feel I’m learning more and more about city and recreational cycling as I go. I think my experience here has been about growing up, and it’s been a supportive environment to learn.

-Lisa

Fun. I always have fun on my bike.

-Joan

Rootchopper and Lisa by the Georgetown Waterfront (Photo by Felkerino)

Rootchopper and Lisa by the Georgetown Waterfront (Photo by Felkerino)

Educational. I’ve started actually thinking about infrastructure and culture and how communities can thrive if our government systems take more than just the car into consideration.

-Laura

Getting better all the time — in most respects.

-Leslie

Grateful. I’m grateful to have the kind of cycling environment that I get to share with my daughter. It’s a warm community with welcoming places to ride.

-Chris

Freedom!

-Kate and Kirstin

Justin and John on Pennsylvania Avenue (Photo by Felkerino)

Justin and John on Pennsylvania Avenue (Photo by Felkerino)

What are you waiting for? Tell me what word sums it up for you, and let’s all go ride our bikes! Maybe I’ll see you out during Bike to Work Day?

P.S. Thanks again to everybody who participated in the original #BikeDC Speaks series.  

What’s Your Advice on City Cycling?

With the influx of riders taking to the streets this spring (oh how I’ve dreamed of using the word influx in a post), I thought I’d feature the advice BikeDC peeps have shared about cycling in the city.

The BikeDC Speaks interview series featured eight D.C.-area cyclists– six women and two men– and their perspectives on various commuting topics. I’ve since taken the interviews and divided them into topics, like the one discussed today.

Cycling in the city has its ups and downs. It’s more up than down most days, but it’s still much different than a meander on a quiet country road.

If you read this blog, it’s quite likely you are an urban cyclist too, so please chime in with your own thoughts.

What advice do you have about cycling in the city?

1. Be cautious, but don’t be afraid. If you’re afraid to ride, you won’t, but if you pay attention, every ride is an experience.

2. Cycling is very safe, but assume no one knows you’re there.

3. Seek out other cyclists. Although cycling is something most of us learn at a young age, riding in the city comes with a fairly specific set of “rules” and best practices that aren’t readily apparent, but can be learned quickly from others with more experience.

In the long run, this will make for better and more consistent cyclist behavior, which will go a long way toward making cycling a “normal” mode of transportation from the drivers’ perspective.

-Marc M.

Always be aware of your surroundings.
Look ahead for any unexpected happenings.

Know the rules of the road.
Be courteous to pedestrians and other bicyclists.

-Lisa

Stay alert. Be predictable. Make moves as much in advance as possible.

Take the lane when it is a better thing to do.

Stay in the flow of traffic as much as possible, and wave thank you when a driver does something nice or respectful.

I use a rearview mirror; I’ve had one since the early 70’s. I believe it gives me a much better– wider and further back– field of vision behind me than turning my neck quickly.

-Joan

Appreciate every moment and be grateful for your ability to get where you are going on two wheels. Notice the birds, the sunshine, the feel of the wind on your skin.

And if a driver yells at you, try to resist yelling back; ironically, I’ve found it only results in making myself more aggravated. Note: I’m not always successful at this.

-Kirstin

Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t be afraid.

Start on side streets with bike lanes and slowly work your way into bigger roads.

Or if you’re like me, just dive head-first into it and enjoy the ride. It helps to reach out to the community if you are unsure, and those of us on the #bikedc hashtag on Twitter are always willing to lend a hand!

-Laura

Don’t be intimidated. I’m actually an instructor, certified by the League of American Bicyclists, to teach about vehicular cycling.

One of the most discussed pieces of advice they give out is “Take the lane.”

Now, at first, it’s really intimidating to actually get out 1/3 of the way in a lane of potentially fast-moving traffic and ride there. Sometimes cars beep at you. But they beep AS THEY GO AROUND YOU, waiting until the lane to their left is clear, since they can’t get past you otherwise.

It’s annoying, but believe me, not half as frightening as being buzzed within an inch by a car who zoomed past you without slowing down, since you were in the shoulder, or worse, in the right-most portion of the travel lane.

-Leslie

Be patient. It can be easy to get frustrated with motorists and pedestrians every time you hop on your bike, and this frustration will wear on you to the point where you won’t be happy riding anymore. It’s happened to me plenty of times over the years, but now I do my best to enjoy my time riding and relax.

One peculiar tip that I can pass along: If you have a U-lock, when locking up to something, put the cross bar against your frame (as opposed to the thing you’re locking to).

If a thief is going to pry the lock, he/she will want leverage and using the frame to produce that leverage will likely result in a damaged or bent frame which is no good to the would-be thief (except for parts maybe). It’s not much of a deterrent, but it might help now and then.

-Chris

It’s fun and safer than you might think.

-Kate

What about you? What advice would you give someone who wants to start riding in the city?

How to Make the City a Better Place for Cyclists

As I wrote last week, I’m bringing back the BikeDC Speaks series to highlight some of the questions and issues it raised. This time, I’m also asking you to share your ideas and suggestions.

Carradice-heavy commute and me

Last week’s post asked about the best advice anyone ever gave you about cycling. This week’s question is:

What could the District do to make it an even better city for cyclists?

Compared to many other places in the United States, I think D.C. has decent cycling infrastructure. However, it’s far from perfect. Below are the thoughts of eight BikeDC commuters and utility cyclists.

What would you add? How can the District become an even better place for cyclists?

Or, if you do not live in the D.C.-area, what are the issues your community is facing and how could they be addressed?

Traffic enforcement. I get that crime is a problem, but if the city spent more time taming the 3,000-pound beasts, it would do a lot to make the place safer for everyone (and bring in lots of revenue).

Maybe then neighborhoods would become the walkable and bikeable spaces we’d all like, rather than vehicle thoroughfares.

-Marc M.

I know there’s political controversy about this, but I’d love to see infrastructure throughout the entire city. If there was a way to effectively educate motor vehicle drivers how to share the road with bicyclists, that would be great. And I think all bicyclists should take a class in street cycling.

-Lisa

More driver education about awareness of bicycles, bicycle rights, how to interact with bikes. That applies to all jurisdictions in the metro area. I guess it really applies all over the country. That kind of education should begin in the drivers’ training classes.

-Joan

Widen some of the bike paths. Rock Creek Park bike path is much too narrow in so many places. Practically, it’s only useful for a leisurely weekend bike ride.

Continue to install bike lanes, especially a cross-town route. I usually take Pennsylvania Avenue to get across town and that works well, but bike lanes on M Street would be a big improvement.

-Kirstin

Downtown is a nightmare, as are most of the major arteries in the city. If we could find a way to get bike lanes on roads like K Street and New York Avenue, we might find there are even more people willing to bike.

-Laura

I wish the commuter trains (VRE and MARC) took bikes, and I wish those trains ran on weekends. That would really extend my abilities to bicycle out in the boonies without having to use a car to get there. I miss the bike trains that New York Cycle Club used to run using Metro North.

Amtrak should have roll-on access for bikes, especially on their one train that runs out to Pittsburgh, for people who want to ride the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and C&O Canal Towpath.

And there’s that parking situation. Some cities in Switzerland actually have rows and rows of covered bicycle parking in major shopping districts. (It’s just thick plastic sheeting suspended over a metal frame, but still …)

-Leslie

Many of the things that DDOT is already working on will continue to improve the landscape: more dedicated lanes and separated lanes with better signage. My longtime personal gripe to DDOT is about the lack of a “No Outlet” sign on Water Street heading towards the Capital Crescent Trail in Georgetown!

Where it makes sense and where there’s room, multi-use trails should have separate paths for walkers and cyclists. Northern Europe has got this figured out – and even Chicago’s Lake Shore trail has some divided stretches that work pretty well. It would be nice for some of our region’s trails as well.

-Chris

Stop trying to force cyclists to be cars. Seriously, stop it. This “cyclists share the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicles” is ridiculous.

My bicycle is not a car. Cars are not bicycles. To lump them together and hold them to the same standard is unfair and ineffective.

Cyclists need their own sets of public safety laws and expectations-and not just as an after-thought to the D.C. Municipal Regulations for motor vehicles. Revamp the existing codes and give cyclists their own road rules.

-Kate

As always, thanks to the BikeDC peeps who brought this series to life and to all of you for reading.

What’s the Best Advice Anyone Gave You about Cycling?

Back in the fall, I put together a series that explored D.C.-area cyclists’ views and experiences about riding in the city.

Surly LHT with Ortliebs

#BikeDC Speaks featured 8 local cyclists– six women and two men. Some contributors began commuting regularly within the last year or two while others have commuted for several years. Thanks again to all the people who made this series come to life!

I initially featured each post by contributor. I am now presenting the series to highlight some of the questions and ideas shared.

This time I’m also asking you, dear readers and fellow riders, what are your answers to these questions?

OK, first question:

What is one of the best pieces of advice anyone has given you about bicycling?

The best clothes to wear and the best bike to ride are those that you enjoy using. It’s not about how you look or how much money you spend.

-Marc M.

One of best things I’ve been told is how to shift gears for climbing up hills. Spinning versus mashing. I’m still getting a feel for what works.

-Lisa

Just ride, just get on your bike, don’t overthink it.

-Joan O.

Stay completely out of “the door zone” even if you have to take the lane. It doesn’t seem that dangerous, but it is – think about where you’ll land when you bounce off that door. You can’t imagine how quickly a car door opens until you see it happen.

-Kirstin

Just ride.

-Laura

Everyone is out to kill you, but don’t take it personally. Just kidding! Cycling is a very safe activity and we all have the same goal: to get from point A to point B as quickly and safely as possible, whether on foot, bike, or car (or those awful rollerblades and segways).

-Kate

Take the lane.

-Leslie T.

I dont know if it’s advice, but one great saying about cycling that I read on Twitter lately – @lkono, I believe gets credit- was something like “Only when you’re a cyclist do you actually wish that your commute lasted longer!”

-Chris B.

And what about you? What’s the best piece of advice anyone gave you about bicycling?

Bicycles are Not Cars: Girl on a Bike on #BikeDC Speaks

We’re back for the final installment of the #BikeDC Speaks series.

If you ride in the D.C. area and do any blog reading or tweeting, you have probably heard of Girl on a Bike, aka Kate. A regular commuter and excellent blogger, Kate regularly participates in a lot of local #BikeDC events. I’m thrilled that she agreed to guest post for #BikeDC Speaks. Thank you, Girl on a Bike!

I’d also like to thank everyone who participated in this series of posts. #BikeDC Speaks featured 8 local cyclists, six women and two men. Some contributors began commuting regularly within the last year or two and others have commuted for several years.

I hope to do a little aggregation of the themes discussed by each contributor and share these in later posts down the road. In the meantime, please enjoy Kate’s post. I know that I did!

Girl on a Bike and friends

1. How long have you been riding in the D.C. area?

I have been riding regularly now for about 5 or 6 years. I first got the idea that I needed a bicycle on September 11, 2001. I distinctly remember how screwed people were that were on foot, on metro or in cars. Bikes are definitely the way to go in a major disaster/zombie attack.

It took me another few years before I got brave enough to ride my bike “in traffic” (and I remember how chuffed I was for riding an entire 5 blocks IN THE STREET OMG). Haven’t looked back since.

2. What sorts of things do you do by bike?

Anything and everything! Shopping, commuting, visiting friends, exploring new places.

3. What do you like about bicycling in D.C.?

D.C. is such an amazing city and traveling through and around it by bicycle gives me a completely different perspective, whether it’s a slow tootle along the Mall watching the tourists and monuments or riding along D.C.’s many trails. I’ve discovered so many new things (canal lock houses!) and places (the Capital Crescent Trail) that I never knew about before I started riding a bike.

4. What are the challenges of bicycling here?

DC is an urban area, and that means getting along with people from all different backgrounds and experiences, many of whom have different ideas about cycling and what is “correct” and “safe.” We all need to share the same spaces together and that can get difficult with so many people.

5. What parts of the city do you consider bike-friendly and why?

That’s a difficult question for me to answer because the majority of my biking has been in the Northwest quadrant, and very little in the others. There are many bike lanes and shops and bike share stations. I would consider Northwest fairly friendly.

6. What could the District do to make it an even better city for cyclists?

Stop trying to force cyclists to be cars. Seriously, stop it. This “cyclists share the same rights and responsibilities as motor vehicles” is ridiculous.

My bicycle is not a car. Cars are not bicycles. To lump them together and hold them to the same standard is unfair and ineffective. Cyclists need their own sets of public safety laws and expectations-and not just as an after-thought to the D.C. Municipal Regulations for motor vehicles. Revamp the existing codes and give cyclists their own road rules.

7. Any thoughts about Capital BikeShare?

I love Capital Bikeshare! I have five of my own bikes, but CaBi has come in handy plenty of times- specifically when I’ve just dropped off a bike at the shop and I need a ride home.

I love convincing my skeptical out-of-town guests to just try it, and then seeing the look of joy on their faces when they realize how much more fun it is to bike around DC.

8. What is one of the best pieces of advice anyone has given you about bicycling?

Everyone is out to kill you, but don’t take it personally. Just kidding!

Cycling is a very safe activity and we all have the same goal: to get from point A to point B as quickly and safely as possible, whether on foot, bike, or car (or those awful rollerblades and segways).

9. What advice do you have about cycling in the city?

It’s fun and safer than you might think.

10. What is a word or phrase that summarizes your D.C. bicycling experience?

Freedom.

11. What did I not ask about #BikeDC that you want to add?

Cycling can open so many doors. I didn’t even consider going to a Nats game until I realized they had a bike valet at the stadium. Now I’m a huge fan.

I’ve discovered so many things about this city that I never knew about by riding my bike (I got a pretty thorough D.C. history lesson one year from a fellow rider at BikeDC.) I got engaged at a canal lock house because of a bike trip my fiancé and I took along the towpath. Biking is awesome!

Such a rich post, Kate. I love what you have to say about bicycles needing their own set of rules on the road as well as how bicycling can help a person discover the city.

Have a question for Kate? Note it in the comments!

Using Shared Infrastructure Sharingly: Chris on #BikeDC Speaks

After several weeks of #BikeDC Speaks posts from the women of the #BikeDC community, we are back this week with a guy’s point of view on riding in the D.C. area.

Chris is another familiar face from #FridayCoffeeClub and, if you ride along MacArthur Avenue, you may spot him there as well. During his years of commuting in the area, Chris has observed and learned a lot about cycling in the city. AND as a new parent who hopes to have his daughter accompany him on rides, I thought he would make a great guest contributor.

Without further ado, here is Chris’s take on riding in D.C.

1. How long have you been riding in the D.C. area?

I moved to D.C. in 2004 for graduate school and started using my girlfriend’s bike to get to and from class pretty much immediately. I did this until her bike was stolen while I was in class one evening. We’ve since married, so I don’t think she held it against me.

After about a year’s hiatus, I inherited one of her father’s bikes (1978 Schwinn Super Le Tour 12.2), resumed riding, and have been since.

As of this year, I’ve been a year-round daily bike commuter for about six years.

Chris and his Schwinn fixed gear

2. What sorts of things do you do by bike?

I’m lucky enough to live close to work so I commute exclusively by bike. Off an on over the years I’ve done group rides and solo long rides. Living on MacArthur Blvd means I have an easy route out of the city (with all the other cyclists!) whenever I want to ride some miles.

More recently, I acquired a trailer for my daughter (15 months old) to start joining me on rides. The first ride -only about 10 minutes- was a success, but it’s going to take some time to get her comfortable with a helmet!

3. What do you like about bicycling in D.C.?

While up in New York recently, I was struck by just how far you have to ride (or drive with the bike on the rack) to get out to ride low-traffic country roads. There are plenty of in-city routes, and you have some good park riding, but to really log some miles you have to make an effort to get out of town.

By contrast, I think that D.C. (and Northern Virginia) offers the best of both modes. There is lots of riding to be done within the city for a relaxed summer evening ride, and it’s also really easy to quickly leave the city behind (on two wheels) and ride some really pleasant roads through Virginia and Maryland.

But you don’t have to get out of town to enjoy riding in the District; the residential neighborhoods offer plenty of low-speed side streets for relaxed riding. If you can avoid tourist traffic, the Mall can make for some pretty spectacular sight-seeing on two wheels. Several stretches of trail/road along the Potomac and Anacostia rivers also give a unique experience.

The fact that both the train station and National Airport are easily accesible by bike is a claim that not a lot of other major cities can make.

4. What are the challenges of bicycling here?

As with just about any dense urban space, it can be tough to have the various modes of transportation use shared infrastructure “sharingly.”

I don’t spend a lot of time riding busy streets other than those between my Foggy Bottom/West End office and home, although none of the streets that I do ride on regularly have sharrows or dedicated lanes (yet).

Mixing with cars on a daily basis has taught me to be a good deal more patient – and this goes for riding on the local multi-use paths (MUP) where there are pedestrians, such as the Capital Crescent Trail and Rock Creek.

One other difficulty that I’ve experienced lately is inter-trail signage. That is, finding signs to point you to nearby trails when you’ve reached the end of the one you’re on. Riding in Arlington recently has made me aware of the lack of signs here in the District.

All of that said, I can’t say very much comparatively, as I have limited experience riding as an adult in other cities. Things I see as challenges may be something that we D.C. riders take for granted compared to cyclists elsewhere.

Chris at #FridayCoffeeClub. People, it’s time to go to our jobs!

5. What parts of the city do you consider bike-friendly and why?

Generally the Palisades (MacArthur Boulevard) is friendly, if for no other reason than being used to lots of riders. The expansion of CaBi stations throughout the District and Northern Virginia has the potential to increase goodwill towards cyclists.

Another sign I keep an eye out for are quirky/fun bike racks. If a property developer (or DDOT) is willing to spend a little bit more on a non-standard issue bike rack then I’ll take it as a good sign. Even better are the unseen bike parking facilities. Any employer that has dedicated bike spaces (with extra security) and showers/lockers in their building is a step ahead of most.

6. What could the District do to make it an even better city for cyclists?

Many of the things that DDOT is already working on will continue to improve the landscape: more dedicated lanes and separated lanes better signage. My longtime personal gripe to DDOT is about the lack of a “No Outlet” sign on Water Street heading towards the Capital Crescent Trail in Georgetown!

Where it makes sense and where there’s room, multi-use trails should have separate paths for walkers and cyclists. Northern Europe has got this figured out – and even Chicago’s Lake Shore trail has some divided stretches that work pretty well. It would be nice for some of our region’s trails as well.

7. Any thoughts about Capital BikeShare? Also, if you use it, what kind of trips do you use it for?

I think that CaBi has been a success and affirms the notion that multi-modal transportation (metro-bus-bike-walk) works and works well. I have colleagues who use it regularly and can frequently be seen checking their smartphones for dock/bike availability before leaving the office for a meeting across town.

I’ve never had the occasion to use a CaBi; they haven’t really expanded out West very much (sadly, not a lot of demand in the Palisades); and around downtown I like to walk.

8. What is one of the best pieces of advice anyone has given you about bicycling?

I dont know if it’s advice, but one great saying about cycling that I read on Twitter lately – @lkono, I believe gets credit- was something like “Only when you’re a cyclist do you actually wish that your commute lasted longer!”

Chris takes to the 15th Street Bike Lane. @sharrowsDC button attached to the commuter bag!

9. What advice do you have about cycling in the city?

Be patient. It can be easy to get frustrated with motorists and pedestrians every time you hop on your bike, and this frustration will wear on you to the point where you won’t be happy riding anymore. It’s happened to me plenty of times over the years, but now I do my best to enjoy my time riding and relax.

One peculiar tip that I can pass along: If you have a U-lock, when locking up to something, put the cross bar against your frame (as opposed to the thing you’re locking to). If a thief is going to pry the lock, he/she will want leverage and using the frame to produce that leverage will likely result in a damaged or bent frame which is no good to the would-be thief (except for parts maybe). It’s not much of a deterrent, but it might help now and then.

10. What is a word or phrase that summarizes your D.C. bicycling experience?

I’m grateful to have the kind of cycling environment that I get to share with my daughter. It’s a warm community with welcoming places to ride.

11. What did I not ask about #BikeDC that you want to add?

While you can certainly do plenty of riding (utility, commuting, sport) without running into too many other people, I’d encourage new-to-town riders (or those who have been riding solo) to seek out the community of cyclists. Ever since I’ve found a couple different groups, I’ve been much more energized about getting out and riding and spending time on the road with other people.

There are plenty of different groups out there for all tastes and skill levels, be it the randonneuring aficionados or the Hains Point trainers. As I’ve learned, a friendly hello and some small chat- even with a cyclist you’ve just encountered and don’t know- makes the ride much more enjoyable.  It can be anything from asking a tech question of one of those Hains Point lappers to finding out about the route in from Cumberland, Maryland, from a mud-covered C&O Canal rider.

I agree! Good #BikeDC company improves a ride and puts a friendly face on the city. Thank you again, Chris, for being part of #BikeDC Speaks!

Getting Better All the Time: Leslie T. on #BikeDC Speaks

Leslie T., superhero transportation cyclist, and I go way back to the days I first began riding with the D.C. Randonneurs. If there is a way to get there by bike, Leslie will figure out it. When work requires her to travel, she takes a bike along. Vacation? It usually involves a bike. Getting around town? Bike, of course.

You may have seen Leslie out and about. She volunteers with WABA, partakes in the occasional touring and group ride, and regularly attends #FridayCoffeeClub. Here is what Leslie had to say about cycling in the Washington, D.C. area.

1. How long have you been riding in the D.C. area?

I moved to D.C. in September, 1992. Before that, I was an active bicyclist back in New Jersey. In fact, just before the move I had been embroiled in an advocacy issue that led to a visit to the Matawan police department after heated discussions with a conductor of a New Jersey Transit train. New York City’s advocacy organization, Transportation Alternatives, helped me with that.

So, immediately after getting to D.C., I joined D.C.’s advocacy organization, the Washington Area Bicycling Association (WABA), and showed up at Bike DC (then held in September). At that ride, I was recruited to join the WABA Executive Board. I haven’t looked back.

2. What sorts of things do you do by bike?

Everything. I run all errands I can on a bike. I once brought 250 books to be given away by bike – stuffed into rear panniers, front panniers, a milk carton on the top of the rear rack, and a back pack on my back. I commute to work (when I’m not working at home).

I love to do inter-modal trips: put the bike on a train or bus, then bike from there. That lets me visit friends and go on rides that would otherwise involve (the horror! the horror!) getting into a car.

3. What do you like about bicycling in D.C.?

Just about everything. I love that most of D.C. and Arlington (where I live) have a grid pattern of streets, so there are many alternate ways to get where you’re going. I love the different sub-cultures of bicyclists, most of whom respect each other, and some of whom overlap in interesting ways.

4. What are the challenges of bicycling here?

A major challenge is parking.
The two sub-challenges are: parking when running errands and parking when at the office.

Now that D.C. has replaced many parking meters with computerized kiosks, parking spots are even more scarce. The number of bicycle racks installed is less than adequate and they tend to be poorly located.

For some neighborhoods (Georgetown?), I am forced to use a chain, encircling a lamp post, in conjunction with my U-lock. But I have a really nifty red cable that I got at Adeline Adeline that is so no-hassle to carry and use that I almost don’t mind.

As for bicycling to work, the U.S. (and D.C.) lags far behind in office buildings providing safe, indoor parking for bicyclists. I’ve been lucky, in that buildings I’ve worked in have allowed me to bring my bicycle inside (that was a question I asked after I determined they were interested in me and before I accepted the job), but for a day-visit, I’ve had to hustle and do research — sometimes finding a parking garage a block or two away that had an old-fashioned bicycle rack tucked into a corner.

5. What parts of the city do you consider bike-friendly and why?

I consider most of the city — and many of the suburbs — bike-friendly. But I may have a higher tolerance than others for bicycling in traffic, and I’ve experienced some really un-bike-friendly places (Atlanta? most of South Florida? Most exurbs that consist of subdivisions rather than neighborhoods).

I will bike about anywhere. Friends have asked, somewhat incredulously, if “that was you” biking on Chain Bridge Rd out in Vienna (yup), or on Route 450 in Bowie (yup again). However, I think I may have to draw the line on biking to Tyson’s from Arlington.

6. What could the District do to make it an even better city for cyclists?

I wish the commuter trains (VRE and MARC) took bikes, and I wish those trains ran on weekends. That would really extend my abilities to bicycle out in the boonies without having to use a car to get there. I miss the bike trains that New York Cycle Club used to run using Metro North. And Amtrak should have roll-on access for bikes, especially on their one train that runs out to Pittsburgh, for people who want to ride the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) and C&O Canal Towpath.

And there’s that parking situation. Some cities in Switzerland actually have rows and rows of covered bicycle parking in major shopping districts. (It’s just thick plastic sheeting suspended over a metal frame, but still …)

7. Any thoughts about Capital BikeShare?

I joined Capital BikeShare shortly after it opened, thinking I would use the CaBi bikes when I couldn’t bike into downtown, but that never happened.

I finally used CaBi for the first time last month: I needed to go for a run and also run errands, and didn’t have time to do both.  I ended up running to the nearest CaBi bike station (they are now in Arlington!), renting a bike to run my errands, returning the bike to a different station and running home. It was perfect, except that I forgot to bring a helmet, and I felt naked on the bike. I am now on a quest to find a folding bike helmet – I might have to go to Europe to do it, since the ones that exist aren’t CPSC-certified.

8. What is one of the best pieces of advice anyone has given you about bicycling?
“Take the lane.” See next question.

9. What advice do you have about cycling in the city?

Don’t be intimidated. I’m actually an instructor, certified by the League of American Bicyclists, to teach about vehicular cycling. One of the most discussed pieces of advice they give out is “Take the lane.”

Now, at first, it’s really intimidating to actually get out 1/3 of the way in a lane of potentially fast-moving traffic and ride there. Sometimes cars beep at you. But they beep AS THEY GO AROUND YOU, waiting until the lane to their left is clear, since they can’t get past you otherwise. It’s annoying, but, believe me, not half as frightening as being buzzed within an inch by a car who zoomed past you without slowing down, since you were in the shoulder, or worse, in the right-most portion of the travel lane.

10. What is a word or phrase that summarizes your D.C. bicycling experience?

Getting better all the time — in most respects.

11. Do you have a picture of your bike and you that I can use for this post?

The fleet now consists of seven bicycles. Here goes:

(1) The commuting/utility bike, a late ’70s Raleigh. I actually wrote about this bike on a long-inactive web site I used to maintain. See “A Tale of Two Bicycles“. (OMG, I really do need to update that site or get rid of it.) Anyhow, the Raleigh gets admiring stares and comments from people who appreciate classic bikes. But it gets left alone by most other people. There’s not much original left on it — literally the frame and fork — so it’s clearly a “creative reuse” of a classic bike. But with its upright handlebars, a huge Arkel commuting pannier on one side and an eBay Kirtland on the other, it’s the perfect utility bike. Thank you, AnneC.

Leslie’s Raleigh

(2) The Terry. This was one of the first woman-specific bikes, designed by Georgena Terry and manufactured in upstate New York. It’s now my touring bicycle, fitted with a triple, a Bruce Gordon rear rack, and a generator built into the front hub. I also ride the Terry around town, when I know I won’t be leaving it outside for long.

The Terry in front of Saxbys Coffee

(3) The Trek. My friend HelenZ had a gorgeous Trek carbon bike that she never rode. Whenever I saw it (in her house, never on a ride) I would ask why she never rode it, she would say she couldn’t get it to fit properly, and I would offer to adjust the fit for her. She never took me up on the offer. After the third (or fourth?) such conversation, Helen offered to give the bike to me! I couldn’t refuse. After some minor adjustments (angle of the handlebars; position of seat) it fits me well enough to let me comfortably do long multi-day rides. This is my “fast” bike, “fast” in quotes, so any bike I ride is only as fast as the rider.

(4) The Folding Bike aka the Bike Friday New World Tourist. This bike was love at first sight, or, actually, love before first sight, since I knew I had to have it when I saw an ad in a bicycling magazine. I’d had folding bikes before this, but nothing satisfactory. And since I travel a lot on business, it was either get a good folding bike or do without bicycling or long periods of time, obviously not an option. This bike has been on tours of Australia, Ireland, England, and various parts of the US, supported and unsupported, weekend to week-long. It rides just about like a full-size bike (the 20-inch tires wear out faster) and gets a free ride, in its suitcase, on airlines that charge $150+ to transport a fullsize bike.

The Bike Friday on a Road Trip to Philadelphia

(5) The mountain bike, a hard-tail Diamondback. I was going to sell this one, since I barely ride it. However, this is the bike that has the studded tires, so it keeps me on a bike those few times that it snows enough in DC to leave snow and slush in the roads.

(6) Old reliable, AKA the truck, AKA a 1981 Miyata touring bike.This one really was love at first sight, in the bike shop. The first bike I had ever seen with a triple crank. And it fit without any major component replacements. I was going to sell this one, too, since I wasn’t riding it on tours (had the Terry) or around town (had the Raleigh). But then I had my Aha! moment. Instead of taking the folding bike with me each time I went out to my office in California, why not just ship the Miyata there and keep it in the office. Done. Since then, the bike has enjoyed a tour down to Monterrey, several club rides in Silicon Valley, and even the hills in San Francisco.

Leslie’s Miyata

(7) The fixee. I wanted to try a fixed gear bike. I found a Nishiki frame for $25 at a WABA Bike Swap (alas, no longer held.) A friend (JeffR?) was selling a set of wheels including a rear with a flip-flop hub. I don’t remember how or why it ended up with the original handlebars from the Raleigh, which I switched to mountain (straight-across) bars for city riding. I kept on the brakes, switched the chain, but kept on the two chain rings. Voila — (almost) instant and (definitely) cheap fixed gear bicycle. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy going up and down the hills in Arlington on that bike. So I shipped it to my father’s place in Florida, where the only hills are the overpasses. It’s the perfect bike for South Florida.

The Nishiki Fixed Gear

Thank you for being a guest contributor on #BikeDC Speaks, Leslie. Lots of great stuff here, from your enviable bike collection to the knowledge gained from years of good riding in the city.

Questions or comments for Leslie? Don’t be shy, ask away!

Making Yourself Part of the City: Laura M. on #BikeDC Speaks

Time for another edition of #BikeDC Speaks. This week’s post is brought to us by D.C. bike commuter and transportation cyclist Laura M., also known as @grafxnerd on the Twitterverse. Twitter and the magical #BikeDC hashtag is how I first “met” her!

Laura has a keen eye for detail which is not only apparent in the beautiful bikes she has built up, but also in the observations she makes about the positives and negatives of riding in the Washington, D.C., area. Read on and see for yourself.

1. How long have you been riding in the D.C. area?

I started riding in D.C. last September. I was itching to get a bike and ran to Hudson Trail Outfitters where, silly me, I went with a hybrid bike that was totally wrong for me.

I rode it for a month locally in Crystal City then decided it was too heavy and god-awful ugly. I found an 80′s Raleigh road bike on craigslist, fixed her up, and have been riding the streets of D.C. every since.

Laura’s Raleigh Pursuit

2. What sorts of things do you do by bike?

Almost anything I can by bike! I commute to work, both when it was 7 miles and now that it’s only 2 miles. I used to grocery shop by bike (store is now a block away and that’s just silly), do leisurely rides around, visit friends, stop at coffee shops, and run general errands.

My second bike has a Velo Orange porteur rack on the front of it which makes it extremely easy to haul a decent amount of stuff around.

3. What do you like about bicycling in D.C.?

There is an energy to it most of the time. When I’m on the bike riding the streets, I feel like I truly am part of the city. It’s silly to say that, but there is something, for me at least, to being on a bike that brings me closer to this place.

I moved here six years ago and have really not enjoyed it, trying to get out since arrival. But now that I bike, I’m finding new places, seeing a new side and just loving it. I think that District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has been doing an amazing job of putting in dedicated bike infrastructure, which aids in the ease of the ride.

4. What are the challenges of bicycling here?

Education is the biggest thing for me. I’m not a complete stickler for laws and can be a scofflaw at times, but I run by the rule of “could this harm me or someone else?” Most of the time, as minute as it may be, I find it can, so I obey.

I think it’s a hard thing to pinpoint, but finding a way to get the casual cyclists—the one’s who don’t care about organizations like WABA or community events hosted by places like BicycleSPACE—to at least realize that they can’t just fly down the road with no regard for anyone else, would be something worth figuring out.

Education doesn’t just need to stop with cyclists. We have a LOT of motorists who also don’t seem to understand the rules of the road for themselves or our rights as cyclists. Within a year of riding, I’m sure every cyclist can say they’ve had someone tell them to get off the road. I’m not sure if that’s something a new organization needs to do, or maybe it’s the DDOT, I’m not sure.

5. What parts of the city do you consider bike-friendly and why?

I don’t get around the city too awful much; most of my time is spent in Dupont/Adams Morgan/U St so I’ll have a closed opinion. The circles are a killer for bikes, I try to avoid them as much as possible.

Thomas Circle (and maybe others) have bike lanes, which are a good addition. Generally, from what I’ve seen, lower Northwest D.C. (Woodley Park and south) and the Capitol Hill area are pretty bike friendly.

Laura’s Raleigh Olympian with porteur rack

6. What could the District do to make it an even better city for cyclists?

Downtown is a nightmare, as are most of the major arteries in the city. If we could find a way to get bike lanes on roads like K Street and New York Avenue, we might find there are even more people willing to bike.

7. Any thoughts about Capital BikeShare?

I think it’s a great service. I don’t really use it since I have two bikes of my own, but have in the past. They are a bit clunky/slow, but maybe that’s okay. :)

8. What is one of the best pieces of advice anyone has given you about bicycling?

Just ride.

9. What advice do you have about cycling in the city?

Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t be afraid. Start on side streets with bike lanes and slowly work your way into bigger roads. Or if you’re like me, just dive head-first into it and enjoy the ride. It helps to reach out to the community if you are unsure, and those of us on the #bikedc hashtag on Twitter are always willing to lend a hand!

10. What is a word or phrase that summarizes your D.C. bicycling experience?

Educational. I’ve started actually thinking about infrastructure and culture and how communities can thrive if our government systems take more than just the car into consideration.

True! Transportation policy should definitely be more inclusive. Thanks again for the excellent post, Laura. Your writeup has great information for both new and experienced riders. See you on Twitter and the commute!

Freedom!: Ultrarunnergirl on #BikeDC Speaks

Kirstin, aka Ultrarunnergirl, is one of the many great people I’ve met through #FridayCoffeeClub (which you should think about attending, if you do not already).

As her blog suggests, Kirstin is an ultrarunner as well as a cyclist, and is one of few people I know who also run commutes when she’s not out bike commuting. Here’s what she had to say about riding in the Washington, D.C., area.

1. How long have you been riding in the D.C. area?

I’ve lived in the D.C. area for 17 years, and have always had a bicycle. I ride more now than I used to, but cycling has always been the best way to tour the city, whether it’s getting to and from the Cherry Blossoms, 4th of July fireworks, Screen on the Green, softball games on the Mall, taking a jaunt on the Mount Vernon trail, or exploring the C&O Canal.

Kirstin on Hains Point

2. What sorts of things do you do by bike?

I always enjoy riding to a ballgame or to dinner, but my favorite thing to do is bike commute. It’s fun in itself, but the best part about it is that it’s the antithesis of being stuck in traffic or crammed into a crowded train.

There’s no waiting (except at the occasional red light or for a pedestrian), you get your heart rate up, and you can pick your route based on interesting things to look at or stop into. My favorites are Whole Foods and Dolcezza. Did you know that Italians habitually eat gelato on a croissant for breakfast? You should really try it sometime.

3. What do you like about bicycling in D.C.?

It is the most enjoyable and fastest (in most cases) means of getting around the city, and the sights are wonderful. I love biking home at night in the summer. No long waits for a Metro train, and the air almost feels cool.

4. What are the challenges of bicycling here?

Because traffic is heavy in and around the area, I think drivers (and Metro commuters) are under a lot of stress, impatient and in a hurry to get OUT of traffic, even if they’re not in a hurry to get to their destination.

There’s a lot of frustration out there and being yelled at to “get off the road” is never fun to hear, even though it’s fairly rare.

Kirstin’s Specialized Dolce

5. What parts of the city do you consider bike-friendly and why?

I don’t do much biking outside of Northwest D.C. other than an occasional foray into Southwest to a Nats game or a jaunt to a friend’s place in Brookland. That area could definitely use some bike lanes!

I prefer the 14th Street bike lanes because there’s lots to look at and I like the timing of the lights for the most part.

6. What could the District do to make it an even better city for cyclists?

  • Widen some of the bike paths. Rock Creek Park bike path is much too narrow in so many places. Practically, it’s only useful for a leisurely weekend bike ride.
  • Continue to install bike lanes, especially a cross-town route. I usually take Pennsylvania Avenue to get across town and that works well, but bike lanes on M Street would be a big improvement.

7.  Any thoughts about Capital BikeShare?  Also, if you use it, what kind of trips do you use it for?

The bike sharing concept is fantastic. It means fewer bodies on the Metro system, fewer cars on the road, and less automobile emissions in the air I breathe.

I’m still sulking that the nimble SmartBikes were replaced with those sluggish, heavy behemoths with mountain bike tires. I haven’t used one in about a year (mostly because I have my own bicycles).

I used to love running partway to work, then hopping on a bikeshare bike and riding the rest of the way. Or I’d grab a bike for an impromptu ride with coworkers at lunch. It was great.

I definitely think that the proliferation of the big red CaBi bikes has resulted in a greater tolerance and acceptance of bicycles on the road. There may not be more patience, but drivers are now accustomed to seeing lots of cyclists out and about now as opposed to being shocked to see a cyclist riding in the road!

8. What is one of the best pieces of advice anyone has given you about bicycling?

Stay completely out of “the door zone” even if you have to take the lane. It doesn’t seem that dangerous, but it is – think about where you’ll land when you bounce off that door. You can’t imagine how quickly a car door opens until you see it happen.

9. What advice do you have about cycling in the city?

Appreciate every moment and be grateful for your ability to get where you are going on two wheels. Notice the birds, the sunshine, the feel of the wind on your skin.

And if a driver yells at you, try to resist yelling back; ironically, I’ve found it only results in making myself more aggravated. Note: I’m not always successful at this.

Panda portrait! (Editor’s note: You know I love these)

10. What is a word or phrase that summarizes your D.C. bicycling experience?

Freedom!

11. What did I not ask about #BikeDC that you want to add?

What are some favorite bike rides you do just for fun?

Weeknight jaunt: Start at the Capital Crescent Trail in Georgetown and ride up to Bethesda for dinner and back. If it gets too late you can get back by Metro (bikes allowed after 7 p.m.)

Weekend rides:

1. Take in the sights on the National Mall, the Jefferson Memorial, Hains Point. Continue north along the Potomac River and (short option) stop for a refreshment at the Georgetown Waterfront or (longer option) cross the 14th Street bridge and ride the Mt. Vernon Trail to Old Town Alexandria.

2. Or (medium option) take the Capital Crescent Trail, go under the Canal and Canal Road (at mile 9.8) and head west, climbing a short hill up Foxhall Road and then head northwest on McArthur Blvd. Stop for brunch at Blacksalt or the Palisades Farmers Market (Sunday 9a.m. – 1p.m.).

Great stuff, Kirstin. Thank you for being a guest contributor and for providing a couple of local route suggestions. See you on the commute OR at #FridayCoffeeClub!

Don’t Overthink It: #BikeDC Speaks to Joan O.

Now that the big vacation has ended, #BikeDC Speaks has returned to the front page! This week features a guest post from Joan O., a transportation and recreational cyclist who calls Arlington, Virginia, home.

I’ve gotten to know Joan from seeing her out and about on some of the same roads I regularly travel. She’s a friendly and outgoing cyclist with a thirst for adventure. Here’s what she had to say about riding in the Washington, D.C. area.

1. How long have you been riding in the D.C. area?

23 years.

2. What sorts of things do you do by bike?

Grocery shopping, pet store, hardware store. Getting a haircut, visiting museums, going to lunch and the library, etc. All kinds of errands – and I commuted to work before I retired, both in Alexandria and downtown. I use panniers and have a pull-behind trailer when I have to get bulky items.

I also drive my car to the surrounding countryside so I can ride my bike in rural, low-traffic places. That is relaxing no matter how slow or fast I ride my bike or how far, because it’s scenic and not urban.

Joan O. and her Rivendell Bleriot

3. What do you like about bicycling in D.C.?

It’s easy to find routes to get almost anywhere. Getting places on my bike is easy. And I like that there’s a strong bike culture here that emphasizes using a bike for transportation.

4. What are the challenges of bicycling here?

The D.C. area is a fair distance away from great rural riding.

Drivers – so many drivers here act as if they are always more important than the next person (whether that other person is on foot, in a car or on a bike).

5. What parts of the city do you consider bike-friendly and why?

I find most of Arlington and D.C. fairly bike-friendly. I can usually find a decent biking route to many destinations. I’ve ridden in downtown a lot, through downtown up to Silver Spring and Kensington and Bethesda, and also to Southwest DC.

I generally ride cautiously and try to also ride predictably. I do stop at stop signs and red lights. I think that helps let drivers know that I’m trying to be careful. All that said, I admit that I will cut the lane when traffic is very backed up. I have to say that M street through Georgetown in rush hour is a bit of a challenge.

6. What could the District do to make it an even better city for cyclists?

More driver education about awareness of bicycles, bicycle rights, how to interact with bikes. That applies to all jurisdictions in the metro area. I guess it really applies all over the country. That kind of education should begin in the drivers’ training classes.

7. Any thoughts about Capital BikeShare?

I like Capital Bikeshare. The more people on bikes, the more drivers are aware of bikers. The more people biking in “regular” clothes, the more other people and drivers realize that biking is transportation too.

The other side of that is many of those using Capital Bikeshare aren’t really used to biking in the city and they do some stupid stuff on their bikes. But I still think the positive outweighs the negative.

8. What is one of the best pieces of advice anyone has given you about bicycling?

Just ride, just get on your bike, don’t overthink it.

9. What advice do you have about cycling in the city?

Stay alert. Be predictable. Make moves as much in advance as possible.

Take the lane when it is a better thing to do.

Stay in the flow of traffic as much as possible, and wave thank you when a driver does something nice or respectful.

I use a rearview mirror; I’ve had one since the early 70’s. I believe it gives me a much better –wider and further back – field of vision behind me than turning my neck quickly.

10. What is a word or phrase that summarizes your D.C. bicycling experience?

Fun. I think I always have fun on my bike.

At the very least, I feel good and have a sense of accomplishment when I ride even in rain, snow, bitter cold, or dreadful traffic. I feel particularly accomplished in dreadful traffic because I can avoid getting stuck in it!

So true! The bike offers an agility in urban areas that is not available to cars.

Great reflections, Joan. Thanks so much for being part of #BikeDC Speaks, and I look forward to seeing you out on the road!