I’m excited to feature one of my favorite bloggers in today’s Women BikeDC interview. Elizabeth, who writes the blog Tin Lizzie Rides Again, lives and rides in the Arlington area.
Some of her recent posts include tips for effective cycling, clothing reviews, as well as highlights of her own bike-friendly and often-reflective sewing projects. I’m always impressed by the clothing that Elizabeth makes. She has so much talent!
I’ll leave it to Elizabeth to tell us more…
I grew up in Sacramento, California– definitely car country, although I didn’t get my driver’s license until right before my 17th birthday. I’ve never been a big fan of driving. I toured with Disney on Ice for three years, as the wardrobe supervisor, then moved to New York City in 1999, where I worked as a member of the Theatrical Wardrobe Union on Broadway shows for a long time. Eventually I got my Masters in Modern European History and worked as an editor for a human rights nonprofit organization.
A physical therapist in New York City strongly recommended I give up running and bike and/or swim instead, but I didn’t have room for a bike in my tiny Manhattan apartment, and frankly was afraid to bike there anyway. (It’s much more bike-friendly now compared to when I lived there!) So once I had some space in my first Arlington apartment to keep a bike, my parents, visiting from California, helped me get set up. My dad had biked to work for years, so he helped me pick out my first bike and accessories.
Once I started riding my bike around Arlington, it because a bit of a personal challenge – “That was only 20 minutes? I can go further than that!” and I just kept going.
A Ladies’ Night at the Clarendon Revolution Cycles a few years ago encouraged me to try their Sunday morning group ride, and I did – on my 7-speed hybrid bike. So I started exploring more and more of Arlington by bike. It’s so easy, and it was really fun, and I started to get into better shape.
How did you start sewing reflective office-friendly bike clothing?
Initially I was considering ways to add fiber optics to clothes to see if I could make them light up, but then stumbled upon Michaux Club bike bags, with their cool cut-out reflective details. Reflective trim is easier than trying to figure out electronics, and more machine-washable, so I found iron-on reflective grosgrain ribbon and made a skirt with it on the hem. It sort of snowballed from there.
Unfortunately, reflective fabric is hard to find and expensive, and my favorite reflective piping is apparently no longer being made, so that will be a challenge at some point. I’ve made 15 or so pieces, and I have at least six more in the works. Sewing is really my main hobby, whereas biking is really what I do to get around. But my bike is an extension of me, and my style, and reflective bike clothes, things I can wear to work, on vacations, or out on the town, are now part of who I am.
What sorts of things do you do by bike?
Mostly I just bike to work. I’m the opposite of a weekend warrior – I rarely do much biking on the weekends. I bike to Target and the JoAnn Fabrics in Seven Corners the most, but we chose to live in a super walkable part of Arlington, so we either walk to the grocery store and restaurants, or take Metro if we are going a lot farther.
I do have a road bike and I’m trying to get back into riding that more often. I did the Sea Gull Century in 2013 and then didn’t touch the bike for over a year. I think all the training burned me out. I have learned that I prefer bicycle touring – I want to explore new places by bike, rather than ride the same trails repeatedly.
I’m hoping that this year I’ll get to try more mountain biking. My husband built me a mountain bike last summer but I only got to try it once. I think I’ll like it – once I get over the fear of going over the handlebars and busting my teeth.
What features do you think make a city bike-friendly and why?
I admit that I’m a bike lanes kind of girl – I am so happy that there are so many bike lanes in both Arlington and D.C., and hope the trend will continue.
I think having Capital Bikeshare in the region makes a big difference because the municipalities have invested in installing bikes and docks and making it easier for people to get around, at least from station to station.
That sort of investment is bigger than just painting in bike lanes. In order to make the system popular and get people to use it, you have to be serious about bicycles as a mode of transportation. Then the bike shops and the bike racks and the bicycle friendly businesses, and the non “bikey” people using the bikes follow.
What do you like about riding in the D.C. area?
Bike lanes! Also, I like the D.C. bike scene because there are more people like me: people on older bikes, bikes with racks and crates and baskets, people in everyday clothes, families with children. It’s a much more diverse bike scene.
I think Arlington is catching up. Recently I have seen more women biking in dresses in Arlington, more casual riders, rather than the hard core, Lycra-clad long-distance riders.
How could the D.C. area improve?
First, take bicyclists seriously. Actually, take vulnerable road users seriously, aka, anyone not in a car. I believe that if we make our streets safer for pedestrians, it falls into place for the rest of us.
Then, more bike lanes! Protected bike lanes! Improve connectivity! It’s nice to have some stretches of buffered or protected lanes, but if they suddenly end in sharrows or nothing at all, that doesn’t help the less confident riders. Better signage would help, too. Oh, and take better care of the pavement, especially in the bike lanes.
What suggestions do you have for employers who want to be bike-friendly?
Showers! It’s hard for some employers to add showers because it’s frequently a building management issue. But having a shower for employees goes beyond being bike-friendly; it’s employee-friendly. Employees might want to run at lunch, or need to stay late and want to freshen up, or what if something happens during the day like you fall into a mud puddle? There are any number of reasons why offices should have showers, and being bike-friendly is one of them.
Also, lighten up about bikes in offices. I know that there are plenty of offices with a no-bike policy, and I think that’s stupid. If it’s purely a space issue, I can understand that a bit more, but if you want to keep it in your cubicle or office, what does that matter? And as a potential employee, if I see bikes in the office, I’ll be more inclined to want to work for you, because it shows that the employer values employee health.
In 10 years, what do you think the D.C. area will be like for cycling?
As long as local leadership understands the importance of biking for transportation, for economic vitality, for health and safety of our communities, and how the investment will more than pay off over time, then they will continue to (or begin to) take bicycling seriously and make the needed infrastructure improvements and actually demand enforcement (i.e., no illegal U-turns on Pennsylvania Avenue).
If that keeps up, in ten years would could have an area more like Copenhagen, where biking for transportation is just what people do, and not just on the weekends for sport.
How has riding a bicycle influenced your life?
Well, it got me my current job and then my husband!
Seriously, I am in better shape now than I was before: my short 30 minutes of biking a day is my minimum exercise (lately it’s been my only exercise, alas). I sleep better. I’m more relaxed. I enjoy my commute.
Biking did help me get my current job, doing transportation demand management (TDM) outreach with employers in Arlington County. It’s easier to talk about a car-free or car-lite lifestyle because I am car-free, and have the background in getting around by bike.
And when I met my husband, we sort of bonded over our interests in bikes. Our second date was a bike mechanics class; he taught me how to patch a tube, adjust my breaks, installed a removable link in my bike chain and so on. Of course, now I just let him do everything! It’s great that we have a shared interest in this. Luckily we have limited space, or we’d probably get more and more bikes.
How does it feel to be a woman who rides in an area where women are less than 26% of the riding population?
I suppose the correct answer is, “It makes me feel like Superwoman!” but I don’t really think about it, I guess. I’ve biked in Montreal, Copenhagen, and around Germany and Switzerland, and enjoyed seeing the range of women biking, but here I’ve never thought, “Oh gee, I’m one-fourth of the people biking in my area.”
What I notice more of is if I see several other people on bikes on my way to work in the morning, and I’m in a skirt or dress pants, and they are all in exercise clothes of some sort, male and female, then I think, “Gee, I’m the only one wearing street clothes.”
What prevents more women from riding?
I get lots of questions about hair and makeup, and changing clothes at work. It’s just one more thing that women have to think about. Guys can show up at work, shower and throw on a shirt and pants. It’s more involved for women, if you aren’t into makeup and jewelry and so on.
It’s always, “How do you keep your hair from looking bad?!” Here’s my tip from my tweens, when I read Seventeen magazine: Reversing your part occasionally adds more body and lift to your hair, so flip your bangs or part just before you put your helmet on. When you take your helmet off, return your hair to it’s normal part, and it won’t be flattened.
Another thing that I think about, and I hope I don’t plant ideas into anyone’s head, is personal safety. Not, “Will I be hit by a car?” but “That person ahead of me looks questionable. Will he jump out at me, try to grab me or mess with me?” It’s not much different than walking past a questionable looking person on the sidewalk, but somehow, sometimes, I feel vulnerable, because it’s just me on a bike, not surrounded by steel and glass.
What are the issues you deal with as a woman cyclist, or is it something you think about?
What I’ve already mentioned – personal safety, helmet hair, preferring protected bike lanes over sharrows or nothing, biking in heels. I tend to consider women to be more law-abiding, so I’m always disappointed by the women who blow past me when I’m stopped at red lights.
I’d like to see more women biking, of course, but because women frequently are the ones dealing with children, it’s harder for them because they have to get the kids to school or day care. If those locations are not near home or work, it’s an added trip that is more challenging to figure out. It’s clearly not impossible, but you have to be really dedicated to the bike lifestyle to figure it out.
I don’t meet that many women in my outreach who are willing to make those major changes, and our society isn’t really set up to do that. Families live in the suburbs and need to drive to get anywhere; it’s hard to find cargo bike parking (is there any in the D.C. area?!). It’s now easier to find cargo bike dealers, but they aren’t something every bike shop carries; offices don’t have showers and storage; etc.
And another thing I hear from women is that they don’t go straight home, even after picking up children: they go to the grocery store or pick up dry cleaning, or any number of household errands that need to be done. Again, it’s not impossible, just more challenging.
Tell me about your bikes.
My husband was building my bike when we met; he was planning on leaving it on the George Mason campus to use while he was going to school there. Somehow it turned into my Valentine’s Day present.
I love the color and the pull back handlebars (the “Albatross” bar by Nitto, sold by Rivendell), which are now leather-wrapped. The skirt guard I bought in Malmo, Sweden, and it’s nicely utilitarian, not girly or ruffly or anything.
Since all my bikes are male, this one has to be somewhat masculine. Its name is “Little Lord Fauntleroy” because when my husband first built it up for me, we put my hybrid bike’s white lace plastic basket on it, and it made me think of the painting of The Blue Boy, by Thomas Gainesborough. I wouldn’t change a thing about it, although it does need a paint job.
My road bike is a men’s Cannondale Synapse. It’s matte black and I named it “Donnerwetter,” which is German for “thunder.” I call him “Donner” for short. My husband also has a Cannondale, in bright yellow, named “Blitzen,” or “Lightening.” Unintentionally coordinated!
My mountain bike is named “The Sopwith Camel,” and is painted tan and olive green, with a faux leather saddle and faux wood grain grips. My husband used to have a red mountain bike named “The Red Baron” but he recently replaced it with an acid green frame. He’s not as dedicated to our coordinated bikes, I’m afraid.
What accessories do you consider must-haves and why?
Fenders on my commuter bike – they keep the water and muck off me so I arrive at my destination pretty clean and dry. Plus they look cool.
I love my front bike basket so much that I can’t begin to rave about it enough! I bought it in Copenhagen and my husband managed to pack it in his suitcase. It’s huge and is made of fairly small mesh, so I can just throw my wallet and keys in it and not worry about them falling out. It makes me happy every single day.
Other than that, I love my Basil pannier, because it doesn’t look like a bike bag, and I have used it as my carry-on for trips. I can take it with me to work meetings as well.
What’s one of the best adventures you’ve ever had on a bike?
The bike tour my husband and I did last summer on our honeymoon. I can’t wait to do something like that again!
We did a 7-day bike tour around Lake Constance, which includes Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The package included rental bikes and panniers, hotels and breakfast, luggage service and all the maps and directions we needed.
The area is one of Germany’s top bicycle vacation destinations, plus it takes you through some bike friendly towns, so it was just this fully supported trip where we never got lost, rarely mixed with cars, were constantly amazed by how easy it all was, and just enjoyed the entire time. Even the two days it rained were still fun. I definitely recommend it!
What is one word or phrase that summarizes your bicycling experience?
My whole biking experience in one word? That’s a challenge! Um… “Adventure.”
I like it! Thank you, again, Elizabeth for being part of the Women BikeDC interview series.