I have learned to approach many hurdles in life as if they were a ride on a new road. At first you might feel apprehensive and tentative, but once you do it, it becomes clear that all it takes is committing to that first push of the pedal. You may go slow or even fall at first, but if you keep at it, you will get there.
Today’s Women BikeDC interview features Linel, a daily rider who uses her bike in diverse ways– work commutes, errands, play, coffee, ice cream. Linel does it all by bike, a lot of it on a nicely customized olive green Surly Long Haul Trucker.
I came to “know” Linel through the past year’s Coffeeneuring and Errandonnee challenges, both of which have been wonderful gateways to meeting interesting bike-minded people. I’m happy to report that we recently met in real life. I wanted to know more about Linel’s dedication to daily riding, and asked if she would share her story. Thank you, Linel, for being part of the Women BikeDC series. Part 1 today, Part 2 tomorrow!
What phrase sums up your bicycling experience?
Nothing to it but to do it.
As an adult, I started riding when I was in college. I grew up in Puerto Rico, where cycling infrastructure is limited, and riding in the San Juan Metro area was and continues to be a risky proposition.
But I wasn’t too concerned with such rational things then. Being a college student and not having a car, a bike was the perfect way to get to school and have fun on weekends. I loved my copper-colored Specialized Rockhopper, although, why I needed a mountain bike to ride around town only the bike shop dude knew.
Back then, I didn’t know enough about bikes to ask many questions and was happy to walk out of the shop with a shiny new bike. I used to fall and get into accidents a lot, yet that never stopped me from jumping on my bike on solo rides to Old San Juan and back.
I loved the sense of freedom and independence riding my bicycle gave me. No cell phones or fancy GPS doodads then, just my bike, legs and the salty island breeze.
What sorts of things do you do by bike?
All the things! I ride my bike to work almost every weekday, year-round, except for when the Mount Vernon Trail is covered in ice or thick snow. On weekends, I ride to the yoga studio and to get all sorts of errands done: post office, grocery, yarn or drugstore and to meet friends for brunch or coffee in Old Town, Alexandria or D.C.
I also ride for fitness, fun, sightseeing and mental flossing. I do century, Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) rides, and other fun rides with friends and advocacy groups around the D.C. Metro area. I also mountain bike at Wakefield and Rosaryville parks on occasion.
This spring and summer, I am volunteering to deliver food donations in Alexandria. I love riding for a good cause or to make other people fall in love with bicycling.
I make friends, meditate and discover my own neighborhood all over again and new ones by bike. Most importantly, I build a strong sense of belonging to my community by bike.
What do you like about cycling in the D.C. area?
The breathtaking sights, scenic trails and myriad options for doing all kinds of riding. The #BikeDC, WABA, and Women and Bicycles sense of community and support. The Mount Vernon Trail definitely has a special place in my heart as does the C&O Towpath.
You regularly ride the Mt. Vernon Trail, a heavily used multi-use thoroughfare with several narrow stretches and some areas with limited sight lines. How do you manage it each day, especially when commuting?
I commute a total of 22 miles daily from Alexandria to downtown D.C. and back, most of them on the beautiful Mount Vernon Trail (MVT). On most days, riding on the MVT is the best part of my work day. I get to enjoy amazing views of the river and all the wildlife alongside it.
Yet as amazing as it can be on any given day, riding on the MVT can also be just as infuriating. This is true mostly when the weather is nice and the racing wannabes get their Lance Armstrong on thinking the trail is their personal time trial course. Insert other cyclists, walkers, joggers, strollers, kids, dogs and wild creatures into this picture, and you get all kinds of unnecessary close calls created by a handful of people on bikes whose behavior is then used by others to justify unfair generalizations about ALL the people on bikes.
For the most part, I don’t mind the on-foot crowds on the trail because they’re only there for a short part of my commute, are more or less predictable, and I try not to be a self-centered jackass as part of my overall modus operandi. The MVT is a multi-use trail; sharing is part of the deal. I get that.
The racing crew, on the other hand, constantly crushes my faith in humanity. They seem to be mortally allergic to their brake levers and have no concept of consideration for others. I regularly find myself ringing my bell or yelling “passing on my left” or “that’s kinda close” at the daily handful of inconsiderate cyclists I encounter on the MVT.
As a cyclist, you can choose to treat a spot like Gravelly Point as an obstacle course or to be kind and treat it as part of the shifting, breathing human landscape that the MVT is. Personally, I’d rather get home 5 minutes later and keep my karma points than be a jerk on two wheels.
As far as the trail itself goes, by now I know by heart where the tricky parts are and to stay alert and slow down around the busy areas where the random kid can unexpectedly cross in front of my bike and through the winding segments or slippery wooden bridges peppered throughout the trail.
Riding at night, it is the ninja runners and cyclists –no lights or reflective material anywhere– that can make the ride home frustratingly interesting. I make sure to let them know that nobody can see them as I ride by.
Like most things, some days are better than others on the MVT. Luckily, the trail comes with built-in soothing mechanisms in the form of cute black squirrels, not the kamikaze ones, chirping birds and breathtaking views.
Jerks and all, I still consider myself extremely lucky to have one of the best and most beautiful cycling commutes in the area. Let’s not forget that most of my fellow bike commuters are nice and courteous, and that I’d rather deal with the Lance Armstrongs of the MVT than with the stressed-out, texting rush-hour drivers of the D.C. Metro Area.
What features make a city bike-friendly?
- Establishing rational bicycle infrastructure, e.g, logically-connected bike lanes and clear signage for bicycles, cars and pedestrians.
- Lots of bike racks and bike-accessible and friendly businesses and venues.
- Reduced speed limits for drivers and fair laws that protect all users.
- Supporting strong advocacy groups and inclusive bike events also makes a difference.
How could the D.C. area be improved?
Logically connecting the existing bike infrastructure to transform riding to, in and from the city into a more seamless and safer experience. Adding bicycle cars to the Metro and MARC trains as well as adding safe bicycle lockers and/or bicycle parking stations not only in D.C. but in town centers and other highly trafficked areas.
Specifically related to D.C., among many other things, installing permanent U-turn deterrents along Pennsylvania Avenue and extending the 15th St. cycle track from Pennsylvania to Constitution Ave.
What suggestions do you have for employers who want to be bike-friendly?
- Provide safe bicycle parking areas and locker rooms with showers. Include bike-commuting as part of any incentive strategy regarding transportation options and related benefits.
- Actively promote riding to work as a perfectly acceptable alternative to driving.
- Have a formal forum for existing bike commuters to share their knowledge and experience with fellow coworkers who might be interested in riding to work.
Ms. Olive (Surly Long Haul Trucker) – I LOVE this bike to pieces. This is the reliable, comfy, sturdy companion that takes me to work and back, on errands over the weekend and on tours on the C&O Towpath.
I love it even more because of how it came into my life: A spur-of-the-moment trip to Brooklyn with my dear friend Amber, after a back and forth on Craigslist with the previous (female) owner. The whole thing turned into an amazing day of adventure and bike-riding in NYC. I will never forget that day! I’ve been making this bike my own since then.
Stella (Tern Link P9) – My transformer bike. This one got me through the few years I lived in Maryland. I thought I would go crazy living closer to Baltimore than to D.C., and I needed a folding bike that I could take on the MARC train.
I rode on shoulderless MD-175 by Fort Meade in my work clothes to the “amusement” of many even in the coldest of days. Some people thought I was insane for doing this, but to the contrary, this bike kept me sane while I struggled with living in a place that felt very isolated to me.
Ms. Madone (Trek Madone WSD 4.5) – My fast one. This thing is light as a feather and is the one bike I take on century rides and any other rides where I don’t have to worry about carrying stuff.
The Beast (Trek Fuel 5.5 WSD) – This one replaced my old hardtail mountain bike, and I had to get 6 stitches after riding it for the first time. I still finished my ride, but that experience definitely marked my relationship with this bike and, needless to say, I don’t go out on it as much as I wish I would.
Bike accessory must-haves?
On my commuting bikes, must-haves are bright front and rear lights, a sturdy rear rack, fenders, repair kit and my Rickshaw Pipsqueak handlebar bags and all the bags for all the things real and imagined one may or may not have to carry on the bike.
On my fast bike, my Garmin GPS and repair kit. On my mountain bike, my Camelbak and repair kit. I always wear a helmet.
What’s one of the best bike adventures you’ve ever had?
I especially treasure my cycling-camping tours along the C&O Towpath with my significant other. I love the feeling of exhaustion at the end of a day of pedaling on the crushed-limestone path and the sense of excitement I get when our chosen campsite is within reach.
Setting up the tent, preparing food and pumping water from the campsite well are the final touches to a day of communing with nature. I feel so lucky to live near the Towpath and can’t wait to go back this fall.
We’re back tomorrow with Part 2 of Linel’s interview, including a more specific discussion of issues surrounding women’s cycling so stay tuned!