Stop telling the bike commuter it’s going to rain: Reba of Women BikeDC

I find the bike riding population in D.C. to be eclectic and interesting. I talk to a lot of people, sometimes I don’t get their name or their history, we just share the moment we are in and then ride on. Biking is about being present in the moment you are in and not trying to predict the next day.

The Women BikeDC interviews return this week with Reba, another Friday Coffee Club regular (Swing’s Coffee at 17th and G NW in D.C., every Friday, stop by if you can!) and daily bike commuter. Reba rides a round trip commute of 30+ miles and also makes sure to get her century fix when Fall comes around.

Always positive and laid-back, in addition to always riding her bike, I was eager to learn more about Reba’s thoughts on bicycling in the D.C. area, and asked her to be part of this series. Thank you, Reba, for agreeing! 

How has riding influenced your life?

Biking helps me stay in tune with the present. The simple act of continuous pedaling provides just enough physical distraction to give me the opportunity to focus on things that are sensed and muse about their meaning.

I see, hear, smell, touch and taste each season as it unfolds. By bike, each season has its own unique way to treat your senses. In the winter the wooden bridges creak, whitecaps are seen on the river, and the cold crisp air can be felt deep in your lungs.

The spring unfolds with longer periods of daylight, a myriad of bird calls, bursts of colorful blossoms, and the wind on your skin as you shed the winter layers. The heat of the summer sun feels like good medicine, one can smell the rain shower before it starts, and the rain water tastes sweet.

As fall insidiously edges out summer, the green leaves turn brilliant orange and red, the smell of decaying vegetation increases, and the squirrels scurry with the fervor of cold weather preparation.

Biking gives me an opportunity to let my mind ponder and wander, sometimes to silly thoughts.

I love listening to the many different birdcalls, and muse that some are urgent and purposeful, some are songlike, and some are for other more nefarious purposes.

Sometimes I hear the trees, as they ponder their providence at being placed at such a place as this, their purpose in life and where their final resting place will be.

I see fish leap out of the river. I don’t know why the fish leap out of the water. Are they after something that is just out of their reach, not content with the whole river that they already have?

Reba 2What do you do by bike?

The most consistent activity I do by bike is commute to work. I am thankful to have access to the Mount Vernon Trail (MVT) for my commute. My bike route to work is 16 1/2 miles from door to door. I ride the door to door route for about 7 months of the year.

During the darker (and colder) months, I use my vehicle and drive to the Mount Vernon Trail (MVT) which shortens my commute to work by 4 ½ miles but makes it much safer because I avoid riding local roads which are not bike-friendly in the darkest evening hours.

My local community is not bike-friendly. The local roadways (Route #1) and the sprawl (the distance between destinations) are all designed to accommodate motor vehicle traffic. So, to do things by bike you must be determined, creative and a bit of a risk-taker. Most of my non-work related bike trips are not in my neighborhood, but rather for a fun weekend ride in areas that are friendlier to cyclists.

When did you start commuting to work?

I don’t remember not riding a bike. I like to be outdoors. I enjoy the freedom that comes with bike riding. I’ve always biked – weekends, weekdays after work, to college, but not to work.

I used to drive the George Washington Parkway to and from work and would see people on their bikes passing me as I sat in traffic. In 2005 I decided I would try biking to work on Bike to Work day. I got all ready and it poured rain that day so I did not bike, but I biked to work the following Monday.

I found the ride to work was kind of long, but I could do it. So I decided to bike on nice days . . . and just about every day since then has turned out to be a nice day for biking to work.

It seems like a big deal, but it is very doable. Along the way, mostly due to tips gleaned from other bike commuters, I have developed the skills necessary to bike commute year round. I have learned to commute in the dark, the cold, and inclement weather.

I’ve developed “options” to accommodate after work events and unforeseen occurrences. I would be happy to chat with any professional working parent who wants to give bike commuting a try and needs to know the particulars on how to get from the car seat to the bike seat.

What features do you think make a city bike-friendly and why?

There are two things that control where and when people use their bike to reach their destination:

  1. Is there a safe route to the destination; and
  2. Will my bike still be there when I come back out?

Cities with dedicated access ways, like separate lanes for bikes to cross bridges and large highways, and bike lanes that are separated from roadways by barriers that prevent motor vehicle traffic from entering them give cyclists confidence that they can reach their destination safely and without confronting drivers who do not understand their duty to “share the road”.

While cities are becoming more bike-friendly, suburbs lag behind. Those who live in the suburbs and have a desire to bike still face significant barriers. I know men and women who enjoy bike riding but remain adamant that they will only ride their bike on a bike trail and not on a road without bike lanes.

The suburban counties would do well to provide easier access to area bike trails which connect to bike-friendly cities and other bike-friendly destinations, by providing all day commuter parking at access points to bike trails for persons who want to commute to by bike.

Bike valet parking for large events is a smart option. It eases traffic and gives the cyclists the confidence that their bike, and all the parts to their bike, will still be there when they get back.

Most importantly, changes in behavior by the people are needed. Respect for everyone’s choice for conveyance needs to be emphasized. No new infrastructure plans should be approved that don’t include dedicated bike routes. Existing infrastructure needs to be retrofitted to build and connect existing bike routes.

What do you like about riding in the D.C. area?

I like seeing a diverse group of people on bikes of all shapes and sizes.

How could the D.C. area improve for cyclists?

I think that more could be done to publicize bike-friendly destinations. Bile trails should have better signage to indicate the kind of businesses that are nearby. It would be good for business and cyclists.

A sign indicating that a coffee shop or grocery store or bike shop or historical site is .5 miles from a trail is welcome when you are in an area that you are not familiar with.

Reba 1

What do you think prevents more women from riding a bike?

As a professional woman who was the mother of school-aged children, a barrier to my daily bike commute was the “errands” that are tacked onto the beginning and end of each day.

Day care or school drop off and pick up, soccer games, and the need to be able to pick up a sick child on a moment’s notice all weigh into a long-distance bike commuting mother’s decision to use her bike to commute to work.

What suggestions do you have for employers who want to be bike-friendly?
  1.  View commuting to work by bike as something positive.
  2. Provide safe, secure bike parking.
  3. Provide an area where bike commuters can store their commuting shoes and clothes out of view.
  4. Understand the happy. Persons who bike to work are happier than those who drive.
  5. Stop telling the bike commuter “It’s going to rain.”
  6. Stop looking at the bike commuter incredulously every time the weather changes and asking “Did you ride your bike to work today!?”
  7. Provide closet space for the bike commuter to hang up their “work” clothes.
  8. Stop waiting for “that phase” to pass. It’s a lifestyle choice.
How does it feel to be a woman who rides in an area where women are less than 26% of the riding population?

It feels natural. In D.C. I have the perception that there are a lot of other people who are like me– enjoy using their bike to commute to work because it gives them just enough challenge, adventure and outdoor peace to keep their lives interesting. “Like me” doesn’t necessarily mean same sex, or even same, age, race or abilities but rather with the same hopes, joys and interests.

I find the bike riding population in D.C. to be eclectic and interesting. I talk to a lot of people, sometimes I don’t get their name or their history, we just share the moment we are in and then ride on. Biking is about being present in the moment you are in and not trying to predict the next day.

I am pleased to see the large increase in the number of persons traveling by bike. It is good for everyone: the more often motorists see cyclists, the more they will be aware to look for and expect cyclists on the roadways.

What are the issues you deal with as a woman cyclist, or is it something you think about?

Bikes are so easy to ride that they level the playing field between men and women who like to participate jointly in recreational sports. Recreational cyclists, men and women, can ride together so easily that I don’t give it much thought.

One issue I have dealt with is the inadequate and limited selection in women’s cycling gear. Cycling specific gear is necessary for comfort. Women’s cycling clothing is sized for the small and short, and I am neither.

Women’s cycling shoes are never available in my size. The finger length in women’s cycling gloves is too short. Thankfully, cycling gear is pretty unisex.

For years I have opted to use men’s cycling gear to get a comfortable and functional fit. I find the longer torso, arm and pant lengths of men’s cycling gear suits me better.

Manufacturer’s are just starting to figure out that women who are not “6-8-10” may also get on bikes, regularly and continually. Who knows, one day I may even bike looking like a girl.

Tell me about your bikes. 

Big Blue – Tall, sleek, can take a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’. I’ve had it since I landed in Corpus Christi, Texas in 1985 – went straight to the Schwinn bike store and brought a brand new 12 speed World Sport.

I rode her all over southeast Texas, all 5 boroughs of NYC and Long Island, with a baby in the seat on the back. That was my ride or die bike from 1985 to 2006. Now-a-days Big Blue has a position of prominence in the bike shed.

She watches over the flock as her extra tall steel frame (and finding replacement parts) make it difficult to use her for daily commutes.

The Horse With No Name – I purchased a Trek road bike in 2006 for my daily commute. Three big gears in the front and 9 small ones on the rear cassette. I use them all. It was/is very easy to ride, fits me like a pair of favorite old sweat pants and I just want to be on it every day.

I have replaced everything but the handle bars, even the frame. In spring 2011 the carbon components of the frame became unstable and Trek (with some annoying delay) replaced the frame. The replacement frame (a less sporty aluminum frame) still suits me fine, it’s about 90% as good as the original and I have grown accustomed to it. I use a wheelset with at least 24 spokes to give me greater stability with the lumps and bumps of daily commute.

A Giant Hybrid – purchased in 2002 – used some for commuting and recreational riding. It is too heavy and slow for my pleasure for commuting. I like the easy speed I get from a road bike. I gave it to my son a couple of years ago, so it’s still in the family.

A Hybrid Specialized – I brought it in winter of 2014 and, so far, I don’t love it. I brought it to ride non-paved routes – like the GAP trail from Pittsburg to DC, and in winter weather. My training rides on pavement paths have been pretty uneventful, but when I used it to commute I found it felt heavy in the rear, cumbersome and not at all nimble. It might have to go.

Which bike accessories do you consider must-haves and why?

Numero Uno is my whistle! I always ride with a whistle, it’s a must have – a throw back to my NYC roots. It is very loud and has stopped a lot of vehicles from coming into contact with me, including a huge dump truck that was entering onto a bike trail from a wall. I refrain from using it to alert pedestrians; I find that to be rude. Otherwise, it is a lifesaver.

Bike helmet – I decided in 2005 to use one at all times. Statistically, it makes sense to protect your noggin. It’s an intellectual choice, like deciding not to smoke because the science says it is not good for you, not because you don’t enjoy it.

Fingerless padded gloves – I wear them all year long, either over my winter gloves or alone. They help my hands/wrist absorb the vibration from the handlebars and protect my palms in the event of a tumble.

Cycling computer – I need to see how fast I’m going and how far I have traveled

Rear light & front light – being visible is tantamount to safety.

Smartphone – it provides invaluable access to information: e.g., maps, camera, GPS, text, email, social media links and . . . Oh yeah, it can make phone calls if need.

What’s one of the best adventures you’ve ever had on a bike?

Every day on the bike is a unique and new adventure. The amazing sunrises, meeting new friends, seeing old friends, wildlife and beautiful fauna, make every bike ride a great adventure.

One of the best day rides was in and around Colonial Williamsburg, biking to historic Jamestown via the bucolic Colonial Parkway over long low marshlands and ponds filled with skunk cabbage flowers and pretty vegetation and water fowl.

What phrase summarizes your bicycling experience?

It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.


  1. Always laid back? LOL. You should have seen her with the nurses when they wanted her to stay in the hospital over the weekend for a test on Monday.She insisted on being discharged and had the tests done elsewhere. Do not mess with Reba,


  2. Oooooooooh YES. Elevator conversations are great. Ppl are kvetching about this or that. “Must be terrible weather to bike to work” says no one who knows me. I laugh under my breath, as I blew by quagmired traffic on the MVT in what was a beautiful day on the Potomac. “Must be terrible weather to get stuck in traffic in a futile attempt to work,” I dont say.


  3. I love this series and loved reading Reba’s contribution. You’ve got a great voice and attitude. I’m very, very impressed that you commuted while raising children. It’s inspiring.


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