Paris of Women BikeDC: On Coffee Clubs, Bike Shops, and Testing Boundaries
My mind is generally moving 100 miles per hour. The squirrels in there never seem to stop spinning. Being on my bike quiets the squirrels and allows my mind to focus on one or two things– avoiding pot holes or other riders, usually. I’ve found that the more I ride, the saner I am. When I have something to work out, I’ll go on a bike ride and allow my brain to quiet down a bit.
It’s been a privilege to spend the summer talking with each of the women who make up the Women BikeDC interviews, and to learn about what cycling has meant to them over the years and how it continues to shape their lives. It’s also been enlightening to discuss the unique issues women deal with while cycling, as well as the infrastructure issues that affect all riders in an urban area.
Our final interview in the Women BikeDC series is with Paris of Silver Spring, Maryland. Paris is a recreational rider, sometimes bike commuter, and regular attendee of the Downtown Silver Spring Coffee Club (#DTSScoffeeclub).
After “meeting” Paris through Twitter, reading her cycling-centric blog, Confessions of a Turtle, and following her weekend cycling excursions on Instagram, I asked her about being part of Women BikeDC. She said yes, and with that, we have the final installment of the Women BikeDC interviews.
Thank you, Paris, and to all the women on two wheels who have been part of the Women BikeDC series.
Tell me a little about when you started riding.
I began riding my bike as a child. I don’t remember the brand, but my bike in elementary school had a banana seat.
Growing up, my parents and I would go on family rides on the weekends– my dad had a road bike, my mom had an old school 3 speed, and me with the children’s bike and the banana seat. I always looked forward to when we would set out and go visit friends or just ride around.
I got a Sears Schwinn Free Spirit when I was older. I was able to ride alone, and I started just tooling around the neighborhood. I kept going further and further until I would be gone for hours.
I had such freedom on my bike. And this was the early to mid 80’s in Detroit. There were no bike lanes or helmets. I don’t remember having any fear at all. It was just great to be on my bike.
What do you do by bike?
I live in downtown Silver Spring, Maryland, and until 30 Days of Biking I would walk every where. Now, I’m more likely to ride my bike for an errand.
I’ve also started riding to work a bit more. I’m still not meeting my one to two days per week commuting goal, but I’m doing it more than last year.
When I read your blog, an enthusiasm for cycling permeates your writing. What do you love about riding and what influence has cycling had on your life?
My mind is generally moving 100 miles per hour. The squirrels in there never seem to stop spinning.
Being on my bike quiets the squirrels and allows my mind to focus on one or two things– avoiding pot holes or other riders, usually.
I’ve found that the more I ride, the saner I am. When I have something to work out, I’ll go on a bike ride and allow my brain to quiet down a bit.
Cycling has influenced my life by helping to get me back into shape. I grew up in Detroit. To say that it is the Motor City, is an understatement. There are wide roads that encourage drivers to speed everywhere. The older I got, the easier it was to get off my bike and into a car.
Living in the D.C. area and seeing cyclists everywhere is what made me want to ride again. I quickly realized that it is MUCH hillier here than pancake-flat Detroit.
About a year into group rides, the light bulb went on that if I wasn’t lugging the weight of an elementary school student around, I might enjoy riding a bit more and hills might be a bit easier. I got serious about my eating and fitness, lost 50 pounds, and my enjoyment improved greatly.
What is the riding like in the Silver Spring area?
Downtown Silver Spring is good, not great, for cycling. Because I live here, I know the neighborhood streets with low volume and stick to them when going on errands around Silver Spring and Takoma Park.
It is great to see sharrows on Georgia Avenue, Capital Bikeshare stations, and I’ve noticed more and more bikes going to and from the Metro using the higher volume streets like Georgia. I’m just not quite up for that challenge.
Rush hour traffic around Silver Spring can be a bit of a nightmare with rude drivers and I’m a little too skittish to deal with them.
Like every other cyclist in Montgomery County, I would love a dedicated bike lane that runs the length of Georgia Avenue from the D.C. line to the Wheaton or Glenmont Metro stations. Unfortunately, this is a state run road and I’m not sure it will happen.
There are so many multi-lane roads in Montgomery County that are begging for a redesign– Old Georgetown, for example. One of the reasons that I belong to the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), and happily give them my money, is the great advocacy work they are doing. I hope to see changes on some of these roads one day.
I’d also like to see an education campaign targeted at drivers. I think drivers get annoyed with cyclists because they don’t understand why we do things.
When I’ve explained why I move to the front of a queue (to get ahead of traffic and allow for people to more easily pass), why I don’t ride on the shoulder (avoiding glass or other debris), or why I take the lane (so cars don’t try to squeeze past me), people get it.
You currently ride primarily for recreation. Do you ride with groups or solo, and what are some of your favorite places to ride in the D.C. area?
Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of solo riding. When I first got back into cycling I joined Meetup.com and found a great cycling group out of Northern Virginia (the NoVA Casual Bike Group). They had tons of rides at every level, were truly no drop, and were incredibly welcoming.
I still primarily ride with the NoVA Casual Bike Group for group outings and will ride to and from Shirlington, Virginia, for our group rides. I also ride with Proteus Bicycles out of College Park, Maryland.
Recently, I’ve also starting riding with a group out of Prince George’s County. They do a lot of rides in Upper Marlboro, Bowie, and District Heights. It’s been fun learning about those areas.
Hands down, my favorite organized ride is the Covered Bridges Metric Century in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I’ve done this one five years now. The first two years I rode my Bianchi hybrid and I did the 25K and 50K.
Since getting my road bike, I’ve done the 100K a few times. I look forward to it every year. I love the rolling hills, the Amish buggies, and the route and ride support.
I enjoy rural Montgomery County riding, it’s easy to quickly get outside of the Beltway, and drivers tend to be used to cyclists. I’d like to do more exploration, but don’t like to go too far from my home when I am by myself. Twenty miles out is about my limit.
I want to become more confident with bike mechanics and route planning. Knowing I could quickly get to a bus or Metro or fix a minor mechanical issue would help me venture further away. Right now, changing a flat is about where my comfort level is. I’ve taken the Park Tools class, but practice makes perfect.
Tell me about the DTSS Coffee Club!
My favorite day of the week is Tuesday. On Tuesdays at 7 a.m. you’ll find the DTSS (Downtown Silver Spring) Coffee Club at Kaldi’s Coffee Bar talking about riding our bikes, getting advice on new bikes, or solving the world’s problems.
Our roundup includes: me (@TurtleDub616), Ricky (@bikeeveryday), Caleb (@calebjamesdc), Ken (@DCAKen), Physics Prof Eric (@ebubar), Randonneur Eric (@ewiliams0305), Peter (@jopamora), Ryan (@RyanSigworth), and Don (not on Twitter!). We even had an appearance by Pete (@SilverSpringInc). Notice anything?? I’m the only woman.
The DTSS Coffee Club has truly changed my life. It is because of the guys that I commuted the first time. I spent several weekends “testing” my route, but when the day would come, I’d chicken out. Monitoring Twitter and #BikeDC had me scared to death, quite frankly.
I met @TinLizzieBikes at the Women’s Bike Summit a couple years ago and she encouraged me to just try it and said that it wouldn’t be horrible. @ramblingrider also sent out Tweets of encouragement that year. I still couldn’t seem to get over the hump.
One day last year at DTSS Coffee Club, I admitted to being afraid of commuting to work. Every single one of the guys said that I would be fine and things really weren’t that bad.
I gave it some more thought. Finally, I didn’t tell anyone I was going to do it, I just got up one day, rode my bike to work, and…. it was fantastic.
A highlight of DTSS Coffee Club was this year’s Bike to Work Day when Ricky and Peter led me and The Erics to Friday Coffee Club at Swing’s Coffee in D.C.
I’ve always wanted to go to Friday Coffee Club, but working in Rockville makes that impossible. It was great finally meeting you and all the other #bikedc folks.
What do you think prevents more women from riding a bike?
I think physical safety is a barrier for women. In general, women want to be able to get from Point A to Point B without feeling vulnerable. I know that I am hyper aware of my surroundings, especially on empty, wooded trails or when I head out early in the morning.
Another issue is how women are treated at bike shops. When I was trying to get back into cycling, I was overweight and had no idea what I wanted. Remember, my last bike was an 80s era Free Spirit.
At the first shop, I was ignored for 10 minutes, put on a road bike that was WAY too small, and the staff was dismissive. Bike shop #2 wasn’t any better and I stood around for 10 minutes before leaving.
Bike shop #3 was *clearly* for the experienced, racer types. I didn’t see any urban or hybrid-type bikes and they seemed annoyed a newbie was asking questions.
I was so demoralized after my bike shop experiences that I resigned myself to not picking up riding again. At the strong encouragement of a friend, I tried one more shop– Proteus Bicycles. The former owner, Jill, was a breath of fresh air after several weekends of frustration.
We sat on the floor(!) and chatted for at least 30 minutes before she ever put me on a bike. I tried at least four different bikes before settling on my Bianchi hybrid.
She wasn’t condescending, listened to me, and asked me what sort of riding I was planning on doing. It is largely because of Jill and Proteus Bikes that I am where I am today.
What would you tell someone who wants to start riding in the BikeDC area, but hasn’t made the leap?
This is a great area to get your feet wet riding. If city riding, or riding alongside traffic isn’t your thing, there are so many trails in this area to explore.
On a Saturday or Sunday, grab a group of girlfriends, and go have lunch in Bethesda, Georgetown, or Old Town. Head out to College Park and do a loop around Lake Artemesia.
Riding is a great way to enjoy your friends, see different sights, and build up an appetite! Just be sure to have water and properly inflated tires!
How does it feel to be a woman who rides in an area where we are less than 26% of the riding population?
I honestly only notice it on Tuesdays at DTSS Coffee Club or the rare occasion I’m on a wooded trail alone. Since I’m more of a tortoise than a hare, on group rides I wind up with a more relaxed group that tends to have a more even gender split.
On the days when I commute in, I’ve started paying attention, largely due to John’s (@rootchopper) unscientific poll several weeks ago, and I’m the only woman almost all the time.
One day I saw a woman on a unicycle and I counted her for 5 cyclists. That is the only day women came close to the 26%.
I’m not sure if the lack of women cyclists is due to where I’m cycling (downtown Silver Spring to White Flint) or a true representation of cycling in Montgomery County.
What are the issues you deal with as a woman on a bike?
The bike shop experience is something that will forever color my view. Being invisible as an overweight, black woman looking to spend money in someone’s shop was disheartening.
I am acutely aware of how I am treated when I walk into bike shops now. I judge, very carefully, who will get my money.
Because so few women ride, I’ve found a lot of women who are interested in riding seek me out, either at work or when I’m running an errand, and ask where should they go to buy a bike or get their bikes checked out. My list is very, very short and my advice is the same- only spend money in bike shops that value you as a customer.
Tell me about your bikes!
I have a steel Bianchi Volpe named Sandy the Tank. She’s a cyclocross bike that I use as my commuter bike and the one that I usually take when I ride into D.C. She can handle any terrain, and is solid and comfy. As they say, steel is real.
My road bike is an aluminum Jamis Ventura Race Femme. I call her Greased Lightning. She is only held back by her owner. I like the Jamis because it doesn’t have an aggressive set up and doesn’t feel like she will get away from me.
For future n + 1, I’m seriously considering a custom road bike (lightweight steel or titanium). Being around Ricky (@bikeeveryday) doesn’t help. He’s in constant search for his n+1.
Which bike accessories do you consider must-haves?
Hmmm… I don’t ever ride without a helmet, Road ID, and telephone.
My “must-have” list has gotten very short. I had a looooong list before 30 Days of Biking, but participating in that really changed my perspective.
During the hot and humid days of summer, add a full water bottle to the list.
And keys! Don’t forget your house keys.
What are some of your future cycling plans?
I really enjoy reading about your bike trips with your husband and loved following along with this spring’s #nowrongplan Great Allegheny Passage and C&O adventure of Ryan, John, and Kevin.
So, with you guys as inspiration, I’m planning a 7-day bike tour of the Upper Peninsula next summer. I’m embarrassed to say, growing up in Michigan I never visited the Upper Peninsula. That changes next year.
What has been your most enjoyable experience cycling?
I have two that stand out:
In November, 2013 I participated in the 10th anniversary of the SMART Ride with 10 members of my NoVA cycling group. The SMART Ride is a fundraiser for HIV/AIDS service organizations and is a 165 mile ride from Miami to Key West over 2 days.
SMART Ride has so many corporate sponsors that 100% of funds raised go to the service organizations. It was incredible.
I wasn’t prepared to be as moved as I was. There were several times I found myself emotional and brought to tears– the stories told on the opening and closing nights, riding along the Seven Mile Bridge, and the parade through Key West.
I rode with Tim Johnson’s Ride on Washington in 2013. I can’t remember why, but I became a personal project for Richard Fries, the coach, during the community portion of the ride from Proteus to the Capital.
Suddenly he was pushing me up, up, up, to the middle of the pack. I was scared to death. I’d never been in a paceline and these are REAL riders.
Richard Fries kept pushing me back into the line (“You’re sticking out like a sack of mail, Paris.”) and told me to relax. When I finally started breathing, I realized that being there was effortless.
I didn’t cause a crash, they didn’t drop me, everything worked out. The cyclists were INCREDIBLE. I had a ball that day.
A phrase that summarizes your bicycling?
Bicycling has allowed me to test my physical and mental boundaries.