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July 8, 2012 / bikesbytesbites

#bikedc Speaks

My friend MG, who writes the Chasing Mailboxes blog, asked me to answer a few questions re: Biking in DC.

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

I moved to DC 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, and NY City’s advocacy organization, Transportation Alternatives, helped me with that.  So, immediately after getting to DC, I joined DC’s advocacy organization, 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 out of my spare bedroom). 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 DC 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. And the two sub-challenges are: parking when running errands and parking when at the office.

Now that DC 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 mine.

As for bicycling to work, the US (and DC) lags far behind in office buildings providing safe, indoors 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.  Well, 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.  So, 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. What did I forget to ask you about #BikeDC that you want to add?

I’m good.

12. Do you have a picture of you/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.

Raleigh at Home

Raleigh at Home — Ready to go Shopping

(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.

Terry in Georgetown, DC

Terry in Georgetown, DC

(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.

Bike Friday at Trophy Bikes in Philadelphia

Bike Friday at Trophy Bikes in 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.

Miyata in San Jose CA

Miyata in San Jose CA

(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.

Nishiki at the Breakers, Palm Beach

Nishiki at the Breakers, Palm Beach


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