“Metro estimates unprecedented crush loads unless rail riders find alternative modes.” – Martin DiCaro, WAMU 88.5 News
We applaud Metro’s Safe Track initiative, and are big fans of using public transportation. Washington DC needs a safe and reliable Metro system, and now the work is getting done to make it that way. But, according to ABC News, city officials are encouraging the 700,000 daily riders to avoid the Metrorail entirely for stretches at a time, in anticipation of extremely crowded train cars and platforms.
The related shutdowns and closures will affect our regional transportation system, stretching it to its limits. Many will experiment with starting to use a bicycle to get around town, and to and from work, at least on the nice days. We, at BicycleSPACE have been getting around by bicycle in DC, some of us for over 30 years, and have some tips to share. Here is a list of Frequently Asked Questions.
Q: When and where will the Metro system be affected, is there a plan and can I see it?
Q: Do you guys ride right out there in the street?
A: Yes and no, it depends. A lot of times we see new cyclists riding out on major roads, which we would never ride on. We choose our routes based on our well-being, and fortunately there are an increasing number of options.
The safest place to ride is on a trail where there is no nearby automobile traffic. Examples are the W&OD Trail, the Four Mile Run trail, the Mount Vernon Trail, the Capital Crescent and Georgetown Branch Trails, the Metropolitan Branch Trail, and the Anacostia River Trail, soon to be completed.
Next down the safety list are physically separated bike lanes, or Cycletracks, such as the one on 15th Street NW, Pennsylvania Ave NW, on L and M streets downtown, and for a couple of blocks on 1st Street NE, right off the Metropolitan Branch Trail in the NoMa neighborhood near Union Station.
Then there are the painted lanes and secondary streets, which are better than riding out on the fast, busy thoroughfares.
Plan your routes ahead of time, and ask others which routes they use, and get familiar with bike maps. Be creative.
Q: Is there a place where I can see all this stuff?
A: Yes! Here is an official DDOT bike map which shows trails, Cycletracks, and lanes.
Here is a more regional map:
And a very good meshing of various regional maps.
Q: Ok, so I’m going to try biking, but I’m not sure I’m going to like it so I don’t want to spend thousands, what are the main things I should look for in a bike?
A: First off, it needs to be comfortable, meaning that it needs to be the right size and configuration for your particular body, and we’re all different. The best way to do this is to talk with people like us whose goal every day is to match potential riders with the best bikes for them, and then go on a test ride. We offer plenty of weekly opportunities to go on extended test rides at our shops and you may see a list of them here.
Next, the bike should be able to accommodate fenders and racks so you can arrive cleanly and comfortably to your destination. Most of the bikes we carry do this, and here is a sampling of some great bikes we carry for getting around town.
A: There are some great classic steel bikes out there from the 1970s and 1980s, which can work great for getting around town, with a couple of caveats. If it was a low quality bike back when it was originally purchased, it still is. But if it was mid to better quality, it could be a gem.
Most of those bikes came with steel wheels originally, which made them both heavy, and impossible to stop in wet weather because the brakes wouldn’t grab. We pride ourselves in being able to modernize these bikes with lighter and brake-friendly aluminum wheels, and we are able to find many older parts, where necessary, to make these bikes quick and snappy, and great for the city.
Q: What can or should I carry on a bike?
A: A change of clothes and small towel is nice if you’re riding to work. Most offices are kept cold in the summer, so when you get in you can wipe down and change in the bathroom and you dry right off with the A/C cranked the way is usually is.
We like to carry a multi-tool as well to make adjustments (for example seat height) as we go, and to quickly fix anything that may have come loose, particularly on older bikes. Also, a spare tube and a patch kit, and a CO2 inflator can be super handy to fix a flat, should it happen, and we can teach you how. Avoid broken glass!
Q: How do you carry stuff on a bike?
A: Most people start out with their old school backpack, and the padding and warmth from it can be good on your back in the winter time, but in the warmer weather the extra heat from carrying a bag and the shoulder straps can be a real burden. For this reason we attach a pannier (French for a bag used to carry bread) or two to a rear rack and carry the weight and bulk on the bike instead of our backs. You can also get a bag which goes under the seat which can carry your repair kit and mobile device. We have a selection of these at each of our shops to fit any budget or style sense, including backpacks made specifically for biking by Mission Workshop if you want to keep your bike cargo free.
Q: Is there bike theft in DC?
A: Yes, unfortunately there is. But the good news is that you can deter theft with a high quality lock. We went to Germany to see how the best locks in the world are made, and how they stand up to theft attempts of up to 8 tons of force. Watch our ABUS tour on Youtube here.
Q: Got it, my first week was great, and I’m feeling great too! Now, what can I do to make my ride more comfortable and enjoyable?
A: How does the seat feel? How are your wrists? We are big believers in saddles by Brooks England, which can allow you to ride all day, comfortably, and they’ll fit on any bike. There are also grip options, like those from Ergon which we love, or even some simple cork grips to make it easier on the hands. Also, and especially on older bikes, you can swap out uncomfortable handlebars for a more appropriate bar. Replacing racing bars with a Nitto Mustache or Dove bar on an older steel bike can give it a new life. Also, you will make a bunch of tiny adjustments to the seat height and pitch, distance from the handlebars, you’ll rotate the bars until they feel just right, and attach a water bottle cage and water bottle to carry your favorite refresher with you, and a good multi-tool will help with that.
Finally, we do fit consultations with our Guru Fitting Machine and can help you to feel completely at home on your bike, even if it means working around previous injuries or limitations. Here is a link to our service.
Q: Do you guys do this year round?
A: Well, Scandinavians say that there’s no bad weather, just bad gear, and it makes sense. Yes, most of us do ride in the colder months, but with good jackets, gloves, and rain gear at the ready. The benefits of feeling great and the convenience and low cost, and sense of freedom experienced by getting around on a well-fit bicycle outweigh any slight discomforts of Jack Frost’s nipping. You actually get to a point where you appreciate being out and taking part in the diversity that Nature has to offer instead of watching it passively from behind a glass screen, and there’s beauty in that.
Q: Is there a place where I can find more local tips to riding safely?
A: Have a look at this blog entry where we’ve listed much of what to watch out for on your journey, and introduce a methodology for staying out of harm’s way.
We hope that the silver lining to the extensive Metro repairs is that a whole new population discovers how great it feels when getting around on a bicycle, and that they stick with it even once disruptions caused by the Metro repairs are a distant memory. We invite you to any of our shops to discover what we consider the Spirit of Cycling.