Bikes are Happiness Machines: Profiled in Greater Greater Washington

I was recently profiled in Greater Greater Washington for my photography and social media work documenting bike culture in this area. There’s nothing I like more than wandering the city by bike (and drinking coffee), which comes across in the nicely-written article.

Usually, I’m the one doing the interviewing so it was different to be on the receiving end of the questions. Rachel and the folks at GGW did a great job cleaning up my answers and turning them into coherent responses. My interview is part of a series called Behind the Handlebars, which will be profiling the people of #BikeDC.

“Bikes are happiness machines.” When I said that, I was thinking of this article in Momentum on the mental health benefits of cycling. I’ve been out on a bike in all kinds of weather, from the polar vortex to punishing heat, and I’ve never had a bad moment.

Lessons from a Biking Birthday Century

a cathedral of trees

I hate my birthday – it’s a reminder that I’m getting old. Rather than stewing in annual misery, I decided to do something about it. My birthday would be the perfect opportunity to bike a century (100 miles). A Birthday Century!

I’m a city cyclist. A typical ride for me is a Sunday jaunt around DC, with a requisite stop for coffee. Decidedly not a MAMIL (a middle-aged man in lycra), I don’t have clip-in pedals, bike shoes, a trip computer or any of the other accoutrements of the serious cyclist.

Instead, I have a ten-year old Specialized Sirrus that I call Bikey.

With little more planning than filling up a water bottle, I set off early on May 31. Destination: the end of the WO&D Trail in Purcellville.

A hundred miles provides a lot of time to think. Here’s what I learned along the way:

BikeDC is a Rolling Community

I like Best Buns. I cannot lie. With hours of biking ahead of me, I decided to fuel up with a massive pastry from this Shirlington bakery.

Rolling up after crossing the river from DC, I saw bikes and a couple of bike people that I recognized.

It was the Hump Day Coffee Club, a meetup of Northern Virginia cyclists. There are coffee clubs around the region, including a Friday Coffee Club that I occasionally attend at A Baked Joint. It’s a chance to meet other bike riders, swap notes about commuting routes and plan future rides.

I proudly told them of my plan to bike to the end of the WO&D, as if I was Magellan about to set out into the unknown. One of the coffee klatch casually tossed out that she had done the whole trail herself, on a whim, when she got a new road bike for her 60th birthday.

Suitably shamed/impressed, I set out from Shirlington, following Four Mile Run until it connected to the WO&D Trail. A long day of biking stretched ahead. Twenty miles later, as I biked through Reston, I heard a shout. It was one of the coffee club members, passing me, with a friendly hello.

As I rode my century, I tweeted and shared photos using #abirthdaycentury. In return, I received suggestions and encouragement from other #BikeDC cyclists on Twitter and Instagram. Though I might find myself in a dark wood, in the middle of my journey (like Dante), I never felt alone because of the BikeDC community. Instead, I felt like I was part of a small town on wheels, a rolling community of cyclists that exists on streets, trails and in cyberspace.

Eat, Eat, Eat

My plan was to get as far down the trail as possible without stopping. I knew that each time you stop, it’s harder to get back on. So, I kept going, the towns going by every few miles – Falls Church, Vienna, Reston, Herndon, Ashburn.

I reached Leesburg around noon. Eat here or keeping going to Purcellville? I had packed a single Clif bar so I ate that, before beginning a four mile ascent through Clark’s Gap and over the low range of green hills that I’d been watching since Reston.

Long climb to Purcellville

The elevation profile tells the story. Doesn’t seem a lot but it was enough to wipe me out. This was the hardest part of the ride, 45 miles in and a climb to the highest point on the trail on an empty stomach.

You really cannot eat enough on a long bike ride. During the day, I ate:

  • Massive muffin (Shirlington)
  • Clif bar (Leesburg)
  • Burger and fries (Purcellville)
  • Smoothie (Herndon)
  • Clif bar (Vienna)

But this was not enough. I could’ve fit in a whole other meal and not been satisfied.

Never(mind) the Weather

I felt sense a tremendous sense of accomplishment seeing the end of the trail and the iconic Purcellville train station, photos of which I had seen in the Instagram feeds of countless #BikeDC friends. Now I had joined them.

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55 miles done. I just needed to get back. Thankfully, it was mostly downhill, providing me the opportunity to enjoy a gorgeous ride through the woods back to Leesburg.

Then I went back through the towns I had passed earlier, like a film being rewinded. Leesburg, Ashburn, Herndon. Local biking legend Mr T in DC suggested on Twitter that I stop for a smoothie at Green Lizard Cycling so I did. It was delicious but I needed more food.

The day before, Northern Virginia had been hit by a line of severe weather, possibly including a tornado. More storms were expected. As I biked back, I noticed the puffy clouds gathering behind me, chasing me back to DC.

Rolling into Vienna (almost home!), the skies grew dark and I felt the first patter of rain. I decided to duck into Whole Foods as a thunderstorm swept the region. I bought some Clif bars and waited for the storm to pass. It was a big one, with hail in Reston (which I had just gone through).

Rain won’t kill you. But lightning will. You should respect the weather. After the rain was mostly done, I resumed my journey on a jet-black trail with steam rising off it.

Gear Matters

I was going to write that gear doesn’t matter. After all, I did a 105 miles on an outdated hybrid bike with an even more outdated human.

But gear does matter. Without padded bike shorts, I wouldn’t have been able to spend all day in the saddle. A bike jersey with a ventilating zipper kept me cool in the stuffy weather. Gloves enabled me to hold on to handlebars slick with rain.

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Riding back after the storm, my backside grew damp, as my wheels kicked up water and grit from the trail. Fenders! Why don’t I have fenders? And as much I love Bikey, a road bike or even a newer hybrid would’ve made the century faster and in more comfort.

Gear matters. Of course, you can bike without bike shorts, a jersey, gloves or, hell, even a water bottle but those basics make biking easier.

I took the Custis Trail back into DC, a roller coaster ride, going up and down overpasses all the way into the city. I was hungry, and moving, flying down the descents as the sun emerged over the Washington Monument.

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I wanted to get a picture in front of the White House but, of course, the Secret Service had it blocked off. I settled for a photo from behind the yellow tape. Welcome back to the security theater of Washington, DC.

105.1 miles in nine and a half hours, according to Strava. But numbers don’t tell the true story of a Birthday Century. It wasn’t the miles biked or the hours in the saddle that was important. Instead, like any journey, it’s the lessons learned along the way.

An Evening of Bike Touring at The Bike Rack

biking past tulips on the Metropolitan Branch Trail

Do I want to bike across the United States? I’m fascinated by stories of people who have done it. I bike nearly every day. Sleet, snow, rain, polar vortex – I’ve been out in every kind of weather, either on my Specialized Sirrus or Capital Bikeshare. I’ve done a metric century. I’m reasonably healthy. Why not?

Colin O’Laughlin shared his experience biking across the country in a recent talk at The Bike Rack. His blog is fascinating, a day-by-day account of his epic trip from DC to the West Coast. It goes into a tremendous amount of detail and honestly includes the ups and downs of the trip. Plus, it’s got a detailed map and equipment list.

What I found inspiring was how little training he did for the ride. A biking newbie, he did fewer miles than I do in a week before setting off on the C&O Canal trail in April of last year. His approach was to learn along the way. He ditched gear he didn’t need (like front panniers) and learned to listen to his body – when it’s 115 degrees, you need to get inside or die.

In contrast, Natalie Chwalisz is a planner. A veteran of several bike tours, she trained extensively on group rides with The Bike Rack before her cycling expedition. She did miles and miles around the DC area on the bike she would take to Europe. She had a serious purpose for her trip – investigating the plight of migrants from the Middle East – but most of her trip looked like heaven as she biked on trails along the Elbe and Danube.

The lesson from these two talks is that there’s no one way to conduct a bike tour. You can set off, like Colin did, on a friendly trail like the C&O and see how far you get. Or you can train for hard miles ahead of time. You can power through the endless plains of Kansas or leisurely cruise between European capitals.

The USA is a big country. I’ve driven across the vast and unforgiving spaces of Kansas. That was enough. Instead, I’ll take the biking between storybook towns on the Danube, with time for leisurely lunches and photo opportunities. That’s the bike tour for me.

 

The Coffeeneuring Challenge 2016: Always Be Coffeeneuring

me and Capital Bikeshare
For short trips around DC, I love to use Capital Bikeshare.

Bikes and coffee are two of my favorite things. With plentiful bike trails and an endless market for hipster coffee, Washington, DC, is great for both. I was coffeeneuring before coffeeneuring – there’s nothing I like better than wandering the city and then stopping for mid-afternoon java.

Now in its sixth year, the Coffeeneuring Challenge is where you bike to seven different coffee shops over seven weeks. And with the timely end of my gubment contractor job, I had plenty of opportunities to bike the city. Also, a recent liberalization of the coffeeneuring rules permitted rides during the week – not just the weekends.

It was like the universe wanted me to coffeeneur. So I did, biking way more than seven rides. Biking and coffee was nearly a daily experience. Always Be Coffeeneuring, indeed.

Here are the highlights of my coffeeneuring adventures!

Oct 18
Swings, Del Ray, VA
26 miles
Specialized Sirrus

reading and coffee

Thank you, federal government, for giving me time to catch up on my reading, among other pursuits. I began my coffeeneuring with a 26 mile jaunt across the river to Swings in the charming Del Rey neighborhood of Alexandria, VA. Squeezed between the Mount Vernon and Four Mile Run trails, Del Rey is very bike-accessible.

October 21
Filter
12 miles
Specialized Sirrus

Cappuccino at Filter in Brookland

REI is White People Heaven! Opening day of this new store in the NoMa neighborhood of DC and I’ve never seen such a frenzy. The line to get in stretched around the block and beyond. While I waited for that to clear, I cruised up the Metropolitan Branch Trail to Filter near Catholic University. They make one of the best cappuccinos in the city.

And the REI is well worth a visit. Located in a historic arena where the Beatles played, it’s huge and packed with cool stuff.

Oct 23
Green Lizard, Herndon, VA
65 miles
Specialized Sirrus

WO&D Trail

My first metric century! That’s 100k or 65 miles by bike. The secret, I discovered, is to keep eating and drinking. The WO&D Trail is perfect for that. I stopped at the Whole Foods in Vienna for a snack, Carolina Brothers in Ashburn for trailside barbecue and cappuccino in Herndon at Green Lizard.

Nov 4
Best Buns, Shirlington, VA
21 miles
Specialized Sirrus

Colors on the Mt Vernon Trail

I’m obsessed with the bike commuters on the Mount Vernon Trail. It looks so much fun to bike into the city every morning along the river. So I tried a reverse commute to Shirlington. It was quick and easy.

Nov 8
Emissary
3 miles
Capital Bikeshare

cappuccino at Emissary

Located a block from Dupont Circle, Emissary had the best coffee of the Coffeeneuring Challenge. This cappuccino was tiny, perfect and delicious.

Nov 13
Glen Echo
23 miles
Specialized Sirrus

Pop Corn at Glen Echo

The coffee at this former amusement park was awful. But it’s such an interesting and photogenic spot along MacArthur Boulevard that it’s well worth the trip.

Nov 18
A Baked Joint
23 miles
Specialized Sirrus

Friday Coffee Club

For the grand finale of the Coffeeneuring Challenge, I went to Friday Coffee Club. Every Friday morning, area cyclists gather at A Baked Joint to talk all things bike. It’s where you go to learn about new routes, equipment and other tips. Plus, the coffee is great and they have a nice chorizo biscuit.

Nov 20
Illy
4 miles
Capital Bikeshare

Cappuccino Viennese

I’m including this just because it was a delicious. Located in the Renaissance Dupont, Illy Coffee dishes out some great coffee, including this, a Cappuccino Viennese. New to to me, it’s a cappuccino with whipped cream and dusted with cocoa powder. Damn, this was good.

Thank you, Mary G., for starting the Coffeeneuring Challenge! I, of course, love biking and coffee and will take any opportunity to take part in two of my favorite pursuits.

But the challenge makes me feel like I am part of something bigger. And I am! Coffeeneuring now takes place in every part of the globe. It’s a worldwide movement of bikes and coffee.

Photo Gallery: Mayor Bowser Signs Bill Helping Local Cyclists

Photos from the Washington Area Bicyclists Association (WABA) happy hour at Mission, where Mayor Muriel Bowser signed the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act of 2016. This new law makes it easier for cyclists and pedestrians to sue motorists who hit them.

I happened to be standing next to the Mayor as she waited to be introduced. She was amazed at the turnout – all the local networks were there, as well as DC Councilmembers Cheh, Grosso and Silverman.

And no wonder – biking has never been bigger in DC. With protected bike lanes and bike sharing, more people than ever are taking to two wheels. The Mayor remarked that getting more people biking will help reduce gridlock. And it’s faster than driving, in many cases. Bowser’s Chief of Staff got from City Hall to Mission on his bike faster than she did in her motorcade.

It was fun to see so many friends from WABA, an organization that I’m proud to support. All the photos came from my new Canon G9X, a handy point and shoot. With this little camera, I was able to drink beer, eat guacamole and take pictures all at the same time!

 

Coffeeneuring #1: There Ought to be an App

dark roast at La Colombe

Washington, DC, has an endless appetite for coffee. While there are tons of coffee shops downtown, it’s not always easy to get a seat in one. And the more photogenic the shop, the more crowded it is. For if there’s one thing that millennials like more than coffee, it’s pictures of themselves drinking coffee.

Case in point: La Colombe. Super-cute shop with great coffee. However, on the weekends, all the chairs and tables are taken by young people taking selfies with soy lattes. Shakes first at cloud! If there’s one thing I can’t stand is getting a cappuccino and then finding every table taken by chatty youths. I prefer to drink my coffee in silence, possibly with a book.

Fortunately, this year’s Coffeeneuring Challenge (where you bike to seven coffee shops over seven weeks) includes an important rule change – weekday rides are now allowed! Coffeeneuring is no longer just a weekend activity but can occur on any day of the week.

So, on an overcast Friday afternoon, I took advantage of the new proviso to visit La Colombe in Chinatown. There are three La Colombes in DC but I guessed the Eye Street venue would be the least crowded. Two miles later, I was enjoying a simple mug of coffee, able to read in peace while sipping a dark roast. And when I came out, the sun had emerged for the first time in days. It’s a coffeeneuring miracle!

This trip got me wondering: I used the Spotcycle app before I left home to make sure that the neighborhood Capital Bikeshare station had bikes. Wouldn’t it be great if there was something similar for coffee shops? There should be an app that tells me which coffee shops have available seating. Sensors could be attached to chairs and the data could be reported real-time, like bikeshare does. I’m sure some nerds could figure it out, fueled by enough coffee.

 

Like Bikes and Coffee? Join the Coffeeneuring Challenge!

23322185411_eaaf6fd22a_kCoffeeneuring has returned! For those not familiar with this bike activity, it’s a challenge to ride your bike to seven different coffee shops over seven weeks. The Coffeeneuring Challenge runs from October 7 – November 10.

Coffeeneuring is something that I look forward to every year. As a lover of bikes and coffee, my motto is: Always Be Coffeeneuring. It’s a caffeinated, two-wheel lifestyle for me, something that I did years before I even knew there was such as thing as coffeeneuring.

Bikes and coffee are perfect together, especially when the weather is cool. What else are you going to do on a Sunday? Watch the Redskins lose? Better to hop on your bike and go explore someplace new. Listen to the leaves crunch under your wheels. Catch up with a friend. Sip cappuccino outside on a chilly October afternoon.

You won’t be alone. Coffeeneuring is a worldwide activity, with people taking part in this challenge across the United States, Europe and other parts of the globe.

And you’ll be doing it for more than yourself. More bikes means safer biking for all. By taking a coffee ride, you’re making a statement and encouraging others to hit the roads or trails on their bikes.

Banish those fall blues away with caffeine and exercise. Join the Coffeeneuring Challenge!

 

Happy Birthday, Capital Bikeshare!

me and bikeshareLaunched six years ago today, Capital Bikeshare changed the way DC gets around. These ubiquitous red bike bikes revolutionized biking in this city, bringing cycling to the masses. Biking is no longer just the provence of fearless young males. With thousands of Capital Bikeshare bikes on the streets, it’s now something that everyone does – from office workers commuting downtown to tourists visiting from overseas.

More bikes means safer biking for all. Capital Bikeshare made drivers accustomed to seeing bikes on the streets. This not only made the streets safer for cyclists, it made things safer for pedestrians, by forcing drivers to slow down and be slightly more aware. God knows that the city doesn’t enforce traffic laws. But the presence of people on big red bikes has a “traffic calming” effect that has probably saved lives.

I was an intermittent CaBi user until this year. Joining in February, I’ve already racked up 286 miles on bikeshare. Most of the these miles were back and forth trips to the Metro, in which I used bikeshare for the “last mile” between public transportation and my home. While I have a bike, I also use CaBi for trips where I don’t want to take my real bike. Some examples:

  • Don’t want to leave my bike at Union Station where it could get stolen – take bikeshare.
  • Metro breaks down – take bikeshare.
  • Going out for drinks – take bikeshare to bar, Uber home
  • It’s raining/snowing and don’t want to get my bike dirty – take bikeshare.

It’s very handy to have this network of bikes available to you any time of the day or night. Capital Bikeshare is ideal for a compact city like DC, where parking is limited.

Spotcycle is key to the regular CaBi user, providing a real-time map of bikeshare stations and available bikes. I use it every day.

One more thing: those bikes are damn attractive. The beauty of bikeshare is part of their appeal. They’ve made DC a better-looking place and are an irresistable photo subject. Here’s a selection of bikeshare photos over the years. Happy birthday, Capital Bikeshare!

bikeshare girl

bikeshare in the snow fall bikeshare at Navy Yard bikeshare and tulips Santa bikeshare bikeshare in snow cherry blossom bikesharetour de bike lane bikeshare 28891575276_8483e9f826_o

 

Tour de Bike Lane Cheers on City Cyclists

tour de bike lane

Sponsored by the Awesome Foundation (really), Tour de Bike Lane is designed to cheer on bike commuters as if they were in the Tour de France.

Bells, horns, vuvuzela, cheers, glitter and even free flowers greeted very surprised people biking up the 15th St bike lane in Washington, DC, on Friday, August 5th.

I heard about the event thanks to a Washington Post article. I bike 15th St every day of the week. Anything that gets more people biking is a good thing. More biking means safer biking because it habituates crazed Maryland drivers to cyclists. Maybe it will get them to slow down and be more cautious. Maybe!

DC is filled with events for people who bike, everything from WABA’s group rides to the rolling carnival known as DC Bike Party. It’s what makes biking in the city so much fun.

See more photos from Tour de Bike Lane.

Will Bike for Virtual Trophies

Will bike for virtual trophies. The thought occurred to me as as I biked up the Capital Crescent Trail to Bethesda. Ordinarily, I’d ride up to Bethesda, look at some books at Barnes and Noble, then turn around and fly back down the trail to DC.

But Strava was in the back of the mind. The fitness social network has occupied an increasing chunk of it this year. I even purchased a premier membership to better track my rides and runs.

I couldn’t just bike to Bethesda – I was being tracked! I had to put more miles in, especially after I saw some of my Strava friends off on a hundred-mile ride to Sugarloaf Mountain. What would they think of my little jaunt to the book store?

Nice people, Mary and Ed. But following them on Strava will make you feel like a slacker.
Nice people, Mary and Ed. But following them on Strava will make you feel like a slacker.

It was a lovely day anyway. I didn’t even stop in Bethesda but followed the Capital Crescent Trail until it connected with Rock Creek Park. Then I took that back home, racking up 26 miles and 22 different Strava medals, lol. Strava is more generous than a helicopter mom handing out post-soccer treats.

Stopping the Strava for a selfie in Rock Creek Park.
Stopping the Strava for a selfie in Rock Creek Park.

I once scoffed at the ride-tracking service, thinking it was only for MAMILs. I’m a slow-cyclist, more apt to bike a couple miles for coffee then do a century with a pack of lycra-clad men (yuck).

But then Strava started giving me more trophies than a Millennial spelling bee, awarding me Personal Records, Second and Third Place medals for biking tiny little segments of DC. Even though it was absurd, I felt honored to achieve a new record for biking a .7 mile segment of 15th St, giving me the self-esteem of a selfie-obsessed teen as she passes the thousand-follower mark on Instagram.

We respond best to rewards, even virtual ones, a topic that Jane McGonigal explores in SuperBetter. I saw her speak at SXSW ten years ago. Her message stuck with me because she changed my mind about online gaming.

McGonigal extolled the virtues of gaming and the reasons for their appeal. Unlike life, games have fixed rules and rewards. It’s no surprise that people find more meaning in games than our chaotic and uncertain world.

Lessons learned from games are now being applied to real-world challenges. It’s called the gamification of life. From the Apple Watch to Pokemon Go, gamification encourages us to be our best selves.

This is bewildering for a GenXer. We never got trophies! Unless, you won, of course.

But, now, with apps like Strava, I can win scores of trophies, like the only child of suburban parents in Montessori school. Game on, Strava, game on!