Winter: A Time of Deep Crankiness

Rosslyn at sunset

I unleashed a volley of obscenities at the two (two!) cars parked in the middle of the bike lane. After a minor fender-bender, these two drivers decided the best course of action was to move their cars into the protected bike lane of 15th, thus forcing people on bikes (me!) into traffic.

I cursed; they cursed back. At the next light, a woman on a bike pulled up next to me. “That wasn’t helpful,” she said.

“But,” I started, thinking of all the different ways the bike lane is blocked daily by cars, construction and utility companies determined to dig up every bit of asphalt in this city. However, I’ll admit when I’m wrong and I was. Yelling at them did not help matters nor did it make me feel better. It just left me with a hangover of rage.

It’s a tough time of year. I dread these days when the sun sinks lower in the sky until it just barely seems to get above the horizon. You go to work under gray skies and leave when it’s black.

A time of deep crankiness, when schedules are packed with commitments while you’re pressed with a tyrannical demand to appear jolly. Humans, however, are cyclical animals and this is the low end of the year, a sputtering conclusion to a particularly bad one.

Thank god I can run. On Monday, after wrestling with “Run? Don’t run?” I plodded toward Georgetown as the sun set. Running along the waterfront it occurred to me that perhaps the way to conquer winter was to embrace the darkness. Cold temps bring a stillness to the city, banishing the fair-weather tourists. I ran alone by the dark Potomac. Light lingered in the west, across the river.

I stopped to capture the moment. Pretty photo but I’m never going to love winter. Move faster, earth, and spin these dark days away until we reach spring.

Photos from 3000 miles of biking

Last year, I biked a little less than 2000 miles. More than I had ever done before but I was a little disappointed in myself, seeing the mileage number at 1948 or so in Strava. So close!

In 2017, I vowed to do better, shooting for 2500 miles. I passed that in September then kept on going, breaking through the 3000 mile mark in November.

For people who don’t bike, 3000 miles will seem unfathomable, like biking across the country. My bike commuter friends will look at 3000 miles and think, “I did that over the summer.”

For me, it’s not about the miles. It’s about the experience. It’s about going someplace new, drinking coffee and taking lots of photos – that’s what biking is about for me.

Biking a century (100 miles) was the highlight of the year, riding to the end of the WO& D Trail in Purcellville and learning that you can’t eat enough on a long ride.

While most of my rides were around DC, I also participated in Bike to Work Day in Savannah, cruised around New Smyrna Beach in Florida and visited Asheville twice, stopping at New Belgium Brewery both times.

My ten-year-old Specialized Sirrus faithfully carried me on all these adventures, a bike that just refuses to quit. Most of routine city riding was done on Capital Bikeshare. In 2017, I also tried out a Brompton folding bike, sampled the junky new dockless bikeshare bikes and rocketed down a trail on a JUMP electric bike.

Here are highlights from 3000 miles of biking!

Unshaven on Ross Drive

The Field School bus

Ed and Ricky - with cake!

Mellowdrome in Asheville, NC

Foggy morning for bikeshare

Northeast Branch Trail

my bike on the CCT

made it! the end of the trail

Flannery O'Connor Free Library

John on a cruiser

made it! Peters Point

Rachel is behind the handlebars and ready to roll, off to do battle with bureaucracies and bad drivers #bikedc

steep!

cleanest, nicest alley in DC is off U St

beer for better biking

deep crossing in Holmes Run

sad to say goodbye to this bike

Resist/Persist

Lake Anne in Reston

90 degree turn + slippery boardwalk = crash

Trump Chicken rules the roost in DC

I'm at New Belgium. Again.

everyone bikes - even Juggalos

Biking back to DC from Great Falls

Kitty at the Capitol

this could be a millennial-themed ad

Looking sexy as hell, DC Bike Party

Sharrows has all the WABA socks

free trailside coffee from WABA!

JUMP pedal-assist electric bike

Nelle is outgoing

Sam and Rudi

Look out, Limey!

MPD blocks the bike lane at 15th and K

My old Specialized Sirrus

Biked to Port City!

The unremarkable rise of dockless bikesharing

LimeBike outside Tonic
Dockless bikes, like this one from Lime, have become a familiar part of the Washington, DC streetscape.

What’s remarkable about the rise of dockless bikesharing is how unremarkable it has become. An apocalypse was anticipated. Washington Post readers gleefully predicted failure, with the bikes stolen and destroyed (like in Baltimore) or begriming the streets in vast piles (as in China).

But what if a revolution occurred and no one noticed it? The bikes, first green ones from Lime, and then a rainbow of other colors, appeared on the streets of DC, lined up and ready for use, part of a pilot program. Photos were snapped – by me, and others – entranced by the novelty of these seemingly unsecured bikes in a city where anything left outside gets stolen.

Mobike comes to DC
Mobike mo problems?

The bikes then dispersed, taken by riders young and old (I saw kids in school uniforms on them) to surprising places in and out of the city. A couple were left by National Airport. Others made their way deep into the Maryland and Virginia suburbs, despite the fact that they were supposed to be kept in DC. Without the requirement to dock the bikes, people left them in alleys, Metro stations and on top of cars.

Checking the Lime app to see where the bikes had gone became a popular activity on Twitter. I wondered about the cyclist near Seven Corners, navigating suburban highways on a small, rickety bike.

For the bikes are subpar. Biking a couple miles on a Lime required an inordinate amount of work – the geometry is off. Ofo is better though its airless tires (a feature of all the dockless bikes) make the ride a rough one on the mottled streets of DC. You can’t be tall on any of these bikes, for the seat doesn’t go up high enough to accommodate long legs.

JUMP pedal-assist electric bike
JUMP pedal-assist electric bike.

There is one major exception to my dockless critique: JUMP. Dockless with a difference, JUMP is a pedal-assist electric bike. And it rocks! Get on this sizable steed, pedal a couple times and the electric motor kicks in, rocketing you down the street at a speed that’s actually a little scary. The more you pedal, the faster the ride gets, ferrying you to your destination without breaking a sweat.

The advantage of dockless, whether it’s Lime, Mobike, ofo or JUMP, is that you can pick up and leave the bike anywhere you want. It works through an app on your phone. Check the map to find a bike, scan the code on the back of it and ride off. When you’re done, leave it and slide the rear-wheel lock into place (every bike should have one of these).

15th St needs to be widened
More bikes than cars on 15th St during rush hour.

DC needs more bikes. We have a great bikesharing service – Capital Bikeshare – but in many neighborhoods, the docks are empty by 8 AM. And while CaBi has saturated Northwest DC, there are many neighborhoods, particularly east of the Anacostia, where bikes are few and far between. Dockless offers the potential to change that, to address issues of equity that are present in any DC debate.

Also, more bikes means safer cycling for everyone. The advent of Capital Bikeshare slowed down the crazed commuters that fill this city every morning, by making drivers aware of cyclists. They’re more cautious around me when I’m on a big red CaBi, than on my regular bike, because they assume I’m a lost tourist. Adding more bikes might make MD Driver in DC hesitate before running that red light. Maybe.

According to Wired, dockless bike sharing is the next Uber. There’s big money in cheap bikes, with the Chinese startup Mobike valued at $3 billion. That’s an astonishing valuation for $1 an hour bike rides. Investors believe that dockless bike sharing is a new kind of business that can operate on scale, offering a service that urbanites will eagerly adopt.

Seems so easy. Create an app, flood a city with bikes and profit. For users, the experience is seamless – no humans required. Find a bike with your phone, scan it, and go.

But if investors think that bike sharing is a new people-free business model, they are mistaken. An unseen army is busy at night fixing bikes, moving them around and retrieving lost ones.

Ofo launch party in DC

Ofo had a launch party recently near Dupont Circle with free lemonade and swag. Started by a Chinese college student, they’re the original dockless bikesharing service, with 400 bikes in DC now. An ofo rep said that someone rides every bike every day to make sure it works.

Dockless also depends on the goodwill of a city and its residents, for the bikes occupy public space such as sidewalks. The ofo rep I talked to recognized that they had to be good corporate citizens. It’s a business, like much of the new economy, that uses the commons for corporate profit, with no requirement to benefit society, unless we demand it.

While talking at the launch party, we saw JUMP and Spin bikes cruise down R Street. A couple biked by, one on a CaBi, the other on a Lime. A Mobike was parked on the sidewalk. The ofo reps offered free rides on their bikes to people coming up from the Metro. It seemed so unremarkable, as if these brightly colored bikes had always been with us.

Critics claimed that it would never work. Yet, in just a few short days, dockless bike sharing has gone from novelty to just another part of the busy urban landscape, the city and its residents rapidly adapting to the latest advance in transportation.

Letter from Washington: Disabled

Wheelchair-bound protesters return home
Wheelchair-bound protesters return home.

After pulling my calf, I’ve been biking even more than usual. Since it hurts to walk more than a block, I’ve been biking everywhere, door to door if I can, aiming to never let my feet touch the ground.

I was coming back from a happy hour for the Climate Ride. Cyclists did 208 miles over three days to raise money for climate change research. Once in Washington, they were greeted by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who insisted that climate change was a bipartisan issue and that there were Republicans who would be on their side, were it not for the pernicious influence of anonymously-funded PACs.

It was a sweaty day, unusual for the end of September, with temperatures in the 80s. The news has been filled with hurricanes, first Florida and then Puerto Rico, while Trump has tweeted slurs against NFL athletes.

After happy hour, I rode home as it got dark. Just off the National Mall, traffic was stopped.

Filtering up to the top of the queue, I saw why – a long stream of people in wheelchairs were rolling through the intersection. They were returning home to their hotel after demonstrating against the repeal of Obamacare. Imagine the level of commitment – and desperation – required to travel anywhere in a wheelchair, much less a strange city, to spend the day demonstrating against a government that wants to kill you.

The Metropolitan Police Department had blocked traffic so that these wheelchair-bound protesters could get home. Three cars were devoted to this purpose. The MPD has mastered this kind of rolling roadblock, gaining experience escorting the numerous anti-Trump demonstrations that have rocked the city.

A long silent moment passed as drivers, cyclists and pedestrians waited respectfully as the people in wheelchairs crossed the intersection. The protesters who came to Washington, the police protecting them, the people who waited – we represent the best of the country, while our leadership represents the worst.

The Obstacle is the Bike Way

Soccer at Marie Reed
The scene of the injury.

It felt like someone had hit me on the back of the leg with a baseball. One moment running on the soccer pitch, the next yelling in pain. I turned around to see where the baseball was – but there was nothing on the ground. Instead, just players staring at me in puzzlement.

My calf had exploded. That’s what it felt like. Limping off the field, I sat down and sipped water as friends came to check on me. “I don’t know, not so good, maybe need hospital,” Oleg the Russian said.

Instead, I consulted Dr. Google. He diagnosed a torn calf muscle, with varying and frightening levels of severity. Sitting on the sideline, I read about muscles torn and bunched, swelling and other symptoms. Did I hear a popping sound? I don’t think I did, just a sharp, sudden and arresting pain.

Nothing was bruised or red. The calf was tender and it hurt to walk. A friend asked if I wanted to go the emergency room.

I did not. I had my bike. If I get on it, I could bike home. Gingerly, I hopped on, put my Specialized Sirrus into its lowest gears and slowly pedaled home, my bike both transport and a rolling crutch when I got to the lobby of my building.

This is a recurring injury for me, though this was the most severe occurrence. Five years earlier, after similar pain, I went to an orthopedist. It was like a factory. Patients came in, they were diagnosed, sent for an MRI, given drugs and prescribed orthotics. No matter the kind of foot/calf pain, that’s what you got and a hefty bill was sent to Blue Cross.

Having been through that, I knew that there was no real treatment other than staying off it until it got better. So, I did, keeping my leg up and on ice all afternoon.

my Specialized Sirrus
Transport and crutch, my Specialized Sirrus.

The next day, I wanted to go out for coffee. I’m a terrible invalid. I could accept not being to able to walk but if I couldn’t bike? Unthinkable.

I figured I could bike for coffee without walking more than a few steps. Using my bike again as a crutch, I made it to the elevator and out the front door of the building with just a little bit of pain. Then I hopped on the bike and rode to get coffee. Moving on two feet – painful. Moving on two wheels – painless.

I’m a huge fan of The Obstacle is the Way. Great book. I recognized this scenario. If walking is taken away from me, then what opportunity am I given? The opportunity to bike everywhere! Let my feet never touch the ground, but only be on pedals, as I make my way around the city.

So, it’s life on two wheels for me (not a problem!), as I minimize walking and maximizing biking. Today, I tried grocery shopping by bike, buying just enough food to fill my backpack, choosing items high in calorie count but low in size.

I’m fortunate to live in a city. If I was in the burbs, I would be trapped. In Washington, I can get everywhere I need to go by bike.

this could be a millennial-themed ad
Dockless means you can leave LimeBike in front of the local bar.

This week has also seen the launch for four (!) separate dockless bikesharing systems in DC. Dockless means you can leave the bikes anywhere you want. I tried one of them out – Lime. While the bike itself was unimpressive, the technology behind the service is interesting. You download an app, scan the barcode on the back of the bike, and the rear-wheel lock unlocks. When done, you just leave the bike wherever and snap the lock shut.

It’s an experiment. Will DC take to these new bikes or will they all end up in the river, like other cities? Time will tell.

Time is also what I need. There’s no real treatment for a pulled calf. It just takes some time to heal. In the meantime, I’ll be on two wheels.

Brompton for a Day

Brompton, ready to roll

When there was a last-minute opening on the TryBrompton Demo Tour, I jumped at the opportunity to borrow one of these iconic folding bikes.

Made in London, Brompton makes folding bikes that are ideal for cities. With 16″ wheels and sturdy steel frames, they can be easily carried from subway to street and back again.

And they’re damn good-looking. I’ve been in love with the bike since seeing them by the score at the Brompton Challenge, where Brompton riders raced through Congressional Cemetery and participated in folding/unfolding competitions.

I have experience with folding bikes, too. One of my favorite bikes ever was a Dahon foldy – my beloved foldy – that I bought for $300 off Craigslist and took with me all over the country. Fun to ride and rock-solid (well, at least until the frame cracked), that bike was my constant companion on the rutted streets of Washington, DC.

Breezer at the beach
My beloved foldy, RIP.

Given my experience with another folding bike, I was curious to try the Brompton. What do you get from a $1600 Brompton compared to a considerably cheaper foldy?

Speed

taking the Brompton to cricket, as one does in America
Took the Brommie to the cricket match

With six speeds and a light frame, the black Brompton I borrowed from BicycleSpace could fly, easily catching people on “real” bikes cruising leisurely around the monuments. With its little wheels, it started quickly from a dead stop and then kept accelerating to almost dangerous speeds.

Portability

Brompton in black and white
Loved how the rear wheel folded under the frame

Technically, I could carry my old Dahon. Lugging was a more accurate term. Heavy and ungainly, I took it on the Metro a few times but it wasn’t something I wanted to do regularly. I would’ve developed a huge right arm if I had done so. The extent of my carrying the bike was from the trunk of a car to the street.

In contrast, the Brompton is light and easy to carry. Part of it is the bike’s 16″ wheels, which make it a lot lighter than my old Dahon (which had 20″ wheels). The bike is also designed for cities, perfected over a couple decades of use on the London tube.

The folding is not simple (the Brompton rep at BicycleSpace made us fold and unfold the bike a half-dozen times before leaving) but it does compress into a tiny package that can be easily carried. My bike even had a rack on it with wheels built into it so that it could be easily rolled through a train station.

The Brompton’s legendary portability is achieved by way more knobs and levers than I’d like (as if Dr. Who designed a bike) but you can’t argue with success – it’s perfectly designed for the task of street-to-train transportation.

Fashion

Try Brompton in Washington, DC
It could be none more black

Would you buy an iPhone that looked like a brutal slab? Of course not. The iPhone’s success is due to what’s on the outside as much as what’s on the inside.

Bromptons are beautiful, whether they’re passing you on the street or folded up in a shop window. Eye-catching and fun, it’s a bike that you want to own as an art object. While biking around DC, pedestrians checked out my sleek black ride while Bromptoneers nodded appreciatively.

With the ability to customize the bike endlessly (colors, speeds, racks, fenders, lights, handlebars), it’s the ultimate bespoke product for the discerning cyclist.

Downsides

Every bike is a compromise, a calculus of weight, speed and price. What didn’t I like about the Brompton?

Bike theft is rampant in DC. Just borrowing a $1600 Brompton made me paranoid. No way was this bike leaving my sight. I didn’t worry about my $300 Craigslist find this way.

Little wheels make you very conscious of the road ahead. While riding, I found myself scanning the pavement for potholes, ruts, steel plates and other obstacles in DC’s post-apocalyptic streetspace.

Who is this Bike for?

Wealthy Cycling Fanatics. Some people just like acquiring bikes, filling their spare spaces with every kind of bike they can get their hands on. Obviously a Brompton is needed to round out the collection.

Train Commuters. If I had to take the MARC train to Baltimore every day, hell yes I would get a Brompton. It’s the Swiss Army knife of biking – with its fenders, rack and portability, it can do everything and take you just about anywhere.

The Verdict

sad to say goodbye to this bike
Adios, for now!

At the end of my 24-hours with Brommie (I named it – a bad sign), I didn’t want to return it. At first, I found the bike a little wobbly and uncertain, due to its small wheels. However, it rapidly grew on me. I liked how the rear wheel folded under the frame, making its own stand. As I cruised along the Potomac, passing hapless tourists on red Bikeshare bikes, I was delighted by its speed. Cornering tightly on city streets, I was reminded of how much fun a foldy bike can be.

I would like to own a Brompton – some day. As an object of art and a quick, handy bike, it can’t be beat. But the $1600 price is too high.

The casual user might be better off with a Dahon or Giant foldy. But if you want the best, or need the best, then get a Brompton.

No matter what bike you get, make sure you try it out first. This is especially true for folding bikes, which handle differently than full-sized bikes.

Adios for now, Brommie! Hope to see you again in the future.

 

Don’t Go Back to Rockville

Made it to Lake Needwood!

When I first started biking, I contemplated the map of Rock Creek Park with amazement, watching the trail stretch miles out of the city to a place called Lake Needwood.

It seemed an impossible distance, a good twenty miles away on a winding ribbon of asphalt. One would need all day to get there – maybe two! The fantastical white spires of the Mormon Temple just beyond the Beltway was my idea of a long ride.

But you keep biking and the distances seem smaller and smaller. Twenty miles goes from an epic journey to something you do after a couple beers on an evening.

I did a century a few weeks ago, a 100-mile ride to the end of the WO&D Trail, a destination that once seemed as far away as Shangri-La. On Sunday, I set out for another place I hadn’t been to: Lake Needwood.

With just a sideways glance at the new Klingle Trail (I’ll do that another day), I enjoyed the widened Rock Creek trail by the National Zoo before encountering the rutted surface of Beach Drive. Then I just kept going north, past the Mormons and deep into suburban Maryland.

I imagined a beer garden. Or at least a place to get a hot dog. Yet, after a couple of hours of biking through the woods, there was neither. Instead, a beautiful lake dotted with bright kayaks. But I had made it to the end, accomplishing what once seemed impossible.

Needing food (a common theme of these bike journeys), Yelp alerted me that there was a Big Greek Cafe in Rockville. I love Big Greek!

My Strava route for this section is amusing, showing figure eights in a parking lot as I search for the restaurant, which was on other side of the shopping plaza.

After lunch, I decided to take a different route back to the city. Google Maps led me down this long, circular road with speed bumps next to a huge empty lot. Ahead, an unfamiliar tower of condos.

remains of the White Flint Mall

Then it hit me: this was the White Flint Mall. Or, rather, the remains of it, for the entire structure has been demolished save for Lord and Taylor. People don’t go to malls, anymore.

And they certainly don’t go to Rockville, for the entire area has been rebranded as North Bethesda, a tony district of new condos, restaurants and a Whole Foods.

Also included, the latest hipster amenity: a protected bike lane, running by  yoga studios and kombucha joints.

The protected bike lane led me to the Bethesda Trolley Trail, which goes through backyards all the way to actual Bethesda. The trail is being widened around NIH, for the population of cyclists is ever-increasing in this traffic-choked region.

The trail (which is just a sidewalk near NIH) ends in a postcard-cute Bethesda neighborhood. Good signage led me to the Capital Crescent Trail, another rail trail and a nice downhill run back to DC.

50 miles done! What once seemed impossible now very much possible, even easy, new horizons opened up by one of man’s greatest inventions: the bike.

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.

Untitled

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.

Untitled

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.