Errandonnee: The Biking Flaneur

Biking to the Lincoln Memorial
The best time to visit the monuments? At night. The best way to get there? By bike.

The Errandonnee Challenge changed my life. My bike-life, that is. The challenge is to take 12 errands by bike over 12 days. There are a lots of categories and rules but the gist of the contest is to use your bike for everyday errands.

Doing it last year changed my approach to biking in Washington, DC. Before then, I was a weekend cyclist. I didn’t ride during the week because I thought it was too much of a hassle. But the experience of running simple errands by bike taught me that biking was by far the easiest, fastest and most fun way to get around the city. The Errandonnee Challenge turned me in to an everyday cyclist, one who rode in all kinds of weather, even when it was 16 degrees.

Bike outside Garden District
A cool bike outside Garden District, a local beer garden.

One of the requirements of Errandonnee is to share what you learned during the challenge.

This year, I learned that there’s nothing I like more than drinking coffee and biking – if only there was a challenge for that! Oh, wait, there is.

#errandonnee 2 - coffee and book edition #igdc
Bikes, books and coffee – that’s pretty much my lifestyle.

My bike trips around the city tend to be more rambling than functional. I look for good excuses to bike around town (which is why Errandonee is perfect for me). DC is compact, so the distances are small. But you always see interesting things.

For example, every morning I bike one mile to the Metro. Most of the trip is up the 15th protected bike lane – the best piece of bike infrastructure in the city. It’s a neverending stream of people heading downtown, from women in heels on red Bikeshare bikes to power commuters on road bikes.

This little five-minute trip is the best part of the day. It’s like people-watching but done at ten-miles an hour.

#errandonnee 5 - biked up the 15th St protected bike lane to the U St Metro
What my morning commute looks like. This is the 15th Street protected bike lane.

A flâneur is a French word meaning “urban explorer.” A term with literary pretensions, it’s defined as a lounger, a stroller or, even better, a boulevardier. As a Gen Xer, I might call this person a slacker.

Wandering around the city is exactly what I do,  except that I’m doing it by bike. Tracking miles and setting personal records doesn’t appeal to me. Instead, I want to bike around Washington and look at stuff.

Errandonnee has taught me that I am a biking flâneur. I will embrace it. Here’s to more urban rambles by bike!

Friday Photo: Good Stuff Eatery

Good Stuff Eatery
Farmhouse Cheese, fries and sauces at Good Stuff Eatery in Crystal City, VA.

It was a long and punishing winter, a season of cold that had me reaching for every layer that I owned. I still biked, but only for short trips, like to the Metro and back. It wasn’t just the subzero temperatures – it was the snow and ice that covered bike paths like the Mount Vernon Trail, owned and operated by the recalcitrant and unresponsive National Parks Service.

But then it all changed. The temperature skyrocketed to the mid-50s. Everything melted. And the end of Daylight Savings Time brought a delightful Wednesday evening with blue skies and the trails clear of snow.

The return of good weather arrived just in time for Errandonnee! It’s a bike challenge where you bike to 12 different errands over 12 days. I wasn’t going to let this weather go to waste so I hit the Mount Vernon Trail after work and headed to Good Stuff Eatery in Crystal City.

After visiting Good Stuff, I checked out Wednesday Night Spins (an underground bike race) and the Lincoln Memorial to check off three errands off my Errandonnee list.

But let me tell you: this burger was delicious. Being able to eat outside again – amazing! I forgot what that this feeling was like. May winter never ever return.

Bike Therapy: Visualize Your Ride, Your Life

happy hipster
A cyclist enjoys a fall day in Washington, DC.

Can you write your way to the ride you want? To a certain extent, I think you can.

That’s Mary Gersemalina on Chasing Mailboxes, a great blog devoted to biking, run-commuting and coffeeneuring.

In her post, Mary talks about visualizing the ride that she wants. She doesn’t want it to be a story of failure, where she doesn’t measure up to faster riders. Instead:

I wanted my story to be about working through whatever unexpected challenges the ride offered.

Mary is shaping her narrative through positive visualization. Rather than dwelling on what could go wrong – a broken chain, a flat tire, a hot day – she focuses on the positive nature of the experience and her own strengths, imagining how she will tell this story when she’s done.

We are the stories that we tell ourselves. The mind is good at telling you what you can’t do. These stories limit our potential. While this negativity may have saved our ancestors from being eaten by lions, it’s not so useful today.

With her visualization exercise (imagining telling the story of this ride), Mary gets past her negative thoughts, recognizing that while there will be problems, she has the strength to overcome them.

In addition to being the queen of coffeeneuring (where you bike to different coffee shops), Mary also created the Errandonnee Winter Challenge, in which you pledge to conduct twelve errands by bike. The opportunity to be a part of this positive, group activity caused me to set aside my preconceived notions about winter cycling (it’s too cold, dark) and start using my bike for just about everything.

The experience of conducting ordinary activities by bike turned what was once a weekend activity into an everyday one. By completing twelve errands over twelve days by bike, I got to be a part of the errandonnee narrative. Rather than believing that winter was too cold for biking, I now have the errandonnee story: you can do anything by bike, any time of year.

Hey it's my #errandonnee patch! #bikedc
The coveted Errandonnee patch.

And I got a patch.  Never underestimate the power of tchotkes on human behavior.

Biking is therapy for many people. It’s a joyful exercise that combines the thrill of accomplishment (I biked all those miles) with the pleasure of seeing the changing landscape. We’re problem-solving primates who like to move – biking is ideal for that.

And scientific research has demonstrated that everyday cycling makes you happier.

Bikes are happiness engines that provide rich rewards for anyone who will ride them.

Errandonnee Winter Challenge: Twelve Errands by Bike in DC

I am a weekend cyclist. I primarily use my bike for fun and recreation. Plus, it’s the quickest and easiest way to get around DC.

What I liked about the Errandonnee Winter Challenge is that it recognized the utilitarian aspects of cycling. It’s not about riding vast distances clad in lycra. Instead, the Errandonnee Challenge was to use your bike for 12 different errands over 12 days. While there were also sorts of complicated rules, provisos and mandates (the contest was created in Washington, after all), the idea was to use your bike for everyday activities, highlighting how you can do anything by bike.

I looked at it as an opportunity to use my bike more often. Or, rather, bikes, for I would be completing this challenge on two of them – a Specialized Sirrus and a Breezer Zig7 (a foldy bike).

And I would capture it all with Instagram.

Errandonnee 1: Marie Reed Field
Distance: 2 Miles
Category: Health
Bike: Specialized Sirrus
Remarks: It was a short city ride to the play the beautiful game on this new turf field in Adams-Morgan.

Errandonnee 2: Georgetown Waterfront
Distance: 10 Miles
Category: Health
Bike: Specialized Sirrus
Remarks: There was no way I was staying inside on a warm Saturday. After lunch, I biked to Georgetown to get some sun, then made a loop around the National Mall before returning home.

Errandonnee 3: Gibson Guitar Room
Distance: 2 Miles
Category: Work
Bike: Breezer Zig7
Remarks: The next day, I spoke on a panel about screenwriting for DC Shorts Mentors, a four-week class on filmmaking. The class took part in the Gibson Guitar Room, which is a super-cool private venue near the Verizon Center.

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