Biking to Work: It’s Quite Doable
by Catherine Plume
Bicycle commuting continues to grow in the DC area and according to a US Census report, 4.5 percent of DC residents commuted to work by bike in 2013. Only Portland, Oregon “out bikes” us with 5.9 percent of their commuters using pedal power to commute. Commuter biking is fun, hip, and undoubtedly the quickest way to get around town, but it’s not without its challenges. If you’re considering joining the ranks of the DC bicycle commuter brigade, here are a couple of resources and suggestions to make your commute safer and more efficient.
The Washington Area Bicycle Association (WABA) is a great resource for any DC cyclist, and their lobbying efforts and advocacy have contributed to the development of bike lanes across DC. While bike lanes undoubtedly add protection for cyclists, cycling in traffic – even in bike lanes – requires confidence and respect for other cyclists, pedestrians, and the ever present motorized vehicle. WABA offers adult education classes for city cycling, and they’ll teach you how to change a flat. They also have youth classes cycling education rides. As a WABA member, you’ll receive a 10 percent discount at many DC bike store. Support WABA – it is your DC Area cycling friend!
If you’re in the market for a commuter bike, there are a few things to consider. Fatter tires and wheels can cope with potholes and curbs better than skinny tires, but they will slow you down. Hybrid bikes offer a great middle of the road option. Investing in flat resistant tires and/or tubes will cost you a bit more, but are well worth the investment. A bike with a chain guard will save your pants, tights, leggings and shoes from grease spinoff while a lower or no top tube will prevent (or at least minimize) your skirt or dress from blowing up as you ride. Reflectors and lights (front and back) are a must for cycling at night and a helmet is de rigueur ALWAYS. A basket, rear rack and water bottle cage are handy accessories that will make your ride more enjoyable and practical.
Capital BikeShare bikes are great for city cycling, and meet most of the criteria outlined above. Depending on where you live or work and the time of day, finding a bike or an empty docking station can be a challenge. While Capital Bikeshare kiosks provide extra time to find an open dock and a list of where bikes and docks can be found, it can be inconvenient.
Whether you’re bikesharing or riding your own bike, plot out your route before you set out. DC Department of Transportation (DDOT) provides an online bicycle map. Opt for a route that will keep you in bike lanes as much as possible. Stay alert! Do you really need those earbuds in your ears when you’re cycling? Use hand signals to indicate turning and stopping. Everyone – cyclists, pedestrians and motorists – will appreciate this! Let fellow cyclists know that you’re passing them with a friendly “on your left” as you come up behind them. While you’re at it, acknowledge other cyclists when you’re at a stoplight. Make a new friend.
Think about where you’re going to park your bike once you get to work. Does your office provide bicycle parking? Invest in good bicycle locks. Thieves LOVE cable locks as they can cut through them in a pinch. A good U-lock or the new foldable locks are expensive, but they’ll thwart the thieves!
Looking fresh once you get to work can be a challenge, especially with DC’s hot and humid summers. See if your office has a locker room or a shower for cycling. Keep makeup, towels and work shoes at the office so you don’t have to transport them back and forth every day. Keep some grease remover, hand sanitizer, and a small first aid kit handy just in case. If you’re biking in a skirt or dress that keeps flying up, wrap a coin in the fabric at the front hem and fasten it with a rubber band. This weighted hem will fall between your legs as you cycle and minimize fly up.
Finally, be a safe and responsible cyclist. When that impromptu happy hour happens and you find yourself a bit tipsy, please don’t cycle. You can put your bike on a Metro or Circulator bus or ask your friendly bus driver to help you. (Thank him or her profusely!). Metro trains allows up to two bicycles per car during non-rush hour times. Folded bikes are allowed anytime.
Biking is a great way to get around town! Do it, and bike safely!
Catherine Plume is a long time DC bicycle commuter. She’s the blogger for the DC Recycler; www.DCRecycler.blogspot.com; Twitter: @DC_Recycler.