How to Begin Commuting by Bicycle

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Topic: How to Begin Commuting by Bicycle

Travel and Transportation February 28, 2014 at 5:55 pm

How to Begin Commuting by Bicycle

Hello all,

I’ve been entertaining this idea that I might like to start commuting to work by bicycle. I work fairly long hours and I love seeing daylight in the mornings and evenings; additionally, I’d love to incorporate more exercise into my everyday life.

However, a few things are getting in my way. One, I am not familiar with bike-riding in the city and after reading RRRR, I’m terrified I’ll be killed by a rogue car. Two, I live in Park View and work in Crystal City. I mapped the commute and it’s about 7 miles, including crossing the Potomac. For someone who is fairly out of shape, this seems rather daunting.

Does anyone out there have any advice on how to start this kind of lifestyle change?

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I’m not expert, but I’ll throw in my 2 cents. I live on the border of Park View and Petworth and bike to work near 12th & D SW as much as I can, if not daily. My commute is only 4 miles and takes around 25 minutes there and a little more coming home thanks to some hills and more evening traffic. I recommend using 11th St south to Pennsylvania (the former has a bike lane most of the way and is relatively quiet when I’m commuting between 7-8am; the latter has the protected bike lane in the center of the street and dedicated signal lights), then cutting over to 15th St (again with a nice bike lane), which will then lead you around the Tidal Basin across the bridge. If you want to continue the beautiful view a little further, jump onto the Mt. Vernon Trail around Gravelly Point. Once you get closer to the airport, there are signs that direct you toward Crystal City. On the way home, downtown traffic can be a little daunting. I’ve had cars cut me off or be generally oblivious to bikers, but by the time I hit NY Ave, I feel less stressed about the traffic. Buy some lights; I bought some cheap ones (like <$10 total for a front light, back light, and tire light) on Amazon and they are fantastic.

I bike in gym clothes and change in the bathroom at work, nothing special there. When I initially arrive I drop off stuff at my desk to give my body time to cool off before heading to the bathroom. While biking, I haul my work clothes and lunch in a backpack, but other people use saddle bags or their rack for this too.

A good bike will make a huge difference. If you’re trying to start this new lifestyle while a little out of shape (as you said) with a clunker of a bike, you’ll feel like an elephant on a unicycle. I initially had a 1 mile commute and used a cheap old bike from Walmart, which was great for that purpose. However, when my commute increased to 4 miles with a big hill, I literally had to walk my bike up the hill (and I’ve run four half marathons in the last 2 years). After that beating, I invested in a really great recycled bike and it has made all the difference. If you need tips on that, let me know!

Happy biking!

I just switched jobs a month ago, but for several years my daily commute was by bike and between Pleasant Plains and Crystal City, so I know that ride along the Potomac very well! It is, hands down, the most missed thing about leaving my old job. Riding my bike along the river every day, twice a day, throughout the seasons was the best therapy I could ask for, and it’s a great way to get exercise without realizing you are, as well as stay connected to the seasons. Not only that, but you also get to pass by the Mall, see the cherry blossoms turn from tiny buds to full-blown flowers, and pass the White House. You’ll feel like you’re living the DC life that the rest of America often imagines it to be 😉

Give yourself a little over an hour in the beginning, and take it slowly while you build up your muscles. 7 miles sounds far, but once you get used to doing it twice a day, I’m telling you that you won’t notice it at all. Plus, half of the ride is just so peaceful and easy-going while you’re on the Mt Vernon trail, you don’t even notice you’re biking.

Here is my advice about that particular commute. Get good strong lights. DON’T GET THE CHEAP ONES. Get the good ones. There are no lights on the Mt Vernon Trail, and you need yours to see and be seen. I recommend getting two headlights – one to be on blink mode, the other to be on steady. Get lights for your spokes, too – great to be seen in the city streets. Use your back lights even during daylight – a bike that is seen well in advance is rarely hit!

There are several gyms in Crystal City. Join one and use it to shower after your ride in, especially in the warmer months. Bike in workout gear and get a good backpack or paniers for your bike to hold your work clothes.

Stick with a lighter road bike if you’re ready to buy a bike. There is no need for heavy mountain bikes and thick tires. Get a flat-tire kit on your bike, too – it’s a very long walk with a bike that has a flat, and no where to chain your bike up to come back and retrieve with a car. If you don’t feel comfortable changing a flat tire by yourself, don’t worry – there are always so many other cyclists on the commute, and so many people are crazy nice and will stop and help you. Honestly, doesn’t matter if you’re a man or woman, you will be offered assistance. If you’re ready to totally commit and geek out, get a simple road bike and some clip-on pedals and shoes (I love the pedals that have one side as a clip-on and the other is a normal pedal, so you can have the best of both worlds). The clip-in shoes take a little getting used to (and, trust me, you’ll fall off the bike more than once at the beginning but basically when you’re just stopped so you won’t get hurt, just a bruised ego), but in no time they will be second nature.

And finally, when biking in the city, do your best to follow all rules, don’t be an angry cyclist, and remember that drivers in this city often have a biased view against cyclists for virtually no reason, and that their irrational anger can cost you YOUR life and limb, while it will do nothing to them other than emotional damage if they hit you. Take deep breaths, always err on the side of extreme caution, and just let it go when someone is honking at you like crazy or yelling at you to get out of the road. Know the bike rules of the city (WABA is a great resource), where you are and are not allowed to be on the sidewalk, etc. Take 15th street all the way down to the Mall where you have your own bike lane, then hop on the wide ample sidewalks once you hit the Mall to get over to 14th St Bridge. From there it’s the smoothest sail of your journey.

You’ll love this commute so much, you’ll be happy to do it through all the seasons – I guarantee it! You get to watch flowers bloom (keep an eye out for the summer honeysuckles!), see mist rise off the Potomac, bike under low-flying airplanes, see ducks and geese glide along the river, watch autumn colors explode, and get more fresh air than any of your fellow colleagues can even imagine, all this while you’re just on your way to work and home! Plus, with the 14 miles you’ll be putting in every day, you really do get a good healthy workout. Enjoy and be safe! Wish I could be out there on that trail to meet you!

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