Confession: Despite living right on the D.C.-Maryland border, I have yet to venture into the District by bicycle. Why? Because I’m freaked out about the idea of sharing long stretches of city roads with moving—and parked—cars, buses, people, etc. etc. etc. etc.
Putting brown paper bag over my head in shame now.
Come to think of it, I have yet to actually deviate from my commuting route along the relative safety of the Georgetown Branch/Capital Crescent Trail, tucked away from the main thoroughfares of East West Highway and Connecticut Avenue.
The sad thing is, my high levels of anxiety and fear of the potential dangers of bike-car/bike-ped crashes are uncalled for. I know biking in D.C. is relatively safe and I’m not some errant cyclist who goes whichever which way and intentionally puts myself in risky situations. Every time I metro into D.C. and walk around the city, I always see at least five people riding around on a bike.
When I see them on their bikes and the smiles on their faces, I think to myself: “I need to start making trips into D.C.”
And seeing all those people riding around on bikes gives me comfort in the idea that biking in D.C. isn’t all scary, boogeyman-ish.
I enjoy walking around the District, with the flexibility the streets offer you that a vehicle may not enjoy. More importantly, you’re not subject to the damn one-way street signs that’ll direct you in maddening circles. You’re also free to let all the distractions of the city flood over you. Hey, you’re not driving so if you trip over a tree root, it’s not like you’re taking out a building or running into some diplomat’s caravan.
I’d imagine that riding around the city on bike offers a similar experience in flexibility and freedom that a car just does not offer—minus the obvious of not being wholly distracted because it only takes a single moment to go from freedom with wind blowing past face to road burn and bruised body.
In this Momentum Mag piece by Laura Crawford and Russ Roca on why we should explore cities by bike, they make a persuasive (or, at least an encouraging) case to jump on the bike and experience all the glory that biking through a city has to offer.
On a bike, you’re privy to the slight inclines of city streets, you can smell restaurants before you see them, and you can hear the different languages that are spoken in different neighborhoods. Cities provide fascinating opportunities to explore new cultures and ideas, and what better way to make these new discoveries than by bicycle?
On many occasions, I do smell the deliciousness of some kind of baked goods (the smell of which I associate with churros), but I can’t just stop and check out the smell because I’m on a trail, and the building is somewhere along a road beyond the thicket of trees and thorny bushes.
But if I were biking in the city and I catch a whiff of some delicious food item, I’m more likely to stop and investigate. After all, what’s to stop me, while on a bike, from going whichever which way to get to the smell of deliciousness? Can you do that in a car? Just stop, and drive hither tither ’til you get to the source of the smell? Absolutely-friggin not.
Riding around in a car, you do feel the occasional bumps and dips but that just means you probably ran over something or you drove over a hole of some kind. On a bike, you are privy to, as Crawford and Roca write, “the slight inclines of city streets.”
Sometimes I try to gauge the rideability of certain roads while I’m in the car, but when I get on my bike it ends up being a mental putdown because the roads usually feel more intense than I anticipated. But that’s all part of the experience and the challenge is it not? There’s a feeling of immense satisfaction when you make it to the stop of a drawn-out angled hill, or avoiding all the nooks and crannies in the road, or being able to really see the debris that just collects on a transportation lane that you’d never really notice in the car.
Being on a bike, you start noticing stuff.
Cycling (and perhaps even walking) in the city also presents opportunities to meet new people—also something I have failed to do.
There’s no shortage of bike shops in D.C., and following at least two of them on Twitter and Facebook, and reading their calls for weekend morning yoga classes followed by easy rides along the Anacostia riverfront, it’s like “why not?” Get off that saggy couch, suit up or whatever and get your ass and bike to a group ride! (I’m really preaching to myself here.)
In a car, you can’t just stop and strike up a conversation about the wheel hub or the color of the car’s finish without incurring the wrath of other drivers. On a bike, it’s all in the experience. Stopping to strike a conversation about whatever, exchanging numbers, going for some hot coffee or tea, or some easy fries. It’s brilliant!
And I’m a total fail-whale in the social gathering department. I need a friend in the D.C./Maryland cycling scene that can connect me with awesome-saucesome cycling people.
This next year will definitely be the year I truly venture out on my bike. 2012 was the year I bought my bike and committed myself to a new transportation lifestyle. 2013 will be the year I take exploration to a whole new level. Let’s see if I can muster up the courage to actually do it.
Here’s a video by Laura Crawford and Russ Roca that basically says it all:
(Also, read that Momentum Mag piece.)