Last Friday's Bike to Work Day was loads of fun for both first-time and regular commuters alike – lots of fellow cyclists on the streets, festivals along the way and beautiful weather. It made it easy and fun. So does that change, now that it's not Bike to Work Day? Not at all.
Sure, finding free food and raffles along your regular commuting route probably isn't going to happen, but there's no shortage of entertainment (personal favorites: "Will I make all the green lights?" and "Will the 38B Metro bus cut me off again?") and certainly plenty of company on two wheels. There are challenges, however, to transitioning from a once-a-year effort to regular commuting. So what's an erstwhile Arlington-based commuter to do? Here are a few tips:
- Make sure your bike is in good condition. "My chain came off!" probably isn't going to garner much understanding from a clock-watching boss (though it might help if you have convincingly greasy hands). If there's something that's been nagging you about your bike, get it fixed.
- Sort out your best route to work. It could turn out that the route you drive is also the best route to ride, but there are lots of efficient alternatives for those unencumbered by cars. If, say, you live in Courthouse and work near Navy Yard, combining the Mount Vernon Trail with a ride across the 14th Street bridge will almost always be quicker than driving. And truly, there is no better way to get to Georgetown from Rosslyn than by bike. Google Maps' Get There By Bicycle option is good for starters, but you'll want to double check it closely. And there's always help at the Washington Area Bike Forum.
- Plan your clothing/freshen-up strategy. Most of those who live along the Rosslyn-Ballston have a built-in advantage: the commute to almost anywhere is mostly flat or downhill. That makes it easy to just roll at an easy pace without worries of turning the morning's commute into an inconveniently sweaty workout. If your building doesn't have shower facilities, many gyms have "shower-only" memberships at (relatively) cheap rates. Federal employees who don't have suitable facilities in their own building can often gain access to facilities in nearby federal buildings that do.
- Got luggage? For most commuters, a light backpack is the easiest way to go. Those messenger bags that are so popular? They can be a bit awkward, and rarely provide more utility than a simple backpack. If your load is a bit heavier, look into a rack and pannier (also known as saddle bags).
- Figure out bike parking. Unless it's right outside your window (and there's a nearby door), don't plan on just locking up your bike outside. Bikes that sit for hours at a time in a city environment too often prove tempting to bike thieves. So the bike should go inside. Lots of newer buildings have secure bike parking - usually a bike cage to which (in theory) only cyclists have access. Absent that, it's not uncommon for cyclists to stash their bikes in their own offices or in a rarely used storage space. Uncertain as to how to do this? Talk to the building manager. (On the other hand, many bike commuters have come to appreciate the wisdom of Admiral Grace Hopper on the matter.)
- Finally, have a backup plan. In D.C., summer days that start with blue skies and sun can easily bring late afternoon thunderstorms. It's usually pretty easy to wait out lightning, but if you're unprepared for riding in the rain, you'll want to familiarize yourself with Metro's rules and hours for bringing your bike on the train or bus. Up for a ride home in the rain? Keep a thin rainjacket in the office or - at minimum - a ziploc for your cell phone so it doesn't get soaked on the ride. And lights are always good.
There's no need to immediately jump into becoming some kind of hard core all-weather year-round Arlington bike commuter. Start out with Fridays, or have a plan in place to do it when it's especially nice outside. Be prepared, though, to find yourself wishing you were back on your bike the next time you find yourself squeezing onto the Orange Line or inching along on the Roosevelt Bridge.
Ever wondered how those bus bike racks work? You can thank Louisville, KY for this explanation - "Bring it down, pull the bar, put it on . . . " You're welcome.
Revolution Cycles' Clarendon location will be holding a commuter seminar on Thursday at 7:30p.
Looking for a solid transportation bike for commuting? Bikes for the Rest of Us is a locally based blog that does a great job of reviewing what's out there.
Don't you hate it when bikes impede traffic?