While many cyclists recently took advantage of some unseasonably warm days to hit the trails, and some will commute through anything, winter's the undeniable low season for cycling around here. But spring isn't that far away, and with it starts a long season of cycling events in the region. Now's a great time to look ahead and set some "big ride" goals for the year.
One of the many great things about the cycling events around the area is that there's something for everyone. Four years old and still leaning on your training wheels? Then the Clarendon Cup kid's ride is for you: It's all of 700 feet up Clarendon Boulevard. Super fit and interested in testing your endurance? The day-long Total 200 starts near the Mall, and takes you 200 miles through southern Maryland before returning to the start.
Thankfully, there are plenty of options between those extremes.
One of my favorite events to kick off the year is the Vasa Ride, which is sponsored by the House of Sweden. Taking place on March 4, it marks the celebration of Sweden's Vasaloppet cross-country ski race. The Washington version trades skis for bikes, and takes participants on routes from 13 to 59 miles (with the long route tracking the mileage of the Vasaloppet). Since it starts and ends at the in Georgetown, it's an easy ride from Arlington. The best part of the ride, by the way, is the hot blueberry soup served at the end.
For those not quite ready to jump into things in early March, there are a number of great events spaced throughout the year.
There's Bike DC, which takes place on May 13, and gives you a chance to ride part of the George Washington Memorial Parkway (normally closed to cyclists). Despite its name, a good portion of the ride takes place in Arlington. It's a slow-paced and family-friendly event, though the youngest of riders might find the distance a bit more than they'd like.
Not too long after Bike DC, riders who'd like to see how fast they can go - without actually entering a race - can do so as part of the chip-timed U.S. Air Force Crystal Ride in Crystal City on June 10. Held on the same course used by the pro riders in the early editions of the U.S. Air Force Crystal Classic, this event draws lots of cyclists keen to see how many laps of the 8-mile course they can complete in 3.5 hours.
Of course, not everything need be in such a rush. The Back Roads Century takes you through rolling hills in the horse country west ofour area. Put on by the Potomac Peddlers Touring Club, it offers routes that range from 25 to 100 miles, all to be ridden at your leisure. For something a little more urban, and a lot closer to home, there's the Washington Area Bicyclist Association's 50 States Ride. True to its name, it routes you along every road named for a state, all within the district. You're virtually guaranteed to ride a road you've never been on before. Both of these rides take place in September, so there's plenty of time to prepare.
Finally, there's the region's capstone event for recreational cyclists, the Seagull Century. It starts in Salisbury, Md., so it's not exactly rideable from Arlington. But you'll see loads of fellow Arlingtonians there. Flat as a pancake and taking place in early October, it's the favorite choice of area riders targeting their first century. It gives plenty of time to train through the year, doesn't ask for any climbing legs, and you get ice cream at mile 80. Really, could you ask for anything better?
All of these rides are manageable by anyone, really. It just takes a bit of motivation and time in the saddle. And very soon it will be the perfect time to start working on both of those things.
Mark Blacknell is chair of the Arlington Bicycle Advisory Committee, president of the Washington Area Bicyclist Association, and a League Cycling Instructor.