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Posted on Monday, June 27, 2016

Exploring Washington With A Brompton

Elayne Reiss – Washington DC


How would you describe cycling in Washington DC?


With a mix of flat land and breathtaking hills set against a backdrop of historic buildings, the buzz of urban life, and (seasonally dependent) greenery, DC is an incredible place for bike travel. Cycling is everywhere in this city—and with each passing year, it seems to become even more prevalent as the city expands its network of dedicated bike lanes and trails. I love the fact that Pennsylvania Avenue, one of our most iconic thoroughfares, has a protected cycletrack embedded in the median from the Capitol to the White House. On the morning and evening commutes, you’re likely to see a road warrior in a cycling jersey, men and women in nice suits and dresses, and a parent towing two children on the back of a cargo bike, all stopped in the bike lane at the same traffic light! Our rapidly-growing Capital Bikeshare system serves a great purpose of providing thousands of bikes all over the city for quick trips, which increases the overall presence of cycling on our roads. I expect to see a bit of a jump in bike popularity over the next year as our Metrorail system undergoes a pretty major safety overhaul.


How do you use your Brompton bike?


My Brompton is my car replacement that never has to be left in the garage or out on the street. It’s my opportunity to clear my mind when I ride it to work in the morning and to reflect on my day when I return home at night, as well as my source of exercise and discovery of new places when I ride around the city on the weekend. My commute is either 15-20 minutes on Metro or the same on bike, but they are two entirely different commutes and I love having the option depending on weather or what I’m doing after work. I don’t think twice about taking it onto Metro when I want to start the bike-based portion of my excursion from somewhere other than home—unlike with regular-sized bikes, I’m not restricted to certain times or days of the week. My Brompton hasn’t engaged in fine dining, but I love having it next to me when I grab a slice of pizza. I have also gained some notoriety by transporting small boxes of pastries on my Brompton’s rack when among road bikes without that capability.

In DC we have what’s called the “Folding Thunder” group ride on Monday evenings in the summer, which is a 2-ish hour casual ride around town open to anyone but geared toward Bromptoneers. I get questions almost every time I take the bike out from random strangers who want to know more about how it works (my most favorite being that time I had a conversation with a member of the U.S. Capitol police force about my Brompton when stopped at a light), but there’s such joy in everyone’s faces when you get a whole group of people on Bromptons rolling down the street.


How did you get into cycling?


I have to thank my father for my love of cycling. He seems to have been born to cycle and has done so for nearly his whole life, so it was natural for him to want to pass that source of enjoyment onto my brother and me. (My mother never got into cycling, so it was not a whole-family affair.) I spent the first half of childhood on Long Island before moving to the suburbs north of Orlando, FL; in both locales, my brother and I would periodically ride a few miles around the neighborhood. In childhood, it was largely a “sibling-only activity,” as our parents wanted us to have a little bit of freedom to explore. By the time I started college, the rails-to-trails movement took over where my parents lived. Every time I visited home, I would get slightly jealous of these amazing cycling facilities Dad was able to use whenever he wanted to ride. Fortunately, my parents lived 40 minutes from my university so a weekend home often meant a Sunday morning ride of 20-25 miles, just Dad and I enjoying some nice scenery and an opportunity to catch up on life. This was especially valuable to me when I was finishing up my doctoral degree while working full-time, as our rides were often my only times to do something fun for myself.


Commuting by bike is, by comparison, a very new thing for me. I moved to DC over 3 years ago sans bicycle, as I knew I wanted a nicer bike than the steel toy store mountain bike I had been riding since I was 12, but thought it would be a good idea to first get a feel for the city and my travel needs. By living downtown I’m able to completely avoid owning a car, so I would walk many places to supplement Metro riding. By last spring, every time I’d go out for a walk I’d feel increasingly wistful when I saw cyclists pass by and I had no bike on which to join them. Not surprisingly, Dad was the person who not only suggested I look into a folding bike, but specifically a Brompton. I learned long ago that he’s usually right about everything. (In appreciation, he gets to borrow my Brompton when visiting.)


What advice would you give to anyone considering cycling in DC?


If you don’t own a bike, definitely consider renting one on a sunny weekend, map out a route on Google (it’s a great source of figuring out which roads have dedicated cycletracks, are flatter, etc.), bring a friend or significant other for company, and give it a try. Just avoid the National Mall during Cherry Blossom season! You could also go to most local bike shops, let them know you’re interested in possibly purchasing a bike, and they’ll let you try one out.

If you do already own a bike, make sure your tires are full and your brakes are functional, and find a casual group ride. My neighborhood bike shop (and Brompton dealer) BicycleSPACE happens to run a whole menu of weekend rides, ranging from easy and casual to more challenging, but all are “no drop”—nobody gets left behind. Not only have I met some really nice people, but I’ve also had an opportunity to explore parts of the city and suburbs that I never realized could be easily reached by bicycle. Riding in a group has also made me more confident in my street riding skills for when I’m out on my own, which is very empowering.

Once you realize how much fun you can have riding on a weekend, you may feel compelled to ride on weekdays, as well! You just have to do whatever works for you.


When you’re not commuting, where are your favorite places to visit by bike?


The longest ride I’ve taken on my Brompton was to the Maryland side of Great Falls, which was about 35 miles out and back from downtown DC. I had visited Great Falls previously by car for hiking, but when I went there by bike I came back with both the joy of having spent time at a gorgeous park site as well as the pride in saying, “I rode all the way out to Great Falls…on a folding bike!” Closer to home, I love to ride down the Mount Vernon Trail to Gravelly Point, where you can see all the airplanes fly in for landing at DCA, or to some of the waterfront areas like Georgetown or the Anacostia Riverfront. I’ve only had my bike for a little under a year, so I’m working my way up to day excursions where I can put the bike in a trunk or (non-Metro) train and discover some other parts of the region by Brompton.


If you could go on one cycling adventure, where would you go and why?


This past fall, I had the pleasure of hiking through Zion National Park in Utah. It was a fantastic experience, but I couldn’t help but notice the fact that the main road, which was closed to car traffic aside from the park shuttle, was also a bike path. As a lifelong East Coaster, I think it would be awesome to be able to explore these sorts of places in other parts of the country on bike. I already have a non-cycling-related travel goal of driving around the country and touring as many states as I can, so I’d love to toss my Brompton in the back of the vehicle and pick out the most interesting (but Brompton-friendly) rides in each state to enjoy and document.