10 Bike Must Knows

10 Bike Must Knows If you’re new to biking, or just new to riding your bike for transportation,  there are some simple “must-knows” that can make your riding experience better. At our June Women & Bicycles workshop, we looked at some of the most frequents questions we see on the Women & Bicycles facebook group, plus a few neat bike hacks we think you’ll find useful.  Scroll through our slides below to learn more about what we covered:
  Women & Bicycles is proudly supported by The Potomac Pedalers Touring Club; hosts of the region’s most robust all-level group ride calendar and bike tailgates, Chipotle our delicious dinner party sponsors, and we’re supported by all our friends who donated through the Hains Point 100 ride.
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Women & Bicycles Tip: Try This One Great Grocery Trick

e6MXyK7ObZyMVaWZ7KTNlYi1U8M0BlyNV1r6XhihuwI This entry is part of our Women & Bicycles blog series. Women & Bicycles is WABA’s outreach and encouragement initiative to build a stronger women’s bike community and get more women on bikes. These posts certainly aren’t exclusive to women, but they’re produced with and through the Women & Bicycles’ programming and staffing. Click here to learn more and get involved.   Do you have panniers, those bags that clip on the side of a bike rack? After years of using a messenger bag, I am now a faithful pannier user and call them my Mary Poppins bags. Here’s a trick for other pannier users: When grocery shopping, clip your panniers on the front, inside, or outside of your shopping cart during checkout. It’s a simple way to load up and make sure the heavy stuff goes to the bottom, the lighter stuff stays on top, and that weight is evenly dispersed between the two bags.

My friend Meredith demonstrating the pannier method of shopping.

Panniers turn your bike into a pickup truck: They offer the carrying capacity of nearly two weeks’ worth of groceries, everything but the kitchen sink for a family trip to the park,  or simply all the odds and ends that you need daily. And with panniers, you don’t have to worry about the strain, weight, or sweat from carrying a backpack. If you’re in the market for panniers, click here to read Momentum‘s reviews on over a dozen different options to choose from. And speaking of groceries, biking, and WABA’s Women & Bicycles program, are you coming to the Women & Bicycles happy hour tonight at Glen’s Garden Market in Dupont? We’ll be there from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Click here for more details.

Bike Theft is on the Rise. Take 10 Minutes and Do This Now.

Last week, we gave you a brief overview of what to do in the event that your bike is stolen. In that post, we mentioned WABA’s bicycle owner record sheet, which we’d like to discuss in a bit more detail today. When a bike is stolen, the first thing you should do is to call the police and report the bicycle stolen. An officer will come and meet you to file a stolen property report. To file the report, they will need the following information: type of bike, color, serial number, a photo, etc. To make sure you have this information available in the event that you need it, use our form. Download this PDF with fillable fields, enter all the relevant information, and save a hard copy in a safe place. Take some photos of your bike, making sure to capture any distinguishing characteristics (modifications you’ve made to the bike, damage or signs of wear and tear, stickers or other bling). Attach the photos to the record sheet. This information on this form will also be required by your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance if you decide to make a stolen property claim. You can significantly reduce the risk of your bike being stolen by using proper locking techniques with a strong u-lock at secure parking spot in a well-lit area where there’s good foot traffic. DDOT, WMATA, private property managers, and others are working to increase the amount of secure bike parking in the region, but there is still a shortage—and still a chance your bike could be stolen. The Washington Post recently covered the increase in bike theft in and around D.C., and Fox5 ran a story about an upcoming documentary about a professional bike thief. We hope you’ll never have to use this information, but if you do need it, providing the police with a complete record of your stolen bike could greatly help in its recovery.

Women & Bicycles Tip: Know The Power of Shifting

e6MXyK7ObZyMVaWZ7KTNlYi1U8M0BlyNV1r6XhihuwIThis entry is part of our Women & Bicycles Bi-Weekly Tips series. Women & Bicycles is WABA’s outreach and encouragement initiative to build a stronger women’s bike community and get more women on bikes. Click here to learn more and get involved. Shifting gears; important for greater comfort, power, and in general for being a more confident bicyclist. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we’re consulting Bicycling magazine to get you shifting like a pro. Want some in-person assistance? Check out a WABA City Cycling class, or ride with us this Sunday!
Photo courtesy of Microvector and Bicycling Magazine

Photo courtesy of Microvector and Bicycling

Here’s what Neil Bezdek wrote for Bicycling:

1. The Gears Most bikes have two or three chainrings in the front and anywhere from 7 to 11 gears, or cogs, in the back. Moving the chain from the smallest rear cog to the largest eases your pedaling effort incrementally. Moving it between the chainrings in the front results in a more noticeable change—pedaling feels easier in a smaller chainring and harder in a bigger one. 2. Shifter Savvy The left-hand shifter changes the front gears; the one on the right controls gears in back. If you get flustered on the fly, remember: RIGHT = REAR. 3. It’s Okay To… • Use only the rear cogs and the small or middle front chainring when you’re just getting comfortable on a bike. • look down to see what gear you’re in. • shift whenever a more experienced rider does. 4. When to Shift The reason bikes have gears is so you can pedal (relatively) comfortably no matter what the terrain. Shift to an easier gear on climbs or when you’re riding into the wind. Use a harder gear on flats or if the wind is blowing from behind. When in doubt, shift before the terrain changes. When you shift, ease up on the pedals, especially on hills; if you’re pushing hard, the chain may skip or fall off. 5. Avoid Cross-Chaining  That means the chain is at an extreme slant, either in the big ring up front and the biggest cog in back, or the small ring up front and the small cog in back. This not only stresses the hardware, but it also limits your options if you need to shift again. 6. Cheat Sheet For: Uphills and headwinds Use: Small or middle front chainring + bigger rear cogs For: Downhills Use: Large front chainring + a range of rear cogs For: Flat terrain Use: Small or middle front chainring + ­smaller rear cogs
We searched the internet high and low for an effective video tutorial on shifting gears, and we came across Ken here from Landry’s Bicycles:

Rider Profile: Nancy Birdsall

RideOn is WABA’s quarterly newsletter. If you’re a WABA member, you receive it by mail. We make it available to nonmembers online, too. In this month’s issue, we ran a profile of Nancy Birdsall, founding president of the Center for Global Development and a longtime D.C. bike commuter. As Bike to Work Day approaches, we want to share Nancy’s story on our blog to inspire those of you who might still be on the fence about riding to work. Register for Bike to Work Day (it’s next Friday, May 17!) and join or renew your WABA membership at a discount, $25. In addition to RideOns lovingly delivered by the U.S. Postal Service, WABA members have access to a host of great benefits. — By Catherine An Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development, is a longtime D.C. commuter cyclist. As WABA works to get more women on bikes through our Women & Bicycles program, stories like Nancy’s can be an inspiration. It caused a small media sensation in some Latin American countries: headlines like “New leader bikes to work” swept across newspapers when Nancy Birdsall, incoming executive vice president of the Inter-American Development Bank, declined one of the perks of the prestigious new job: a car and driver—and a reserved parking space in the bank garage. But by 1993, when she assumed the position, Nancy had already been biking to work for 20 years and had grown both accustomed to and fond of the efficient mode of transportation. “They were very kind about it,” she laughed, retelling the story and the flurry it caused. “The bank put a special bike rack in my spot in the garage.” Today, Nancy is the founding president of the Center for Global Development, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. She’s been biking to work for over 40 years and encourages women to take up what she sees a surprisingly easy and convenient way to commute. She got started as a young woman: “I started commuting by bike in 1970 because there was no easy way to get from Glover Park (where I lived at the time) to Columbia and 18th (where I worked). I was very young and in a junior position and there was nowhere to park and no convenient bus route.” And it was a good fit from the start: “I was a bit of a jock in college—and I have no recollection of many problems getting started. I had some concern about how to organize myself – what to wear and how to carry things (I remember wearing slacks or a skirt and bike pants underneath, but those were pretty easy to solve.” There were a couple of tough times: “I’ve had two big accidents: Once while riding, I was hit by a car from behind, thrown backwards off my bike, and landed on the hood of the car. I remember it was during the Reagan administration because the guy who hit me worked in the White House and he was pretty freaked out. Everything worked out OK but the accident wrecked my back for a while.” “The other time was when my youngest child was six weeks old and I was just getting back to work—it was my second, maybe third day back on the job and I was only working half-time and going in later in the day. By the time I left for the office, there were cars parked alongside the sidewalk so I was biking a bit further from the curb than usual. I hit a bump in the road, flew over the handlebars, and broke my elbow. Everything worked out OK, and the worst of the accident was not being able to pick up my six-week-old baby for a while.” But it’s gotten better than ever: “There’s been a huge upsurge in biking over the last 20 years. Workplaces have gotten more bike friendly; even the taxis—which used to be more aggressive—have actually gotten better now. Drivers are more accommodating. The challenges, if any, are easier to overcome than ever.” And you should try it, too: “Despite the number of people in the CGD office who bike to work (at least a handful), I’m the only woman who regularly commutes by bike. And of course it’s easier to bike if there are accommodations at work that allow for it (bike racks or storage, a place to change, etc.) but it’s not that big a challenge if you try.” “It’s surprisingly easy. It’s easier than people realize. It’s just a matter of getting started.” Nancy is the founding president of the Center for Global Development. CGD is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit think that that works to reduce global poverty and inequality through rigorous research and active engagement with the policy community. Learn more at cgdev.org. Catherine An is the Center for Global Development’s media relations associate.

Come Celebrate the 15th St. Cycle Track on Friday

On Monday, at the DDOT Oversight Hearing, DC City Councilmember Jack Evans asked how we fix the 15th Street Cycle Track. Now, we’ve ridden the cycle track a lot, and while it is not perfect, it is still a great addition to the bike network of DC. So, rather than get political about it–with action alerts and riling up the blogosphere to condemn Councilmember Evans’ remarks–we’re going to head down there on Friday afternoon (update: between 4pm & 6pm) and show DC that we cyclists appreciate the 15th St. cycle track. This is going to be very informal. We’ll have our Bike Ambassador there with some volunteers with signs, probably around Q St. NW and/or riding the length of the cycle track. We’ll be asking cyclists to stop and get their picture taken with us and we’ll post everything here on Monday. Come on out and celebrate DC’s commitment to bicycle-specific infrastructure. And maybe next week we can ask some pointed questions about what happened to those painted intersections we were promised… You can read more about Councilmember Evans’ remarks at Greater Greater Washington and The Washcycle.

3 Year Bike Commuting Streak

Washington Area Bike Forum member Brett Hack of Herndon, VA has been making the 36-mile commute to his office in McLean everyday for the last three years.  WTOP’s Kate Ryan highlighted Hack’s achievement over the weekend in her article “The power of the office pool: Cyclist on three year commuting streak“.   Included in Hack’s lists of benefits for commuting to work by bike is the time to relax and leave work at work:
“I’ve got my ride to look forward to. Even when it’s 11 degrees outside or windy or snowy – I know I’ve got that time to myself,” he says. Hack adds that he’s getting a workout that leaves him refreshed. “I don’t care about work – it’s gone, out of my mind. I come home and I’m home.”
As a frequent user of the wonderful bike trail network in Virginia including the W&OD Trail, Hack had one request of all pedestrians (and might we add cyclists too):
Wear reflective gear.
Keep the good work Brett!

Winter Riding Part I: How to Ride

We all knew this season was coming. It seems like only yesterday we were riding around in shorts and cranking up the AC, but here we are in December already, and that means cold-weather bicycling is on everyone’s minds. Right about now, some of you are probably thinking, “Why on earth would I want to ride my bike in the winter?” In fact, the winter isn’t all gray skies and gloom, and the best way to learn that is to get out there and see it. If you’re at all troubled by Seasonal Affective Disorder (and really, who doesn’t feel a little down when it’s cold and dark for so long), then winter riding can be a great way to get some sunshine on your face and get the blood pumping. Plus, you get to stay active during the calorie-filled holiday season! To top it off, the reduction in bike traffic means you have those lanes and trails mostly to yourself. Here are WABA’s helpful tips to face the winter head-on and stay warm, happy and safe. Riding in the Dark First of all, winter riding means riding in the dark, especially for the evening commute. Everyone should know that the law in DC, MD and VA says a front white light and either a red rear light or red rear reflector are required. But that’s only the bare minimum you can do to make sure you are visible out there:
  • Reflective clothing – These days, you can find reflective material on all sorts of gear, from gloves to shoes to jackets to pants. Even if you don’t want to go the full reflective vest route, a few points of reflectiveness on your arms and legs (your moving parts) will make a big difference in how quickly drivers can spot you. Don’t look now, but WABA sells a fantastic reflective pant cuff!
  • Light it up – Cars can only avoid you if they can see you, and driver visibility is reduced in rain, snow, sleet and fog. So use extra lights and make sure they are on the “blink” setting–they will attract more attention than solid lights.
  • Ride visibly – When you control the lane, you make sure that you are in the most visible place on the roadway. Remember, visibility is your top priority!
  • Know where to ride – Specifically, get to know which roads have good ambient light available and which do not. Ride smart and err on the side of caution–just because you can see them does not mean that they can see you!
Riding on Snow & Ice This is the tricky part where a lot of three-season riders simply might say “you’d have to be crazy to get on a bike with that stuff all over the road.” But we’ll be riding in it and we think you should too. There’s nothing like the feeling of riding through a lightly falling snow, with the only sounds the crunch of your tires and the rush of the wind. Come on out and join us, won’t you? But first, here’s what to expect:
  • Pedal smoothly – Try to maintain a steady pace, but you don’t want to go too fast if conditions are bad. Watch out for the rear tire slipping when you start from a standing stop.
  • Brake OR turn, NOT both – Start braking early and shed a lot of speed before you start turning. When turning, try to keep pedaling smoothly and your weight centered over the bike. Keep your eyes up and focused about 100 yards ahead of you, along the line you will take when you finish the turn. This will help you keep both your body and the bike where you want them.
  • Feather your brakes – Wet, cold rubber is not as effective at stopping you than dry, warm rubber. Tap your brakes lightly before you need them to dry them off slightly.
  • Not all snow is created equal – Dry powder is easy to ride through, but can cake on your rims, brake pads, etc. Wet snow is hard work to ride through, but if you’re heavy enough, you can cut right down to the pavement. Ice can be hard to spot, unpredictable and may be best avoided if you can. Packed snow behaves like ice when it’s cold out and like a combination of ice and wet snow when it’s warm. You will learn to recognize these types and the gradations between them pretty quickly.
  • Caution, roadway narrows – Winter Bike Law #1: When there’s snow on the ground, plows will deposit it in bike facilities. Don’t expect anything other than main roads to be plowed, and don’t even expect those to be well-plowed. Take the lane. Oddly, drivers are often more respectful of cyclists in the winter.
  • Not everyone knows what they’re doing – Also, don’t expect drivers to be experienced at winter driving. Do your best to be predictable so drivers don’t have to react to you. Follow the laws and communicate with them through hand gestures and eye contact. Again, err on the side of caution!
  • Watch for metal and paint – They get very slippery when wet. This means manhole covers, metal bridge surfaces, grates, metal construction plates, crosswalks, stop lines, bike lane markings, etc.
  • Think about lower tire pressure – Most tires have a range of acceptable tire pressure (85-95 psi, for instance). On the lower end of that range (or even below it), you will get better traction out of your tires. Just beware that your chances of a pinch flat go up when your tires are under-pressurized.
  • Be ready for extra maintenance – Winter riding puts different kinds of wear and tear on your bike. Extremely cold temperatures can make your tires, chain, brakes and any parts with bearings (hubs, headset, pedals & bottom bracket) behave differently, so keep an eye or ear open for anything abnormal. Consider a tune-up before winter really begins and again after it’s over. At the “before” tune-up, ask the bike tech for some all-weather chain lube and wet weather brake pads. Oh, and the cold will also drain the batteries in your lights faster!
Remember folks, practice makes perfect! If you’re at all unsure of your winter riding skills, wait for a snowy/sleety/rainy/freezing day and head out to a parking lot and practice for a while. Get the hang of starting, stopping and turning. That way, you’ll be prepared for whatever January and February throw our way. Continue reading Part II: What to Wear

MWCOG Bike/Ped Subcommittee report

At yesterday’s Bike/Ped Subcommittee meeting, newly-elected chair Kristen Haldeman from WMATA announced the completion of a draft Bicycle and Pedestrian Improvements study which is to be presented to the WMATA board in January. The most exciting element of this study is WMATA’s proposal to adopt a bicycling mode share goal which would triple the current share by 2020. As recently as 2007, only .7% of Metro riders arrive at the station system-wide by bike, compared to 33% by walking. Of course, some stations have a much higher bicycling arrival rate, like NIH/Medical Center, which tops the list. But, unfortunately, most other stations have almost no riders arriving by bike. Because building vehicle parking garages for the projected one million additional riders by 2030 is cost-prohibitive, Metro has to adopt more bicycle-friendly strategies. To achieve this goal, Metro has plans to provide more secure bicycling storage areas to encourage cyclists to leave their bike at the station all day. A lack of secure bike parking facilities was the number one complaint for passengers in the latest survey. Metro will be piloting different ideas for solutions to this ever-present problem including bike cages and additional security cameras in the coming months. WABA has offered to host a visioning session with WMATA bike parking staff to brainstorm on how best to accommodate more cyclists and their bikes safely and securely, and how WABA members can advocate and support WMATA’s increased bike share goal.

My First Year as a Bike Commuter

Gina Arlotto with Bianchi commuter bike

Gina Arlotto, DC & Regional Safe Routes to School Network Coordinator

When I started working at WABA last January, I was strictly a recreational cyclist. Riding around my neighborhood, Capitol Hill, and down and across the National Mall, or trail rides on weekends and vacations was the limit of my bicycling experience. Becoming a bike commuter was not a requirement for the job at WABA, but almost as soon as I started working here, I knew I wanted to try it. At 43, with three children to see into adulthood, safety was my main concern. Fortunately, Glen Harrison (WABA Education Director) offered to be my commuter mentor the first few times out. He showed me a beautiful, albeit long, route along the Mall and down onto Rock Creek trails. After a few days of that warm up, and wanting to avoid that looong hill up out of the park at Calvert Street NW, I mapped out my own route and, I admit, did not do a very good job. My first route took me from my home near Lincoln Park to 6th Street NE (bike lane) to K Street NE (no bike lane) and then to New Jersey Ave NW (again no bike lane) then crossing New York Avenue NW and finally, finally, making a left on R Street NW to finish out my ride to WABA (2599 Ontario Rd. NW) exclusively on streets with bike lanes. Looking back on it now, I am surprised I took on that much right away.  (Switching from a car driver’s perspective on route planning to a bicyclist’s perspective takes time). K Street NE and New Jersey Avenue were some of the scariest rides of my life, with car commuters coming quickly and angrily out of the tunnel from I-395.  Although it was a fast commute, I was very anxious and I had terrible muscle tension in my hands and shoulders from what I called my “white-knuckle ride”. Over the next few months I tried several variations of my route, settling on East Capitol Street (bike lane) to a zig-zag around the Capitol to First Street NW to E Street NW (with a great bike lane in both directions) to 11th street NW to R Street NW, which became my main route. Getting around Union Station is always difficult and wanting to tweak my route a tad would often find me attempting to use Massachusetts Ave. NW to get to 11th street NW, which cut off a corner.  But Massachusetts Ave.  is another major commuter route with fast-moving cars and extremely distracted drivers, who were driving so aggressively that I could only assume they were really late for work. When the Pennsylvania Avenue NW bike lanes opened up in May, I thought I had died and gone to bike commuter heaven. These protected lanes with clear signage for cyclists and vehicles make for the most relaxed and enjoyable ride every day. I now ride East Capitol, bike down around the Capitol, to the Penn Ave. NW lanes to 11th street NW, which, while not having a bike lane for its entire length, is at least not a heavy vehicle route. The bike lane for 11th street NW does start up at Massachusetts Avenue, NW, and I take that all the way to my turn onto R Street and on to work. My return route consists of U Street NW to the 15th Street NW cycle track to Q Street NW to 10th Street NW to the Pennsylvania Ave. NW bike lanes. Now, my commute is a great start and end to my workday and I dread the days it is too rainy or too hot to ride. By contrast, riding the Metro takes nearly twice as long and costs almost $5 round trip. My trusty Bianchi commuter bike (bought for $29 at the Hyattsville MD Salvation Army) has given me an excellent return on my minor investment in good fenders and lights, and a tune-up from City Bikes made it run like a dream. Thanks to WABA’s excellent Traffic Skills 101 course (also taught in a 3-class series called Confident City Cycling), I feel safe, informed and yes, confident as I ride my bike to and from work. Now, my only anxiety comes from watching other cyclists as they blow through lights at intersections and weave in and out of stopped traffic. Following the rules of the road, just as motor vehicles do, is actually a relief to me. I think it defuses a lot of the anger that some motorists have for cyclists, and I think it’s the smartest, safest, most responsible way to ride. And I have recently started seeing more cyclists stop with me at lights, especially in the Pennsylvania Ave. NW lanes, to wait for the light to change. My family is inordinately proud of me and for my girls especially, I think it’s a great model of strength for them to see. (For Mother’s Day, my family presented me with a Road ID which, after my emergency contact info, reads “Stronger Than I Look” as the final line.) My 11 year old now begs to go on what she calls “road rides” with me and to teach her how to ride in traffic too. We are slowly making our way around Capitol Hill and beyond, using bike lanes when we can, but I have taught her how to signal, control the lane and stop at signs and lights, just like I do. My 14 year old son, now commuting to Wilson High School in upper NW DC via Metro, would love to ride his bike, but the distance (over 10 miles) the hills and a lack of fully connected bike lane infrastructure make that a dicey proposition. We’re not there yet. Soon, maybe. I am so grateful for WABA’s advocacy and DDOT’s action to create a safe way for me to be able to commute by bike. The more bike lanes that get painted, the more cyclists I see. And not just young hipsters on their fixies or CaBis, but also older moms like me, who have dusted off their bikes and taken to the roads. I cheer them on silently and thank all those who worked to make cycling an option for everyone, not just road racers or spandex-clad, card-carrying, cycling diehards, but regular people like me who just want to get out of their cars or off the Metro and onto a healthier way of commuting. Gina Arlotto is the District and Regional Safe Routes to School Network Coordinator of WABA