Trail Basics

Brightly lit greenery and trail with some black eyed susans and a green yard sign that says Go Slow Enough That Everyone's Safe with the Trail Ranger logo

Trails are great! Oxon Run Trail, Capital Crescent Trail, WB&A Trail, Cross County Trail – our region is full of lots of options. There are a few trail basics to know;

Go Slow Enough That Everyone Is Safe. Some trails have official speed limits, often 15 mph, but regardless, you are responsible for riding responsibly. Be extra careful around hard-to-see corners, under slippery conditions and when trails are crowded with other trail users, especially kids and pets that might have more unpredictable movement. Go slow enough that you can safely react to expected and unexpected hazards. 

Ride Right, Pass Left. Trails are kinda like roads, but better! Help everyone out by having consistent “vehicle” travel patterns. When you are passing someone, call your pass with voice or bell in advance of passing. But never assume they will hear you, they might be hard-of-hearing and/or distracted – give everyone plenty of space when passing! 

Share the Space. Trails are great for walking, rollerskating, bicycling and more! Most trails are multi-use and should have clear signs if bike riding is prohibited. If you are in a group, leave width so that others can go around you. If you stop, try and pull off the trail to keep the active travel lanes open. Bright lights may be necessary for unlit trails at night, but tilt your light towards the trail pavement to make sure oncoming trail users can still see. 

Learn more with our trails webinar! Available closed captions are professionally done.

Webinar: ABC Quick Check

In this webinar, our DC Bike Ambassador will walk you through how to do an ABC Quick Check on your bike. Learn how to perform some basic bike maintenance to make sure your bike is in good condition for your next ride. We’ll walk you through how to check your tire pressure, brakes, chain and a few other things. Performing an ABC Quick check before your next ride can help make sure your bike is safe to ride.

También disponible en español.

How to Buy a Bike

Congratulations, we’re incredibly excited that you want a bike! While, the number of choices can feel overwhelming, the bike you select should feel comfortable for your body, fit your budget, and make you happy to ride. Of course, it also needs to be mechanically sound, so you can ride it safely.

There is no one perfect bicycle for everyone no one correct method to getting one. These suggestions don’t cover everything and we still encourage you to ask friends and family who ride their opinions.

First, figure out what you want you want to do on your bike

It can be helpful to list out what trips and attributes you want in a bicycle. Bicycles come in a mind-boggling and wide variety of types: electric tricycles for commercial delivery or recreation, bikes for going really fast, touring bikes for long-distance travel, folding bicycles for short trips, and the list goes on. But the standard classic image of a two-wheeled bicycle with flat handlebars and a basket for carrying stuff is also a great option!

Test Rides
A great way is to test ride a bunch of bikes. Borrow a friend’s or family member’s bike. Try a few models that would not typically attract your attention at first glance. It can be helpful to test bikes that might be out of your budget – what does a more expensive bike feel like?

Bicycling Size and Fit

Bikes come in a wide variety of sizes, some with lots of different options and other models with only a few options. For instance many cargo bikes are designed to have long seat posts so that different sized people can ride the bicycle comfortably.

General rule of thumb with bike sizing is that you should be able to ride without pain (being sore is okay), fully extend your legs without locking while pedaling and be able to comfortably hold the handlebars and use the brakes. For bikes with a flat top tube like a traditional road bike, there should be 1-2 inches clearance when standing over the bike. But every person is unique and how your arms, legs and torso will fit a bicycle varies by person. Often “women’s” sizing is a different calculation of body proportions from “men’s” sizing but bodies of all genders come in a variety of proportions so do not assume that a specifically gendered bicycle may or may not fit you.

Be sure to check out our tips for fitting a bike.

Bikes often have a a variety of sizes that is marketed toward “average” folks, which can often make it feel like there are less options for the wide variety of body types we all encompass. However, there are great guides on the internet for height and size considerations when riding a bike. Bikes do have structural weight limits which can be found in the owners’ manual (typically available online).

Just remember, the right bike for your body is out there somewhere.

Budget

Bicycles can cost a wide variety of prices from a $0 offer from a friend to a $10,000+ custom biking. But here are typical ranges:

Rental Options

Capital Bikeshare

Your local regional bike public transportation! Capital Bikeshare bikes are available in many places in the region for a one-time or membership model (as many 30 minute rides in your membership timespan). They are a great option for many people that want a sturdy, no-frills 2-wheeled bicycle for short trips. Though it definitely is a one-size-fits-most type model and cannot be comfortably ridden by all heights of adults. 

Dockless bicycles

There are a few dockless private rental companies throughout the region. They can be found through their smartphone apps.

Buying your own bicycle

Buying Used

There are a few different options within the used marke—local used bicycle shops, thrift stores, bicycle-centered social media groups, and online ads (ex: Craigslist).

You’ll need to have a more specific sense of what bicycle you want, including generally what size bicycles fit you, because the options will be more limited. It can be helpful to spend a few weeks looking through options before deciding.

There is a blue book for bicycle valuation though the used bicycle marketplace does widely vary in pricing and the DC region tends towards more expensive. Bicycles are a popular item to steal so be mindful and alert. Stick to popular and commonly-used groups and you should be fine.

Buying New 

There are two different types of places to get a new bicycle—bicycle shops and larger general retailers (ex. REI).

Bicycles are mechanically complicated and specific enough that there are definitely many benefits to buying from a bike-specific business. But everyone’s decisions, budgets, priorities, and access are unique. A shop should make you feel welcomed, answer questions, and support you in finding the bicycle that is right for you. There are a lot of passionate and knowledgeable employees in shops throughout the region, and it is okay to try a few different places to find the bicycle for you. Different shops can specialize in different types of bicycling.

How to Ride a Bike

Learning to ride a bike can seem nerve wracking. Ask anyone around you and they  likely will share stories of falling and scraped knees. But they will also tell you about taking those first few exhilarating pedals and the joy and weightlessness of gliding on your bike!

For generations, people have used the “toss em’ into the deep end” approach when teaching others how to ride a bike. They may get bumps and bruises along the way, but eventually they learn to ride a bike.

Riding a bike is a lot easier than you think! WABA’s Learn to Ride classes take an easier approach, breaking down the process into three easy to follow steps. We are so confident that our technique works that we are happy to share our methods with you to try out at home. You can use these to teach yourself how to ride or to teach others, including kids!

What You’ll Need

  • A bike – we recommend one that has you sitting upright. 
  • A helmet 
  • A flat, wide open surface – like a parking lot or a quiet street 

Tip: If you don’t have a bike or helmet, our Learn to Ride classes are a great option since they include a bike and helmet rental.

Before You Get On Your Bike 

Before you get started, be sure to check out our tips on how to properly fit your helmet and size your bike.

How to Ride

Now, you are ready! You’ve got your helmet on, your bike properly fitted and you’re standing in a wide open parking lot, not a car in sight. The next thing to do is learn to ride a bike. Here are the three simple steps that our highly experienced instructors use at our Learn to Ride classes.

Step One: Learning to Glide 

In order for the bike to glide, you’ll have to first gain momentum. Sit on the saddle (just a fancy name for a seat) with your hands on the handlebars, fingers on your brakes, and your feet flat on the ground. Begin rocking back and forth, shifting your weight from your heels to the balls of your feet. The bike should move with you, but your feet should not leave the ground. Continue to rock, gaining a bit more speed as you push your weight backwards and forwards. When you are ready, push off the balls of your feet and glide forward. Kick your feet out on either side to help maintain balance. 

The goal is to be able to keep your feet up off of the ground for as long as you can. Once you start to slow down practice using your brakes. You should practice pressing down on the brakes to see how long it takes you to come to a complete stop. Once you are able to maintain a controlled glide across the length of a parking lot (a few hundred yards) you are ready to move on to step two! 

Tip: This is hard work! It is ok to take breaks or to split the step over a few hours our days!

Tip: This step can be easier if you take your pedals off. It prevents you from banging up your shins. 

Step Two: Finding the Pedals

Now that you are able to balance on a moving bike, let’s move on to gaining momentum. Bicycles are human powered machines. You use your legs (or hands if you are riding a hand-pedal bike!) to propel yourself forward. When you pedal, you  move the chain and gears that control the wheels. 

Sit on the saddle with your hands on the handlebars and fingers on the brakes. Using your dominant foot,move the pedal to the “2 o-clock” position. This is called Power Pedal Position – when you push down it will help you gain the most momentum. 

To start, push off and press down on the pedal. Kick your non-dominant foot out to the side to help maintain balance. As you begin to slow down, use your brakes to come to a complete stop. Reset your pedal until you are in the Power Pedal Position and do it all over again. Keep practicing until you are able to maintain a controlled glide across the parking lot. 

On your next glide, instead of kicking your non-dominant foot out to the side, try to find the pedal. With both feet on the pedals, each leg will take turns pushing down to help propel you forward. This step is tricky, but keep practicing over and over until you get it. 

Step Three: Pedaling in Control 

You’re doing it! You’ve learned to balance, gain momentum, and now you are able to pedal. The last step is putting it all together. Start at one end of the parking lot. Give yourself plenty of space to work with. Place your dominant foot on the pedal and your non-dominant foot on the ground. Push down the pedal and add your second foot as you move forward. The faster you pedal, the easier it is to stay upright. As you gain more control and confidence, you can practice riding in circles, making turns and coming to a controlled stop. More practice will help you get the hang of it, but stop for a second to congratulate yourself, because you just learned to ride a bike! 

Tip: Now that you know how to ride a bicycle, WABA’s City Cycling classes are a great way to boost your confidence and get you riding on trails or the road.

Get Help in Person!

Learning to ride by yourself or teach others can be hard. If you are struggling, we are here to help you! WABA’s Learn to Ride classes take the same easy, three-step approach. We provide the instruction, equipment and support you need to learn to ride in no time. We have classes for adults and youth across the Washington region from spring to fall. Classes start at $10!

How to Fit a Bike

A properly sized and fitted bike makes all the difference when riding. Bikes, like people, come in many different sizes and styles. Whether you are learning to ride for the first time, or purchasing a new bike, it helps to know what to look for! 

Finding the Right Size: 

Depending on the bike brand or shop, there are different ways to find the right size bike for you. Bike frames come in different sizes measured in inches that correlate to your height and inseam length. Different brands and bike shops may label their bike sizes using the frame size, height, or a general descriptive sizing such as “Small”, “Medium” or “Large”. Until you know your preferred frame size, it is easiest to “try on” bikes in person to see what is most comfortable for you. 

  • Stand over the top of the bike with your hands on the handlebars, both feet flat on the ground. 
  • If the bike is the right size, you should have no trouble straddling it. Both feet should be flat on the ground – no tip toes! – and the toptube (the one between the seat and the handlebars) should come between your legs, but should not touch you. 
  • Have a friend hold the handlebars for you and clench the front wheel between their legs – this will prevent you from rolling. 
  • Sit on the saddle with your hands on the handlebars and one foot on each pedal. Take a look at your elongated leg. You should notice a slight bend in the knee.

Adjusting Your Bike:

Once you find a general frame size that fits you, you may still need to make micro adjustments in order to fit comfortably on the bike. Parts of bikes, such as the handlebars and seat posts can be adjusted for a better fit. These components are locked in place either with a screw or with a quick release, a lever that can be loosened and tightened by hand. 

  • Let’s go back to that elongated leg. If your leg is completely straight with your foot on the pedal, your saddle might be too high. If your leg is considerably bent, your saddle might be too low. Adjust the seat post until you notice a slight bend in the leg. 
  • Place your feet on the ground while sitting in the saddle. It is alright if you need to be on your tip-toes in order to reach the ground from a seated position, although you should not have too much difficulty keeping upright. If it is hard for you to reach the ground while sitting in the saddle, lower the seat. If your feet are completely flat on the ground while sitting in the saddle, raise the seat. 
  • Depending on the position of your saddle, you may need to raise or lower the handlebars. Not all handlebars can be adjusted without professional assistance. Look for a screw that can be loosened with a screwdriver or wrench or a quick release similar to the one that you may have on your seat post. 
  • Your handlebars should be positioned so that you are not tilted too far forward or reaching up too high. Your elbows should have a slight bend and you should be able to look ahead comfortably. 
  • Handlebar placement can be a bit tricker to adjust correctly. You’ve already adjusted your seat, so your handlebar placement will depend on where you are sitting. Play around with different heights until you find one that feels most comfortable. Feel like you need a little extra help? Stop by a bike shop or ask a friend! 

With your bike properly sized and fitted, you’re ready to ride! Check out our blog post on how to do an ABC Quick Check to make sure your bike is ready too! Check out WABA’s Learn to Ride and Confident City Cycling classes for even more helpful tips.