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15 Tips for Washington DC Bike Commuters

15 Tips for Washington DC Bike Commuters

by: Dru Ryan
Tuesday, June 21, 2016 - 1:28pm

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If you live in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia), Metro’s SafeTrack program will impact you. From overcrowded trains to extra car traffic due to more people driving, the only respite may be school concluding for the year.

Washington DC, voted the fittest city in America (for the third year in a row), has seemingly turned to bikes for relief. In May, the Washington Area Bicyclist’s Association (WABA) sponsored Bike to Work Day and set a record for riders on the Metropolitan Branch Trail [more data here]. BikeShare also reports double digit increases in ridership compared to the same time last year.

Perhaps you’re thinking of converting your commute from 4 wheels (train or car) to 2 (self-powered). If so, that’s the first step. Maybe you’re not sure what to do next?  Having commuted by bike for the last 3 years and as an avid adventure cyclist, here are some tips for safely getting from point A to Point B by bike. 

1. OBEY ALL RULES OF THE ROAD. You’re no different than a car. End of story.  Especially when it comes to riding in the wrong direction, called ‘salmoning’ or ‘upstreaming.’ Bad things happen when you do that.  You’re not a fish. 

2. Take the same route. Everyday, no matter what, take the same route. You’ll become familiar with the traffic patterns (even the cars will begin to recognize you) and the less decisions you have to make while pedaling, the better. Don’t have a preferred route? Google Maps has a bike directions options which favors trails and bike lanes over busy streets. 

3. Don't anticipate. Traffic lights, pedestrians, cars, squirrels, pets...when in doubt, hit the brakes. Especially with red lights, DC has multiple intersections where the red right changes at different times at an intersection. So while the traffic coming from one direction may turn red, the traffic going the other way may be on a turn signal with cars still traversing the intersection. 

4. Stay off the sidewalk. Nothing worse for the collective cycling community than to ride on the sidewalk like you’re Mary Poppins. Sidewalks are for people, not bikes. DC police may ticket you if caught riding on the sidewalk in the central business district (see map).

5. Be predictable. Cyclists tend to say the only thing that belongs to you while riding is the straight line in front of you. Keep this in mind when commuting. You aren’t 12 years old on the cul-de-sac. It’s better to miss your turn than to belatedly dart across lanes of traffic.

6. Use hand signals and make eye contact: Just because you stick your handout, don’t expect traffic to respect your intent. Stick out your arm and then verify you’ve been seen by those around you. “Trust, but verify,” as an ex-president once said.

7. Keep distance from car doors. Getting doored sucks. Do your best to stay out of the door zone. This may mean riding with traffic. It’s OK, you pay taxes too. You have every right to ride where you want.

8. Take a bike class: If you’re just starting out, WABA offers classes to boost your street riding confidence. If there are hills in your commute, check out Bicycle Space’s award winning ride, the Hill if Anacostia. The ride is led by cyclist shepherd and protector, Chris Roell – he keeps it light and fun. If you’re looking to go long but don’t know how or where, DC’s best dressed cyclist, Eric Channing Brewer’s Bluemont Connection offers private and group instruction on scenic rides in and around the DC area.

9. Don't negotiate with pedestrians. We’ve all been there, person dodges left, you go left, then right and you go right. It’s cool when walking, not so cool when on a bike. Sometimes pedestrians cross against the light. Don’t do the waltz with pedestrians, just brake and let them figure out where they want to go.

10. Get some lights. There are two types of lights, ones that allow you to be seen (cheaper) and ones that allow you to see (more expensive). With plenty of daylight in the summer, you may not need expensive lights, but you don’t really need lights until you need them. Know what I mean? Stop by your local bike shop and ask about your options. You really shouldn’t skimp on lights. Kinda like tires… they’re important.

11. Don't speed. The goal is to get to work, not win the Tour de France. Plus you will get sweaty if you expend needless energy in an imaginary race to the next red light. Go down to Haines Point at noon if you want to race. They’ve been pushing hard since the early 1970s -- before there was a Metro.

12. Get fenders or invest in rain pants. It will inevitably rain one day. Fenders will keep road spray off your ‘bum’ or rain pants do the job (as long as they are sealed).

13. Listen with your ears. Personally, I don’t use a mirror on my helmet, I prefer to listen with my ears. Yes the hybrid cars are damn near silent, but you can still sense them near you. All other cars make noise and I tend to see the rear by allowing my ears to be my early detection system. Yeah, this means no earbuds!

14. Call out when passing other bikes. Cyclists like to know when another bike is rolling up on them. Preferably pass on the left and say ‘On your left’ so others know you’re there.

15. Buy a good lock. The bike thieves are salivating as their sample size increases. A good lock, wheels locks and maybe a saddle lock are worth the investment. Your lock should cost at least 10% of the sentimental value of your bike. Buy it right or lose your bike. Oh yeah, once you get a lock, learn how to use it. Nothing worse.

About the Author

Dru Ryan is a daily bike commuter, indoor cycling coach (EquinoxCrunch, Mint DC) and road cyclist who averages 200 miles a week. Follow Dru on TwitterInstagram, and Facebook or visit his website