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Winter cycling is a must for those looking to peak during the first half of the year. From a fitness point of view, taking months off of the bike will not help you get faster. A Bicycling magazine article reveals that a two to four months off the bike reduces a cyclist’s ability to pump oxygen through your blood by 10%. Problem is, in the DC area we get snow in the winter and potholes and, it’s cold! Let’s toss out riding IN the snow. But once it stops, the key is to find routes that are passable.
The amount of federal land in the region, like the Food and Drug Administration in Laurel, means the roads are usually quite clean. Many of the regions trails are kept passable, for commuters. Local discussion boards like Bike Alexandria, Bike Rack’s email list, or the Capital Crescent Trail’s Facebook page, are all fantastic resources for the weather weary cyclist.
Below are three of my favorite winter routes. None take you too far off the beaten path with gas stations or 7-11’s nearby for refueling purposes. I advise riding similar routes to gain familiarity with the contour of the road. Riding during the warmest part of the day, between 1 and 4pm, can save you a few degrees. Click the Link to view a Strava (a beginner’s guide to Strava) map of the route.
DC Arboretum – Greenbelt – Colesville – https://www.strava.com/activities/533729545
If you want some winter hills with a view, the National Arboretum (1) is your place. From there, a short trot north brings you to Greenbelt via the Anacostia Trail (2). The Food and Drug Administration owned land in Greenbelt (3) is well maintained. This ensures clear paths, even post snow fall. Routes back to DC can vary depending on your level of comfort with street traffic. The map show’s Cherry Hill to Randolph to Kemp Hill, eventually placing you onto the Sligo Creek Trail (4). From there, Rock Creek Park or city streets are your options to get home.
Skirting the Boundaries https://www.strava.com/activities/487398183
Not quite the legendary Boundary Stone ride that takes cyclists to each of the stones marking George Washington’s original plan for the nation’s capital, this trek does touch bring you to the Maryland/DC border.
Canal Road (as well as MacArthur Blvd) is a popular cycling route out of DC (1) and toward Potomac Maryland. Cars are used to cyclists on the road and as you enter Maryland, a bike path parallels the route north of the reservoir. Take a right turn on Arizona Ave (2) and you’ll be met with a challenging incline. A couple of left turn options can take you to Western Avenue, where you’ll skirt the DC/Maryland border (3). A right on Utah or Oregon Avenue (NW) place you into Rock Creek Park (4), where more climbing options await. For a primer, join Bicyclespace’s Hills of Rock Creek ride.
Toward Mount Vernon: https://www.strava.com/activities/592533011
The Mount Vernon Trail (1) primarily takes you away from car traffic on a 20 (ish) mile-ride from DC. Start your trip with the “Arlington Loop” (nee ‘triangle’) (2) or head towards National Stadium, then across the Wilson Bridge (3) to National Harbor. From there, picturesque crossing of the Wilson Bridge (4) places you back onto the Mount Vernon Trail. Sans a couple of blind turns where opposing trail traffic can make a routine turn a harrowing experience. The final climb to George Washington’s Mount Vernon (5) makes the turnaround point all the more satisfying. Be sure to take a picture and then choose trail or road on the return path. There’s nothing like riding near National airport (6), see if you can sneak that in too!
Randonneuring, or endurance cycling, events in March through May are typically longer than the rest of the year. I mean, to ride 125-250 miles in one day, you want cool temperatures and as much daylight as possible. Check out the DC Randoneurring webpage and plan your next long ride. The cold is always better when others are there to remind you you’re not alone.