Cycling 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Biking in the DMV
July 9, 2021 @ 10:00am
Adventure and the ability to go anywhere are what three local biking experts say excites them about cycling. It’s a feeling created by two wheels rolling along the hot pavement of a D.C. street, wind in the hair and the freedom of moving yourself independently. Beyond just fun, biking can be practical and good for the environment, when used as a car alternative to commuting to work or running errands. But what if you are an adult who has never biked before? How do you know what cycling classes, events, groups, trails, equipment and safety tips to choose from, join and/or follow? Luckily, D.C. is a great place to begin cycling with bike lanes, bike shares and 479 miles of trail, according to the Capital Trails Coalition.
The Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA)’s adult education coordinator Sydney Sotelo, Gearin’ Up Bicycles Program Coordinator Tori Riemersma and Balance Gym CEO Devin Maier spoke with us about how to start biking as a beginner. Each is uniquely qualified to share advice. Sotelo teaches adult cycling classes and is a part of a nonprofit that advocates for cyclists in the DMV; Riemersma works at a cycling nonprofit that educates youth about bike mechanics and teaches mountain biking to a local high school; and Maier is the CEO of a gym that helps people train like professional athletes, as well as an avid cyclist. We picked their brains on tips for newbie cyclists to create our beginner’s guide for bikers.
Advice for Getting Started
District Fray: What is the first step you would recommend for a beginning cyclist?
Sydney Sotelo: The very first thing to ask yourself [is], “Do you know how to ride a bike? Have you ever tried to learn to ride a bike?” [And] if not, “Where can you learn how?” WABA also offers “Learn to Ride” classes, as do other organizations in the region like REI.
What type of bike or gear would you recommend for a new cyclist?
Devin Maier: I typically ride my Cannondale CAAD12, but honestly, I recommend whatever fits your budget and cycling goals. My favorite bike in my stable is a tandem Graziella Carnielli from 1970. It makes everyone smile when we take it for a spin around the neighborhood. As for gear, I’d suggest investing in proper bike shoes and shorts if you plan to bike more than a couple of miles at a time. Our tandem is for leisure, thankfully.
What are your go-to safety tips?
Tori Riemersma: Don’t ride with both headphones in. I always keep my left ear open because that’s the side that’s facing the street so I can hear what’s going on. A helmet is always good. A lot of the crashes and accidents that happen are on very short rides, but they can happen at any time even if you’re not going really fast or really hard.
How often should beginners practice cycling?
Sotelo: It depends on the person. Everyone learns new skills differently, and some people may pick it up a lot faster than others. Anything you’re learning to do for the first time, make sure you are excited about practicing, you do it as often as you need to and feel comfortable doing it to progress.
What are your favorite cycling routes in the DMV?
Maier: I’m riding a lot on the Capital Crescent, Rock Creek Park and Anacostia Watershed trails. My goal is to find the best ways to connect them all, and I keep finding new, exciting ways to tie them all together. When I’m not riding [those trails], I head over to Virginia for a brewery ride on the W&OD trail. Did you know that there are close to 50 [breweries] off of the trail?
What do you need to know before riding in a group?
Riemersma: When you’re riding in a group, [avoid] half wheeling, [which is] when you are riding and your front wheel is overlapping with their back wheel. You want to make sure they have a clear side-to-side so there’s no overlap between front and rear wheels, because if someone needs to turn all of a sudden, they’ll hit your front wheel and that’s two people down.
What excites you about cycling and keeps you doing it?
Riemersma: I like the adventure and independence. It’s what got me into it in the first place — getting on my bike and riding 30 miles and realizing, ‘Wow, I can go that far. I can do it by myself.’ There are so many things out there I can go and explore, like a new coffee shop or going to get tacos. I’m also a highly food motivated individual, and there’s so much freedom and independence, and even empowerment, with being able to have your own transportation and recreation.
Maier: I love getting out of the house — the breeze in your hair and having adventures via a bicycle. It’s honestly the best mode of transportation in cities like D.C. and if you cycle [far] enough, it can even take you to the beach.
Sotelo: The thing that excites me the most about biking is being able to really go anywhere, and I can depend entirely on myself in order to get to where I want to go. I’m not caught up by traffic or sitting and waiting for a bus or a train. When I want to go somewhere, I can hop on my bike and get there. They do say in the District, if you need to go anywhere within three miles, you can get there more quickly by bike.
Any last advice for a new cyclist?
Riemersma: For beginners, the [most] important thing is just getting out and riding. Whatever motivates people, whether that be the social aspect, food or exploring, get out and do it.
WABA: waba.org // @wabadc
Balance Gym: balancegym.com // @balancegym
Gearin’ Up Bicycles: gearinupbicycles.org // @gearinupdc
Join a Group
DC Bike Ride: A scenic 20-mile bike ride through D.C. that occurs without cars on closed roads. It starts at West Potomac Park and ends with a festival in front of the U.S. Capitol. Proceeds go toward creating safer streets for D.C.’s biking community. 8 a.m. $0-$215. West Potomac Park: 121 West Basin Dr. SW, DC; dcbikeride.com // @dcbikeride
Getting it In Cyclists: A motivated cycling group who go throughout the DMV and teach new riders the cycling ropes. giibike.org // @gii_cyclists
Nice n’ Easy: An hour-long bike ride created for beginners by Bicycle Space. The event is also a place to try out bicycles, ride with a group and learn about bicycle safety. 10 a.m. Free. Bicycle Space: 1512 Okie St. NE, DC; bicyclespacedc.com // @bicyclespace
We Ride DC: An all-level group of locals who host community rides throughout the city and emphasize staying active and being inclusive. fb.com/groups/MidnightBikeRideDMV // @weridedc
WTN (Women, Trans and Nonbinary) Night: A weekly class led by women and nonbinary volunteers that teaches basic bike maintenance skills. 6-8 p.m. Free. Gearin’ Up Bicycles: 1811 Rhode Island Ave. NE, DC; gearinupbicycles.org // @gearinupdc
C&O Canal: An unpaved, flat running trail along the historic C&O Canal. nps.gov/choh // @chesapeakeandohiocanal
Haines Point Loop Trail: A paved trail with views of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. nps.gov/subjects/cherryblossom/hains-point-loop-trail.htm
Metropolitan Branch Trail: An eight-mile paved path that features murals and runs from Silver Spring, Maryland to Union Station. traillink.com
Mount Vernon Trail: A paved trail running along the Potomac from Theodore Roosevelt Island to George Washington’s Mount Vernon. nps.gov/gwmp // fb.com/NPSGWMP
Rock Creek Park: A partly paved path and on-road trail that goes through a tree-lined park, Beach Road and the National Zoo. nps.gov/rocr // fb.com/RockCreekNPS
Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park: A 45-mile paved trail along an old railroad in Virginia. novaparks.com
Bikeablebrews Guide to the W&OD: A guide to biking to breweries in Virginia.
Black Women Bike DC (BWBDC) Bike Buying 101: A local resource for buying a bike in the DMV.
Ghost Bikes: A project for memorializing and bringing awareness to bikers killed while riding in the street.
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