Without gyms and fitness studios available for much of the summer, it’s no wonder people have turned to outdoor activities in and around the District to get the jolt they need. And even though spots are beginning to pick back up with proper social distancing and safety precautions in place, it’s likely some locals will opt to take it slow when returning to indoor options. One way to maintain an active lifestyle while getting outside is to hop on a bike.
“We have people who have reached out [asking], ‘Where do I ride?’” says Anne C. M. Hyman, president of Potomac Pedalers Touring Club, Inc. (PPTC).
PPTC is one of many groups in D.C. that, before the pandemic, organized and planned large group rides for cyclists. From cityscapes to trail rides further into Virginia and Maryland, Hyman says it wasn’t uncommon to have 50 to 80 people in some of their larger gatherings. While the group has halted official get-togethers for the foreseeable future, Hyman says some members have grouped up in an unofficial capacity.
“I pretty much laid the ground rule: If you’re going to ride with friends, I don’t want to hear about it,” she says. “We can’t be liable as a club offering group rides. [But] this is one of the wonderful things about our community. We have these relationships with people who are close to each other and want to ride with each other.”
On the flip side, one positive aspect of cycling is the ability to go it alone. While you may miss out on the camaraderie and companionship of riding long distances in a group setting, there are still a number of positives gleaned from riding a bike whether you’re on your street, around your neighborhood or strolling through a park.
“Develop your skills right now, ride in a straight line with one hand off the handlebars, then two hands off, practice taking tight turns, learn how to stop very quickly [with] panic stopping,” Hyman says. “If you’re new to a bike as an adult, take a little bit of time to practice some of these skills, and they’ll absolutely help and benefit [you] when you’re in a group situation.”
People seem to be heeding this advice, as bike shops are enjoying long lines of excited customers looking to either maintain or upgrade their wheels. In mid-June, the line to get in the doors at Fairlington’s Spokes Etc. was noticeable from the car. Location manager Roberto Greenwood says the enthusiasm for biking has remained strong throughout stay-at-home orders and quarantine.
“We actually never shut down,” he says. “We took into account all the CDC guidelines, and we did one-on-ones for two and a half months. In the past months, we’ve run out of bikes. Everyone seemed to take it very well. Everyone is willing to wait outside and do their part to help us stay open.”
He says the store has been sold out of bikes for a few weeks now, which seems to indicate that more people than ever are interested in taking up cycling as a hobby. A few years ago, Greenwood says people looked at bikes as toys for their kids rather than utilities for fitness and transportation, but he believes the mindset is beginning to shift.
“Most definitely, we have seen a big uptick in sales,” he says. “Not only is it for exercise, but people are taking it as an alternative mode of transportation now that people don’t have to be in a rush at all times. We’ve seen a huge uptick in bike commuting.”
Eventually it will be safe to not only pedal alone, but with others. For cyclists like Hyman, this form of unity is one of the reasons her passion for the sport has only grown over the years.
“There’s a joy about being on a bike and it’s amplified when you’re with others that really find joy when riding,” she says. “It’s the friendship and the communal experience. It’s getting done with the ride and talking about it and hanging out. It’s things you see and share together. You look around and observe and experience together. Cycling is innately an individual sport. You’re the only person that can push your pedals and move your wheels. But there’s a great sense of community around cycling. It just takes the right people to do it.”
And though the city and surrounding areas are beginning to open back up, she says cycling in groups is still on hold for the foreseeable future.
“As far as putting a timestamp, I can’t and won’t,” she says. “The virus determines the timeline for opening things back up. As we see in other states, you might get through all of this and have to shut it down again. I don’t want to get anyone hopeful when it’s a very fluid situation.”
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