Having recently moved to Washington, D.C., I am quickly discovering not all bike cities are created equal. The flats of Chicago and the lakefront have been replaced with the hills of D.C. My flatlander legs are stubborn and I’ve begun looking closely at the feet of elevation on my Google maps when scoping a route. I haven’t yet done the ride in to work (Arlington, Virginia) partially because I feel I have a learning curve in how to approach cycling here.
So I put together a list of things I’m working on to help me with my transition to a new city. Have you done a switch? Chime in with your advice. It’s a little scary when you switch and the transition can be eased with new friends, pretty trails, and fun bike-related events.
Do they have something like The Chainlink?
D.C. has a bike forum which covers D.C. as well as Arlington and Alexandria. Definitely worth connecting with area cyclists, reading their forum and when you are comfortable, posting a question or two. Forums like The Chainlink are a great way to learn more about the local bike shops, rides and events, and recommendations on great routes and trails.
If you don’t have an equivalent, look out there to see if there are some Facebook groups and/or Meet Ups related to cycling to network with other area cyclists. Also, go check out your local bike shops, join a few rides, and meet new people in your area.
Google Maps Can Be Wrong
I’ve learned this the hard way a few times. Most recently, Google Maps told me being on Connecticut was a safe bet for a few miles (it wasn’t). It was the equivalent of riding on Ashland i.e. speeding traffic, no bike lanes, and little tolerance for sharing the road with cyclists. I had a close call in which an SUV swerved to the right without warning and nearly took me out. Luckily, my Chicago bike scream did translate and the SUV moved away when they heard me even if they didn’t seem to see me there.
If a street feels wrong, don’t stay on it. Stop, check your map, and see if you can find a safe alternative. I turned at my next chance and ran into a bike path parallel to Connecticut. On the way back home, I tried a route (Capital Crescent Trail) recommended by a friend. While it wasn’t flat (more like a false flat that climbed the whole way back up), it was beautiful, safe, and easy to use. I’ll suck it up to deal with some climbing if I’m on a more comfortable route.
Ask The Locals
Bike shops, new friends, colleagues that ride, Meet-ups, and an online forum are a great way to find guidance. Ask for helpful suggestions.
Figure Out Your Commute On The Weekend
The weekends are a great time for you to figure out the best way to ride to work. Most likely you'll see less traffic than a typical rush hour and you don't have to worry about being late to work if you get lost or want to explore more streets (and maybe a coffee shop or two).
You don’t need to figure it all out yourself. Many times there are great resources like Rails to Trails that will help you map out a full, fun day of riding.
Map My Ride is one of my favorite ways to figure out a day of riding because someone has done the ride and you can choose your options for mileage, location, and elevation. You can also figure out if there’s a popular route that people like to take.
Strava has a similar tool with their Activity Search. You can search a city by keyword, sport, distance, time, and elevation gain. You can also choose the Ride Type.
I’ve loaded the routes on to my Garmin for turn-by-turn directions. You can also use your smart phone. I’ve used my phone with one earplug in my right ear to hear the turn-by-turn directions because I don’t have a phone mount on my bike.
Co-Ops & Local Bike-Related Non-Profits - We have West Town Bikes, Blackstone Bicycle Works, Working Bikes, and Bikes N’ Roses in Chicago. Other cities have similar, community-driven bike co-ops with useful classes, fun rides, and a sense of community. Get to know where your local organizations are. Not only is it a great way to meet people, it’s a great way to give back.
REI is another good place to visit if you want to talk with bike people. They have physical message boards in their stores, classes, and events that will help you get connected.
Cyclist Advocacy Organizations - Is there a local Active Transportation Alliance equivalent in your area? In D.C., we have the Washington Area Bicyclist Association. If you can find a local bike advocacy organization, that’s a great way to connect to organized resources, learn the issues, and meet other at their events. Or maybe the equivalent of Ride Illinois? Wisconsin has Wisconsin Bike Fed which is not only well connected through out the state, it’s also an excellent way to learn about local long rides like centuries. Become a member and show your local support.