I can still remember my first bike ride without training wheels – a supremely human freedom. America seems to have outgrown cycling, graduating to more sophisticated modes of transportation. Cycling outside of sport or hobby in the U.S. can be seen as somewhat childish, not to be taken seriously. For me, cycling is not childish, nor is it completely serious. Though I bike to EPA every day, I hardly think of it as work compared to sitting frustrated in traffic or braving the crowds on public transportation. It’s not work; it’s play! But that’s not to say it’s easy right off the bat.
At first, bicycle commuting in a city can be quite intimidating. There are also logistical considerations: what to wear (should I change at work?), how tough or long the ride is, whether there are safe streets to bike on – just to list a few. As I waded gently into the world of city biking, I was surprised by how easy it really was. Some of my fears turned out to be completely unfounded, which I only learned after I really dove in.
First, the cars are not as fast or scary as you might imagine. Given the heavy traffic around rush hour, bikes are usually much faster than cars, and you will find that rather than slowing anybody down, you move naturally with the flow of traffic. As long as you obey the rules of the road, you won’t be a surprise to most drivers. Still, be sure to wear a helmet and stay visible with lights at night.
Second, it is fairly easy to get where you want to go. DC is pretty flat, but so are most cities; if you aren’t in shape to be doing Tour-de-France style hill climbs, have no fear! Neither am I, and I do just fine, no matter where I find myself. Many streets also have dedicated bike lanes (here are detailed bike maps of DC, NYC, Seattle, Portland, and Austin) and I’ve found Google Maps’ bicycle directions to be good for cities.
If you aren’t ready to brave the streets, scenic trails like the Capital Crescent and C&O Canal Trail in DC are better options for a weekend workout or an afternoon ride. Still, I would argue that nothing beats the rush of flying down Pennsylvania Avenue, or whizzing around Dupont Circle with a full basket of groceries. What more can I say? It’s fun!
About the author: Matt Bristol is a rising senior at Skidmore College, an avid cyclist, and an intern in the EPA Office of Web Communications.