Bike to Work Day 2015

Every May the bike community has its biggest event of the year, Bike to Work Day. I have been a regular attendee, more often than not, every since I started commuting in earnest many years ago ... I have a whole wardrobe of t-shirts to prove it! The event is always a fun time, even when the weather doesn't cooperate, as it failed to do last year when I got to ford some flooded areas with water a foot deep.

This year was much more pleasant with temperatures in the upper 50s to mid 60s, mild winds, and many cyclists out on the roads and trails. I made it a point to get up early this morning so that I could have time to explore a few pit stops, hopefully see some friends, and enjoy the festivities.

My first stop was in Alexandria, Virginia, where I have stopped many years in the past. This year there was coffee from Misha's, donuts from Sugar Shack, and many informational booths from the likes of WABA and LocalMotion. I had a good chat with the folks at WABA, enjoyed my coffee and donut, and continued on toward the District.

The Alexandria Bike to Work Day Pit Stop

My next stop was a slight detour off the Mount Vernon Trail to Crystal City Bike to Work Day Pit Stop. Here there were bananas, bagels, Corner Bakery Coffee, granola, and a few informational tables. I had another hit of java (not quite as good as Misha's, but still pretty delicious) and half a banana (they had them pre-sliced) and then took back to the trail.

The Crystal City Bike to Work Day Pit Stop

After a few minutes at each pit stop, it was getting a bit later in the day, so the number of cyclists on the path took a rather dramatic up-tick. Next up was the location where I registered for my t-shirt, the Freedom Plaza Pit Stop in downtown DC. Years ago, this used to be the only real pit stop downtown. Now there are somewhere in the neighborhood of 80 in the region. While this makes it easier for people to have a stop near their place of work, it does have the downside of spreading out everyone so that you're less likely to see your friends while you're there. That said, there were still plenty of people at this pit stop.

The Freedom Plaza Bike to Work Day Pit Stop in DC

Being the traditional biggest stop of Bike to Work Day you tend to get some heavy hitters come down to speak to the assembled masses. This year included U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer, U.S. Representative Vern Buchanan, and DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson.

U.S. Representative Vern Buchanan (speaking) and U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer

DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson

I got a chance to speak to Representative Blumenauer and discussed the possibility of the National Park Service maintaining the Mount Vernon Trail in the winter like they do the adjacent George Washington Parkway, he agreed that it would be a good thing to do. I also spoke to Greg Billing of WABA about it, who has a meeting with the George Washington Memorial Parkway staff next week and has that very issue on the agenda. With any luck, maybe things will change for the better.

Advocacy aside, it was a fun pit stop. I got to see a friend from the Friday Coffee Club, got another banana, a KIND bar, another Corner Bakery coffee, and an ice cold cup of water from DC Water. After all the giveaways were done I headed on to work, where I was happily greeted by one last pit stop, right in front of the office. After a having a bottle of water and getting some free bike gear, I headed in to get to the work part of Bike to Work Day.

Almost every day is Bike to Work Day for me -- riding in this morning put me over 1,700 miles for this year. It is fun to see what it could be like if even more people decided to get out of their cars, out of the buses, and onto two wheels. Maybe a few of them will stick with it. At the very least, I hope it will make those using other modes of transportation more courteous and accepting of those on a bike. While we still have a long way to go, things have improved dramatically over the last decade. I definitely look forward to more progress ahead.

The 2015 National Cherry Blossom Festival

Every year in DC thousands flock to the Tidal Basin to gawk at nature awakening from its winter slumber with an explosion of pink. The National Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates this ephemeral beauty and the traffic that comes along with it brings all movement to a crawl around the Tidal Basin. Luckily for me, I get to see the trees every morning on my bike commute before most of the tourists have left their hotel rooms. The ride home is a bit more exciting.

The first cherry trees were planted in 1912 as a gift of goodwill from the city of Tokyo. In 1935 the first Cherry Blossom festival was held and it continued until World War II, resuming afterward. There are several different varieties of cherry trees along the basin, but the Yoshino are the ones I see most along my route. The blossoms are quite short lived, usually lasting for less than a week with peak blooms for a few days. Rain and strong winds can shorten the fun, but we were lucky this year to have a gorgeous showing of Spring color with enough time for people to see them in their full glory.

Normally I make it a point to get down to the Tidal Basin when the blossoms are in bloom with my family to revel in the beauty of nature and to record it with my "good camera". Unfortunately, life didn't let that happen this year. However, I did get to take some photos using my cell phone's camera as I biked past the cherry trees on my commute and I thought I would share some of them here.

1,000 Miles Before Spring: A Freezing Saddles Odyssey

Although I haven't been posting with great frequency this Winter, I have been riding.

A lot.

As of this posting I have surpassed 1,000 miles before the first day of Spring.

This isn't the first year that I've bike commuted through the Winter months, but it is definitely the year that I have done it most. I decided to leave the excuses behind and bike as much as I could. Snow, sleet, rain, ice, unplowed paths ... I experienced it all this year, and it was a lot of fun. One thing that helped to motivate me was Freezing Saddles, a friendly competition run by some people on the Washington Area Bike Forum. The basic idea is that you get put into groups of 10 people and get points for riding (10 per day ridden, 1 per mile). My team is currently in 2nd place, after starting in 11th. I've definitely had a lot of fun with the competition, and have made some great new friends along the way. The competition goes until the last day of Winter (next week), but I will definitely keep the riding up, no matter what the weather brings.

One of the hardest parts of riding through the winter was the fact that the Mount Vernon Trail is not plowed. I have studded tires, and while they are almost magical on ice, snow and icy ruts are still a very challenging obstacle that can make a 14 mile commute quite difficult. Arlington County really stepped up to the plate this Winter and plowed their trails just like they plow their roads, but my route does not go on those trails. Alexandria City also has done a good job of clearing off some of the alternate routes I've found, for which I am grateful. Unfortunately, the National Park Service, who maintains my main route, the Mount Vernon Trail, did not follow suit. As a result, I found alternate routes into work with a lot more on-road riding with the help of other people on the forum. I now have a route that limits my exposure to the MVT when it is an icy mess to about a quarter mile, and avoids the 14th Street Bridge (which DDOT doesn't plow either) altogether. Hopefully the NPS and other governmental agencies will make alternate routes unnecessary in future years by plowing the path, but until then it is good to have another way to commute. The cost to plow a bike path is a rounding error in comparison to a 4 lane highway (in the same park). It is time to stop discriminating against taxpayers who don't want to use a car to travel through a national park.

What might surprise many people is that actual riding wasn't particularly hard or unpleasant this Winter. With the right gear, it is possible to be quite comfortable out there. The coldest day I went out on the bike was 0°F with a wind chill somewhere around -13°F. It was the only time during the Winter where my bike glasses formed a sheet of ice from the moisture from my breath (which also made icicles on my beard). It was surprisingly okay to ride, though. I had 4 layers on top (base layer, another wool base layer, wool jersey, and jacket), 2 layers below (fleece lined bib tights and wind pants), wool socks, biking boots, foot warmers, hand warmers, liner gloves, lobster style gloves, and a hat under my helmet. Although getting dressed could be a chore, once I got out there and my core temperature rose from riding, I was quite comfortable. A lot of people thought I was crazy to ride on some of the coldest days, but I always got into work with a big grin on my face that no other form of transport can provide. Every day I was on two wheels I was saving about $14 compared to metro (fare, gas, and parking) or $25 compared to driving (gas and parking). That adds up quickly, and even with the cost of maintenance and equipment, biking not only pays for itself, but generates a surplus.

I am looking forward to a lot more time on the saddle this year. I won't lie, it will be nice to have warmer weather and not need to spend a long time getting dressed for the ride. But, I will (and already do) miss the solitude on the trail on a cold Winter's morning, frost glistening under the first rays of the sunrise, everything quiet except the sound of my tires against the pavement and that of my own breath as I move alone beside a frozen Potomac River.

The First Snow Commute of 2015

This morning was the first snowfall of 2015 here in the Washington, DC area. The majority of the snow fell during the morning rush hours, so it also meant the first appearance of the "Snow Beard" this year. The icicles held on tightly for the duration of the ride and even managed to last until I had my shower at work.

The commute went pretty well, with only one bit of slipping and sliding at a hairpin turn, thankfully I landed on my feet. I put on my studded tires last night in preparation for today's ride and they have done a pretty good job so far. With lower pressures and increased rolling resistance, the ride took much longer than usual, but it was fun to be out in the snow.

Tonight will be more of a challenge as the tire tracks on the bridges and trails become icy ruts. Hopefully things won't get too bad out there tonight.

2014: The Year in Review

As we ring in the New Year, 2014 has come to a close. It was a good year for biking, 3,143.2 miles ridden on two wheels and 269 hours in the saddle. I had been out of the saddle for a while and started getting back on two wheels in April and May. On Bike to Work Day (May 16) there was a torrential downpour with flash flooding, however, I decided to stick with it, and made it in with a smile on my face and lots of water on everything else.

As June came along, my mileage started to rise as I rode a lot more consistently with 330 miles ridden that month. In July I had my highest mileage month of the year with 635 miles, or 1,012 km, my first time breaking one million meters. I rode into work all but 2 days. In the following months I kept riding consistently, although not to the same level as I did in July. Life tends to get in the way with appointments, illnesses, and the unexpected.

August saw my longest ride at 46.5 miles, where I biked from Alexandria to Ashburn to meet my wife to celebrate our 6th Wedding Anniversary. It was a fun ride down most of the Mount Vernon Trail, The entire Custis Trail, and the better part of the Washington and Old Dominion trail. I ended up making it there before lunch with time to spare.

December ended up being my second highest mileage month of 2014 with 503 miles biked and only 4 work days missed off the saddle. This was largely due to a decision to stop making excuses when it comes to commuting into work. In the past I would avoid riding in if it was raining in the morning, but I decided to reverse that decision (aided by some additions to my bad weather gear). I never minded riding in the rain, in fact, it can be quite fun. The problem was getting gear to dry out while at the office for the ride home. A new jacket helped to mitigate (but not eliminate) this problem and doing it consistently revealed that it wasn't as much of a problem as I had thought.

In all, I ended up biking all but two weeks since I got back on the saddle in April.

Aside from mileage, I have had some additions to my equipment and routine. I had my Brooks B17 saddle repaired after one of the rails snapped and in December picked up a Brooks Cambium C17 for an unbelievable deal from Bicycle Space during their moving sale. The Cambium will allow me to bike in extreme weather conditions without worrying about covers and damage to the leather (the Cambium is made of sprung rubber instead of leather). Both have their own seat post, so I can swap them back and forth, but for the Winter, I will probably stick with the Cambium -- it performs admirably well in a downpour and is quite comfortable.

The application Strava has also become a big part of my routine. I used it initially as a way to log my miles and collect some statistics without having to crunch the data myself. However, I've really enjoyed using segments to compete against myself and see how I am progressing. It also has been fun to connect with some other riders and get and give encouragement for efforts on the saddle.

For 2015 I hope to ride more consistently and in all weather conditions. I would like to log some longer rides as well, with an eye to doing at least a metric century and maybe even an English one. I also plan to add a heart rate monitor to my Strava logging to help me to reach fitness goals and increase my performance on the saddle. Most importantly, I am looking forward to another year of fun in the saddle.

Happy New Year and keep riding.

Bald Eagles on the Mount Vernon Trail

This morning on my commute I looked over across the George Washington Parkway near the outlet of Cameron Run and I saw two bald eagles sitting on a tree by the Belle Haven Country Club. The only camera I had on me was my cell phone, so this is a cropped version of a digitally zoomed image that is a little rough. There were hundreds of cars whizzing by and I doubt even one driver noticed them sitting high above. On two wheels, I was able to roll to a stop and enjoy a rare view of nature's splendor in my metaphorical back yard.
When you're on a bike, you're a part of your surroundings, not apart from them. It is a beautiful world out there, keep riding.

Another Beautiful Sunrise

This morning I started my commute before sunrise once again and was treated to a beautiful rising of the sun. The sky went from darkness to several shades of purple, orange, and red. Not to be outdone, the sun rose above the Maryland hills across from me on the Potomac and seemed to set the water aflame with its bright orange glow.
Although the sunrise keeps marching later in the morning until January, this will be one of the latest sunrises this year due to the falling back to standard time. This morning the sun rose at 7:32 AM, something it will not do again until next year after the "fall-back" in time this Sunday (Friday's sunrise is 7:34 AM -- Monday's is at 6:38 AM). The latest sunrise after the "fall back" will be 7:27 AM from December 31st to January 10 and after the "spring forward" there are 3 later sunrises from 7:31 AM-7:28 AM on March 8, 9, and 10.
The dark in the morning (at least temporarily) is exchanged for dark at night next week. Tonight the sun sets at 6:11 PM, but on Monday it drops below the horizon at 5:05 PM quickly reaching its earliest sunset time of 4:46 PM from December 1-12. Something many people don't realize is while the Winter solstice is the shortest day from sunrise to sunset the earliest sunset comes beforehand and the latest sunset comes afterward.
Thankfully, my generator hub powered headlight and taillight are in working order and are being supplemented with some additional lights front and rear. As the evenings plunge into darkness and the outside temperatures follow, the trails become less crowded and more peaceful. I will miss the sun, but I look forward to quiet commutes beside the Potomac shimmering beneath the moonlight.

Sunrise Over The Potomac

One of the best things about bike commuting is that you can jump off the saddle and enjoy your surroundings in a way that just isn't possible with a car or transit. This morning my commute started before dawn, a consequence of the shortening days before the switch from daylight savings time. As I got to one of the more picturesque sections of my ride along the Mount Vernon Trail at Dyke Marsh I saw the sun starting to peek over the clouds spreading its golden rays upward making beautiful reflections in the placid marsh below. I got off the bike, pulled out the phone, and snapped a few pictures. The one above is right before the sun made it above the clouds. Below is a picture taken shortly thereafter. What a beautiful way to start the day.

An Unexpected Delay

This morning as I was commuting in to work on my bike I saw a backup where there usually isn't one at 7th and Constitution Streets, Northwest. I noticed the tell-tale lights of a motorcade, an all-too-common sight here in the District, but then I noticed something very unusual.
Evidently there was a group calling themselves the "Grass March Cowboy Express" that was apparently en route to the Capitol protesting the Bureau of Land Management closing grazing areas in Nevada due to drought. Apparently they started their ride in California and have been taking highways on their way to DC. The Post has more information about it here.
All told, it held me up for about two minutes, but it was a great example of the many little things that make commuting by bike in DC a fun adventure. The cars nearby seemed quite unhappy at the brief delay, but I took the opportunity to pull out my phone and take some pictures as they passed.

A Return to Cycling and a Million Meter Month

As you may have noticed, I have not posted to this blog in quite some time. In fact, this is a rebirth of the blog on a new platform. The blog had gone dormant after the hosting provider I was using stopped supporting the language in which the blog engine I developed was written. I just never got around to re-writing or migrating it. As time passed, I was still biking. but I wasn't writing about it.
In 2012, everything changed with the birth of my beautiful daughter. At first I was just adjusting to the big change in my life that parenthood brings. Once I started getting into the swing of things I became the pick-up and drop-off person for her weekday trips to day care. While I did have a bike trailer, I was concerned about a portion of my commute that is on a six-lane highway. Traffic of that magnitude isn't something that bothers me, however, the idea of biking on that stretch of road with my daughter in tow kept me from getting back on the saddle, until this Spring. Sitting on my posterior one day on the Metro, longing to be out in the sunshine with the wind blasting in my ears, I remembered something: I had a bike rack. In fact I've had one for years. I almost smacked my forehead with my palm with the simplicity of the realization. I could take my daughter to school in the morning on four wheels, park, and then continue my journey on two. So I decided to do just that.
Friday, May 16, 2014 was Bike to Work Day, an event I always loved attending, so I set that as my goal. Since it had been two years since I biked with any regularity, I wondered if I still had it in me. So on April 19 I did a test ride from my house to the office and back. I definitely had lost some speed, but I was more than able to do it. The following week I did my first commute in two years and kept at it. I even biked in on Bike to Work Day in torrential rains that caused flash floods severe enough to submerge my pedals in water in a few parts of the commute. There were only a few people who actually made the trip that day, and the BTWD staff were in a DC Circulator bus adjacent to Freedom Plaza staying dry. The hardcore commuter in me was back and I felt some pride in getting one of those t-shirts this year. From there I really started commuting in earnest. I got my commute time down by over a half hour from the first day and started racking up the miles.
The next milestone was somewhat unexpected. I had a co-worker introduce me to Strava, an web/phone application that allows you to track your miles and compete with yourself (and others, if that's your thing). At first I was skeptical about its utility (I already used Google MyTracks to keep track of mileage). However, after using it for a few days I really enjoyed the avalanche of data it provided. I started beating my own times for segments as my fitness level kept rising, and I started enrolling in distance challenges on the site.
In July, I noticed early on that I was blowing away my previous monthly mileage totals, and I set a goal of 400 miles for myself. I blew that away faster than I thought I could. The goal was keeping my nose to the grindstone and my backside in the saddle. Soon I passed 500 miles, and I saw myself rising in the rankings of the worldwide distance challenge. Since it was international in nature, it was measured in kilometers, and I noticed that I was fast approaching 1,000 km. To get there I had to add some extra distance to some commutes, but the idea of having biked 1,000,000 meters in a month was a good motivator. In the end I traveled 1,012 kilometers, or 629 miles (635 in reality, as the app ended up not logging some miles I biked). Not too shabby for my third full month of biking after 2 years off.
It will be hard to top this one in regular commuting. Life tends to throw appointments, vacations, illnesses, and other unplanned events into the mix. Getting so many sustained days of commuting in a calendar month is tough. The subsequent months have been lower, but not by a large margin. No matter how many miles I log, it has been great being back on two wheels.