I was in DC from Sunday to Wednesday, and I decided I would see if it was possible to go everywhere I needed to go via Capital Bikeshare. My conference was at the Hilton (near the 20th and T station), my borrowed apartment was near 17th and Corcoran, and everywhere else I expected to go was within bike reach.
Guess what? I did just fine. I used the Spotcycle app aggressively to find stations and open docks (although I found its updates lagged a few minutes behind reality), which made everything so much easier.
I stashed the car at 7am Monday morning in a garage near the Hilton, and made 4 trips during the rest of the day, including a long loop (in 2 parts) across town through Logan Circle to Gallery Place, then back past the White House into Georgetown in the rain. 17th and Corcoran was full, but I found an open dock at 15th and P.
On Tuesday, I did a round-trip between the Hilton and the apartment, and then went across town to a station near our office (7th and F was full, but 8th and G had an open dock). After an hour or two in the office, I picked up a bike at 10th and Constitution and took a ride down to Maine Avenue, where I docked the bike near Arena Stage and went in to see Oklahoma! (about which more later). Then, after the show, I picked up a bike at Waterfront station and rode back up to 15th and P (expecting 17th and Corcoran would be full) and thence to bed.
Wednesday was a big biking day — a trip up to the Hilton, then another crosstown trip to Gallery Place and the office, and then a long ride to Rosslyn — down almost the whole length of Constitution Avenue to 23rd Street, over the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge to the Custis Trail, and up Wilson Boulevard as far as the station at Pierce Street, then back down again to Lynn Street at the Rosslyn Metro.
After my Rosslyn meeting I waited out the pouring rain (or thought I did), then picked up a bike to ride back to the Hilton and pick up the car. By the middle of the Key Bridge, I was as thoroughly soaked as I’ve ever been — I hadn’t counted on the fact that what is a light rain when you’re standing still becomes a heavy drumming of rain when you’re moving at 13 mph. But i just sucked it up (what else was I to do?) and rode on, through Georgetown and across the P Street Bridge and up the hill to the Hilton, where our story comes to a happy conclusion.
Grand total: 15 bikes in about 48 hours, somewhere in the range of 25 miles ridden, exactly one problem (the bike I rode back from the theatre kept slipping out of second gear into first, which was more an annoyance than a problem). I carried moderate amounts of cargo in the basket with no trouble. I rode in all kinds of clothes, including a suit. I took 3 long rides, and at least as many with some steep inclines. I rode a mile and a half into Arlington County. I even rode across the Key Bridge in the rain and lived to tell. And as far as I know, I never exceeded the 30-minute free period, which means that I paid nothing but the basic day rate.
Yes, I got hot, and I got wet. I had to change my shirt a couple times. But you sort of take things like that for granted in DC in the summertime anyway, don’t you?
(And a note for the skeptical: despite appearances, I’m not particularly athletic. I have some recent practice with street riding in New York, which makes me confident in traffic, but I’m a somewhat out-of-shape guy, with no particular fitness history, approaching middle age. And I know almost nothing about how a bicycle actually works, I just know how to spin the pedals and steer. So if I can do this, you can do it!)
DC is a terrific biking town: mostly flat in the central core, wide well-maintained streets, shade trees, very well-marked bike lanes (thanks DDOT!), generally polite drivers, alternate route options everywhere, traffic negligible in most of the city through most of the day, even a contraflow bike lane on 15th Street and a bike expressway in the median of Pennsylvania Avenue.
Could I live this way for real? Absolutely. Being able to grab a bike, ride it, dock it, and then forget about it is incredibly liberating. I can’t wait until the NYC DOT contract is awarded and the new system here at home starts getting buiilt out.
One side effect of my two days on the Bixi bikes is that I’ve realized I prefer a more upright riding position. I also like the fact that the bikes are sturdy (completely stable even in the rain), and the gearing is really good — you’d think that three speeds wouldn’t be enough, but in fact I rarely had the bike in first gear, and was typically in second gear only when starting out from a light. (If they’d had a fourth gear, I would have used it, but your typical leisure rider wouldn’t need it much.)
The Bixi is geared such that if you start off from a stop in second gear, you can raise it to third really quickly and pick up momentum in the upshift — I don’t know how to describe it exactly, but if you’ve driven a manual-transmission Honda Civic (which I have), you’ll recognize the feeling — it’s like you snap from second gear into third, picking up speed as you go. Like you grab onto an elastic band and it pulls you up.
Last night I did what I could to adjust the handlebars on my Gary Fisher to as upright a position as they’ll support, which actually isn’t terrible — it’s much better than it was — but it can’t quite extend enough to put me fully upright (or, to put it another way, my arms are about 3 inches too short). So I might be in the market for a new bike — we’ll see how I do with this new compromise riding position on the Gary Fisher over the next couple of weeks.