Washington, D.C. Red bike shares.
The Mount Vernon, C&O, W&OD trails.
Cycling is not a hobby in the nation’s capital; it is a serotonin-filled, spandex-induced obsession. Anyone who is serious enough to have clips on their shoes, three lights and a head lamp, reflective gear from helmet to socks, and that year’s Tour de France-winning bicycle (which for 2017, according to Business Insider, was Alexander Kristoff's Canyon Aeroad CF SLX with disc brakes, SRAM eTap, and ZIPP 454 NSW wheels) would have meticulously researched the closest metro stops and shortest distances to a trail before moving to the District.
Me? I own a bicycle. I use said bicycle. But authentic cyclists can immediately recognize I am not a member in their clique.
Not that I mind or deny the fact. I use a clunky hybrid bike (32 lbs) on smooth roads, not a more practical eponymous one (10 lbs). I have seen clips but prefer my running sneakers (to more easily vault from the seat in case of emergency). I have a neon yellow jacket that converts into a summer-time vest (chic and useful). I have a front light (which falls off regularly, despite several layers of duct tape) and a blinking red rear light (in case the neon isn’t visible enough). I even have a pair of padded shorts.
If someone explained the Canyon Aeroad bicycle and its features to me, I, too, would understand its reverence. Of course, there are practical considerations as well. At 7,000 euros, or 8,141 USD, I could buy sixteen more bikes similar to what I currently ride. Or I could enjoy five, fine cruises to Caribbean islands. Tempting, since the closest I’ll get to matching the professional level of the D.C. riders is to finally replace my chain with one that doesn't fall off at inopportune times, like, say, going downhill.
I appreciate the dedication of cyclists. Like the U.S. Postal Service, they are out in snow, rain, heat, and gloom. And even the occasional solar eclipse. They zip along, weaving in and out of cars, pets, and pedestrians (much to the chagrin often of all three), and even spook the casual bike riders, such as myself. But it is impressive to watch from a distance.
If the winter offers particularly harsh conditions, cyclists retreat to the sauna-like gym basements to hone their skills with a cycling guru. The instructors of these classes shout with a particular schadenfreude that is considered acceptable by the cyclists who embrace the tough-love needed to climb the next imaginary incline on a stationary bike. It is another testament to their devotion.
This is also impressive from afar, since even in on a stationary bike, casual riders such as myself could somehow cause an accident. How, I don’t know. I’m convinced it’s possible though.
I am content with my abilities. I will never win any races. I will never be able to cycle upright, hands-free, with only my legs guiding the bike. I will never have a poster of the Alps’ steep slopes, with a sheen of snow over treacherous rocks, and think, “I can’t wait to take my bike up that. It looks like so much fun!” (Definitions of what constitutes as “fun” will be forthcoming in the next blog.)
However, I like to think I’m not a complete novice. I have avoided my share of small children running across the trail, errant soccer balls crashing through the air that required ducking, and to swerve around numerous types of wildlife, including yappy dogs, stray cats, and one weasel.
I also receive encouragement and affirmation from my fellow riders. “Hey, you’re doing pretty well with that bike!” one rider called as he whizzed past me. It sounded more like a compliment than a critique of how clunky the bike was.
Car drivers demonstrated their belief I was a true cyclist too, with their lack of attention as they turn on red, run reds, and do everything opposite of what “red” in the driving world means. In one such occasion, I hopped off my bike, stopping inches from the side of the car. The cyclists in the densely trafficked bridge to Georgetown hurled enough choice words at the offending car that I found I could save my breath to slow my heart. And when the drivers yell back, gesticulating with choice gestures, I know I have achieved a status among both sides: not as a full-blooded cyclist, but someone with the potential to be one.
Until then, I’ll continue to putz along on my seven-year old, second-hand beauty, dodge frisbees and volleyballs, and enjoy the beeps and honks along D.C.’s finest roads.