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Biking Basics

Build your biking confidence by starting with the basics.

Getting Started

Whether you’ve never ridden a bike before or it’s been a while, goDCgo is here for you! Biking has many benefits like saving you both time and money, and it’s good for your health as well as the environment. Our nation’s capital makes it easy with over 150 miles of bike lanes and trails for you to get your roll on. To get started, we want to build up your biking confidence by starting with the basics before turning this into a habit. Riding a bike is a great way to engage in physical activity while practicing safe social distancing.

Resources for new bike riders

  • Wear a helmet. Helmets dramatically reduce the risk of head injury in a bicycle accident.
  • Wear bright, visible clothing or reflective accessories.
  • Ride on sidewalks only when necessary and always yield to pedestrians. Riding on the sidewalk is illegal in downtown Washington, DC.
  • Follow all traffic laws. Bicyclists are required to obey all regulatory signs and traffic lights.
  • Use hand signals. Tell motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians what you intend to do. Be predictable!
  • Beware of parked cars. Ride at least five feet away from parked vehicles and watch for people exiting—doors can open at any time.
  • Be careful at intersections. Watch for crossing vehicle traffic at intersections, even if you have the right-of-way.
  • Never ride against traffic. Ride with traffic to avoid potential crashes.
  • Ride in a single file, except when passing.
  • Be alert. Scan the road. Always know your surroundings.
  • Be vocal. Give an audible signal when passing other people on bicycles, and pass only on the left.

You don’t need much to start commuting by bike besides the know-how. In the District, you don’t even need to own a bike as you can rent one through Capital Bikeshare, Helbiz, or Jump.

Essentials:

  • Bike Lock. If you own a bike, it’s best to invest in a u-lock to secure your bike when away.
  • Bike Lights. DC law requires headlights and taillights for night riding so be sure to use a white front light and red rear light when it’s dark, foggy, or in wet weather.

Non-Essentials:

  • Though it’s not required over the age of 16, it’s highly advised that you wear a helmet to protect your head.
  • Bells are not only for your safety, but for the safety of other bicyclists and pedestrians as well. A bell can communicate to others that you’re passing, warn jaywalkers that you’re approaching, or grab the attention of a passenger hopping out of a car you’re passing.

Find good routes. Some of the best bike routes are hidden from street traffic. You can try a practice run on a weekend, or you can try biking to the nearest Metro station or bus stop if you want to become a multi-modal commuter!

  • Mount Vernon Trail: Located just across the river from Downtown DC is a great multi-use recreation trail. Nearly 18 miles long, the Mount Vernon Trail follows the Potomac’s Virginia shoreline from Theodore Roosevelt Island (near Rosslyn, VA) to George Washington’s Estate located at Mount Vernon. The trail offers wonderful views of the Potomac and DC monuments. There are also several points-of-interest along the way, including George Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, Olde Town Alexandria, Arlington National Cemetery, and Gravelly Point depending on how far you ride. You’ll come to two route choices, but both are pretty bicycle friendly. For the most part, the trail is fairly flat with an occasional rolling hill. However, the last mile heading toward Mount Vernon has a pretty good climb.
  • A Ride to the Falls: Probably one of the DC metro area’s best natural attractions is Great Falls. Located about 14 miles northwest of DC, Great Falls marks the point at which the Potomac River dramatically enters the mid-Atlantic piedmont area. Just about the best way to visit the park is by bike. The route has several great traits, such as the wonderful scenery along the deep Potomac Valley, the number of historic points-of-interest along the route, and the fact that this route is just about as flat as you will find in these parts. You can start this route at the Capital Crescent Trail head in Georgetown (west end of Water Street, underneath Whitehurst Freeway).
  • The Potomac Tour: This short tour around the downtown DC area provides some great views of the major monuments. The route makes use of the numerous recreation paths along the Potomac River shores, with some on street riding. The suggested starting point is the parking lot at Roosevelt Island. There are two crossings of the river. The first crossing uses the Key Bridge between Rosslyn, VA and Georgetown. The second crossing uses the 14th Street/I-395 bridge near the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. In addition to some of the major monuments, there are other neat landmarks along this trip. Check out the cool “Awakening Man” Statue at Hains Point. An optional two-mile detour to the National Airport Overlook is great for aircraft buffs. Another nice diversion is to explore the many sites along the Mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol Building.
  • The Great Washington Bicycle Loop Ride: This Downtown DC route is actually from a WABA sponsored ride, taking you through many of the local neighborhoods. At least 65% of the route uses area bike trails including the Capital Crescent/Georgetown Branch Trails, and the Sligo Creek Trail. Eventually, the route will follow the Metropolitan Branch Trail. The remainder of the trail is on lightly traveled back streets. This route will give you the opportunity to explore areas of town you may have never known existed. It also provides many great ideals for commuter biking routes. Note that a few sections are unpaved (particularly the Georgetown Branch Trail) so if you have skinny tires, you may need to walk a bit. There are very few hills on this route. Food is available in Bethesda, Mount Rainier, Brookland-CUA, and all along the last 4 miles. The route runs near many Metro Stations including Bethesda, West Hyattsville, Brookland-CUA, Union Station, and Smithsonian if you need a bail-out.

Whether you own a bike or rent one, there’s no limit to the types of micromobility vehicles you can find in the District!

Capital Bikeshare

  • The DC metro area’s bikeshare service, with 4,500 bikes and 500+ stations across 7 jurisdictions: Washington, DC; Arlington, VA; Alexandria, VA; Montgomery, MD; Prince George’s County, MD; Fairfax County, VA; and the City of Falls Church, VA. Designed for quick trips with convenience in mind, it’s a fun and affordable way to get around.

Helbiz

  • Helbiz is DC’s newest urban mobility partner. Simply download their app to instantly unlock, ride, and leave your e-bike anywhere for the next person to use.

Jump

  • Local electric bike and scooter provider that currently operates 600 vehicles in the District.

Lyft

  • Local scooter provider that currently operates 720 vehicles in the District.

Revel

  • The District’s only rentable electric moped operator.

Skip

  • Local scooter provider that currently operates 720 vehicles in the District.

Spin

  • Local scooter provider that currently operates 720 vehicles in the District.

Download the 2020 DC bike map here.

Understanding Bike Lanes and Infrastructure

Sharrow

Sharrows are street markings that serve as reminders to road users that bicyclists have rights to the lanes on these routes. Sharrows are often placed on routes that see more bike traffic or on streets that are too narrow for drivers to pass bicyclists safely as reminders.

Bike Lane

Bike lanes provide a dedicated space for bicyclists on the roadway. Without a lack of physical barriers, however, cyclists still must be wary of riding in the “door zone,” the 3 to 5-foot area along parked cars, double-parked vehicles, road debris, and turning vehicles. Parking in bike lanes is illegal in DC.

Cycletracks

Cycletracks are protected bike lanes. Some provide physical barriers from other road-users and effectively form an on-street bike path.

Wayfinding

Wayfinding encompasses things such as street signs placed throughout the region to direct bicyclists to trails, paths, and other amenities.

Bike Boxes

Bike boxes give priority to bicyclists at intersections by providing a designated space to queue up in front of cars. Bike boxes improve the visibility of bicyclists and can help prevent right-hook collisions.

(photo courtesy of WABA)

Mixing Zone

Mixing zones are merging areas. Traffic that is turning at intersections must yield to bicyclists just like they would with another automobile and enter the mixing zone. Sometimes this means the vehicle may need to wait in the bike lane at the intersection before turning. This is perfectly fine as long as the driver yields to bicyclists.

Bike & Scooter Corral

Designed for bikes and scooters, corrals are an efficient use of on-street bike parking. They transform a parking space or sidewalk area into bike parking.

Join the Bike Forum

Try using the online Washington Area Bike Forum to find a ride buddy. You can look for riding buddies, ask questions about commuting and route selection, and discuss bicycle safety, advocacy, and so much more. The community on the forum is helpful, knowledgeable, and open to riders of all ability levels.

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