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Thread: Route advise for a new cyclist

  1. #1
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    Default Route advice for a new cyclist

    I bought a bike 10 days ago and took my first ride in 20 years. It was a test ride from Arlington Courthouse to Gravelly Point park through the Mount Vernon trail. It was all downhill on the way to the park and all uphill on the way back, especially the part from the memorial bridge to Courthouse through Rhodes st. bridge over 50. What I learned is that with me being 40-50 lbs overweight, I don't do well with climbing, at all .
    Now after figuring out the logistics, I'm planning to start commuting to work on a regular basis. I work at 400 Virginia Ave. SW in the L'Enfant Plaza area and I need your help finding a route with less climbing than what Google maps is showing me. I highlighted the part that killed me on the way back that I'd like to avoid much of.
    I'm willing to take a longer route if doesn't include as much hill climbing as this does. I really appreciate any advice and tips I can get.Name:  Bike Route.jpg
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    Last edited by Gilgamesh; 06-06-2016 at 10:47 AM.

  2. #2
    DismalScientist is offline I really need to log off the internet and go for a ride.
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    You are basically screwed. That's pretty much the flattest way up from the river to west of Rosslyn. I don't know much about 13th street. It might be flatter to cut down to bike path on the north side of 50 and take that from Meade or the Rolfe street bridge going west. Also, you can take the road entrance between Marshall Dr and the Marine Corps memorial. This avoids the steep path up by the Carillon, but the road surface is awful.

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    baiskeli's Avatar
    baiskeli is offline I really need to log off the internet and go for a ride.
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    Awesome that you're on a bike again! I have a similar dislike of hills, similar extra weight, and a route similar to yours.

    You could make a small adjustment that might help a little. After crossing Rt. 50 at Rhodes, turn right on 14th and then right on Fairfax (or to avoid the short climb from 14th, cut through the grass immediately at 14th past the apartment building there - slowly, as it's steep and can have rocks and bottles in the way). Ride on Fairfax and then get on the bike trail between Fairfax and 50, under Courthouse Road, then turn right where Fairfax starts again for a small climb up Fairfax to you home.

    You could make a far bigger adjustment if you have time and want a few more miles by going south on the Mt. Vernon Trail and then west on the Four Mile Run/W&OD trails and back up. The hills are more forgiving that way but it would be far more out of your way.

    Looks like you could find a way south around the cemetery using Washington Blvd. too, but I'll let other cyclists help with that idea because I'm not familiar with it.

    Remember, don't judge the difficulty by the first few rides. It won't take long for your legs to harden up and get you up hills with less effort. Also, when climbing a tough hill, I try to slow down as much as possible without falling sideways - it takes a great deal of the stress on your legs and your lungs away. You have to actively think about slowing down because it feels strange to be going so slow on a bike. Your instinct is to go as fast as possible. Sometimes joggers pass me up hills when I do it, that's how slow. Get in the lowest gear and just cruise up the hill and focus on keeping the speed down. Good luck and maybe I'll see you out there.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Gilgamesh View Post
    I bought a bike 10 days ago and took my first ride in 20 years. It was a test ride from Arlington Courthouse to Gravelly Point park through the Mount Vernon trail. It was all downhill on the way to the park and all uphill on the way back, especially the part from the memorial bridge to Courthouse through Rhodes st. bridge over 50. What I learned is that with me being 40-50 lbs overweight, I don't do well with climbing, at all .
    Now after figuring out the logistics, I'm planning to start commuting to work on a regular basis. I work at 400 Virginia Ave. SW in the L'Enfant Plaza area and I need your help finding a route with less climbing than what Google maps is showing me. I highlighted the part that killed me on the way back that I'd like to avoid much of.
    I'm willing to take a longer route if doesn't include as much hill climbing as this does. I really appreciate any advice and tips I can get.
    Great job. Where you live, it may be impossible to avoid climbing. I commute back into Arlington myself, and over the years I've found dozens of different routes, all of which have climbs. Even doing the back way of MVT to W&OD and back in just spreads out the climbing. Take your time, especially on hot days, and it will get better. (I won't say easier, because the fitter you get, the faster you tend to go, so it's always work.)

    For variety and just to see if you like the climb any better, you could go up the Custis trail and take Veitch toward your place at Courthouse. I have a vague feeling that the grade on the Custis is less than going up the steep loop road along Iwo Jima, but it's probably 6 of one and half a dozen of the other.

    I hate to say this because I hate them, but if it doesn't get acceptable, you could always consider an eBike for assist on the hills.

    My 2 cents. Good luck.

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    I used to do a similar ride from L'Enfant to Arlington. The bad news is--it's hilly and there's no good way to fully avoid them. You can find slower streets if you want to avoid cars, you can find longer, less steep hills or shorter steeper hills...but you can't avoid the elevation change.

    The good news is that after the first few weeks of commuting it will get easier. Play around with your gears (drop gears BEFORE the hill starts, if you gave a triple chain ring, utilize it on those hills and just slowly spin up them, etc). But I promise you--it does get better and easier with practice. You just need to stick with it for the first few weeks and soon you'll be loving it

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    I don’t know of less-hilly routes, either. But here are a few thoughts.
    -Be sure to hydrate, especially for your steep return trip.
    -The hills get easier, like Emm said. In a few weeks, you will be amazed by what you can do.
    -Keep in mind that this is just about the toughest time of the year to be out on the bike, with the mercury close to 90F. Spring, fall, and much of the winter are easier. Summer in DC is a bear.
    -A number of folks in our bicycle commuting community have shed major pounds. They look awesome. And they are keeping the weight off ‘cause they gotta get to work every day…bicycle commuting becomes part of your life, it’s your transportation.
    -Once you get used to riding everywhere, you will never look back. Keep it up!
    Warmest wishes. w&w

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    Quote Originally Posted by baiskeli View Post
    You could make a small adjustment that might help a little. After crossing Rt. 50 at Rhodes, turn right on 14th and then right on Fairfax (or to avoid the short climb from 14th, cut through the grass immediately at 14th past the apartment building there - slowly, as it's steep and can have rocks and bottles in the way). Ride on Fairfax and then get on the bike trail between Fairfax and 50, under Courthouse Road, then turn right where Fairfax starts again for a small climb up Fairfax to you home.
    A somewhat bigger adjustment is to cross Rt. 50 on N. Meade and turn left on Fairfax Dr. until you can pick up the bike trail, and then follow baiskeli's directions above.

    Alternatively, following your original route from Iwo Jima along Arlington Blvd, after crossing Rt. 50 at Rhodes, stay straight on Rhodes at the 4-way stop at the end of the bridge. Turn left on Wilson, then left on Courthouse to a right on 14th or 13th. Even though it's a longer ride, the climb up Rhodes to Wilson is somewhat less daunting than the climb up 14th/15th to Courthouse.

    As already mentioned, there aren't really any decent alternatives for avoiding a climb around Iwo Jima unless you go quite a bit out of your way. You might consider staying on Marshall to the right on N Meade instead of taking the path toward the Netherlands Carillon. Somehow, the roadway feels like a bit less of a climb than the path, although you drop down and then have to climb back up again as you approach N Meade.

    I do agree with the other posters that it gets better with repetition. I've only been at it for about a year, starting with Bike to Work Day last year. (I guess that you could say that Bike to Work Day worked for me.)

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    Near the Iwo Jima, I always take the road. I see no need to gain the elevation to get to the Carrillon just to avoid a few potholes (and yes, the road is in terrible condition, but it's all visible issues).

    For the last hill, I would try Meade to Fairfax to Courthouse Dr, then, if necessary, just walk up the steep block on Courthouse to 13th and continue on. As time goes on, you won't need to walk it, but I think your original route is the gentlest. This is assuming your building is at the top of the hill, off of 13th, and not accessible from the stub of Fairfax that continues to Rocky Run Park. If you can get in to your building from the stub of FFX, then no need to climb Courthouse.

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    Quote Originally Posted by VA2DC View Post
    following your original route from Iwo Jima along Arlington Blvd, after crossing Rt. 50 at Rhodes, stay straight on Rhodes at the 4-way stop at the end of the bridge. Turn left on Wilson, then left on Courthouse to a right on 14th or 13th. Even though it's a longer ride, the climb up Rhodes to Wilson is somewhat less daunting than the climb up 14th/15th to Courthouse.
    Also, the terrain north and west of the courthouse building is much flatter than that to the south and east. So if your final elevation is over 230 feet or so, you might find it easier to climb Wilson all the way to Adams, then south past the other side of the courthouse.

    Quote Originally Posted by VA2DC View Post
    Somehow, the roadway feels like a bit less of a climb than the path, although you drop down and then have to climb back up again as you approach N Meade.
    This is generally true when comparing roads and paths along similar routes. Roads intended for automobiles are landscaped for much smoother gradient changes than trails or paths. More precisely, the maximum permissible second derivative of elevation with respect to position is much lower for streets than trails (speedbumps and curb cuts aside). For bicyclists, this translates into greater pedaling efficiency on the streets, since less energy is transferred into motion perpendicular to the road surface, and then absorbed in shocks/knees/etc.

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    I take a very similar route, the opposite direction. I ride a fixed gear and the climb up 14th street (I continue up 15th street to the top) is very steep, but manageable. I find that if I time it right I can build up speed on the bridge and follow a car through the stop sign, and turn uphill behind it... it conserves some momentum, and carries me some of the way up the hill. Starting from a stop (if aforementioned timing doesn't work and I have to yield) is difficult. I've done the Custis to Veitch and it does cut out that hill but I'm not a huge fan of that section of Custis.

    Iwo Jima: I use the path because it's easier to dodge tourists than tour buses. I had a bad experience with one in the circle. Coming downhill through there you have to watch your speed, especially in/around the port-a-potties and the Netherlands Carrillon.

    Your second option once you cross to DC doesn't look great. If you don't want to ride down the mall (perfectly fine) you can use Ohio Drive down by the Jefferson and work your way up past the fish market to 7th St.

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