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Thread: Inner-DC Commuting Advice - Upgrading From Bikeshare

  1. #1
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    Question Inner-DC Commuting Advice - Upgrading From Bikeshare

    Hi everyone,

    I've been commuting 1.1 miles one-way to work each day from SW DC to Navy Yard via Capital Bikeshare for the last 18 months. I would say I average 4/5 days a week commuting via Bikeshare. I don't usually commute if it is actively raining or if it is below 15 degrees. I commute in my work clothes because it is such a short distance and I go pretty slow. I often walk home at the end of the day because we run out of bikes in the area.

    However, I'm going to be moving to H St soon and will have a 2.0 mile commute one-way. I will still have a nearby Bikeshare station to use, but am planning on purchasing a bike to commute with for a few reasons:

    1) Because we often run out of bikes at the end of the day, I don't want to be stuck walking 2 miles home
    2) Public transportation is less than idea for my new commute, so I will be more reliant on biking every day
    3) My new apartment is not convenient to a grocery store. There are a variety of grocery stores in the area... 1 mile away. Will be using bike for groceries.
    4) Longer commute - better bike - more efficient/faster


    I still plan on commuting in my work clothes and will have secured bike parking at both my apartment building and my place of work. I'm also going to keep my Bikeshare membership so I can do 1-way rides with my fiancee who has Bikeshare. We don't own a car, and don't plan on buying one anytime soon. So here are my questions:

    1) Suggestions on a bike? I've gone to Conte's Bikes in Navy Yard (great shop!) and have test rode a Giant Escape 2, which I like. I'm going to their store in Arlington tomorrow to test ride a Momentum iStreet. The Escape 2 will be a bit more cash all in to add fenders/rack/etc. but may be better suited for the (VERY) occasional trail ride around the DMV. I was also pleasantly surprised how upright the riding posture was on the Escape. Definitely need to keep it under $500. I'm OK with used bikes too and am handy with tools so I don't mind doing some work myself. I'd love to find something with an internally geared hub, but I think anything decent is out of my price range.

    2) Suggestion for a lock/locking strategy? One part of me thinks that bike theft isn't too bad in DC and I'll have secure parking at home and at work, which will be at least 80% of my trips. Do I need to go full-blow U-lock+cable?

    3) Any other suggestions for bike accessories, commuting routes, general life advice are greatly appreciated.
    Last edited by Smitty2k1; 04-29-2017 at 10:56 AM.

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    I think you will enjoy the increased flexibility and better equipment that will come with having your own bike. I have no idea on what to suggest for a specific brand or style, but pick a model that suits your fancy based on your test drives. From what you describe, I would want something with a comfortable riding position and bigger tires to tackle the downtown potholes. Budgeting for full fenders and a rack and bags or baskets to carry your stuff will also be important. Lights aren't that important right now since we're heading into summer, assuming you work normal hours, but plan on those eventually.

    As for locking strategy, i am belt and suspenders guy all the way. I leave two u-locks at work and lock up both wheels and the frame and strip off all accessories that might want to walk. Leaving one u-lock at work and one at home and carrying around one decent lock with you will save some weight while you're riding and give you the extra security at your destination. I just use one lock for short stops at a store or whatever.

    For route planning you'll just have to try a few options and see what feels the safest and most comfortable to you. I'll bet with a bike of your own you might even find yourself wanting to take the long way just for fun!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Smitty2k1 View Post
    Do I need to go full-blow U-lock+cable?
    Yes. Use it every time. I say this as someone who has actually never had a bike stolen in nearly three decades of commuting into DC by bike.

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    I love my Trek Verve 2! It is probably just above your price range, but would be well within it used. Upright position was critical for me, and it was the best I found. You might want to check with Bike and Roll DC. They rent the Verve 3s (which are like the Verve 2s, but with a carbon fork) for a year, then resell them for about half the cost of a new one (and with the rack and kickstand already installed). While their big sale is in November, any that are left over are sold (at the same price) the rest of the year. By getting the cost of the bike itself under $300, you can save some money for accessories.

    You definitely want a U-lock/cable combination if you ever leave the bike anywhere other than home or work. Also, how secure is that secure parking at home and work? If it's a bike room that other people use (even if you need a building access card to get into it), you'll want to lock the bike up there. We've had lots of stories of someone just slipping into a bike room behind someone else, then making off with a whole bunch of bikes at once.

    Remember that a U-lock/cable combination won't protect any accessories on the bike. So you'll likely want to remove headlight, tail light, etc. each time you put the bike itself away. I say that from experience, having had a bunch of items stolen from my bike while it was securely locked in my office garage.

    Also, do make sure you have homeowner's or renter's insurance. That will protect you if your bike or accessories are stolen (even if it doesn't happen at home).

    For accessories, besides the lock (and a helmet), you want to be visible. That means headlights, tail lights, wheel lights, probably a reflective triangle on the back of the bike, maybe helmet lights, and a reflective vest or reflective jacket. In the winter, you'll likely be commuting at night. Even if you aren't, you are sometimes going to end up commuting in rain, fog, etc. Those things are critical so that you can be seen by drivers, even if you travel in well lit areas in which you don't need them to see your path. From experimentation, I have learned that reflective vests, etc. are actually more visible than lights. If you want to keep the expense down, you can just get an ANSII Class 2 vest from Walmart or similar for around $10. It's less expensive, and more reflective, than what is sold as a bike vest.

    Other less critical items that I have, but you have to figure out whether they are actually important to you:

    * A rack and panniers. In the summer heat, being able to carry stuff on the bike is a lot better than having a backpack overheating you.
    * A Garmin or other device to track your miles. It's fun and tends to provide motivation to see them mounting up. And it enables you to do things like participate in this forum's Freezing Saddles winter riding competition, or the National Bike Challenge in May through September.
    * Bar Mitts. When it is a little cold, you can wear fingerless gloves under them, so you have more control than you would with heavy gloves. When it gets down below 15, ski gloves under Bar Mitts will keep your fingers toasty warm.
    * Video cameras. I use the Cycliq Fly12 on the front and Fly6 on the back. If you get into an accident, the police often assume the cylist must be at fault. And if you get knocked out and don't remember, you'll have a hard time disproving that assumption. The cameras provide proof.
    * A smart phone holder. It enables you to use your phone as a GPS when going unfamiliar places. (And if you don't get that Garmin, you can use a program like Strava on your smartphone to track miles).
    * Tire chains. If you need to ride even when it is icy or snowy out, they give you some traction. While studs are an alternative, they are a major pain if you have only one bike and need to change both tires whenever you have bad weather. I use Slipnots.
    * Fenders, if you don't want your work clothes to end up with a big muddy stripe on the back.
    Last edited by cvcalhoun; 04-29-2017 at 05:12 PM.

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    You can just use your phone in your back pocket if you are interested in tracking your miles and joining contests. No special gadgets req'd. Check out Strava and RideWithGPS. The latter allows you to plot out routes ahead of time and will provide you with a map, directions and your location as you ride. Both services are free. I upgraded to a service contract with the latter and now I get turn by turn instructions in my earbuds while riding which is seriously cool and allows you to concentrate on biking instead of figuring out where to go. You may not need any of that if you are just bopping around downtown DC where you know your way around. I often head to areas I have never been to before for some exploration.

    I strongly suspect that once you get your own bike you will start riding further and more often. Riding your own bike is a lot different than riding a Cabi; much more comfortable, lighter and you can carry more stuff. Once you've biked to Bethesda on the Capital Crescent Trail you will never want to go there via metro. There are only two road crossings and it's really pretty (and downhill on the way back!).

    A more upright bike will allow you to continue wearing your nice work clothes. The more sportier bikes make that more uncomfortable but it's not impossible; plenty of people simply repurpose their gym clothes and change at work.

    Nashbar.com is a good place to pick up name brand stuff for less than the LBS but I would buy the bike from an LBS because they will continue to support you for necessary adjustments and repairs. Visit the various shops in the area; each carries different brands. Take notes on how each bike feels because they will quickly all get "smushed" together in your head. Trek makes some really decent mid-range bikes. You may wish to check REI too since they carry a lot of commuter specific bikes under their house brand (Novara).

    Lights, definitely. You will want a bright flashy one for the back that also has a non-flashy mode for riding on the trails. The one on front should allow you to see where you are going; not be just a "be seen" light. The LBS and online reviews can help with that.

    A helmet is a must; if you want to save money buy a Capital Bikeshare branded one. I think they sell for $15 (they are being subsidized by the company). Go for one that is highly vented; it gets hot here in the summer. I also highly recommend a helmet mounted mirror. Yes, some consider them dorky but they make biking a lot safer and easier to navigate the city streets. I use this one: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B0...?ie=UTF8&psc=1

    I would highly recommend a bike specific pair of fingerless gloves. They will absorb sweat and help you avoid road rash if you do have a spill on the pavement. They are machine washable so you really only need one pair. Nashbar or Performance brand are fine and reasonably priced.

    Lastly, a pair of sunglasses or photovoltic (spelling?) glasses are really helpful for keeping pollen, grit, crap out of your eyes. Again, what you have lying around the house are fine.

    I expect you already have a lot of this stuff since you are familiar with riding around DC. Like I said, you will almost assuredly start riding further to explore and for errands.

    Oh yeah, there is a Facebook site for Washington DC'ers who bike; the site is mainly used for people selling their unneeded bike stuff; it's a safer place to buy used bike goods than Craigslist. Search for "DC Used Bicycle Marketplace". I'd check there once you have nailed down what you want/need.

    Please, please plan on storing your bike(s) inside your apartment. Seriously. Bike theft is rather rampant in DC and the thieves are bold and clever. A very sad fact of life. Also, it would be far better to lock your bike up inside a bike cage at work or take it into the office. Leaving a bike out all day at the same place day after day on the street is just inviting the thieves. Stick to the name brand U-locks like Bulldog or Kryptonite and check out the "Sheldon method" for locking up (it shows you how to lock up so that you protect your backwheel and make it hard to remove the lock).

    All of this advice probably sounds overwhelming. Keep it simple: lights, helmet, gloves and lock to start. That will be all you need if you don't travel much beyond a two mile radius from home. If you decide to start venturing farther afield, a rack and pannier or basket may be useful (some folks prefer backpacks). Plotting your routes ahead of time may start becoming necessary. Bike or gym clothing may be warranted if you start getting really sweaty. Some folks here have every gadget and bike add-on imaginable; some are really minimalist. Focus on finding the right bike for now; everything else will fall into place over time as you get to know the bike and how to get around the DMV area. To start you won't need much more than what you were using to Cabi.

    Oh yeah, and meet some of the folks here at one of the forum's coffee clubs or happy hours!

    Good luck!

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    For your situation it sounds like a bike that's designed to be pretty upright would be the best fit. A disc-brake hybrid would be my choice, plus chain guard, full fenders, and a rack. I personally love the rack trunk for storage, easily removable and keeps things off your back. Collapsible panniers could do well for groceries.

    There's a lot of good options for under $500. Of course, my favorite lock was $100 by itself - an abus link lock... but if you've got secure parking on both ends a less robust lock would probably work just fine.

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    Quote Originally Posted by KLizotte View Post
    Keep it simple: lights, helmet, gloves and lock to start.
    Totally agree, except that if you're using the bike for groceries, you need something (basket, backpack, or rack and panniers) for carrying. But otherwise, you can start with the basics, and get anything else only if and when you decide it's important to you. Much as I love my Garmin, for example (among other things, it avoids the drain on my smartphone caused by running Strava), I recognize it as a "nice to have," not a necessity.
    Last edited by cvcalhoun; 05-02-2017 at 04:18 PM.

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    Thanks for all the advice so far everyone. Due to last weekend's cluster of protest and Metro O/B/S shutdowns I didn't get a chance to test ride the other bike I was looking at. Hopefully this weekend

    Definitely planning on the rack/basket/fenders/chainguard for commuting friendly accessories regardless of which bike style I end up with. Probably going to end up with a Kryptonite Evolution Mini-7 U-Lock with 4FT Flex lock. $55 at Amazon.

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    Now it's time to give you advice on which show tunes to sing on your ride.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Crickey7 View Post
    Now it's time to give you advice on which show tunes to sing on your ride.
    Since I can't sing, I go for Pandora. Set to the '60s folk music station. Shall we see if we can start a big argument on this topic?

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