Smartbikes for hire on K Street, Farragut Square. (Jason Colston/LPI)
By dint of its layout, terrible traffic, large green spaces and high population of educated environmentally friendly types, Washington DC should be a city of cyclists. But it’s not. Locals would prefer to drive an hour to get the three miles from New York Ave to Dupont Circle.
To be fair, DC's excellent Metro system has helped keep locals on two feet as opposed to two wheels. But cycling should still be embraced by more District residents. On the bright side, the city of Washington, DC itself is all about biking; bus drivers and Metro gate operators don't give any grief for taking your bicycle on public transportation, and bike lanes are cropping up in an increasing web outside of the city centre.
It's easy to see why Washington officials love bikes, and why more residents should get with the cycling program. DC really is excellent for pedal power. Offices are clustered in easily bike-accessible areas such as Foggy Bottom and Capitol Hill, and the latter speaks to another plus to DC biking: incomparable scenery. Seriously - what did you bike past today? A traffic light? Because I cycled past the freaking Washington Monument. Which brings up another advantage to two-wheeling around Washington: the enormous swathes of bike-friendly green lungs.
The National Mall is an obvious example: flat, stuffed with iconic symbols and connected to many of DC's most important workplaces.
From here you can easily access Ohio Drive, which starts at the Tidal Basin, the body of water overlooked by the Jefferson Memorial, and runs in a five-mile loop framed by the Washington Channel, Potomac River and a large sidewalk that is perfect for any cyclist, but particularly kids. If you find yourself on the west and northwest side of town, consider using Rock Creek Park as a circulatory commuting base; this enormous network of trails and woodland can be used as a wilderness biking backdrop for anyone commuting into, out of or between Adams Morgan, Woodley Park and Upper Northwest.
While most time-conscious commuters would admit Washington is best accessed by the Metro, there are a few neighbourhoods in town where a bicycle is more necessity than environmentally-friendly alternative: Georgetown, we're looking in your direction. With its lack of rail access, swathes of tree-lined wide residential boulevards and fine architectural eye candy, Georgetown is practically perfect for a day of cycling (although admittedly, the neighbourhood does sprawl across large hills - you have been warned).
What truly makes Georgetown such a great cycling spot is the C&O Canal towpath. Running as it does to Cumberland, the towpath is by nature of its former function (ie a canal) flat and wide, plus forested and scenic. It also runs in parts parallel to the Capital Crescent Trail, which darts around Wisconsin Ave, through Rock Creek Park and up to the handsome suburb of Bethesda, MD. To access the Georgetown trailhead of the CC Trail, go to Water Street (which becomes K Street as you go further east) at the bottom of the Francis Scott Key Bridge; the trailhead is clearly marked.
Just across the Key Bridge, the Mt Vernon Trail runs 18 miles through northern Virginia to its namesake, the old digs of George Washington himself. This popular trail hugs the riverfront parallel to the District's attractive urban curves (all the more gussied up as they stretch over the Potomac) and through Old Town Alexandria.
For those needing a guide, Bike the Sites runs the best cycling tours of the capital. You may also want to check in with the Washington Area Bicyclists' Association before you visit for information on recommended trails, expansions, bike advocacy and more.