Taking a bike ride is a great way to see the sites in Washington, DC. The city is well suited for biking because most of the major things to see are located downtown near the National Mall. In this episode of the Trip Hacks DC Podcast, Rob is joined by Brian McEntee to discuss Washington DC biking tips and some worthwhile rides outside of downtown.
Brian is a bicyclist and social media bike influencer who is locally known for tweeting about the latest local bike happenings from his handle @sharrowsDC. He is also a humor columnist who has written the weekly Gear Prudence bike advice column in the Washington City Paper since 2014.
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Washington DC is known for all its wide open spaces. The National Mall is a huge part of Washington DC and a great place to visit, however, it can be a bit of a walk from one end to the other. Public transportation is feasible. However, when people are on vacation they may want to do something along the way like pop in to a Smithsonian museum. Riding a bike may the way to go because it is different than just going on the metro, bus or trying to park a car.
Getting from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol by walking takes an estimated 40 minutes. It takes less time biking. You can also make stops at places such as the Library of Congress and even the museums. Walking is still a great option, however, it just takes longer.
Where can you and should you go for a DC bike ride?
1. National Mall
The National Mall has proven time and time again that it is a great place for biking in DC. Whether you want to see the the Washington Monument, Tidal Basin or even the Smithsonian, it is easy to ride a bike around the Mall. By biking, you will be able to cover the most ground. The museums are not all next to each other, but they are pretty close which makes the bike a great option. There are two major streets by the National Mall called Constitution Avenue and Independence Avenue. There are other streets surrounding as well where traffic is not as bad. If bikers are skeptical of riding with cars, there are pathways to bike across and it can be a low stress way to do so.
Biking is very easy since the National Mall is flat. Despite the hills around Washington DC, the National Mall has the city’s lowest elevation which makes this easy to bike around.
2. Pennsylvania Avenue
Pennsylvania Avenue is another great place to ride a bike. It is the “grand boulevard” and “America’s main street” with sites like the FBI Headquarters, National Archives, White House, and Capitol. One of the greatest things for bikers is that there is a protected bike lane right down the middle of the street. You can ride a bike from the base of Capitol Hill all the way to the White House. This also is a great place to stop your bike and take pictures.
With the protected bike lane, there are actual physical barriers between the cars and bicyclists. Make sure to ride it both ways, but, if you cannot, then ride it in the direction towards the Capitol for some iconic views. Be respectful of local bike commuters who are trying to get to and from work.
3. East Potomac Park (Hains Point)
East Potomac Park (aka Hains Point) is a peninsula that was built out into the Potomac River and the Washington Channel. This is another flat, long, recreational area that also has a golf course and a swimming pool. It is a very popular destination for biking and running in DC. East Potomac Park also features a historic mini golf course for those interested.
This is a great place to see the Cherry Blossoms when they are in season. Just be careful and aware as there may be many people coming to see the blossoms in cars and on tour buses. It is more well worth it to ride three miles and to be able to take pictures of the Cherry Blossoms by bike instead of by car.
4. Rock Creek Park
Rock Creek Park divides the city of Washington and runs from the National Mall all the way to Maryland. Monday through Friday it is used as a commuter road to get people in and out of the city. However, on the weekends, they close Rock Creek Park to cars. Locals love to ride their bikes in Rock Creek Park.
If you are looking for a more vigorous and off the beaten path kind of ride, Rock Creek Park is the way to go. You can ride on the street for some parts of it or switch to the trail which runs along side of the rock creek. This way, you can see more of the natural parts of Washington. There are parts of the Rock Creek Park where you can stand and it is completely quiet.
Trails for Biking in DC
1. Mount Vernon Trail
Named after the destination at the end of the trail – Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon is 20 miles from the city, so a challenge can be how to get there from DC. It is a substantial ride (18-20 Miles), but if you cross the Arlington Memorial Bridge and make a left all you have to do is follow Mount Vernon Trail to your destination. This trail will take you through Reagan National Airport to Old Town Alexandria and if you keep going, you will hit Mount Vernon. This is fully off street and has some hills. The ride can take two hours each way.
Old Town Alexandria is about the halfway point and it is also a great destination. Old Town used to be the port of Washington DC and has a lot of history. There is an option of getting a bike in Old Town and taking it 10 miles to Mount Vernon and afterwards, locking your bike up and then taking a ferry back. The Mount Vernon Trail is recommended for Biking in DC
Another point on the trail is called Gravelly Point. It is a park area that is right by the Reagan National Airport runway. Gravelly Point is one of the many hidden gems in Washington and good for people who love airplanes and cool photos.
2. Capital Crescent Trail
Two trails leave from Georgetown that are both off street and on trails. These two trails connected to different parts of the city that are more heading to the North and West.
One is called the Capital Crescent Trail. It is shaped like a Crescent next up to Bethesda paved trail that takes you up to upper Northwest Washington from Georgetown. If you are on K street, you can follow the trail the entire way up to Bethesda.
3. C&O Canal Trail
There is also the C&O trail. This is a gravel dirt trail and you could ride from Georgetown all the way to Pittsburgh – around 300 miles. The C&O trail follows the C&O canal. It was built before the Civil War and it is very wooded. However, you should make sure to use a mountain bike, not a city bike. Some people have taken it from Pittsburgh to DC and a fair warning is there will be some dirt on your clothes and other things that you own, as well.
How do you get a bike to Washington DC?
Most people do not want to bring a bike from home, especially if they are on vacation. So, instead, there are places in DC to get a bike.
1. Capital Bikeshare
One of the easiest places to get a bike is from Capital Bikeshare. These are publicly available bikes that you can rent on a per trip or per day basis or three day basis. There are 400 stations in the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area. You can sign up for Capital Bikeshare online or on the app. The first 30 minutes of each ride is free. Rides longer than 30 minutes cost extra. Make sure to figure out where you are going to start and end or find an intermediate station to park the bike for a few seconds and take it out again without having to pay extra.
The app can also tell you how many bikes are available at a given time, this is especially helpful if you are with a family. With Capital Bike, however, you have to be at least 16 to ride. Bikes are one size fits all and fits people that are 5 feet to over 6 feet. Capital Bikeshare is good for shorter trips. If you want to take a longer trip, you should look into a bike rental service. Also, Capital Bikeshare does not come with helmets since, helmets are not required by law in Washington DC.
2. Bike and Roll
Bike and Roll is one of the best known bike rental places in the area. It is a fixed price per hour or there is also a daily rate. Bike and Roll will also give you a lock for a standard rack. Bike and Roll will provide a helmet and accessories if you did not bring your own from home.
3. Dockless Bikes
Another bike rental service would be the dockless bikes. You can find and leave these (almost) anywhere. These bikes are becoming increasingly rare as companies like Lime Bike switch from bikes to electric scooters. Do not confuse Capital Bikeshare with the dockless bikes.
Tips for Biking in DC
The number one tip for Bike Riding in DC is if you are downtown it is illegal to ride your bike on the sidewalk. Downtown is roughly defined as the areas where you see many office buildings. Once you stop seeing office buildings, you are out of downtown. However, it is still not advisable to ride your bike on the sidewalks. You want to look for streets with bike lanes. Drivers on the street are fairly aware of this, however, you should be mindful and cautious especially with cars.
DC may feel more bike friendly than many American cities. But make sure to stay diligent. If you want to know where the bike lanes are, there is a layer on Google Maps that can help. Google Maps also gives you bike-specific directions that uses bike lanes when possible. Make sure to pay attention to traffic and do not take action selfies. One last tip would be not to leave your bike unattended because bike theft is a nuisance crime in DC.
Is Washington DC a bike friendly city?
The answer is: Yes, sometimes, in certain places. Bike lanes have certainly become more common in the last 10-15 years. Your own personal comfort level and experience makes a big difference. There are better and worse streets out there for biking in DC. A lot of the terrain and places in Washington DC does lend itself to biking. However, there is still a lot of ways to go.