My Cycling Community

If it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a village to make a cyclist. I would not have the confidence I do going into this journey were it not for the mentorship, guidance and support of my cycling community. As I reflect on this last year of training and planning, three organizations stand out most in my mind.

First is my bike shop, The Bike Rack. I came to the Bike Rack’s Logan Circle location on a friend’s recommendation nearly three years ago. My previous bike was getting flats every other week and no one could seem to figure out why. On my first visit to the Bike Rack they accurately diagnosed the issue and got my bike back to normal. From day one their mechanics’ expertise shined through.

As I spent more time at the Bike Rack, I became privy to the shop’s unique role in the DC cycling community. Bike sales and repairs were only a fraction of what this place did. A whiteboard by the front door listed their weekly events and workshops. There were group rides, mechanics workshops and even yoga classes. The best part was that they were all free or donation-based. As someone wishing to become immersed in DC’s cycling community, I found this shop to be the ideal entryway.

I was pleased to discover that the Bike Rack is a shop with values. It is dedicated to breaking down gender barriers in cycling. Being that DC’s population is predominantly female, it’s nice to know that there is a bike store catering to the unique needs of Washingtonian women. Plus, the Bike Rack’s women’s cycling team is off the hook. A few weeks ago my friend Michelle, one of the team members, invited me out for some trail riding. I could hardly hang with her! After wiping out three times trying to keep up with my hostess, I realized that the Bike Rack was succeeding in its mission to break down gender barriers in cycling.

I ultimately decided to purchase my Surly Cross Check from the Bike Rack because of its competitive pricing. I simply could not find another shop in the area that could match the Bike Rack's price. Making the purchase was easier knowing that the Bike Rack stands by their bikes. Whether I needed equipment, know-how, company or guidance, the Bike Rack had me covered.

The next group that prepared me for this trip was Mint gym and its awesome spinning instructor, Mel Rubin. Mel’s classes really helped fill a void in my training routine. Since I planned an April departure, much of my training needed to take place during the fall and winter. Anyone who has ever lived in DC could tell you that these seasons are rather harsh at times. On the weekends I found time to do 20 to 60 miles rides, but on the weekdays there was really no opportunity for outdoor riding. That is where Mel’s spinning classes were a lifesaver.

Mel's class is all about staying focused and pushing yourself. She makes it clear that the 60 minutes you spend in the class are your 60 minutes. As a cyclist I find that the descriptions she provides of the different resistance levels are really helpful. A resistance of six equates to a light hill, like the one I ride up on my daily commute from work. A resistance of nine equates to a steep hill, almost unbearable to climb. Throughout her class I could envision and confront some of the challenges I will surely face over the upcoming months.

It's also important to acknowledge that Mel has amazing playlists. I have never felt so compelled by a Beyoncé song as I did during her class last Wednesday. Bravo, Mel, bravo.

Finally, Gearin’ Up Bicycles is a great community group in DC that taught me how to fix bikes. Gearin’ Up is a not-for-profit that trains young Washingtonians as bike mechanics. The group operates out of its workshop in Eckington and holds many after school programs throughout the District.

I volunteered at Gearin’ Up for several months. During the volunteer orientation, the leader, Sterling, asked if we knew what a bottom bracket was in order to gauge our knowledge of bicycles. I had no clue. Recognizing my low bike IQ, Sterling paired me with a more experienced mechanic and put me to work. In less than two months I was cleaning out and re-installing the bottom bracket on my own bike with minimal help. My growth as a bike mechanic while at Gearin’ Up was substantial.

DC has a vibrant bike community that I have thoroughly enjoyed being a part of and, quite frankly, I cannot wait to get back to!