Commuting by bike in Washington DC

Hi folks, I’m hoping there is some local knowledge of the Washington DC area in here. I’m in the military and am starting work in the Pentagon in mid July. I’m privileged in that I can live anywhere as I get a pretty generous rental budget (even for DC), but I want to try and commute almost entirely by bike and am happy with up to about an hour physically in the saddle each way. I’m pretty fit with an FTP of 319 and am looking forward to getting some ‘free’ miles under my belt rather than sitting in a car each day.

So I have a couple of questions:

  • I’ve heard horror stories about DC weather. I’m Scottish but currently live in Las Vegas so I’m used to wind, cold and rain back home but have been softened up in my last few years in the sun.
    Considering I’ll have a shower available at the Pentagon when I arrive for work, and notwithstanding snowmageddon events, is it feasible to bike commute year round if I can tolerate being slightly uncomfortable on the bike?

  • I’ve heard, and experienced first hand, DC traffic. I assume I want to avoid the surface streets if at all possible and look for something along one of the shared use trails? In my research so far I’ve seen the W&OD Trail and the Custis Trail, are there any others that I should be aware of?

  • Assuming I live within a close distance of one of the trails, what speed can I expect to make along them and therefore how close to the Pentagon would I need to live to keep within an hour’s commute? I’m making the assumption that other users on the trail and any road crossings will be the major speed limiter rather than my fitness.

  • Is there anything else I’m missing? I’ll probably look to stay on the VA side of the city to be closer to Dulles as I’ll be traveling back to Las Vegas at least once a month as my kids are staying here.

Thanks for your time and looking forward to seeing what the East Coast has to offer on two wheels!

1 Like

Check out http://bikewashington.org , more specifically for trails: Washington DC Multi-Use Trails

I would recommend Alexandria to the south or Arlington to the west of the Pentagon. If you go further west, I would not go further than Falls Church.

Aside from the occasional snowmageddon, snowpocalypse, etc., DC winter is short and not so bad. Summers will be hot and humid. DC weather is nothing compared to DC traffic, especially DC traffic w/snow.

Best of luck to you in DC!

3 Likes

Hot and humid in the summer, can have snow and ice in the winter (being near the freezing point can make traction bad with melting and freezing), when it rains it can sometimes be hard rain (not easy to bike in light rain) you can bike year round if you want to be hard core. The pentagon had a metro rail station so can take the subway

Most roads in DC are easy to bike. Not sure about the virginia side but I know there are some good paths to get to the pentagon

Runners and walkers like multi use trails

Silver line in the metro goes to dulles, no need to live out there and have a really far commute

2 Likes

I’m also military and live in northern Alexandria, just south of Crystal City. There’s several rental options in my neighborhood between town homes and apartments and it’s an easy bike commute to the Pentagon via the Four Mile Run trail, which connects to the Mt Vernon trail.

The irony is I work at Joint Base Andrews and drive to MD when i go into the office.

2 Likes

You’ll have a lot of options for places to live if you’re bike commuting to the Pentagon. check Google maps. The summers can be hot but nothing that should dissuade you, and we average maybe a handful of days a year where multiuse paths are snowed in.

I grew up in DC, and aside from the occasional snow dump, DC weather is pretty easy. The heat and humidity are much worse than any snow in the winter (luckily I love heat / humidity).

Worst aspect of DC snow is that no one knows how to drive in it…so an inch or two will paralyze the city.

You’ll be fine…enjoy DC. It is a great town.

3 Likes

Check the forums here:
http://bikearlingtonforum.com/forumdisplay.php?1-Forum-Topics

Thanks folks, lots to chew on in here.

Yeah, I’m pretty sure that the worst winter weather that DC can throw at me won’t compare to some of the Scottish winters I lived through growing up. I must say though that living in Las Vegas for several years I have become a huge fan of riding bikes in a warm, dry environment!

3 Likes

Unfortunately, the DC area will probably be much close to Scottish weather than to Vegas weather. But you will rarely see so much snow that you can’t commute by bike. The bigger threat would be the ice. Since the temps in the winter fluctuate above and below freezing you will have the snow melt during the day or freezing rain and then freeze during the night and leave some icy patches. Not so bad that you couldn’t bike but just keep an eye out.

Where you end up living will depend a bit on what kind of house you want, your budget, and how much access you want to restaurants and stuff.

If you want single family homes for under $1.5m then you’ll probably want to look in more like the Falls Church area. Though they would still be $600k+. But it’s a bit further out and would probably be more like 45-60min by bike.

But if you want townhouses, apartments or you’ve got the higher budget and easier access to restaurants and such then Alexandria and or South Arlington (around 395) are good areas. My GF’s family lives in Fairlington in S Arlington which is super close to 4 mile run trail and is a 15-20 min bike ride to the Pentagon and has a bunch of 2-3 bedroom townhomes. Then Alexandria is right on the Mount Vernon Trail which runs straight into the Pentagon.

2 Likes

I’ve commuted by bike in DC area for 10 years and always through the winter. It can actually be faster than other modes of transport. I have good rain gear and a good pair of heated gloves since I deal with Reynolds. I started commuting using a designed bike route but soon got comfortable riding in traffic on any street that most efficiently got me to where I was going. Lots of the local bike shops have printed bike street maps that can help you plan your route. They’re more detailed than google maps. Taking the streets is usually faster than bike trails and the trails can get pretty congested and hard to pass slower riders. I suggest exploring different routes, gear, and comfort levels in traffic. You can always throw your bike on a bus rack or on metro but the latter can be kinda annoying. Snow is rarely a concern since they plow main streets but also I always got to work from home when there was snow but I imagine you might now get that luxury with where you work. Feel free to DM for more details. I have a lot of advice on this!

6 Likes

It’s funny: I bought a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Winter Plus studded tires for icy conditions back when I had a long daily bike commute in the DC area. I think I put them on the bike twice… :slight_smile:

1 Like

I’ve had all sorts of bike commutes in the DC area–the last being from Capitol Hill to downtown. If there was ever any kind of bad weather, commuting time by car would triple and commuting by bike would be almost exactly the same. If it got really bad, I’d just switch from the cx bike to the hardtail mtb.

2 Likes

Thanks Paige, this is great. I’m fairly happy with traffic, especially if it’s quicker but I guess I’ll just play that by ear. I think my plan is to be either in Alexandria area or perhaps out towards Falls Church for easier access to Dulles, so either seems to have the benefit of trails as well as surface streets. I expect I’ll take you up on your DM offer once I get closer to my move date and start having to make decisions!

And I live in Arlington now on the WOD and Four Mile Run trails so I’m happy to meet up for a commute and/or coffee. I’ll be going back to the office (Dupont Circle, DC) in Sept.

2 Likes

Even though Columbia Pike is a straight shot to the Pentagon, absolutely do not commute on this road in Arlington.

Commuting in the morning on the WOD is actually pretty awesome since it’s downhill for 13 miles to the Pentagon from Vienna. This trail is much more pleasant than the Mt. Vernon wet wood bridges from hell and bumpfest as well. And taking the Custis detour on the way home gives you a nice hill to attack and shake off the work dust.

Lotta folks also head to Hain’s Point for post-work fast laps before heading home as well. Bonus training points for doing it on your commuter bike.

1 Like

Oh man…I’ve logged many a lap there in the past. At one point, we marked off 1km segments on both sides of the loop. We’d hit those segments all out and recover in between. Whoever “won” the last segment had to leadout the next segment.

1 Like

I know you keep mentioning Dulles but does Reagan not offer flights to Vegas? It’s like a mile from the Pentagon. Just curious and that might make the whole ‘wanting to be further out’ thing a non-issue.

1 Like

DC has a huge cycling community. And many people commute on bikes.
As long as you live near a commuting path that is. I used to bike to work 3x a week when i was living in Ashburn… now in florida I can’t do that…which makes me sad

If you move near the WOD trail, you can get there by mostly path.

In 2016 I ran from Ashburn, VA to DC (36 miles) and we ran into roads once we got to proper dc. Everything else was WOD and 4 mile trail. We did see MANY commuters from northern VA heading into the city.

Point is, IF you dont want to live in the city because of reasons, you can always move to a suburb in NOVA (Vienna, and other are much closer to the city) and still commute.

You always have to watch for rain and wind… but shouldn’t ne much of a problem

Dulles is a much better airport and now they have (or should have soon) the metro…
So if he moves ANYWHERE near a metro (orange or silver line) he can use the metro as backup in case of non cycling conditions… and he can also use it to go airport…

1 Like