The nation's capital is a feast for the tourist. The best way to gorge on more of what it has to offer without wearing yourself out is to travel by bicycle.
Rental bicycle, that is.
Think of this: Instead of walking a mile from the White House to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, you could bike there in an easy 10 minutes. And the nice thing about a bike ride is that it lets you rest your knees and feet – while leaving you rejuvenated by the time you reach your destination.
Of the many great cities that have curbside bike rentals, Washington, D.C., is among the best because of its network of rental stations. As a result, you can breeze through the city, stopping at multiple tourist sites.
– Multitude of destinations. Even if you don't bike, put D.C. on your bucket list. It's an inspiring city, filled with monuments, museums, places of worship, parks, restaurants and institutions of government. You can sightsee to your heart's content, and biking allows you to spend your time on what you want to see, rather than trudging distances to get to attractions.
– Mostly flat city. A number of streets are wide, and the National Mall has multiple sidewalks. In other words, you can ride safely without too much exertion. Tourist sites that are grouped nearby in a relatively flat area include the White House, Capitol, Lincoln Memorial, Washington Memorial, Smithsonian museums and Vietnam Veterans Wall. For the daring or experienced bicyclist, there are plenty of reasons to ride into the hillier, busier streets, and that's something for you to discover on your own.
– Extensive network of bicycle rental stations. Capital Bikeshare, the most established bike rental program in D.C., has more than 500 stations scattered across the metro and a total of 4,300 bikes. This makes renting and returning bikes convenient.
– Affordability. Capital Bikeshare charges a minimum of $8 a day or $17 for three days. Additional charges apply if you don't return your bike on time.
HOW IT WORKS
Load the Capital Bikeshare app on your phone and pull up the map to locate a nearby rental (docking) station. At the station, you check out a bike with your credit card. You have 30 minutes to ride before you are due to return the bike to a docking station. You can return it to any docking station. If you return the bike within 30 minutes, no additional fees are levied to your credit card. If you go over, you pay $2 for the next 30 minutes of riding. To keep my costs to a minimum, I'll sometimes pull up to a docking station before my 30 minutes are up and check my bike back out. When I do that, the clock resets, and I have another full 30 minutes. For the most part, 30 minutes is plenty of time to get to your destination.
– Bike D.C. at night. There are fewer people, the air is cool, and the monuments, mostly white and illuminated against the night sky, are gorgeous.
– Ride the bicycle lane in the middle of Pennsylvania Avenue. Be sure you also do this in the direction of the Capitol, so that you can enjoy a view of it.
– Bike (or take a bus) to Meridian Hill Park on a Sunday evening. Take in the popular, eclectic drum circle that occurs weekly.
- Ride along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Trail near Georgetown. You'll be able to escape the sounds and hubbub of the city for a short ride through a narrow band of woods along the Lower Potomac River. You'll want to do this for more than 30 minutes, so plan on spending the extra $2.
If you're like me, you'll fall so in love with the freedom and majesty of cycling through D.C. that you'll have a hard time getting off your bike and visiting museums.
– The app is crucial. The map on the app not only shows you where the stations are at, but it also tells you how many bikes are available to rent at each station.
– Carry a physical D.C. map. While the app is useful and shows you where the stations are, you'll want an additional map for orienting yourself.
– Bike in small groups (or by yourself). You will arrive at some docking stations to find that only one or two bikes are available.
– Decide where you plan to dock your bike before you check it out. This way you arrive in plenty of time and aren't scrambling to find it.
– Realize that docking stations can be hard to see. Follow the map closely and give yourself time.
– Bring a helmet and a fanny pack or backpack to hold possessions and water bottles. The bikes don't have bottle cages, and the baskets are of limited usefulness. Locks aren't needed because the docking station is where you lock up the bike.
– Bring a spare phone battery or charging battery. You don't want to lose power while searching the app.
Other options? Recently, "dockless" rental bikes have begun appearing in D.C., and those, too, are a popular option.