Welcome back to Behind the Handlebars, a series where I’ll be riding and chatting with cyclists from around the region to learn more about why cycling is important, the pros and cons of our current bike infrastructure, safety and tips for new riders.
Joe Flood came to DC nearly 20 years ago to study at American University. Biking here, there, and everywhere while living car-free, Joe logs 60-70 miles behind the handlebars each week. He and I recently sat down to talk about all kinds of things related to riding bikes in DC, from plugging into the bike community via social media to how to make DC safer for cyclists.
Since moving here, Joe has become a social media icon in DC’s two-wheeled community, with nearly than 1,200 followers on Twitter and over 700 followers on Instagram. His rides run the gamut from basic transportation to longer recreational rides. Often times, Joe can be spotted around town on a Capital Bikeshare documenting scenes he encounters throughout the city. It’s also pretty common for his photos to run here on Greater Greater Washington.
The following is a transcript of our conversation.
Behind the Handlebars: Why is cycling important to you?
Joe Flood: On a practical level, it's the easiest way to get around the city. Living downtown and car-free, biking is always the fastest to get anywhere. Also, I think bikes are happiness machines. Unlike life, you're always facing forward and moving in the direction of your goal. You may not be going fast but you're getting there. And you get a feeling of accomplishment even from the most mundane of bike rides.
BtH: What type of riding do you do most often? What type do you enjoy the most?
JF: Most of my riding is utilitarian around the Dupont/Logan/downtown area. I go back and forth to the Metro, to go meet friends on H Street, across the river to Artomatic (in Crystal City), and so on. My favorite kind of riding is going for coffee. I'm a huge fan of the Coffeeneuring Challenge, and any opportunity to get on a bike and go for coffee is one that I will take. Will bike for coffee.
BtH: Cyclists in DC are very active on social media…
JF: #BikeDC is really popular on Twitter and Instagram. I’ve been on Twitter since 2009 and stumbled upon #BikeDC. It’s been a great real-time resource about what’s going on in the city and has connected me to all sorts of people. There’s even a #BikeDC Friday Coffee Club.
I’ve noticed that people are very responsive even to the most mundane posts like “Broken glass at 15th and Swann.” If a problem is big enough, it will get fixed because people will retweet me, then DDOT will eventually see the tweet and fix the problem.
It’s also really inspiring to read about other people’s rides – like the randonneurs who will bike upwards of 250 miles in one day!
BtH: Tell me your thoughts on the bicycling infrastructure in our region.
JF: It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. We have some great trails and protected bike lanes like the Mount Vernon Trail, Capital Crescent Trail and 15th Street. But traffic in the city is lawless chaos. Every day, I see drivers make flying turns on red lights, blow through stop lines, and fail to stop for pedestrians.
One thing I think the city could do is run a campaign to make drivers aware of cyclists and the rules of the road.
BtH: What can our region do to improve the experience for cyclists?
JF: Enforce traffic laws.
BtH: How do you keep track of your rides?
JF: Strava has made me really aware of how many miles I bike – and how many miles other people bike. I set myself a goal of biking 50 miles per week. There are also people I follow to get ideas for new routes. I love the social aspect.
Strava is a fitness tracking app with a social component that lets you follow other cyclists. I follow daily commuters and weekend cyclists to get ideas about new rides and new places to go. People will also follow me back, and I get recognition for the rides that I take. Other riders can “like” my rides —- similar to “likes” on Facebook, and I also get virtual trophies — like for setting personal records on segments of routes I bike a lot. I just set a personal record on the 1st St NE protected bikeway southbound!
BtH: What type of bike do you ride?
JF: I love riding Capital Bikeshare because it’s convenient, and once I dock it at the end of my ride I don’t need to worry about it. When I go on longer rides, it’s usually on my Specialized Sirrus.
BtH: How has Capital Bikeshare changed your life?
JF: Bikeshare has made me into a daily cyclist because I can wear my normal clothes, get on the bike and go. There’s no worry factor about my bike getting stolen There are plenty of docks all over the city now. It’s great.
BtH: How did you get into cycling?
JF: Excellent question! I had a bike as a kid but got back into it my senior year in college, when I saw DC's great trails like Rock Creek Park. I wasn't an everyday cyclist until about five years ago, when Capital Bikeshare came along. Then I realized it was easier to just bike everywhere, even if the weather was less than ideal.
BtH: What advice do you have for new cyclists?
JF: First, get lights! Get a set of the cheap lights that flash and use the flashing mode when you ride – even during the day so pedestrians can see you.
The other thing I recommend is the using the “Copenhagen turn” or box turn: When you approach the intersection, stay in your lane and go straight to the corner on the other side. Wait for the light to change in the direction you want to go and proceed. This keeps you on the right side of the road, and you don’t have to make a left turn in front of oncoming traffic.