American cities are built for the motor car with freeways everywhere, so popular culture has it. Sure. But there are more environmentally friendly alternatives, as Mike East discovers when he goes biking in DC.
We were in Bethesda, Maryland – not a name renowned in the annals of great travelling, but the right place to be for the game in hand. We were to explore biking in DC along the bike trails of the capital city and use them to take us to the heart of it.
In theory, Bethesda is a town in Maryland. In reality it is a suburb of DC, knitted into the city’s fabric by its transport links. In itself, it is a pleasant place to stay with many dining options including steak, Mexican, Italian, French, Thai, Indian, Chinese and Japanese.
We were here for the Capital Crescent Trail. From Bethesda into the centre of DC it is just over seven miles of paved road. In the other direction, lies six miles of a crushed stone surface out to Rosemary Hills, with plans to extend it further in the future.
If you have just completed a leg of the Tour de France you will be disappointed, though for us it was a pleasant day out. Both being paved and along the bed of an old railroad meant that the cycling was even and easy. The route’s bridges and tunnels meant we seldom had to worry about traffic, whilst the frequent shade meant we could enjoy the warmth of the day without DC’s spring sun burning us.
After a pleasant breakfast at the Double Tree on Wisconsin Avenue, we set off. Our day’s biking in DC would conclude at the White House and the monuments around it.
a cool drink might be just the excuse needed to walk in the footsteps of probably the biggest political scandal in the world
Our trail headed south, though lush woodland until we reached the side of the Potomac River. I was unable to avoid a stop at our first landmark, the Watergate Complex in the appropriately-named suburb of Foggy Bottom. Opinion may divide here over whether it is a site of outstanding architectural beauty, but it’s certainly a place where some ugly history was made. Unfortunately, there is little to see of it.
Staying at the hotel in the Watergate Complex will set you back around $200, though a cool drink might be just the excuse needed to walk in the footsteps of probably the biggest political scandal in the world – at least until Trump has his say.
Head up to the Top of the Gate roof top bar. This might not necessarily be the cheapest place you will visit on your trip, but the 360 degree view over the river or towards the monuments is worth the extra cents. Hide your bike clips and make sure you’re not too scruffy, or alternatively come back on the return journey, at the end of the day. Planning ahead: The Kennedy Center , next door, may have a performance to your taste. Find out before you come.
Dos and don’ts of biking in DC cycle hire:
Check the brakes work and the tired are fully inflated.
Ensure that at least one person has a pump and that there are enough locks to go around.
Read the clauses for penalties if your bike is damaged or stolen.
Make sure you get a helmet.
Try it out before you take it. Make sure you can touch the ground with the tips of your toes and that you are not all scrunched up.
Know the time you need to get the bike back and when the hire shop closes
Cloudy day: waterproofs. Sunny day: sun block.
Take drinking water.
The Capital Crescent Trail ends a few hundred yards further on. After going round a curve in the river we found ourselves at the foot of the gigantic Lincoln Memorial and a short pedal from iconic monument to iconic building along the National Mall.
The Reflecting Pool runs off in front of you (eastwards). On one side are the sculptures in honour of the veterans of the Korean War, on the other, the Vietnam War – interestingly, it was not commissioned for all victims off this divisive war, only for the US veterans not their allies or all the Vietnamese civilian victims – and at the far end the World War Two Memorial. Again, we chained or bikes up to allow us to move around the park easily then returned to them when it was time to move on.
This is really manna from heaven for museum buffs. Further east are the Washington Monument, the different incarnations of the Smithsonian Museum and the Capitol Building to name but a few. However, if you turn north, there it is – Pennsylvania Avenue and the White House.
With so much to see, you could easily spend a day or two popping in and out of the museums – the Smithsonian Institute has eleven collections here alone. However, we had to head back to Bethesda, so we only had time to cycle to and visit the monuments around the Mall area.
The Capital Crescent Trail is not the only biking in DC. Another route runs for 18 miles ending at Mount Vernon, the estate once owned by George Washington. Then the Chesapeake and Ohio Towpath goes for a backside-crushing 184 miles and is complete with campsites along the way.
Back in Bethesda, the bars had a wide range of artisanal beers and were pleasant places for our après-cycling tipple. We forgot our aching limbs in the highly recommended American Tap Room . The samples of the brews on tap were well worth it for us first timers. I opted for a porter and not for the first time that day my choice was a good one.
The US capital is a city full of history, and biking in DC provides a great way to get around it, or to escape into the green landscape surrounding it.
If you wish to combine your biking with the National Cherry Blossom Parade, the 2018 National Cherry Blossom Festival will be held from March 20 to April 15, with The Cherry Blossom Parade scheduled for April 14, 2018.
United have flights to London, Paris, Madrid, Berlin and Geneva. US carriers link the capital with most large American cities, direct.