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June 15, 2008

On a ride

I'm sorry about the weather you folks are having in other parts of the country, but we had a beautiful day today. Sunny and in the 80s. I took advantage of the weather by going for a long bike ride, almost 32 miles.

I might not be able to keep up with the serious bikers, but I can kick a lot of people's butts. I do pretty well for myself. (Fill in the "for your age group" joke now.) I ride a hybrid, which is heavier and less responsive than a road bike. Friends have been trying to talk me into buying a road bike, but I'm still thinking about it.

For the ride, if you travel east and a little south from my house, you get to an entrance to Rock Creek Park, an absolute beauty of a park that runs from northern Rockville pretty much all the way to the Mall in D.C. There are hiker-biker trails zigging and zagging the length of the park, at least in Maryland. In D.C., there are some trails, but most of the riding is on roads. In the Maryland portion of the park, the trails are about 6 feet wide, bumpy, windy, and sometimes really hilly. They're also not always in great repair. I'd give their condition about a B-. (In D.C., the trail portion of the park gets about a D.)

I entered the park about four miles from the north end and rode to the D.C. border and back. I've done this before, but it was harder today -- I think because the temperature the last two times was about 8 or 10 degrees cooler. So all of the challenges along the way seemed just a little tougher. At mile 26 on my ride, about two-thirds of the way home, there's a really steep, winding hill in the park. It's probably not quite as bad as the hill on the other side at mile 6, but I have less stamina on the way back. More than half of the final five miles are uphill. Where it gets really hairy is at mile 30, going up a steep hill on Wootton Parkway for 0.4 mile until it almost levels off to pass over I-270. This is a killer. It's a good thing I'm offroad at that point.

And now, as always when I write about biking, I have to get something off my chest. In fact, I have to get more than one thing off my chest, so I'm going to number my things.

1. At least half of the bike riders (mostly, but not exclusively, casual riders) that I saw were not wearing helmets. I have some advice for you: You are morons. Contrary to what Obama told us about his use of a helmet, the reason you need one is not that kids will get the wrong impression if you don't wear one. The reason is that you personally risk injury to your head if you're not wearing one. You could do severe damage to your head and then you'd spend the next year randomly throwing around the words "hope" and "change" and "that's not the [fill in name] I knew." Dude, Lance Freakin' Armstrong wears a helmet. You should, too. You might be one of those adults who are basically overgrown teenagers and think that if someone tells you to do something, you'll do just the opposite, but this isn't asserting your freedom; it's just being inconsiderate. If you don't mind risking your life, that's fine, but think of the poor, unfortunate person who accidentally hits you. That person will probably feel guilty for the rest of his life.

2. To the extreme moron who not only didn't wear a helmet but rode the trails while chatting on his cell phone, I'd like to deliver a personal wedgie to you.

3. Sometimes (as you'll see if you click the links above) I have trouble with hikers and walkers, but almost everyone was well behaved today, including dog-walkers. I keep my flashing headlight on to warn folks coming toward me, and I always try to warn people I'm overtaking by ringing a bell. People responded well, and I shouted, "Thank you." However . . . those of you who wear earbuds are risking your lives, because you can't hear anyone coming from behind. If you want to encounter nature while blasting crappy music into your ear, don't do it on the trail.

4. Bikers are generally well behaved on shared trails, but we tend to be blamed for everyone else's idiocy. The county has recently posted 15 MPH speed limits on the Capital Crescent Trail, which is just insane. When I ride the trail -- going toward Georgetown, anyway -- I'm running 16 to 21 MPH, and I'm being passed by the serious bikers. So why do I say a speed limit of 15 MPH is insane? Because the serious bikers (and I) are aware of the rules of the trail and alert people when we're approaching. We're careful. The problem is with walkers who walk two abreast, who are zoned out with their iPods, who have no clue what's happening around them. There's rarely a problem on weekday mornings with commuter bikers, although I stopped riding to work 2 or 3 years ago because I wanted to stay married to my wife. The real problem is on weekends, or at least on Sunday when I've ridden the trail. There's a stretch of the trail from downtown Bethesda south about a mile or a mile and a half that's a little like Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street on Sunday mornings. The walkers, the dads with baby carriages, the philosophers lost in thought, are all clogging the trail, not following the rules about "uptown" and "downtown" traffic, and it's dangerous to me to ride there. I can see an argument for banning bikes after, say, 11 a.m. on weekends, but it's ridiculous to blame things on bikers who are there at 9 a.m., riding safely, and trying to avoid the morons and have a nice ride. Believe me, we don't want to run you over. But we wish you'd PAY ATTENTION TO THE FREAKIN' RULES OF THE TRAIL and let us ride safely. Thank you very much.