Weekly fun rides become a D.C. spectacle


Jordan Mittelman (St. John Barned-Smith/For The Washington Post)
August 16, 2013

Jordan Mittelman emerged from BicycleSpace’s storefront on Seventh Street in the District near Mount Vernon Park one recent August night and addressed the multitudes mounted on every kind of bicycle imaginable.

“How are you guys doing?” Mittelman asked. “We’re going to have fun!”

With that, the store manager hopped on his bike, equipped with an eardrum-shattering boombox, and departed to the tune of Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean.” The colorful crowd of cyclists, about 50 in all, followed.

Welcome to BicycleSpace’s weekly fun ride, also known as a “Seventh Street Social.” The store also sponsors “Cupcake Rambles” on Saturdays, “City Explorers” rides on Sundays and, once a month, full moon rides after dark.

“It’s helpful for people learning the city,” said Tony Pelton, one of the store’s employees.

Scott Charney, 31, riding a Scorpio commuting bike, pedaled with the pack. He’s a regular, having started cycling when he moved to D.C. fives years ago. “I enjoy the exercise. It’s economical, efficient, environmentally friendly and social,” said Charney, who works at an antique shop in Georgetown.

From Seventh and M streets, the pack rode down Sixth Street, then meandered toward the Mall beneath a light drizzle from a gray, indecisive sky.

D.C. has seen a surge in cycling, especially with the rollout of Capital Bikeshare and a plethora of new bike shops. Capital Bikeshare has swelled from 10 bike stations and 120 bikes in 2008 in D.C. to more than 200 stations and almost 2,000 bikes throughout the region in 2013, according to its Web site.

The trend is a national one: In recent years, Boston, New York and Philadelphia have all rolled out (or are in the process of rolling out) bike-share programs, or are making efforts to become more cycling-friendly locales.

Soon, Mittelman led the pack along the north side of the Mall, drawing bemused — and amused — reactions from pedestrians.

“What’s this for?” one woman asked, as they passed the Washington Monument. Other onlookers snapped photos, high-fived passing cyclists, or yelled encouragement. On G Street, a mob of bar hoppers let out a roar as the bikers pedaled by.

At the White House, the cyclists spun in circles in front of a crowd taking birthday photos, their safety lights winking red and white in the dusk while the music pulsed in the background.

“We wave, smile and cheer,” Mittelman explained. “We try to make it a bit of a spectacle.”

The rides began shortly after BicycleSpace opened three years ago, he said. (The store is having a moonlight ride Aug. 23, celebrating the third anniversary of the rides.)

Although other area shops offered different rides, most of those were tailored to the “spandex set” of more competitive, long-distance riders, he explained.

“We wanted to offer more casual rides,” he said.

Now, it’s not unusual for 100 riders to show up for weekly rides, and up to 500 for the monthly full moon rides, he said.

BicycleSpace’s rides aren’t the only ones available for D.C. riders: Every month, riders can head out in a pounding, moving bike rave via the D.C. Bike Party, which, founder Lia Seremetis told The Post’s sister publication Express, was inspired by bike parties in San Jose and Baltimore.

City Bikes, one of the oldest bike shops in the city, also offers rides weekly, both cruiser style and longer rides.

“They are definitely a growing trend here in D.C. and most shops are getting in on it,” said Colin Clark, a store manager at the City Bikes shop in Adams Morgan, of the social rides. City Bikes began offering social rides this year, he said, and the shop sees between 40 to 100 riders at each ride, he said.

And at Freshbikes, there are “challenging neighborhood rides” at all three of the store’s locations (Bethesda, Arlington and Fairfax), according to Arlington store manager Harrison Leavens. The weekly rides are more road-bike oriented, but once a month from May to September, there are monthly group rides with free barbecue that draw upwards of 500 riders, and a police escort, he said.

“It’s basically a big group ride – in nature non-competitive, but we can’t control what happens at the front of the ride,” he said.

At the end of Mittelman’s jaunt, the pack riders took a breather and slurped on popsicles at Freedom Plaza.

Kurt Bembridge, who was on his roadie, said that the ride was his second.

“It’s a nice, casual ride,” said Bembridge, who takes fast, long rides on his road bike about four times a week.

For Kirsten Feyling, 34, on her 11-year-old Bianchi, the ride was her first.

Feyling said she bikes to get around and to make her pedestrian life easier. She went to the ride, alone, after hearing about it while inflating her bike’s tires a couple of weeks ago. She will never be a spandex-wearing rider, she said, preferring to ride with her purse on her way to work, in her work clothes.

But still, she said, “it was fun to go on the ride with other people who clearly like to bike.”

“It was almost like we were Washington D.C. ambassadors, riding around and showing how great our city was,” she said.

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