If the professional racers have you aching to press your face against the wind, Washington has lots of avenues open to you.
It has the nation's largest clubs for amateur bike-racers, bike-tourers and commuters. And it has one of the highest- speed amateur bike races in the U.S. -- the National Capital Open, which will be held April 17 from 9:30 to 2:30 on the Ellipse, a week after the finish of the Tour of America.
The Open is easy to watch because riders circle the small elliptical road behind the White House. It has produced more than two dozen U.S. speed records for amateur racing, and a host of chain-reaction pile-ups.
It's also open to women. There are no professional bike races for women, and therefore no professional women riders. But American women cyclists are considered among the best in the world.
While the Open is for licensed amateurs only, there are bike races for riders of all ages -- and both sexes -- held regularly from spring to fall by the National Capital Velo Club and other area bike clubs. The only requirements are a bike, a bike helmet and, usually, a $1 registration fee.
The club's races are held every Sunday starting at 10 at Greenbelt Park, just off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway. Thursday-evening races will also be held regularly in Gaithersburg this year.
The Potomac Pedalers Touring Club sponsors country bike rides around Washington every weekend. Twice a month, it also holds Sunday-morning 10-mile time trials. The trials, designed to help riders gauge their riding abilities, are held on the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Maryland, just above Chain Bridge.
Free bike-riding and repair clinics are held regularly by area clubs, all of which welcome visitors and new members. CYCLING CLUBS -- A public-service Bike Line (call HEY- BIKE) provides information about bicycling events, and information about most clubs is available at local bike shops or by sending a stamped, self-addressed envelope to Box 208, College Park, Maryland 20740. Here are some places to contact: AMERICAN YOUTH HOSTELS -- Offers free bike-riding and repair clinics, 783-4943. NATIONAL CAPITAL VELO CLUB -- 588-2087 evenings. POTOMAC PEDALERS TOURING CLUB -- 363-TOUR. WASHINGTON AREA BICYCLIST ASSOCIATION -- Promotes bike commuting,lobbies on behalf of cyclists and provides free legal advice for cyclists who have run-ins with motorists or police, 393-2555.