About 2,400 Washington area bicyclists hold permits to take their bikes on Metro for use in reaching work or suburban trails on weekends.

Kindy French said she and her husband enjoy riding their bicycles from their Dupont Circle home to White Flint Mall, where they might take in a movie or eat. Then they ride home, with their bikes, on Metro.

"I think it's terrific," French said of the chance to cut some miles off their bike trip by carrying their bicycles on Metro. "You can go so much further." French said she has used suburban Metro stations as starting points for rides as far as Manassas and Annapolis.

Since 1980, Metro has allowed bicycles on the subway system, under numerous restrictions that favor local adult residents, discourage tourists and keep out children.

Metro decided "for safety reasons to limit participation" in its "Bike-on-Rail" program, said bicycle coordinator Randy Howes.

The limits "are not going to discourage the real cyclists," but they "might discourage the one-time user or tourists," Howes said. The program is "really aimed at the local bicycle user," he said.

Bicycles are allowed in the Metrorail system on weekends and holidays (except July Fourth), and after 7 p.m. on weekdays, which keeps bikes off the subway during its most crowded times.

Bikes are not allowed at any time on Metrobuses.

Most complaints about the program come from commuters who would like to take their bicycles on Metro to work in the morning, Howes said.

"It's not really convenient for commuting," said April Moore, acting director of the Washington Area Bicyclists Association, who said she takes her bike on Metro about once every other month. "I would use it more if the hours were extended."

The morning rush period is Metro's most crowded time, leaving little room for sweaty cyclists carrying their contraptions. However, commuters may ride from home to a station and leave bicycles in the racks or in rented lockers.

Bicyclists have complained in the past that Metro does not offer enough lockers, but Howes said that only about 250 of the system's 646 bike lockers are rented. Until recently, there was a waiting list for lockers at Dupont Circle, he said. Now only Union Station has a waiting list for lockers, but more lockers will be added once renovation work there is complete, he said.

Another way Metro limits the number of bicycles on the subway is through its permit system.

No one can take a bicycle onto Metro without a permit, and no one gets a permit without learning Metro's rules and passing a test at the transit agency's headquarters at 600 Fifth St. NW.

Rules are provided, tests given, photos taken and permits issued -- within about 20 minutes -- every Monday from noon to 2 p.m. and Tuesday from 8 to 10 a.m. From April to October, Metro issues permits on the first Wednesday of the month, from 4:40 to 6:30 p.m., and on the first Saturday of the month, from 10 a.m. to noon.

The rules are simple and the test is easy, consisting of 17 multiple-choice questions. No one has ever flunked, Howes said.

Metro used to hold classes, complete with a slide show, but found that it was easier to allow people to drop in any time within a certain period and leave as soon as they finished, said Ron Rydstrom, Metro's manager of sales programs, as he explained the bike rules to the one permit applicant present at a recent test session.

To speed the process, a rider can call the bike program office and ask Metro to mail a copy of the rules, Rydstrom said. Then a person could study ahead and just show up, take the test and go, he said.

The primary purpose of the tests is to make riders learn the rules about when and how to bring a bike on Metro. For example, cyclists must bring bikes into the stations and to the platforms by elevators, not escalators; cyclists with bikes may board only the last car of a train; only four bikes are allowed per train, and bikes may not be ridden in the stations.

"They are very common-sense rules," Rydstrom said. "The whole purpose is to ensure that people know how to handle their bikes when they're on the trains and in the stations."

Only one permit has been revoked; it belonged to a 32-year-old man who rode his bike on the platform of the Friendship Heights station, Howes said. The man thought no one was around, but did not realize that he appeared on the kiosk attendant's in-house television monitor, Howes said.

Another reason for the permit process is that it enables Metro to control the number of cyclists using the system, Howes said. If problems arose, for example, too many bikes crowding the platforms or cyclists complaining of long waits to board, Metro would stop issuing permits, he said.

Metro has not had any such problems yet, and does not expect to limit permits anytime soon, he said.

Despite the time and effort required to get a bike permit, Metro handles a steady stream of applicants once the weather turns warm. In the first five days of April, which included three test sessions, about 35 cyclists received permits. From April to October, Metro expects to issue about 150 permits a month, Rydstrom said.

Permits cost $15 and are valid for five years.

One group that may not get Metro bike permits at any time is children under age 12. Cyclists aged 12 to 15 may get permits if accompanied by an adult to the training session. When taking a bike on Metro, each cyclist aged 12 to 15 must be accompanied by an adult. For example, two 14-year-olds with bikes would need to bring two adults to ride Metro.

The rules, designed to keep out dangerous unruliness by younger children, makes it "harder for families to go out to the country and ride," Moore said.

French said she and her husband often use Metro to ride with her 13-year-old nephew.

Only twice have they had problems using the Metro system, she said, when the elevators did not work at the Arlington Cemetery station and at the Woodley Park station.

Other than those occasions, Metro's Bike-on-Rail program "always worked quite smoothly, except when we got our flag stuck in the door" of a rail car, French said.

Metro does not require cyclists to wear or carry helmets, but did include the equipment in all the photos taken for its spring promotional campaign, Rydstrom said.

Metro also does not require that bicycles be registered, leaving it to cyclists to follow the legal requirements of the jurisdiction where they live.

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments plans to publish in June a new version of its regional guide to bike trails, with nearby Metro stops highlighted. The guide will be sold in drugstores and other convenience stores, a spokesman said.

For more information about Metro's Bike-on-Rail program, call 962-1116 or 962-1327.

METRO SHUTTLE BUS

Bus from West Falls Church Metrorail Station to Wolf Trap runs every 20 minutes beginning two hours before curtain time. The shuttle leaves from the buses-only section on the west side of station. Parking at station is free if you leave after 10 p.m. on weekdays and free all day on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays. After performance, bus leaves 15 minutes after end of show or no later than 11 p.m. Cost is $3 round trip.

GETTING TO THE STATION

You can take the Orange Line, ride the bus or drive to the station. Metrobus Routes 3B, 5S, 28A and 28B serve West Falls Church. The station is reached by car from Haycock Road, Rte. 7 or Rte. I66 east.

DRIVING TO WOLF TRAP

The Dulles Toll Road westbound exit and eastbound entrance at Trap Road are open only on nights of performances. There is no westbound entrance or eastbound exit. The exit number is 6 and is open two hours before performances. Wolf Trap also can be reached from Rte. 7 by going south on Trap Road or from the south by going north on Beulah Road to Trap Road. Parking at the park is free.