When a biker rides to Ocean City he gets there a half-hour before the fellow in the car - he can smell the sea and feel the rushing breeze long before he sees the breakers.
The motorcyclist knows it's cooler in the valley; in summer he'll drive home through Rock Creek, in winter he'll take the warmer route up 16th Street.
The rider knows another Washington: The city within the city, the alleys and back streets that are pointless diversions in an automobile but timesavers on a bike.
And he knows the secrets of the rural back country - the huge bugs that blossom in August near the cow pastures, the dangerous off-camber curves that complicate township roads.
There are two perfect places to be on a motorcycle; an empty back road and K Street at rush hour.
Breathes there a frazzled commuter who has never cursed the motorcycle couriers who shoot between lanes at 4 p.m. on 14th Street?And lives there a romantic who hasn't sighed with envy to see young lovers doubled up on a scooter for a spring ride through leafy country glades?
I have enjoyed both roles as a biker and found nothing so satisfying as evoking envy among the car people. In-Town Fever
Once in a rain storm I was squeezing through traffic on the Whitehurst Freeway, making mince meat out of a memorable jam. At M Street I pulled up next to a car. The driver rolled down his window and chastised me for my elan . he was jealous.
"That's the price you pay," I chortled, "for keeping your head cry."
Threading traffic is generally a bad idea. For one thing you can get a ticket. The police give tickets because it's dangerous. But there are times when it can be moderately safe.
If you watch the couriers, who are about as expert at in-town biking as you can get, you'll note that they do their fancy maneuvering more when traffic is stopped than when it's going.It makes sense. Stopped traffic at a red light cannot hurt you - you'll have to hurt yourself by bumping into someone. If you're a reasonably facile rider and know your bike you can ease past cars at a dead stop with minimum danger.
Alley cutting is the other key benefit of biking through rush hour. But there are other in-city benefits. One is Sunday exploring.
Washington is a one-company town and that company is always closed on Sunday. That means vast stretches of the broadest boulevards in the East, lined at the right seasons with magnolia and blossoming cherry. It's too big a city to do on foot and too beautiful to do in a car. That's why they invented bicycles and motorcycles.
Two incredibly delightful places to go on your bike:
The National Arboretum off Bladensburg Road in far Northeast, where there are whole hillsides of azaleas in bloom all at once, groves of jonquil, dogwood patches, camellias and an Oriental garden of rare evergreens. You can see it beautifully from your bike and stop where you like. Forget the parking hassles.
Rock Creek Parkway, end to end. Start at the Washington Monument and wind past the Tidal Basin, where the cherries may be in bloom. You'll smell them from your perch. Take the great swooping turn at the real Watergate and stop off at Harry Thompson Boat House across from the new Watergate. Rent a canoe for an hour - it's cheap.
Then sweep up past Massachusetts Avenue and through the chill blast of the deep dark Connecticut Avenue tunnel. Now you're riding along the creek itself and you'll whiff the sweet odor of meat sizzling on picnic grills. Stop at the zoo and at Pierce Mill for a cool soft drink and a look at the old grinder.
Near Military Road look for a sign for the horse stables. If you're really adventurous take a trail ride for $5. It lasts better than an hour and is worth twice the price. Then you can remount your iron horse and zoom home.
What a life. In the Woods
The best bike trip to take in the area on a nice day anytime of year is Great Falls, either side. Route 193 through Virginia has some of the sweetest motorcycle turns ever devised. Canal Road and MacArthur Boulevard on the Maryland side are a thrill a minute.
If your thoughts run to longer voyages consider motorcycles camping about as close as you can come to pioneering and still make the 20th Century time.
To camp with a motorcycle you'll need backpacking equipment: a tiny one-burner camp stove, a lightweight two-person tent, a simple mess kit and a tarp. You'll also need a good-sized bike, 400cc minumum.
My favorite medium-range motorcycle camping runs are the North Carolina Outer banks and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Both have state and national campgrounds that offer primitive camping, so you won't be head-to-head with a TV-equipped Winnebago, and both offer delightful touring turf for day trips while you're there.
The big problem in getting to both places is the first half of the trip. I usually buckle down and beat out the early mileage on 195 or 166 - it gets you to the good part quicker.
If you are a more dedicated back road dawdler (more power to you if you are), pore over the maps and find the old roads that parallel the interstates. Nothing is worse than a superhighway on a bike; it's like swimming in a flash flood.