The first time Kimpton Hotels suggested that Ed Virtue, general manager of the company’s Hotel Monaco in D.C., get a few bicycles, he told his bosses at corporate that it was a dreadful idea.
“I said, ‘No way. We’re downtown,’ ” says Virtue, who was worried that guests could get mangled in rush-hour traffic. But that was before the city’s push to build a better network of bike lanes, and before the launch of Capital Bikeshare, which made cycling a much higher-profile way of moving around D.C.
In the summer of 2011, Monaco — as well as Kimpton’s Helix and Rouge properties — partnered with Capital Bikeshare, and guests flipped for the bright red bikes.
And Virtue flip-flopped on the bike issue. His guests were ready to ride, and they wanted to borrow bikes for longer than a half hour (which is how long Capital Bikeshare riders have before usage fees kick in). The simplest way to accommodate them was to have bikes to check out from the hotel, so he purchased four.
When Kimpton announced this summer that it was teaming up with the brand Public Bikes to put custom two-wheelers at every hotel in the chain, Virtue decided to capitalize on Monaco’s newly expanded fleet — up to seven and counting — by providing even more incentive to saddle up.
Virtue is loading GPS units with favorite routes to give folks turn-by-turn directions (“It opens up ideas for people,” he says), and he’s leading rides every Wednesday evening.
Virtue has some company in the bike lanes.
Mark Andrew, general manager of Georgetown’s Fairmont Hotel, heads up a ride of his own every Saturday at 6 a.m. Andrew’s guests can take advantage of quiet streets and BMW-brand bikes (six for adults and three for kids) as he shows off Old Town Alexandria, Bethesda, the monuments or other destinations.
The experience, Andrew says, is designed to help guests get the most out of their stay.
“We started looking at why people travel, and no one comes for a bed,” he says. “Nothing says, ‘I’ve experienced D.C.’ like a ride along the Potomac.”
Bike availability is becoming a key to attracting active visitors who don’t want to spend vacation time in a hotel gym, says Ross Bartlett, general services manager at the Park Hyatt. His hotel is directly across the street from the Fairmont, and it, too, offers free bike rentals to guests.
Park Hyatt’s Bike Valet program, now at several properties in the chain, was first tested in D.C. One reason it’s been such a success, Bartlett says, is that when guests sign out one of the Park Hyatt’s dozen Bianchi bikes for four hours, they also get a map detailing two recommended routes: one on the C&O Canal towpath and another looping through Rock Creek Park and the Mall. Brochures on a few other local trails are also available.
Plus, the roadside assistance is top-notch, he says. If guests wind up with a flat tire, the hotel can send a car to retrieve them.
Cycling in Washington is more pleasant with some basic accessories, which is why all three hotels hand out helmets and locks along with the bikes. (If guests would like a picnic basket, that can be arranged as well.)
But Virtue isn’t worried about anyone heading into traffic these days. An avid cyclist, he rides the 30 miles to work from his home in Sterling, Va., at least once a week. And he can’t wait to show other folks how fantastic the view of D.C. can be from above a pair of handlebars.
Hotel Monaco manager Ed Virtue is using GPS units to map out rides of varying lengths for guests. If they beat his time, they win a prize. He has nine routes so far, all starting from 700 F St. NW. Here’s a sampling:
Ride Like You Belong (3 miles) Turn south to Pennsylvania Avenue and enter the iconic strip’s two-way bike lane. Loop around from the White House to the Capitol, following the bike-specific traffic signals.
Potomac Double Cross (7.9 miles) This athletic route follows Constitution Avenue along the Mall, crosses the Roosevelt Bridge, crosses back and then does the same kind of out and back on the Memorial Bridge.
Monaco to Maryland (16.6 miles) Don’t be too afraid of how far you’re traveling from Penn Quarter along the Georgetown waterfront and then onto the Capital Crescent Trail. The way back is all downhill.
D.C. isn’t the only place to book a room and then some wheels:
Kimpton has welcomed custom three-speed cruisers to all of its hotels.
Fairmont has BMW bikes in its hotels worldwide.
Park Hyatt (park.hyatt.com) also offers its Bike Valet program in Chicago, Toronto and Tokyo.
Affinia just put bikes at D.C.’s Liaison and its NYC hotels.