Travel Tip Tuesday: Urban Bicycling


Even on BlinkPacking trips, where every minute counts, the zippiest way around a city may not be the best choice. After arriving in an urban center, my first impulse is to beeline for the closest public transit station or stop. But on a serendipitous morning in Washington DC, upon realizing that the Metro pass I just purchased was not usable until after the morning rush, I ambled outside, stumbling upon a BikeShare kiosk. The next few hours would forever shift my favored approach to touring the sights on whirlwind trips.

First, an admission: I love riding city subways. There is something geeky-magical about descending into the underbelly of a concrete jungle and whizzing over to its far reaches for a mere tariff of $2.00 or so. But as I so happily discovered on a crisp May morning in DC, blazing the rails between points A and B skirts a plethora of sightseeing goodness.

Had I taken the Metro from Union Station to the Lincoln Memorial as planned, I may have missed a glance at the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, or a photo opportunity in front of the Capitol building, or a jaunt off-road around Roosavelt Island, or a quick peek at the colorful alleys of George Washington University. The Jefferson Memorial wasn’t on my short-list, nor was Chinatown, nor Embassy Row, but I was delighted to lay my eyes on all three thanks to my two-wheeled rental.

I am an avid cyclist, so at first glance, renting a bike would not seem like all that exotic of an experience. However, rental bikes built for sightseeing, with their easy, upright riding positions, baskets on the front, and clunky apparati like kickstands and handlebar bells, inspire me to slow the pace, amble over to sights otherwise unseen, and sniff a few roses along the way.

Most cities have bicycle shops that offer rentals; expect to pay anywhere from $20 for a couple of hours to $50 for a full day. But a few urban centers on the cutting edge of progressive thought have implemented vastly successful BikeShare programs that allow participants to ride city bikes between strategically located ‘bike stations’ (automated rental and return kiosks). The best part of a bike sharing program? Riders may borrow a city bike for very little cash — and sometimes for no charge at all.

Cities with successful bike sharing initiatives include Washington DC, Boston, Miami Beach, and Minneapolis. A rumor on Wikipedia has its readers believing that New York City may soon launch its own version of a bike sharing program.

Subway and bus will always be solid options for scooting between key sites. But be sure to give bike rental and bike share more than a passing thought, and make more of the journey from A to B.

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