By: Rachel Cannon
Like most kids from a good suburban upbringing, I learned to ride a bike early. It was my favorite pastime through the end of high school, but I was never especially serious about it—it was just an easy way to get around the neighborhood because I never owned a car. When I came to American University in 2006, I didn't even think to bring my bike with me. I relied on public transportation, I never went anywhere much beyond the Red Line, and I was scared of any quadrant that wasn't Northwest because we were taught as freshmen that DC was pretty dangerous.
Around the end of my sophomore year, in 2008, I saw a job posting for tour guides at Bike and Roll. I was already a tour guide on our college campus, and the thought of riding a bike around the National Mall—and getting paid to do it—sounded awesome. I've never been particularly athletic, and my friends expressed concern that the job might be too hard for me, especially given that I didn't own a bike.
So, not knowing anything at all about bikes, I went to Target and purchased a $40 red Magna mountain bike. I remember taking it off the Metro that night and riding it home from Tenleytown—on the sidewalks, of course, because I was scared of the roads. During my interview with Bike and Roll, I made a point of telling them about my new purchase. To my great surprise, I got the job—and I didn't even need my own bike!
During my first training shift, I fell madly in love with the Bike and Roll bikes—the Trek hybrids were fifty times better than anything I had ever ridden. I never knew that biking could be so fun! The Mall is totally flat, so riding around it was a breeze.
The real challenge was getting to and from work. Metro was getting expensive, so one day, I pulled out my little red Magna. Bike and Roll is downtown, and I lived up near the Cathedral, and Massachusetts Avenue, the main connecting street, is a GIANT hill. The ride to work was great—the ride home was next-to-impossible. My first couple of times biking up it, I wound up walking my bike most of the way, and the third time, I got so exhausted that I fell off my bike.
Gradually, I got better at conquering that hill, and after a couple of weeks, I could ride up it without stopping. That summer, my boss at Bike and Roll helped me purchase my first "big girl bike"—a Trek women's specific 7.2 FX, much like the hybrids at Bike and Roll, and that made the commute much easier. Before long, I was biking everywhere. I realized that between two tours a day and my commute, I rode about 22 miles each work day—but that wasn't enough for me. On my days off, I explored the trails around DC, venturing up to Great Falls via the C&O towpath, rode to Mount Vernon and back, rode around DC, rode around Alexandria, explored the Capital Crescent Trail, and loved every minute of it. My love for the city and the surrounding areas grew exponentially—in fact, a couple of years ago, a friend and I biked around the perimeter of DC, which is shaped like a diamond. I've literally seen every corner of the city on a bike!
Today, I work for DC's local bike advocacy group—the Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA), and I install bicycle racks for the city. Remember how I said I was never really athletic? Part of my job today involves hauling power tools and a generator around town on a bike trailer. Biking is a huge part of my life, and whether I'm working or not, you can find me around the city on a bike every day of the year, in whatever weather.
It's been five years since I started as a tour guide, and I still give tours with Bike and Roll—what's more, I still love it. Aside from being obsessed with bikes, I'm also obsessed with DC history. Showing off this city to newcomers is a delight, and to me, it's even better when it happens on bicycles. A 70-year-old grandmother once commented after a tour that she felt like a kid again, and I've seen otherwise begrudging teenagers manage to crack a smile or two as the wind whips through their hair (under a helmet, of course). When I tell people that the best way to see DC is by bicycle, it's not because Bike and Roll pays me to do it—it's because I firmly believe it!