10 Bike Must Knows

10 Bike Must Knows

If you’re new to biking, or just new to riding your bike for transportation,  there are some simple “must-knows” that can make your riding experience better. At our June Women & Bicycles workshop, we looked at some of the most frequents questions we see on the Women & Bicycles facebook group, plus a few neat bike hacks we think you’ll find useful.  Scroll through our slides below to learn more about what we covered:

Women & Bicycles Tip: Try This One Great Grocery Trick


This entry is part of our Women & Bicycles blog series. Women & Bicycles is WABA’s outreach and encouragement initiative to build a stronger women’s bike community and get more women on bikes. These posts certainly aren’t exclusive to women, but they’re produced with and through the Women & Bicycles’ programming and staffing. Click here to learn more and get involved.


Do you have panniers, those bags that clip on the side of a bike rack? After years of using a messenger bag, I am now a faithful pannier user and call them my Mary Poppins bags.

Here’s a trick for other pannier users: When grocery shopping, clip your panniers on the front, inside, or outside of your shopping cart during checkout. It’s a simple way to load up and make sure the heavy stuff goes to the bottom, the lighter stuff stays on top, and that weight is evenly dispersed between the two bags.


My friend Meredith demonstrating the pannier method of shopping.

Panniers turn your bike into a pickup truck: They offer the carrying capacity of nearly two weeks’ worth of groceries, everything but the kitchen sink for a family trip to the park,  or simply all the odds and ends that you need daily. And with panniers, you don’t have to worry about the strain, weight, or sweat from carrying a backpack.

If you’re in the market for panniers, click here to read Momentum‘s reviews on over a dozen different options to choose from.

And speaking of groceries, biking, and WABA’s Women & Bicycles program, are you coming to the Women & Bicycles happy hour tonight at Glen’s Garden Market in Dupont? We’ll be there from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. Click here for more details.

Bike Theft is on the Rise. Take 10 Minutes and Do This Now.

Last week, we gave you a brief overview of what to do in the event that your bike is stolen. In that post, we mentioned WABA’s bicycle owner record sheet, which we’d like to discuss in a bit more detail today.

When a bike is stolen, the first thing you should do is to call the police and report the bicycle stolen. An officer will come and meet you to file a stolen property report. To file the report, they will need the following information: type of bike, color, serial number, a photo, etc.

To make sure you have this information available in the event that you need it, use our form. Download this PDF with fillable fields, enter all the relevant information, and save a hard copy in a safe place. Take some photos of your bike, making sure to capture any distinguishing characteristics (modifications you’ve made to the bike, damage or signs of wear and tear, stickers or other bling). Attach the photos to the record sheet. This information on this form will also be required by your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance if you decide to make a stolen property claim.

You can significantly reduce the risk of your bike being stolen by using proper locking techniques with a strong u-lock at secure parking spot in a well-lit area where there’s good foot traffic. DDOT, WMATA, private property managers, and others are working to increase the amount of secure bike parking in the region, but there is still a shortage—and still a chance your bike could be stolen.

The Washington Post recently covered the increase in bike theft in and around D.C., and Fox5 ran a story about an upcoming documentary about a professional bike thief. We hope you’ll never have to use this information, but if you do need it, providing the police with a complete record of your stolen bike could greatly help in its recovery.

Women & Bicycles Tip: Know The Power of Shifting

e6MXyK7ObZyMVaWZ7KTNlYi1U8M0BlyNV1r6XhihuwIThis entry is part of our Women & Bicycles Bi-Weekly Tips series. Women & Bicycles is WABA’s outreach and encouragement initiative to build a stronger women’s bike community and get more women on bikes. Click here to learn more and get involved.


Shifting gears; important for greater comfort, power, and in general for being a more confident bicyclist. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we’re consulting Bicycling magazine to get you shifting like a pro. Want some in-person assistance? Check out a WABA City Cycling class, or ride with us this Sunday!


Photo courtesy of Microvector and Bicycling Magazine

Photo courtesy of Microvector and Bicycling

Here’s what Neil Bezdek wrote for Bicycling:

1. The Gears
Most bikes have two or three chainrings in the front and anywhere from 7 to 11 gears, or cogs, in the back. Moving the chain from the smallest rear cog to the largest eases your pedaling effort incrementally. Moving it between the chainrings in the front results in a more noticeable change—pedaling feels easier in a smaller chainring and harder in a bigger one.

2. Shifter Savvy
The left-hand shifter changes the front gears; the one on the right controls gears in back. If you get flustered on the fly, remember: RIGHT = REAR.

3. It’s Okay To…
• Use only the rear cogs and the small or middle front chainring when you’re just getting comfortable on a bike.
• look down to see what gear you’re in.
• shift whenever a more experienced rider does.

4. When to Shift
The reason bikes have gears is so you can pedal (relatively) comfortably no matter what the terrain. Shift to an easier gear on climbs or when you’re riding into the wind. Use a harder gear on flats or if the wind is blowing from behind. When in doubt, shift before the terrain changes. When you shift, ease up on the pedals, especially on hills; if you’re pushing hard, the chain may skip or fall off.

5. Avoid Cross-Chaining 
That means the chain is at an extreme slant, either in the big ring up front and the biggest cog in back, or the small ring up front and the small cog in back. This not only stresses the hardware, but it also limits your options if you need to shift again.

6. Cheat Sheet
For: Uphills and headwinds
Use: Small or middle front chainring + bigger rear cogs

For: Downhills
Use: Large front chainring + a range of rear cogs

For: Flat terrain
Use: Small or middle front chainring + ­smaller rear cogs

We searched the internet high and low for an effective video tutorial on shifting gears, and we came across Ken here from Landry’s Bicycles:

Rider Profile: Nancy Birdsall

RideOn is WABA’s quarterly newsletter. If you’re a WABA member, you receive it by mail. We make it available to nonmembers online, too. In this month’s issue, we ran a profile of Nancy Birdsall, founding president of the Center for Global Development and a longtime D.C. bike commuter. As Bike to Work Day approaches, we want to share Nancy’s story on our blog to inspire those of you who might still be on the fence about riding to work.

Register for Bike to Work Day (it’s next Friday, May 17!) and join or renew your WABA membership at a discount, $25. In addition to RideOns lovingly delivered by the U.S. Postal Service, WABA members have access to a host of great benefits.

By Catherine An

Nancy Birdsall, president of the Center for Global Development, is a longtime D.C. commuter cyclist. As WABA works to get more women on bikes through our Women & Bicycles program, stories like Nancy’s can be an inspiration.

It caused a small media sensation in some Latin American countries: headlines like “New leader bikes to work” swept across newspapers when Nancy Birdsall, incoming executive vice president of the Inter-American Development Bank, declined one of the perks of the prestigious new job: a car and driver—and a reserved parking space in the bank garage. But by 1993, when she assumed the position, Nancy had already been biking to work for 20 years and had grown both accustomed to and fond of the efficient mode of transportation.

“They were very kind about it,” she laughed, retelling the story and the flurry it caused. “The bank put a special bike rack in my spot in the garage.”

Today, Nancy is the founding president of the Center for Global Development, a think tank based in Washington, D.C. She’s been biking to work for over 40 years and encourages women to take up what she sees a surprisingly easy and convenient way to commute.

She got started as a young woman:
“I started commuting by bike in 1970 because there was no easy way to get from Glover Park (where I lived at the time) to Columbia and 18th (where I worked). I was very young and in a junior position and there was nowhere to park and no convenient bus route.”

And it was a good fit from the start:
“I was a bit of a jock in college—and I have no recollection of many problems getting started. I had some concern about how to organize myself – what to wear and how to carry things (I remember wearing slacks or a skirt and bike pants underneath, but those were pretty easy to solve.”

There were a couple of tough times:
“I’ve had two big accidents: Once while riding, I was hit by a car from behind, thrown backwards off my bike, and landed on the hood of the car. I remember it was during the Reagan administration because the guy who hit me worked in the White House and he was pretty freaked out. Everything worked out OK but the accident wrecked my back for a while.”

“The other time was when my youngest child was six weeks old and I was just getting back to work—it was my second, maybe third day back on the job and I was only working half-time and going in later in the day. By the time I left for the office, there were cars parked alongside the sidewalk so I was biking a bit further from the curb than usual. I hit a bump in the road, flew over the handlebars, and broke my elbow. Everything worked out OK, and the worst of the accident was not being able to pick up my six-week-old baby for a while.”

But it’s gotten better than ever:
“There’s been a huge upsurge in biking over the last 20 years. Workplaces have gotten more bike friendly; even the taxis—which used to be more aggressive—have actually gotten better now. Drivers are more accommodating. The challenges, if any, are easier to overcome than ever.”

And you should try it, too:
“Despite the number of people in the CGD office who bike to work (at least a handful), I’m the only woman who regularly commutes by bike. And of course it’s easier to bike if there are accommodations at work that allow for it (bike racks or storage, a place to change, etc.) but it’s not that big a challenge if you try.”

“It’s surprisingly easy. It’s easier than people realize. It’s just a matter of getting started.”

Nancy is the founding president of the Center for Global Development. CGD is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit think that that works to reduce global poverty and inequality through rigorous research and active engagement with the policy community. Learn more at cgdev.org.

Catherine An is the Center for Global Development’s media relations associate.

Come Celebrate the 15th St. Cycle Track on Friday

On Monday, at the DDOT Oversight Hearing, DC City Councilmember Jack Evans asked how we fix the 15th Street Cycle Track. Now, we’ve ridden the cycle track a lot, and while it is not perfect, it is still a great addition to the bike network of DC. So, rather than get political about it–with action alerts and riling up the blogosphere to condemn Councilmember Evans’ remarks–we’re going to head down there on Friday afternoon (update: between 4pm & 6pm) and show DC that we cyclists appreciate the 15th St. cycle track.

This is going to be very informal. We’ll have our Bike Ambassador there with some volunteers with signs, probably around Q St. NW and/or riding the length of the cycle track. We’ll be asking cyclists to stop and get their picture taken with us and we’ll post everything here on Monday.

Come on out and celebrate DC’s commitment to bicycle-specific infrastructure.

And maybe next week we can ask some pointed questions about what happened to those painted intersections we were promised…

You can read more about Councilmember Evans’ remarks at Greater Greater Washington and The Washcycle.

3 Year Bike Commuting Streak

Washington Area Bike Forum member Brett Hack of Herndon, VA has been making the 36-mile commute to his office in McLean everyday for the last three years.  WTOP’s Kate Ryan highlighted Hack’s achievement over the weekend in her article “The power of the office pool: Cyclist on three year commuting streak“.   Included in Hack’s lists of benefits for commuting to work by bike is the time to relax and leave work at work:

“I’ve got my ride to look forward to. Even when it’s 11 degrees outside or windy or snowy – I know I’ve got that time to myself,” he says. Hack adds that he’s getting a workout that leaves him refreshed.

“I don’t care about work – it’s gone, out of my mind. I come home and I’m home.”

As a frequent user of the wonderful bike trail network in Virginia including the W&OD Trail, Hack had one request of all pedestrians (and might we add cyclists too):

Wear reflective gear.

Keep the good work Brett!