On Sunday, I was almost scientific. I test-drove a new bike and hoped to evaluate its comfort and handling. But in addition to hopping on a new set of wheels, I also rode a new route, rode farther than usual, and tried to ride faster than usual. Instead of changing just one variable - the bike - I changed a bunch of variables. A classic mistake and a big no-no in science. If Gregor Mendel had been half as careless with his pea plants, we might believe that eye color is transferred from mother to child by fairies.
For my weekend ride, I rented the orange bike from Bikes@Vienna. It's called a crank forward, which is something of a mutt - not quite a traditional bike but not completely recumbent. I photographed my rented wheels near my own bike so you can see how it is proportioned differently. Its saddle is wider and sits a little lower. It is positioned farther from the handlebars and behind the pedals so that the pedal crank is forward of the seat. This is the bike I rode for 18 miles (from Fairfax through Falls Church and into Arlington and then back again) on the easternmost 9 miles of the the Washington & Old Dominion trail (W&OD).
Even on the short stretch I covered, the ride offered variety. I saw Hispanic men playing soccer on a velvety green field, a couple kissing on an untended patch of grass, a stony brook, and a red caboose. I crossed over Interstate 66 and the Capitol Beltway where I learned not to look down. I cycled under power lines that looked like enormous naked scarecrows. At a distance was WETA's headquarters.
A metrorail train entered and exited my peripheral vision as if my sideways glance were a tunnel. High-rise apartment buildings, green and purple wild grapes, pricey homes, daisies, bridges, children on bikes and in strollers, and playground equipment formed a patchwork of the urban and suburban.
Here is what I could have bought on my ride: halal meat, used wheels (llantas usados) a half-smoke sausage sandwich, a Big Gulp, unleaded gas, prepared Asian food, or anything for a dollar. In theory, I could have cashed a check, but I'm unemployed and have no government benefits.
I liked seeing other people on their bikes. I admired the shrubbery in strangers' backyards. Even the cars whizzing below me on the Beltway seemed new. Still, I felt sort of like a Shriner in a mini-car on my low-riding crank forward bike and a little frumpy in my capri pants, especially when the sleek, narrow-hipped, thin-faced, aerodynamic, Spandex® crowd sped past me as if each one had a jet-pack strapped to his back.
Finding a comfortable gear required some effort, but the shifting was smooth and fortunately the trail was mostly flat. If I were pedaling hard, I sat forward on the saddle. When coasting, I wriggled back.
I stopped at every stop sign. I waited for the little white man to illuminate before crossing Lee Highway and Columbia Pike. I said "on your left" as I passed pedestrians, the only people I was fast enough to pass. I wore my awkward helmet and slowed down to read signs. All in all, I was, without a doubt, the biggest dweeb on the trail.
In Arlington, I passed through Bluemont Junction, and that's where I stopped at this red caboose.
It's also where I met the caboose docent, the gentleman pictured below. When I first saw him, I was convinced that his name must be Ernie. Turns out his name is Bernie, which left me feeling smug (for getting the rhyme correct) yet disappointed (for being basically wrong).
Bluemont Junction is part of the park of the same name, a 14-acre parcel land maintained by Arlington County Parks and Recreation. I declined an invitation to tour the caboose. I don't like small, potentially smelly spaces and I was too lazy to lock up my rented wheels.
At about mile 15 of my 18-mile trek, my legs became heavy and I was ready to stop riding. Of course, because I let my scientific variables run amok, I don't know if the source of my discomfort was the bike, the increased distance, the faster speed (I averaged almost 12 mph for the first 9 miles), or my empty stomach.
I returned the bike later that afternoon to the bike people at Bikes@Vienna. The owner, John, asked me in a quiet voice if I had enjoyed my day. "What was your favorite part?" he wanted to know. I can't remember how I answered, but I do know that seeing my van at mile 18 was definitely among the highlights.
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