Arlington, Virginia, and surrounding towns host an abundant network of bike paths. We use them frequently. Not for riding bikes, but for walking. On a warm spring evening, the bike paths are crowded with walkers, joggers, skateboarders, strollers, and, of course, bicycles.
The bike paths serve as the connective tissue for dozens of local parks and neighborhoods. We can walk to the local park near our house, and pick up one of three bike paths. No matter which way we walk, we’ll end up at another park. We often walk in long, lazy circles, but sometimes we have a destination in mind. We’ll drive to the rose garden and then follow a bike path through one park, underneath a highway, to another park. Then we’ll take some side streets to a local restaurant area. We’ll fill up on dinner, and maybe some ice cream. Then we’ll reverse our path.
The variety of bikes I see on the bike path is impressive. It sometimes seem as though each bike is unique, tailored to the rider. Some of the parks have stations were bikeless wanderers can rent bikes by the hour. I often see these bikes coasting along the bike paths. They stand out because they are the only ones that look alike. I see mountain bikes, touring bikes, racing bikes. And recumbent bikes.
I’ve got to be honest, the recumbent bikes look absolute ridiculous as they glide along the bike paths, their riders reclined as if sitting at home in a lounge chair. I’m sure they are great for people whose joints can’t take the pounding of a standard bike. To me they just look silly. I think part of the reason is that they stand out so much among all of the other bikes. It’s like seeing someone riding a unicycle down the bike path. It steals your attention and you feel suckered into looking.
I’ve only occasionally ridden the local bike paths. I get the feeling that to ride on these paths you have to be a professional bike rider. Amateurs are not tolerated. Walking along the bike paths, riders zoom by at mach one, the ring of their warning bell reaching pedestrians only after they’ve been passed. When the weather is particularly good, and walkers and runners are out in force, you can see the scowl on the faces of the bike-riders whose pathways we are blocking with are slow perambulations.
I’ve ridden my bike to work twice. It is a very gradual downhill bike ride of about six miles. Easy to do in the morning, even with the slight headwind. The problem is the return ride. For one thing, I’m already tired from work. Then, instead of a slight downhill ride, it is an uphill ride. It seems more uphill going home than downhill heading into work, which isn’t fair. Finally, the headwind in the morning does not turn into a tailwind in the evening. Somehow, I bike into the wind no matter which way I go. That’s why I don’t bike to work.
Still, we are lucky to have our bike paths. I can’t remember another place I’ve lived that has such a useful, well-maintained networks of bike paths connecting parks and neighborhoods. I imagine someplace like Portland, Oregon has a good set of bike paths. But I’ve only ever passed through Portland on the train from Los Angeles to Seattle: two cities were I suspect the bike paths are not nearly as good as what we have here in Virginia.