View from the C&O Canal tow path
View from the C&O Canal tow path Credit: Darrow Montgomery

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It doesn’t matter if you only have a free afternoon or a few days off, you and your bike deserve some quality time together in the summer sun. These bike gallivants will help you escape the repetitive drudgery of your daily commute and leave you with stories and experiences that your car-tripping friends will never be able to match.

Read more from our summer guide here.

A Quadrant Where You Don’t Live or Work (Day Trip)

D.C. isn’t big. But there are parts of it that you don’t visit a lot because we all live busy lives and find ourselves in well-worn ruts. Even though our bicycles give us the liberty to freely explore, unless you are deliberately intrepid there are parts of the District that you don’t know exceptionally well or haven’t visited for awhile. There’s no better way to spend a full summer Saturday than biking around your hometown, but with fresh eyes and aimless curiosity. Use it as pretense to try the new restaurant you’ve heard about but never visited. See if the ice cream at the new ice cream shop is any good. There’s coffee and sandwiches you’ve never had. If there’s a museum (the Hillwood Estate?) or a garden (the Franciscan Monastery?) or an abandoned mental hospital (St. Elizabeths?) you’ve never quite found the time to visit, make it part of your day of local adventure. There are some real gems here. You haven’t been everywhere, and even if you have, you haven’t been everywhere recently. Places change. Lap it up.

Shepherdstown, W.V. via The C&O Canal (Overnight Trip)

The C&O Canal towpath is more than just a route for Georgetown joggers. Maybe you’ve been out to Great Falls or maybe even farther, but this path is a true treasure and worth spending some time riding. The trees! The water! The trees! (Spoiler: There are a lot of trees.) The dull rumble of the crush of dust and dirt under your tires for solitary mile after mile provides a therapeutic backdrop for your musings about potential bear attacks. (You are unlikely to be attacked by a bear.) There are campsites along the way (you’ll need a tent, sleeping bag, and literally everything else for camping) and the towpath is dotted with water pumps and porta potties if needed. Stop in Brunswick or Harpers Ferry for a quick look about. Shepherdstown has a cute but not cloying small-town vibe, and at 75 miles from D.C., you could make it in one longish day of riding. There’s also something very satisfying about riding into a non-contiguous state, even if it’s right over the Potomac from the trail. Best part of this ride? No route planning! Just get on the towpath and stop when you get there. Even the most hapless cyclist can’t get lost. 

Bike by Bus to New York (Multi-Day Trip)

Nature isn’t my thing. It has bugs. It has plants that give rashes. And it doesn’t have people, or at least not enough of them, and that’s why my idea of a great bike tour involves taking the bus to New York and riding around the city for a few days.  

Before you go, research the bus company’s bike policies, which vary widely across carriers. Some allow you to stow bikes aboard underneath for free (like BoltBus and Peter Pan), while others charge and require boxing (including Greyhound). Also, be mindful of your lodging situation and ask ahead of time about bike parking. Avoid six-story walk-ups (but that’s a good rule in life, too).

There’s just something so thrilling about stepping off the bus onto a Midtown curb, grabbing your bike, trying to find your bearings, and then setting off in search of your destination. There’s a frisson about urban cycling that’s even more heightened when you’re experiencing it somewhere different. Do some map work and routing in advance. You can stick to touristy things (such as hating yourself for trying to ride through the crowds over the Brooklyn Bridge) or you can enjoy authentic New York food culture (rainbow bagels), but having your bike expands your opportunity for exploration. And bikes are free on almost all ferries, so you have the boroughs and New Jersey at your pedals, too. Most importantly, remember to compare every place, person, and experience to D.C. Perspective is valuable and giving yourself some days to take in another place’s “bike culture” (whatever that is) and most interesting bike destinations is both energizing and refreshing.