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Ever look at rideshare app prices or Metro wait times and shudder?
As recent college graduates commuting downtown for work, we began to rely on Capital Bikeshare to get to the office, or a soccer game, or for a morning ride to the Monuments, but we were casual bikers: We weren’t biking to West Virginia and back.
The daily commute can get monotonous, however, and last August, when we realized that the CaBi app tracks all docks you have visited (and points out how many you’re missing!), we were hooked. We had each visited between 50 and 100 docks at that point, but were surprised to see that our visits only amounted to less than 10 percent of all the docks in the network. The Capital Bikeshare network stretched as far west as Reston and as far east as Largo, and we had barely made a dent. As two mildly competitive friends, we reached a natural conclusion: We had to visit every bike dock in the system.
On April 2, we visited the 723rd and last dock at 3rd and H streets NW. A group of our friends met at the dock and cheered us on as our counter reached 100 percent. We celebrated with a rendition of “Life is a
Highway Bike Lane” at karaoke afterward. Now that we’ve stopped obsessively checking how many stops are left, we’d like to share three reflections on our Capital Bikeshare journey.
- Setting a goal unlocked a deeper motivation
When a friend would ask “Why in the world would you spend your weekends doing this?”—which was often, since they believed it was a dumb hobby—our answer evolved from “Wouldn’t it be crazy to say you’ve visited every bike dock?” to “We’re halfway through—can’t stop now!” to “We can’t imagine what life would look like without this.” While our goal remained the same, our motivation deepened as we visited more docks.
We started by carving out time on the weekends to visit neighborhoods with plenty of bike docks within a few blocks, like Shady Grove, Reston, or Clarendon. We’d pick a bike at a dock, usually the one closest to public transportation, ride to the next one, and park it, only to quickly check it out and continue to another stop, keeping the same bike throughout unless we found a newer or better one. We’d do this for hours, riding our chosen bikes and parking them at upward of 30 to 40 stations in a single trip, hopefully ending somewhere that would let us get home without an expensive rideshare.
Our approach varied: Bobo would use Google Maps to meticulously chart the path from each stop to the next, while Sidd preferred being more flexible and deciding the next stop on the spot. As our count went from the 200s to the 3 and 400s, we became more efficient with each ride, learning how to group stops together and end up somewhere near a Metro or bus station to find our way back home.
We thought the biggest hurdle would be time, but biking tested our endurance to an extent we didn’t foresee. A trip hitting 20 to 30 docks in the heart of the District—going from, say, Shaw to Brookland—would take about two hours of biking. Hitting the same number of docks in more spread out neighborhoods, such as Fairland and White Oak in Silver Spring, could take up to 30 miles and become a five-hour journey in total.
We biked through thunderstorms and snow, and at times when visibility was only a few feet ahead (that’s when we were especially glad we were wearing helmets). There were trips where we had to sing at the top of our lungs to distract ourselves from the uphill climb. We learned to pack lightly but with different layers for when the sun would give way to rain or hail. But with these experiences, we also learned the limits of our body: when to push, when to slow down, and how we could be in the best shape for the next ride.
We completed around 300 stops together, and the rest alone. But in isolation, this goal might have never been achieved. By taking it on as a pair, we didn’t only keep each other company while biking on lonely roads, but also had someone to share tips and experiences with. Plus, a healthy dose of competitiveness made sure that neither of us was too far ahead of the other. When we were both close to the end line, we decided we would finish it off together.
- Every stop is a chance to witness something meaningful
As the radius of our visits grew, we experienced firsthand the diversity of the D.C. region and its residents. We found ourselves biking past opulent mansions and houses with broken windows, lively strip malls and run-down complexes, golf courses and nondescript but highly fenced government buildings. We biked on bike lanes, sidewalks, dirt paths, crosswalks, potholed roads, on the D.C. Maryland border, and, briefly, between a school bus and a Chevy Malibu on an interstate highway. We found the edges of D.C.’s letters and numbers, from A Street to W and from First Street to 63rd.
In our daily lives, we spend most of our time on cell phones or laptops, communicating with others via a screen. When we’d go outside, it was often to the same places—our favorite cafe, or a brunch place on Sundays—and we wouldn’t really take the time to look. But when we were biking through streets we’d never been on, we had no other choice.
In the suburbs, we got a glimpse into family life and community traditions. We biked past kids’ soccer games and cheered them on, stopped at farmers markets where we got fresh bagels, waved to churchgoers on a Sunday and tourists at the Mall, and admired a kick-ass block party. We saw a grandfather and grandson cleaning a car together, kids playing hopscotch, and elderly couples enjoying the afternoon heat. These moments always put a smile on our faces, even when we got yelled at when barely escaping some sidewalk collisions.
Biking across the DMV also helped us uncover lesser-known gems. We found pristine nature trails (like the Bethesda Trolley Trail) that transported you out of the city, incredible street art in Capitol Hill which highlighted the neighborhood’s history and values, and a street corner in Anacostia decorated with bottles to honor a life lost.
Some of these gems took longer to reach than others, while others felt much harder based on the conditions. The bike dock at the intersection of Castle Boulevard & Castle Lane in Fairland, Maryland, took two hours to reach via public transit. Meanwhile, the dock at the intersection of South Reynolds Street & Edsall Road in Alexandria is quite close to the Van Dorn Metro station, but the steep uphill combined with a torrential downpour meant we had to give all our energy to get to the top.
It seemed random to us at first, but every dock is placed deliberately; it’s there because someone needs and uses it. We were lucky to witness so many someones, and to be present—even for the seconds it takes to dock and undock a bike—in communities at cross streets across the region.
- The D.C. area’s infrastructure and people make it uniquely well-suited for an adventure
By biking throughout D.C., we’ve become very appreciative of the more than 100 miles of bike lanes, and more than 30 miles of protected ones, that D.C. has. There were times when Google Maps would route us toward highways, but we could almost always find a bike path when needed. When we couldn’t bike from one dock to another, a Metro line or bus route would get us where we were going.
While the DMV’s interconnectedness helped us achieve this goal, its residents also went out of their way to help. Once, when visiting a dock that had no space, a stranger walking by used their app to take out a bike and make a space for us. When biking up a hill in Arlington, a family stopped to cheer until we made it to the top. When it was thunderstorming and we couldn’t feel our feet anymore, the owner of a 7-11 let us take shelter so we could squeeze the water out of our socks.
New Bikeshare stops are added to the system regularly, so our 100 percent completion rate probably won’t last too long. But the lessons from this journey—the chance to appreciate the small moments on 723 different blocks, and the discovery of the internal drive to keep going—will stick with us.
Siddharth Muchhal and Bobo Stankovikj are professionals living in Washington, D.C., and are not affiliated with Capital Bikeshare or the D.C. government.