BY MARSALIE MACKENZIE
In a city known for its traffic jams and erratic drivers, it’s hardly surprising that the number of commuter cyclists in D.C. is on the rise. Considering that cycling is also a great way to add some cardio to your busy workday, you can begin to see why people are ditching their metro passes for this wallet (and waistline) friendly alternative.
For spin instructor and road cyclist, Dru Ryan, the transition to life on two wheels took place in 2007, during the height of Lance Armstrong’s popularity. A hobbyist cyclist for most of his life, a fateful argument with his ex over the need for a second car was just the push Ryan needed to shake off the cob-webs and get rolling.
Since then, Ryan has been motivating spin classes in the DMV with his unique brand of hard-hitting hip hop, all while managing to log an average of 200 miles a week on his road bike.
We were lucky enough to catch him between classes to talk first bikes, cycling hacks and the importance of cross-training.
OTG: The idea of taking up cycling can be pretty intimidating when you have to share the road with D.C. commuter traffic. How would you recommend that people get started?
DR: Well, a few years back Google started doing bike directions, which will always put you on trails and paths. In this area we have a lot of trails, including one that goes out to Dulles airport and another that goes to Mount Vernon. We’re ranked one of the top cities in the nation for trails. Then there’s WABA (Washington Area Bicyclist Association) which has a great women in cycling initiative. They hold meetings and women-only rides, so that’s also a good way to get into cycling. Realistically though, you just need to find a way to get out of the city.
OTG: For the new riders out there, how do you get out of the city without hitting the highway?
DR: On the weekends, MARC has a dedicated bike car. Stick your bike on there, ride around Baltimore and come back. AMTRAK also has roll on service. I actually just took my bike to Jacksonville, rode to Miami, took the AMTRAK back to Jacksonville and flew home.
OTG: How do you recommend that new cyclists invest their time and money? Do they buy a better bike? Invest in a helmet? Buy those silly looking padded shorts?
DR: You shouldn’t spend more than $400 on a first bike, and definitely check Craigslist and eBay first. I think the statistic is something like most new bikes are ridden less than 1000 miles. Buy something cheap, find out if you like it and build up.
OTG: Okay, so what kind of bike do I buy: road, hybrid or commuter?
DR: Whatever you like! A road bike comes into play if you’re hard-core and want to do more than 30 miles in a single ride. You can always buy a hybrid and add skinny tires. It’s all about rolling resistance: Thick, knobby tires on concrete make for more resistance, but if you smooth those out, your life gets a lot easier!
OTG: So do you have any other cycling hacks? Maybe something you’ve done or bought that’s low investment, but has changed your riding experience?
DR: Hmm….a couple of things. An app called STRAVA, which acts as a social community for cyclists. When you’re out riding, it will tell you if your friends are riding. It will record your route, and if you have 10 friends who do the same route, it will compare your speeds. Cyclists dig being able to say, “Hey- I saw you did this ride and I was 2 minutes faster than you.” It also introduces you to different rides and gives you a better idea of what “fast” is. [pause]
You know, if I were being really honest at the beginning, I’d say when I clipped in. I think that’s a rite of passage. You can ride your bike like a kid, or you can start clipping in like you do in the studio. You’ll feel a different type of control with the bike that you never had before.
OTG: I clip in at spin class, but I’m afraid that I’ll fall on my face if I transition to road biking…..
DR: You fall away from traffic. Everybody falls! I have a friend who just started clipping in 2 weeks ago and she fell. You learn because your body needs to get used to a new habit. Your body’s flexible, and you’ll figure out quickly that you need to clip out fast.
OTG: Since you mentioned the studio, do you think spin classes help you become a better cyclist?
DR: Spinning helps your cardio. It helps you understand how to turn pedals – but the spin room doesn’t punish you for being bad. When you’re outside on a hill and you run out of breath half way up – then you get punished.
OTG: What do you do for cross training?
DR: I’m a big fan of the stability ball, core work and TRX/Kettlebells. Those three are big for me. The Stairmaster also gets into your hammies, which helps with the back part of your pedal stroke. And for one month of the year I play basketball. The chance of injury is too high to play year round, but cycling is all about slow twitch muscles. Basketball gets those fast twitch muscles, so it forces me to do something that my body hates.
OTG: Are there any local cycling events we should watch for?
DR: The Air Force Classic is the only sanctioned bike race in the city and it starts by the Air Force memorial in Arlington. What’s cool is that, before the big race, there’s an open race for amateurs. There’s also a daily lunch time ride around Hains Point. It’s a 3.3 mile loop that a lot of people use for training. The point is to go as hard as you can, for as long as you can. Everyone waits for the group to finish, and then they do it again. There’s a fundraiser for women’s cycling at the end of the year called the Hains point 100. Some people ride 100 miles, some just 10-15 miles. The proceeds go to the Women & Bicycles Program.
OTG: So now that we know how to get started, where can we go to take your classes?!
DR: I teach at Equinox Georgetown on Mondays at 630 p.m. and Wednesdays at 6 a.m. I teach twice on Tuesdays at Equinox Bethesda (6 a.m. and 615 p.m.) and Thursday at 6 a.m. I also teach at Mint DC at 11 a.m. on Sundays.
All imagery courtesy of Dru Ryan