Possibly moving to DC--can I maintain my lifestyle?- Mtbr.com
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  1. #1
    rohloff rich
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    Jan 2004

    Possibly moving to DC--can I maintain my lifestyle?

    So it looks like my wife has a good career opportunity in DC so we may move there in the next few months. Currently, we live in Santa Fe where we walk or ride our bikes to the store, restaurants, work, etc. and can ride to hundreds of miles of trails from our door. There is also good road riding in every direction with a variety of short, medium or long climbs. I've done a little poking around this forum and the MORE site and accept that the MTB riding in the DC area will not be quite the same as we're used to--it looks like driving to the trailhead is usually a necessity. The question I have is more generally about lifestyle. Where are the places in and around DC where we can continue some semblance of our current lifestyle? I haven't been to DC in a long time, but my impression is that you either live in DC and it's really urban or you live in the suburbs and need a car for everything. Is there an in-between? TIA!

  2. #2
    mtbr member
    Reputation: dascro's Avatar
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    Apr 2007
    I lived in the DC suburbs for a while and not to rain on your parade but no, you won't be able to maintain the lifestyle you had in Santa Fe. Have you lived in the eastern US before? If not you are in for a bit of a shock. Its very different than the west is many ways. I hear a lot of people in the west complaining about urban,suburban sprawl, but you have no idea what that is until you've lived in the east. DC's metro population has an effect for almost 2 hours of highway driving at least. Drive towards the coast and you can actually be in a heavily developed area from VA to Boston MA. The population density in the east is like nothing I've ever seen elsewhere in the country.

    I lived in the suburbs a hour outside of the city. Many may disagree with me but I thought it was the worst possible situation. Mainly because everything you do requires driving. Anything from a walk in a park, getting a gallon of milk, or even a bike ride. In DC proper, there is good public transportation, reasonable bike lanes and at least a high enough density that you can walk or even ride to stores, bars etc. To be honest, I don't know much about the biking aspect of the city. I've read(and seen) that many do it and enjoy it. But to me its pretty intimidating. I suggest bikeforums.net for good discussion on dc commuting by bike. Either way, I suggest living in the city or other nearby developed cities where you can access the metro, Stay away from suburbia IMO. I know that the traffic was unbearable often from DC to Frederick or Hagerstown MD, approximatly 70 miles away.

    As for trail riding, again I didn't live in the city, but I was usually driving at least 1.5 hours to get some very average riding. Its not what you guys have out west though. I often heard cars and just didn't really feel like I was ever out in the "wilderness". For that experience, expect to put some serious time in a car (2-3 hours for reasonable wilderness, 5 or so for something truly comparable to what you guys have in the west)

    As I'm sure you can gather, I was not a fan of DC or that general area. However, some guys truly love it. Admittedly there is always something going on and some people enjoy being in a city with so much national history in. You may eventuly learn to like it.

  3. #3
    rohloff rich
    Reputation: rs3o's Avatar
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    Jan 2004
    Yeah, I've lived in the east before--outside of Boston and I went to school in Pittsburgh (Go Stillers!). Pgh is definitely the most urban place I've ever lived, and that existence was pretty similar to what we would be seeking in DC. I lived in a really vibrant neighborhood (Squirrel Hill) with a commercial district just a medium walk or short ride away, and it felt like a small town. The bars were great and there was pretty decent public transportation, too--that's one thing that should be better in DC. Pgh also had good mountain biking.

    I definitely don't think the suburbs are for us--we hate driving and I've vowed never to mow a lawn again. We don't have kids so don't care about quality of schools, etc. Thanks for your response, dascro!

  4. #4
    mtbr member
    Reputation: wunderhorn's Avatar
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    May 2005
    Hi, rs30. I've lived in DC (in the district) for a while. Here's my 2 cents: You've been on MORE's site and it sounds like you've figured out the deal w/ driving to mtb here. That's the truth. MORE is great by the way. Re lifestyle, there is "an in between" as you put it but it is different.

    -There are plenty of opportunities to ride to the grocery store, to get coffee, or to commute. There is a fairly active bike commuter scene around DC. Check out http://bikewashington.org/ for some ideas and a sense of where you might want to live to be near the routes. For commuting (not training), the MUTs are great.

    -Your biggest "lifestyle" shock is that typical folks here just don't interact with the outdoors the way they do in places like Santa Fe. You'll be swimming against the tide here. Getting outside is harder, it's less automatic, it requires more planning and more creativity. The first question anyone will ask you is what you do for a living.

    -Re road riding for pleasure or training. There are rides from/in the city and the close-in burbs like Clarendon. Assume that unless you drive to the ride, part or all of your ride will be in traffic with car opposition. Assume also that the inner bike paths, if you can tolerate such paths while in roadie mentality, will be packed/unrideable on weekends (though the W&OD can be tolerable further out). We actually do have great mountain road riding -- 2-3 hours by car.

    In short, a bike lifestyle of some sort? Definitely doable. There are people here doing very cool things on bikes, sometimes riding out their front doors in the district. That really great laid-back but simultanously super-active western lifestyle? That is going to be a huge challenge for various reasons. I almost say the closest to living someplace fantastic like Crested Butte or other mtb towns out here is to accept the east coast cities for what they are and instead of fighting it, accept it. If you live someplace like Adams Morgan, you can walk or ride everywhere that way and your adventure level can be high, just different subject matter. . .

    Now I see you asked a specific question Places to live. City feel w/ young people: Adams Morgan and the U Street corridor. Not full burbs, plenty of restaurants and neighborhoods: Clarendon and other parts of Arlington in Va, parts of NW DC like Woodley Park, Cleveland Park, etc. Outside pick: I've always thought the Palisades would be a great, less urban feeling place to live as a cyclist. Fairfax county is very 'burby.

  5. #5
    song of the saw-whet owl
    Reputation: oldnoob's Avatar
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    Apr 2008
    if you are gonna be working IN DC, then Adams Morgan like mentioned is a nice place. Alot of people who live in the city, bike everywhere. Just not many trails to bike to, and you are a little farther form the mtn's obviously than west of the city. However, there are sweet places to spend you weekends/vacations within 2-4 hours from DC, like Harrisonburg, VA, Davis, Canaan, & Slatyfork, WV. that all fit the bill of the lifestyle you are used to I am sure. Small mountain towns in the center of the mountain bike trail universe! You will see many a post for various weekend ride gatherings in those spots this summer again... trust me!
    just another piece of chaga

  6. #6
    Reputation: MisterC's Avatar
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    May 2007
    I live in Ellicott City, which is in Maryland and about 25 miles form the city. I don't know what your financial situation is like but, if you have the money, there are some homes nearby here that back up to Patapsco State Park which is some of the best riding in the area.

    I choose to drive to the trails but I could ride if I really wanted to although it is quite a stretch.

    As for Columbia (a nearby township) and some of Ellicott City (Dorsey Search really) we have what are called "village centers" that contain pretty much all of the necessities like dry cleaners, a grocery store, a few restaraunts, Blockbuster etc. and they are accessible by bike for just about any neighborhood that is serviced by them although some are more difficult. Dorsey Search if one of the more bike friendly given the geography.

    One thing about this area is that it is nestled in betweem routes 29 and 32 which take you just about anywhere.

    My parents moved us here way back in '91 after reading about the area and I don't want to leave. Nice place to raise a family with good school systems and an organization called CA which maintains many pools and recreational facilities all over the area as well as a decent system of bike paths that move through Columbia (not Ellicott City so much but there is some)

    It is a bit expensive around here but its pretty expensive all over this area.

    Anyways, if you have any questions feel free to ask. What we lack in trail accessibility we make up with a strong community of riders that organize rides almost every day of the week.

    Hope to see you soon.

  7. #7
    another bozo on the bus
    Reputation: washedup's Avatar
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    Jan 2006
    I am a native and moved back here exactly a year ago from northern california. Talk about having to have a car. I now live in Silver Spring, Maryland and commute by bicycle almost everyday. Round trip thats 22 miles with less than 3 on roads. To be honest, I only drive on days off to go ride. I take the Capital Crescent trail which travels from Silver Spring, through Kensington and Bethesda into DC. Granted, I do live in suburban hell, but rent is cheap (relatively speaking) for a nice house. Back in the early '90s, I was working as a messenger and had a spot over in Rosslyn, Va which I thought was ideal. Its not quite in DC but has plenty of places to eat, buy groceries or get your drink on. 10 minute commute just across the bridge. Easy interstate access. After work, I sometimes take a detour and head out toward Great Falls to get my hiking fix.

    Sure, our trails dont have quite the epic views of the west, but there are trails here that will put your technical skills to the test (GW forest, Michaux, Frederick, Md) and you can get in a 50 mile ride here too if thats your thing.

    Not sure what kind of road scene you are looking to get in, but you can hook up with the "monster mash" (does anyone still call it that?) ride on the weekends which starts in DC and heads out through Maryland for a 50 mile loop. We used to detour and go out to Sugarloaf Mtn for 100 miles and they also go out tuesday and thursday evenings, if im not mistaken, for a shorter loop through the park.

    And yes, I miss the trails I rode out west and the great people I met there that showed me around, but i dont regret the move for one minute. I thought I would ride with familiar faces here, but I met a whole new crew of great people who have once again been showing me new spots to ride. I lived in NYC before norcal and find DC is somewhere in between the 2. Its a half assed city with access to a decent outdoors scene as well. If you have a reason to be here, I say come and give it a chance. If is sucks you can always pack up a leave again just like half the city does every 4 years. Good luck in your decision making.
    Last edited by washedup; 02-13-2009 at 10:00 PM.

  8. #8
    Happy Trails
    Reputation: Scott In MD's Avatar
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    Sep 2008
    The city of Arlington, VA (immediately across the river from DC) is one of the most bikeable cities in the USA. There are great multi-use trails everywhere. If biking is a part of your life then Arlington is a great choice. But this is roadie-biking. You gotta get out of town a little to get to mountain biking, Here are some great ride videos:


    *Especially check out the Frederick Watershed, about fifty minutes out of DC

    I used to live in Phoenix (Driver-7iron form South Mountain Park), and yeah, you can scratch your bike itch out here.

    Happy trails.

  9. #9
    mtbr member
    Reputation: repoman's Avatar
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    Jun 2006
    I was going to suggest Arlington myself. Lots of bike lanes and paths. It is an older style "pre-sprawl" suburb - so the neighborhoods are clustered around small commercial spaces with restaurants, groceries, drug stores, etc.., that can easily be walked or ridden to. Easy access to DC and metro. Bicycle just about anywhere, bike commute too. Most all the dirt trails require getting in the car to drive though. Lots of respectable local riding for the weekdays, within 1-3 hours of lots of great classic East Coast single track.

  10. #10
    rohloff rich
    Reputation: rs3o's Avatar
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    Jan 2004
    Wow, what an impressive response! Lots of good information here. In poking around on different organizations' websites, I'm amazed by how everyone seems to really have their sh!t together--from MORE to touring clubs to racing teams. It's actually gotten me a little excited. Looks like we're going to try and come out there some time in the next month or so to have a look around and will definitely check out all the recommended places.

  11. #11
    I am the owl
    Reputation: riderx's Avatar
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    Jan 2004
    Lots of info in some earlier threads from people who were asking similar questions. Check here,
    here and here for info on trails and opinions on places to live.
    SingleSpeedOutlaw .com
    Riding Bikes and Drinking Beer.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
    I also live in Arlington, just north of Ballston Commons, about 3 miles from DC proper. I just started to commute into the city daily for work, and can take the metro in for a long ride or drive if I get wimpy (6 miles, 30min easy by bike or longer by metro). I'm still getting used to the trail network here in Arl, and I've found myself on my ol' vintage roadie more than the mtb lately (sucks). I regularly drive 30-45 mins for simple xc style rides, night rides, etc. on local trails, or further for more epic singletrack. I plan on building up a single speed or commuter for more city fun in the season coming.

    Also note that DC has a miserable bike theft problem comparable to that of NYC. Be sure to always lock everything, wheels, seats, etc, or they may (will) eventually disappear. And, drivers in both DC and surrounding areas are just plain ignorant when it comes to bikers/cyclists, few pay attention, much less know the actual etiquette/laws regarding cyclists. Watch out!

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