Electric bicycles are an enjoyable part of alternative transportation. They can replace a trip you might otherwise take in a car, saving money and contributing to a better environment.
This week's podcast was an enjoyable conversation with Renée Moore. You will learn how Renée was introduced to bicycling and bicycle commuting, and hear something about the programs she manages which are meant to encourage bicycling. You can play the podcast and follow along with the transcript below.
Armando Roggio: Electric bikes are contagious. Once you have tried one, and conquered the worst hills in your neighborhood, it is natural to want to tell your friends about it.
You want them to experience the fun of riding an electric bike, or really any bike. Well, This is The Electric Bike Podcast from EVELO and my name is Armando Roggio.
In this episode, we are going to be speaking with Renée more who is the program director for Bike Arlington in Virginia.
Renée thank you very much for being on the podcast with us.
Renée: Thanks for having me I'm excited to be here.
Renée Learned to Ride as an Adult
Armando Roggio: Renée how did you get started with bicycling and bicycle commuting?
Renée: I got started biking when I was 25. I didn't know how to ride a bike, I learned as an adult.
What happened was I would always see people biking and I thought that looks like fun, and because I never learned as a child I had never done it. And one Sunday at church there was a guy who asked me out on a date, and he said "what would you like to do?," and I said, " I want to learn how to ride a bike."
I don't even know if he knew how to ride a bike, I just sort of assumed that every adult knew how to ride a bike, except me.
So we went down to this place in D.C. ― I'm from originally D.C. We went down to Georgetown. We rented a bike, and he kind of like ran behind me as I got my balance, and in about an hour I was biking, and it kind of took off from there.
Riding for Fun
Renée: After I learned how to ride a bike I... There's a lot of stuff that happened to me. I ended up moving to Texas, and I did a half marathon there which I hated.
And then I decided I didn't want to do that again, and I met somebody... and she talked me into doing a triathlon because she said: "you get to do something different every 40 minutes, and you like to bike."
And I said, "but I don't like running, and I don't know how to swim." And she said "Oh, don't worry about that we teach you how to swim and all that" and they did. They taught me how to swim, and so I was pretty much like a new bicyclist slash triathlete for a long time.
And when I moved back home to D.C., I only road on a trail that had a couple of bike loops, but I had started because I wanted to ride with friends and people... With new people, everybody I had rode with had pretty much moved, and moved over twice after I came back from Texas.
Riding on Streets
Renée: I started this bike group and we were riding on trails. I had never ever considered using my bike as transportation ever that never dawned on me. And I took this class, a workshop called Black in the Night D.C.
And I went to that class because one of the people in my group had suggested it. It was about riding in the street, and riding at night, and riding in winter. Three things that I thought were absolutely insane to do. But I went and I sat in the back with anybody who made me look thirty. I sat in the back with my arms folded crossed across my chest I was a curmudgeon. I was like this is so dumb why would you ride in the street, and why would you ride at night, and why would you ride in the winter?
So they eventually got me on a bike at the end of the class, we rode and I thought. Wow, this isn't that bad at all I can ride in regular clothes. I don't have to buy any more spandex. This is kinda nice. And that's kinda what sold me was not having to buy any more spandex, and it took off from there.
That point what really did it actually I didn't immediately jump into biking in the street but what happened was my mom had a stroke a couple of months later. She was at this hospital, George Washington hospital, and it was $22 to park, and I was going up there every day. And I thought there's no way I'm going to spend $22 a day to park. I said "maybe I'll try to bike into instead, and I started biking up there every day to visit my mom, and it was therapeutic.
It really helped my kind of process what the next steps were gonna be when she got out of the hospital.
Connecting to the Community
Renée: I also discovered a lot of things about the city I grew up in that I never saw because I was always in a car driving past it. So it really opened my eyes to all the things that were in the city that I was passing up, and that I could go visit now because I could easily just pull up and you know park my bike, and go in, and go see it.
And from there I started working at the Washington Area Bicyclist Association as their women and bicycles coordinator. I had a few roles there. Now I'm at Bike Arlington in Arlington Virginia, and I'm the program manager.
Armando Roggio: So you went from learning to ride a bike as an adult to being a triathlete to essentially working for a bike advocacy group. That is an impressive journey. Would you tell us a little bit more about how you got into the advocacy side of bicycling? Or maybe I should say how you got started promoting bicycling.
Renée: So what started at Washington Area Bicyclist Association or WABA, I don't think I really considered myself to be an advocate, I was just trying to get people on bikes. And I guess that's the whole point. I never said advocacy.
For my role, I went in as the women and bicycles coordinator, and the goal was to get more women on bikes. So my thing was to create short, fun rides to things, and it really wasn't about the bike or the ride it was really about the event, and you were going to get there by bike.
So I took a lot of time planning out the route and making sure that when we went on a route that sometimes we rode on a busy street, so people could see this is what it's like to be in traffic and be not in a car and just be on your bike. Or this is what it's like to be in a protected bike lane. What it's like to be on a trail.
Renée: I wanted to make it accessible so I always started the rides near bike share stations. So if someone didn't have a bike of their own they could get one from Capital Bikeshare. And we provided the coupons for that.
And that was really how I started, I guess I just never thought I was an advocate... It was advocacy. I just thought I was going to get people on bikes.
People would come to me — especially a lot of new people who wanted to ride, but they didn't want to ride in a big fast group of people. Or they didn't feel comfortable because they didn't have...a lot of lycra and spandex to put on, or they didn't have a really expensive car besides their bike. They rode with me because if you ever see my bike it's white, its got flowers all over it, its got, you know, a basket, it's like really...Clearly, when you see me I'm not going fast at all.
I think people were attracted to that, like oh I could ride with her because she's wearing heels and a dress. She's definitely not going anywhere fast, and I think that was appealing to a lot of people. Both men and women who would maybe go to some group and ride with them and find out this is a really fast advanced group. That may not wait for you.
This group we have no drops, we don't leave anyone behind. I go at an easy pace. I try to always make sure my routes are relatively flat. I can't always avoid that, but I do map it out and route it, and ride it myself to make sure that it's as flat as I can get it. Because that deters a lot of people when they see that there are hills all over the place. That was kind of how I started. I was not thinking I was an advocate. I just went into it like I just want to get more people riding bikes and thinking about it more. Hopefully, everyday recreation, if you can eliminate a car trip with using your bike.
Armando Roggio: That makes sense I had not realized that spandex was a barrier to getting folks on bicycles.
Renée: It just doesn’t look good on most people.
Armando Roggio: That's awesome. So obviously you have been doing this for a while with some success. You are now the program manager at Bike Arlington. Can you describe your role especially as it has changed from when you were working in Washington?
Renée: I started at Bike Arlington in March. So my role – as far as being in bicycling – it has changed since I have gone to that role.
I'm still doing a lot of rides with people. I'm trying to get more people in Arlington biking, and doing it in a fun creative ways. Saturday, we just did a pizza crawl. So we went to three different pizza places that sold pizza by the slice, and we did some streets, we did some with bike lanes, we did some trials, and they all experienced something new, and different, so that's kind of... I still do that, but I am also in charge of Bike to Work Day which is the third Friday of every May. And I'm trying to create and develop more interesting things for people to do.
Things with our Capital Bikeshare system, to get more people using that. And I work with some... I have some colleagues working together on that.
So it's somewhere just the same, but in other ways it is a little bit...It's the same and a little bit more, and it's also a new city that I'm working in. It's not very far from me because I grew up in the area, but I don't know that city, that county maybe as well as I know spots in D.C. where I grew up.
Armando Roggio: What is bike to work day? You said it was in May.
Renée: Yes, the third Friday in May here in the Washington area. Bike to Work Day usually brings out 20 thousand plus people who are biking to work, and we have pit stops all over the region where people can go and stop and they pick up juice and a T-shirt.
That's huge of course everyone wants the t-shirt, and it is a different color every year. So people have been collecting them since they started Bike to Work Day, and then we have... There's usually food, coffee, doughnuts, bananas, apples that kind of thing.
And we have a lot of vendors partners that come out with their things, and it ranges from all kinds of things.
This year I oversaw six pit stops across the Arlington county, and the biggest one was in a neighborhood, Rosslyn is what its called. You don't have cities in Arlington because I always want to call it a city and it's not. In Rosslyn, and we had a lawyer who specializes in just bike crashes because that's all he does. We had people who did physical therapy. We had a DJ. We had some of the people with electric scooters that were there. We had food vendors, and we had some bike advocates and just groups that went out just to bike. Kind of a mixture of all kinds of people that come out through the woods.
We partnered with the American Heart Association, or might be a friend of a certain trail. We had all of these people out there for that, and a lot of the vendors really look forward to it because it's a free event they don't have to pay to be a part of it, but it also exposes them to hundreds of people that they might not ever get to meet any other way except form Bike to Work Day.
Armando Roggio: Do you find the event introduces folks to bicycle commuting? Or is it really just a celebration of those folks who are already riding their bikes to work?
Renée: That's a great question we are trying to figure that out. It's a question that I've been asking since I even started doing this, and I don't know if we know.
The idea and the goal is that it’s a celebration of people that are already biking to work, and that it would bring out new people to commuting to work. I don't think they do quite know the separation. I don't know if we quite know that yet, but that's the question I'm always asking, and I'm like yeah new people, and it's the same people, and I'm thinking... There's nothing wrong with it, but I would like to see more new people coming and continuing, not just coming because we have this big event, but say, “hey, this is really nice. I'm not sitting in traffic and takes me less time, or maybe it takes you the same amount of time, but I'm outside. I'm in fresh air. I'm enjoying myself or whatever, it's so great, it makes my commute easier.”
I'm hoping that that's what happens that people do it and then they don't just bike to work on that third Friday in May. That they then bike to work on that following Monday, and however long they want to after that.
Armando Roggio: One thing that sometimes comes up in the context of bicycle commuting is infrastructure. How is the bicycling infrastructure in your area, and do you believe that infrastructure can be a barrier to getting started with bicycle commuting?
Renée: So I'm an anomaly actually. So I will tell you that I do...I grew up in D.C. when none of this was here, so I'm impressed with what happened.
There are other people here that would tell you that it needs so much more work to be done. I think a lot of it is great. My biggest issue when I have something to say about biking infrastructure is that it should connect to things. What I don't like to see is a bike lane that disappears, like you just have to pop up there, and then it just disappears two blocks latter because the bike lane is gone. Outside of that, I think that D.C. and Arlington has some really beautiful trails. They have some nice bike lanes. Are they perfect? No, but I grew up here when none of this was here. So I have a completely different perspective. I say to them – people who probably have been here for ten years, and seeing it progress or have come in the middle of it – I think what we have is pretty awesome considering none of this was here when I was little.
Armando Roggio: Great point. In many ways cycling infrastructure has improved tremendously.
Let's change direction with this a little bit. What about riders? What can we do to ride better in traffic, and maybe even make drivers feel more comfortable around us?
Renée: I think you should do what we teach riders in our city cycling class, obey the laws. Just following the laws of the road and the rules of the road. And so if there's a stop light, you stop. If there's a stop sign, you stop at it. You use hand signals so people know what you’re doing. So you're predictable basically. Just be predictable so people know what's happening when you're on the road.
I even — as someone who learned how to bike late in life and then learned even later in life to bike in traffic — I'm pretty comfortable now because one of the things that I learned is to take the lane, and so not to be afraid to be in the lane, and people will have to go around you.
You just be a slow-moving vehicle. I won't go on a highway and do that, but if I'm just on a regular street that's supposed to be moving at 25 miles an hour, I don't feel bad taking the lane, but what you don't want to do is kind of dart in and out of parked cars.
I see people do that sometimes and that's actually scary because cars don't know what you're doing. Are you pulling over to do something, and all a sudden you just come back into traffic. So that's confusing for car drivers. So I just say take the lane as far right as you can be without being in the zone of where somebody might open the door. The car door of the parked cars there, or not so far over in a place where there's debris and gravel where you can be hurt.
We are part of the public right of way traffic, and you have a right to be there. So that helped me a lot with biking is just obeying the rules of the road. My typical thing to think is if I wouldn't do it in a car, I probably shouldn't be doing it on my bike. So if I wouldn't run a red light in my car, I shouldn't run a red light on my bike. That's pretty much how I think that is as far as biking in the city.
Armando Roggio: So I happen to know that you used to be known, or maybe are still known as the “girl on a blue bike” on Twitter, but I understand that you now ride a white bike, and it is an e-bike. Can you tell us about your thoughts if you will around electric bicycles, and how do you think they help people get started on bikes, and on riding?
Renée: Wow, so I did have a blue bike. I'll try to explain that part. I had a blue bike named Olivia, and I loved her. She was awesome. And after I got it, I lived in a hilly area, I worked in a hilly area, and a few months or so after I bought that bike I heard about this e-kit called a Hill Popper, an electric assistant kit called a Hill popper.
And they said you could retrofit your bike with this, the wheel and the battery pack. So I took my bike in... I saved up for it, and I took my bike in, and they put it on, and it made a world of difference in my biking.
Now I was able to go places that I would normally drive to because I didn't want to climb a hill. So this made it possible for me to not have to take my car everywhere. I had the bike for about three years maybe, and it was the battery. I had to keep replacing the battery, and so I decided after the third time I replaced the battery maybe I should upgrade.
And I wasn't quite ready, but I saw that someone on Facebook had posted an e-bike for a price that I was was shocked that it was. So I went over the next day because I thought it was a typo.
So I was like "is this bike really for sale?" And he was like "yeah", and I went over there the next day and I bought it, and it's white, and I just didn't change my name on Twitter because nobody liked girl on a white bike. It just didn't have the same ring, so I just left it at girl on a blue bike. So, but I love this bike, this bike is Calypso. It has red flowers on it. I've decked her out with red and white accessories, but this bike does even better than the blue one does because the battery is stronger, it's not retrofitted to the bike. I don't have the kind of problems that I did have with the other bike sometimes, is that I replaced so many car trips with this bike. I grocery shop with it. I run errands with it. I take it to work almost every day it if it’s not raining or snowing.
I ride it all year long, and it has been a godsend.
It is heavy. Its is so heavy. I don't enjoy bringing it in and out of my apartment because its three steps up to my apartment, but I do it. I do it every day because it really just makes my life easier. And I don't... I mean I save money on gas in my car. I probably put gas in my car twice a month. I can get an oil change once a year. That's how little I end up driving because she is able to just... I able to just kind of hop on it and go, and it usually just places I'm going are ten to twelve miles away.
Or actually, I usually can just pretty much bike there as long as I'm not getting on the highway. If I have to get there by highway, I can pretty much do most of the stuff I need on my e-bike.
So I think it makes a huge difference for people for transportation. It allows you to go places they wouldn't... They would normal drive to. It allows people who have some type of pain or injury to be able to ride when maybe a regular bike causes too much pain, and an e-bike allows you turn on the peddle assist, and kinda ease through that pain. Or even turn on the throttle if you want it.
Armando Roggio: Renée you've been an excellent guest I really appreciate you coming on the podcast. Is there anything else you'd like to say to our audience? Perhaps about electric bikes, cycling, bicycling commuting, or anything really?
Renée: Yeah I think that if you haven't tried an electric bike . I often hear people say "oh, you're cheating, you're on a e-bike” or I'm talking to someone who is often in a truck telling me this, I'm like "okay, I'm cheating,” but their driving a truck whatever. But test out an e-bike, and take it up some hills and see what it's like.
Before you comment on it, and pass judgment that its cheating, or you don't need it, and all these other things. Or It goes to fast. Test one out and see what it’s like because they are fun to ride, but they can and do replace a lot of car trips for people.
And it helps people get out more than they normally would. I think than on a regular bike. Some people will ride their regular bike all the time, I'm not saying that they don't, but there are some people that would ride actually more if they knew that. They would ride more and longer if they had an e-bike in their possession or access to one. Because they can. Because it does go farther. It does get them up hills. It is a lot of fun to ride. You'll definitely want one once you try it out.
Armando Roggio: Do you think it’s a good idea for people to try an electric bike share as a way to try an e-bike?
Renée: Yeah, we have in D.C., we have e-bikes here it’s part of a bike share system that's called Jump Bike. And I do see a lot of people riding them especially in a hillier area, and people who I know that I have talked to who have thought e-bikes were cheating. Have tried out those Jump Bikes and they are like, "yeah, this is a game-changer." I said, "I know it really makes a difference."
Again how you'll ride, and where you'll ride. I think it makes a huge difference for people to do that. Places that normally people might say, "oh, I'll just take an Uber there" or maybe "I'll take the train there". They get on their e-bike and realize, oh, I can bike there. I can do that, that's not bad at all. It does make a big difference, so yeah, I think they should test it out with part of a bike-share system if they have one in their city. It's a lot of fun.
Armando Roggio: Thank you again I very much appreciate having you on the podcast.
Renée: Thank you. Thanks for having me I appreciate it.
Armando Roggio: And I want to thank you, yes you the one listening. These podcasts are made for you, and I want to do my best to interview folks you want to hear from. If you have a suggestion or recommendation please email email@example.com and just say, “hey, this is what I would like to hear next” or maybe even just email and say how much you like this show. Please also check out The Complete Electric Bike Buyer’s Guide. I think you will love it. Thank you very much take care.