- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 17, 2001

John Shea sees more and more families hitting the bike trails these days, particularly on the weekends. A veteran bike rider and member of the Reston Bicycling Club, Mr. Shea says he can spot a novice biking family by watching the children.

"The tendency for the little ones is to look left to see people passing," Mr. Shea says. "And sometimes they glide unintentionally into people trying to pass them. On the weekdays, it's no problem on a lot of trails, but on the weekends, people come out a lot."

His advice for families who are just starting out biking together don't look back.

"Keep your eyes straight ahead," he advises. "If kids hear somebody coming up, don't look back."

Besides, if families pick the right bike trails to traverse, the scenery in front of them will be much better anyway. Mr. Shea recommends the 45-mile Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Trail, which runs from Arlington to Purcellville, Va., passing through Leesburg and Herndon.

"It's a good trail because it's not as popular, even on the weekends," Mr. Shea says. "Once you pass Ashburn, things really thin out. It's pretty basically good countryside, except when you're passing through Leesburg."

Steve McGuire, president of the Potomac Pedalers Touring Club, one of the largest bike clubs in the country with about 3,500 members, also praises the Washington and Old Dominion Trail.

"The best part of it for families comes out farther where there's a little less traffic," Mr. McGuire says. "There's fewer intersections and curbs, and it's a little less complicated for the younger riders. The Leesburg-to-Purcellville stretch is especially nice."

This trail starts at Shirlington Village in Arlington, passes through several Arlington and Fairfax parks (Glencarlyn, Bon Air and Lake Fairfax) and train stations, and ends at Purcellville, just a few miles from the Blue Ridge Mountains. Families can hook up with the W&OD; Trail from the also-popular Mount Vernon Trail and the Metro subway system, where three stops on the Orange Line intersect the trail.

Metro has relaxed its rules for cyclists in the past few years. Cyclists no longer need special permits to bring their bikes on board a subway train, but they must do it between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. or after 7 p.m. on weekdays, and they must use the last car on the train.

Another of Mr. McGuire's favorite trails is the new Capital Crescent Trail, which runs from Georgetown into Bethesda, then touches part of Rock Creek Park and Silver Spring on its way back to Georgetown. The trail has its own Web site (www.cctrail.org) with information for interested riders.

Mr. McGuire says the Capital Crescent Trail is nice because part of it takes riders along the Potomac River and other picturesque scenery but that the trail is used heavily, particularly on the weekends.

"There's a lot of traffic and a lot of curves, so for kids who don't go in straight lines and don't know what they're doing, it might be a bit more difficult," Mr. McGuire says. "It takes a little more skill to navigate. You have to be a little more aware of your surroundings, so it might be better for families who have reached a certain level of experience in riding together."

The Potomac Pedalers hold weekly rides for families interested in participating, whether or not they are members of the club. Information on those and other rides is available on the club's Web site (www.bikepptc.org).

Jim McCarthy, a volunteer with the Washington Area Bicyclist Association and editor of that group's Greater Washington Area Bicycle Atlas, says one less-crowded trail that families would probably like is the Anacostia Headwaters Loop, a 20-mile ride in Prince George's County that uses much of the Anacostia Tributary Trail System. Among the points of interest are the College Park Airport, Lake Artemesia in College Park, and the Adelphi Mill, which dates to the 1700s.

"It's a nice ride for families with kids," Mr. McCarthy says. "You pass a lot of spots along the Anacostia, both the Northeast and Northwest branches, and you go past the airport. Part of the trail is right at the end of the runway, so you might see a plane going right over the top of your head, which will be fun for the kids."

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