If you’ve been around the Bike Rack much in the last year, you may have noticed an explosion of new rides and events. From the popular Campfire Grind to our brand new DC Coffee Ride, we’ve launched several new monthly group rides out of both shops. The Urban Wilderness ride, to toot our own horn, was recently recognized as one of the top DC group rides by DCist.com.
These events correspond neatly with the hiring of a new member of the Bike Rack team: Seattle native Leah Fantle. We sat down with Leah during a shift at our Q Street store to hear her cycling story, how she arrived at the Bike Rack, and ask her what’s next in the pipeline for our group rides.
So, what’s your story, Leah? How and when did you arrive in DC, and then at the Bike Rack?
I’ve been living in DC since 2009. Originally from just outside Seattle, I came to this Washington for school and stayed for this city’s community vibes – I love that I can be pedaling down the street and run into 3 people I know. Over the last 4 years, the vibrant bicycle community has come to feel like home for me. Many of my friends from college burned out of the government or corporate boxing ring and moved away – but every time I’ve felt tired, I discovered another, deeper layer of the city that’s welcomed me and held my interest.
I arrived at the Bike Rack (and professional mechanic-ing) circuitously, by way of a series of internships and contract jobs in international development, education, food justice, and national bike advocacy. Bikes stuck, and I’ve been working in the industry now for 3 years as a mechanic, educator, and ride leader. I love bicycles’ capacity to be so uniquely good for cities and people – they are pro health, pro environment, pro local business, pro community, pro mental well-being and pure joy. I value getting to work with my hands, and to solve real problems in ways that make peoples’ lives immediately better.
What’s your best early bike memory?
Oh man. My most vivid memory as a kid is definitely the time I forgot how to stop on my second-ever ride without coaster brakes, and free-rolled down a curving hill at the park in pure panic. I managed to stay upright and not crash. Then circled around, figured out the hand brake lever, and went down that hill ten more times because it was so much fun.
Tell us about working and wrenching in the Annex at the Bike Rack.
The annex is right next door to our main shop, and is the space where we work on any larger-scale bike projects; tune-ups, overhauls, drivetrain replacements, and custom builds. The quarters are a little tight when our schedule is full, a little grease smudged. But the music is good, I can nerd out to NPR podcasts, and when it’s in season, Shane (mechanic, ride leader, former Cat 1 racer) will stream live video coverage from the day’s road cycling races around the world on the computer while we work. It’s a calm space, where learning and collaboration happens on a daily basis, alongside a strong work ethic.
How would you describe the smell in the annex?
Now this is an interesting question. Typically you’ll notice some mix of stale coffee, atomized Simple Green (bike cleaner), with notes of cardboard and noble rot.
Tell us about working with our owner, The Chuck.
Chuck is an all-in kind of guy, in everything he does. He loves this shop; stays hours after close every night to mop the floors, clean the windows, and sweep the shop sidewalk out front clear of leaves.
Speaking of The Chuck, he wouldn’t be happy with me if we didn’t discuss your popular and very unique DC group rides. What’s the story behind your rides and how did they get started?
I’ve had the pure pleasure to launch our very first Brookland shop rides. I noticed that our shop community is made up of all kinds of riders – including the full spectrum of daily commuters and recreational cyclists – but many folks thought of us as a shop for only road riders and racers! I pitched a few ideas during my initial conversations with Chuck and the shop managers during my hiring process, and they gave the green light to try something new.
The Campfire Grind, Lake Artemesia Ride, and Urban Wilderness Loop are our monthly standards; open to anyone who can comfortably ride their bike 20 miles, their main focus is embracing nearby nature, community-building, and good food.The latter two rides mid-point at a local snack location [typically Eastern Market] after looping through some of the beautiful and underutilized bike trails throughout NE and SE DC and beyond, and the former includes a gravel grind to a summer-campy bonfire in the woods just outside the city.
How do you come up with all these ride ideas?
I look for gaps in what’s currently being offered by other social rides in the city, and endeavor to create experiences that bring a little something different to the table – that I myself would be excited to go on. Working on bikes is one of my interests – but these rides have become a creative outlet for the rest! They’re inspired by objectively good things that we may not get exposure to in our everyday lives; authentic community-building and meeting new people, outdoor markets and good food, nature and environmentalism, and exploring new ways to navigate and understand this city we call home.
Is there a favorite memory from a Bike Rack ride?
We get to see a lot of newer riders on my rides, as well as people returning from injuries or the chaos of life to pick up cycling again after a break. The excitement and self pride as they finish a 19-mile loop – or unpack a tent from their bike for the first time – and rediscover what their body is capable of, is just so cool. These rides are a space for that. My favorite thing is seeing folks who just met exchanging contact info or grabbing a bite to eat together when we get back to the shop. Something about cruising on a bicycle through the trees with people you never would cross paths with otherwise just breaks down boundaries.
Are there any other ideas you have for future rides?
There’s always something up my sleeve 🙂 Right now I’m most excited about our DC Coffee Ride series that launched in September. We’re forging partnerships with our favorites among the growing scene of local coffee shops and roasters to offer intimate tasting experiences for small groups of riders once a month. Check them out!
Urban Wilderness Ride: Saturday, October 7th
DC Coffee Ride: Saturday, October 14th
Campfire Grind October: Saturday, October 21st
Lake Artemesia Ride: Saturday, October 28th