W&OD Trail

I cycled with other people today, which is always an event worth noting.  A couple of coworkers invited me for a spin on the W&OD trail after work today.  I’ve never been on this trail and I’ve heard many good things about it, so I was eager to give it a shot.  With a little planning, I was able to bring my car to work, change at the end of the day, and join my buddies.  We got in  a 16 mile ride amongst some nice scenery, had some pleasant conversation, and I didn’t embarrass myself.  I could ask for nothing more.

The trail is a paved railroad bed, formerly the Washington & Old Dominion Railway.  Established in 1859, the W&OD was originally built to bring coal from the Appalachians to Washington.  The railroad’s heyday was the early 1900s, when it serviced commuters heading to Washington from “distant” towns such as Falls Church  (now part of the DC urban sprawl) and Leesburg (still in a rural setting).  The railroad ceased operations in 1968 and the local power company bought the right of way to install power lines which are still in place.  Eventually, it occurred to folks that the railroad bed would make an excellent hiking/jogging/biking trail, and in 1974 work was begun in sections.  The project was completed in 1988 and is now one of the longest bike paths in the region. 

I didn’t bring a camera with me for fear that my cycling mates would think me daft, but this photo I found online is fairly representative of the stretch I was on.  The surface was excellent and the hills were gradual.  The paths were lined with trees and housing developments.  The two drawbacks were the frequent road intersections which required us to unclip and ensure the route was clear (to be fair, local drivers seem to be very aware of the trail’s existence and were good about stopping to let us pass) and the many people on the trail with us.  On this day, it was very manageable, but I can imagine what it must be like on the weekends.  The number of pedestrians would make it almost impossible to navigate.   Further west, the land becomes more rural and I suspect the congestion problem isn’t as severe there.

After an hour, we pulled back into our office building and called it a day.  It was a great spin with office mates on a beautiful afternoon.  I think I’ll be doing this again.


6 thoughts on “W&OD Trail

  1. Once again, you highlight the problem with shared cycle trails. In theory they are great but in practice, if you want to pedal steadily and at speed, they are not great because of other traffic and intersections. The other problem with old railway tracks is that they can be very boring after a while. My wife and I used one near Bordeaux for about 70 miles and the only excitement was a bend coming in 6 miles time!

    • Good points as always, Tom. I did find the frequent (and by “frequent” I mean every 1-3 miles) starting/stopping for road intersections to be a bit of a nuisance. It was harder to get into a good rhythm. I can see where these trails can become boring, although everything was new to me and there was enough going on to catch my eye.

      It was sufficient for a casual ride but serious cyclists wishing to train hard or go fast for long stretches could do better elsewhere.

  2. Agree with you both. I love the IDEA of bike paths and still remember the euphoria I experienced when I first rode in Holland, a place you never need to ride on the road.

    But, alas, they can be annoying, as you both pointed out above. In a perfect world (Brittany, from what I hear), cars and bicycles would live happily together on the same road.

    Still, the world could use a lot more safe places for recreational cyclists to stretch their legs. Got any more in the area, Steve?

    • Absolutely – the C&O Path runs over 180 miles from DC into Maryland. The Capital Crescent Trail runs through NorthWest DC and the Mount Vernon Trail is 18 miles long from DC to Mount Vernon. I’ve ridden portions of all but the C&O, which is the only one not paved. If trails are your thing, there are plenty in the DC area.

  3. Let those trails dry out a bit before hitting them though.
    They aren’t nearly as fun when they are sucking your tires. Unlike drafting, when the mud sucks them, it offers resistance!!!!
    Don’t forget to mention, that the C&O connects up with the Great Allegheny Passage, lending a very long cycling trail for those who like to B&B tour, or camp!
    Got any links for these trails Steve?

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