In this new series, we investigate car-free day trips that can be done on the cheap. In the first installment, intrepid reporter Christina Sturdivant explores a new bikeshare program and bike trail that starts at the Baltimore-Washington airport—and gets more than she bargained for.
Bikeshare fans rejoice! Thanks to Zagster, a company that provides turnkey bike sharing services, local lovers of sharing and bikes can count yet another place to get their pedal on. A roughly 30 minute ride to BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport will grant you access to 10 self-serve, reservable bikes, 12.5 miles of amazing scenery and a chance to watch the planes fly by.
On a perfect Friday, 78 degrees and sunny, I decided to drag my boyfriend along with me to test them out. Should you decide to follow, here’s what you need to know about our journey.
To avoid traffic driving into Baltimore, we decided to take the MARC train from Union Station. This was my first time, so I learned quite a few things. First, the Quik-Trak kiosk outside of the train gates allows for a quick and easy purchase of $6 tickets for the Penn Line from DC to BWI with a credit card.
Second, it’s best to arrive early enough to know exactly which gate the train is leaving, as entry gates change throughout the day. Unfortunately, we were a little lax with this. We followed the crowd and boarded a train to the Brunswick line (wherever that is).
If you’re reading this, thank you to the guy who told us that we were on the wrong train before it pulled off!
Once on the way, the ride gave me just enough time to get some work done on my laptop. If you're taking the train, this will be the best time to create a Zagster account (if not sooner), which requires your basic information, location and credit card information. This can be done using the mobile site or downloading the app. Also, be advised that each rider must have their own account; you can't rent two bikes under the same account. We tried.
The BWI MARC station provides a free shuttle to the airport. After about a ten-minute wait, we boarded the shuttle for a five-minute ride.
Although there were no clear signs to the bikeshare dock, we found it through Door 19 on the lower level of the International Terminal, next to the light rail stop.
Unlike Capital Bikeshare (CaBi), we were happy to find that the Zagster bikes are light, sleek and have seven gears. The docking station also has a pump for a DIY tire checkup.
A downside of the bikes, however, is storage space. The front baskets have less storage than CaBi and have no bungee for security. Further, after the Sept. 11 attacks, the airport doesn't offer personal storage options. So, pack light.
Before hopping on the bike, I suggest a few things: Use the restroom on the upper level. There is no guarantee you’ll find a porta-potty on the trail; if you suspect you’ll be hungry on the road and didn’t bring any snacks, check out the Home Team Sports Bar, which has mostly hot food such as quesadillas, nachos, pizza and hot dogs -- all under $10. Lastly, grab a $2 bottled water from the vending machine on the lower level. You’ll need it.
Now, back to the bikes. Using the mobile app or site, you’ll be able to enter the bike’s ID number to receive an access code that will unlock a box with your key in it. Use this key to unlock the bike, lock up your bike throughout your trip and lock up at the end of your ride.
Before pulling off, adjust your seat--I find that the best height allows for me to sit on the seat and still touch the ground in case I have to make a sudden stop. Also be sure to check your tires for air.
When you’re ready to roll, hit the start button on the app or text “start” if you are using the mobile version. Bikes rent for the daily rate of $5, however, we found “daily” to have multiple meanings. The sign by the dock said we could use the bikes for up to 12 hours; the app mentioned a $10 fee if bikes aren’t returned in 24 hours; and the web version says you only get two hours! Luckily, I didn’t plan on riding that long anyway so it was a moot point for us.
To get on the airport loop trail, ride up the ramp and follow arrows on the ground in the parking lot that take you to the train tracks. After this, you may get a little loss as signage to the tracks are non-existent. Cross the train tracks, and merge right -- you'll end up in car traffic so be sure to use proper hand signals for turning and switching lanes. The airport loop trail begins at the intersection of Terminal Road and Elkridge Landing.
Once you’re on the trail, enjoy the beauty of nature! The sounds of insects have never been so serene. You may also come across an emu. Don’t worry, it’s behind a fence. Anyway, be nice to it and don’t get too close. Also be courteous and share the road with other bikers, walkers or joggers.
In less than a mile’s ride, you’ll end up on top of a hill with a stunning view of the airport. This is the perfect time to catch a break and watch the planes take off and land in the distance.
A little further down the trail, you'll find picnic tables to enjoy the food your bought or lunch you packed. Of course, you're outdoors, so expect a few hungry insects to be by your side.
From there, the rest of the trail is filled with hills, curves and homes with little girls riding their horses in the backyard, seriously. After 12.5 miles, the loop deposits you back at the trailhead. We turned around early, but still felt like we got a workout.
When your ride is over, be sure to return it back to the dock where you found it, lock the bike back to the dock and use the entry code to safely lock the key box and hit “end ride” on your app or mobile site.
Whether you want to get away from the city or get away from your long layover at BWI, hopping on a bike is a great way to pedal out some tension and take in some of the beauty surrounding the airport.
Good luck and happy bikesharing!!