WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Anyone who has biked through Downtown Pittsburgh knows that cycling is one of the best ways to see a city.
Pedestrians get a limited view of a small geographic area; automobile drivers are moving too fast and concentrating on traffic to pay much attention to fine details (say, a city's architecture). On a bike you can cover more ground and you're better positioned to absorb the sights.
Tour companies have picked up on this, including Bike and Roll, which offers bike tours and rentals in New York, Chicago, Miami, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. During a recent visit to the nation's capital, I took a spin through Washington's monuments and memorials on an evening bike tour.
This three-hour Monuments@Nite tour showcases the National Mall in sun (at the start) and dark (by the time it's over). The first stop was outside the White House followed by a swing by the Washington Monument, and stops at the World War II, Vietnam War and Korean War memorials; and at the Jefferson, Lincoln, FDR and the new Martin Luther King Jr. memorials. There was time for exploring at all stops except the Washington Monument (closed because of earthquake damage), the White House and the FDR Memorial.
The tour travels about four miles and covers pretty flat terrain, making it an easy ride for most bicyclists. Tour groups average one guide and eight to 10 tourists with a maximum of 15.
Sam Edelstein, a new guide, led my tour while more veteran guide Kris Ankarlo tagged along to supervise. Both have full-time jobs elsewhere -- Mr. Ankarlo as a radio news anchor and Mr. Edelstein as a communications associate at Cultural Tourism DC -- but both men said they like the chance to get outside through their Bike and Roll jobs. Both were biking aficionados before their jobs as bike tour guides.
"D.C. is full of bike paths and bike lanes, and I try to ride as often as possible," Mr. Edelstein said. "If you go on [the Metro subway system], you don't get a sense of the city. Walking and biking are how I learned the city."
Mr. Ankarlo said he enjoys tours most when he sees a glimmer of recognition in tour members' faces as he debunks urban legends -- the sculptor of the Abraham Lincoln statue did not place a surreptitious profile of Robert E. Lee on the back of the Lincoln statue's head -- and Mr. Ankarlo particularly likes to explain the composition of the city.
"The biggest monument is the city itself," he said, referring to the symmetry of the city's original street layout by designer Pierre Charles L'Enfant. "That's one of the lesser-known things."
At the Washington Monument, Mr. Edelstein pointed out how the obelisk is actually several hundred feet away from where it was intended to be situated. At the time construction began in 1848, the land around the Washington Monument was marshy, so the monument was moved up a hill to keep it stable.
As we visited the newest memorial on the Mall, dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr., the 30-foot-tall granite bas-relief of the civil rights leader was overrun by exuberant teenagers from school groups who posed for photos at its base. The Bike and Roll guides said the MLK Memorial has driven more traffic to the nearby FDR Memorial, which previously sat marooned alone along the Tidal Basin. Now tourists venture from MLK to FDR to Jefferson.
"It's like that line from 'The Big Lebowski': 'That rug really tied the room together,' " Mr. Ankarlo said.
Michele Hickle of Lubbock, Texas, took the Bike and Roll tour with her 13-year-old son, Austin. It was his third trip to Washington.
"I like that it's fitness-oriented," she said. "You're getting a little exercise, and you're learning as you go, which is a fun way to soak things in."
Beth Altman of Madison, Wis., was also a return visitor to Washington when she took the Bike and Roll Monuments@Nite tour in early June.
"It seemed better than a bus," she said. "I liked learning about all the symbolism -- four rooms for four terms at FDR, the number of columns at the Lincoln Memorial are for the number of states [at the time of Lincoln's death]. You look at these things and think they're really cool, but then you see the symbolism of it and it's even more interesting."
TV writer Rob Owen: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2582. Read the Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.