How to Ride a Bicycle in Boston: Three hard-learned tips for keeping it safe on the streets

Introducing my bike

There are many reasons why you should take advantage of New Balance Hubway—Boston’s bike share program–which reopened for the season yesterday. There’s the obvious—it’s good for you and for the environment. But the hidden bonus of biking around town is not only parking spaces, when and where you want them, but also your wallet. No parking tickets, no gas, no insurance, no financing, no inspections. Plus, it’s fun. Bikers smile; poor folks in gridlock don’t.

New Balance Hubway is part of Mayor Menino’s efforts to make the city more bike-friendly. It is modeled after Paris’s popular Vélib. Similar programs exist in Denver, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis and on many college campuses. Boston’s–with 600 bikes and 60 stations now but hoping to link with systems in Brookline, Cambridge, and Somerville–is the first real regional bike-sharing system in the country, according to Nicole Freedman, Boston’s bike-planning czar and a former Olympic medalist.

But, before you hop on the saddle, here are some tips to keep you looking and feeling your best.

Biking Tip 1: Assume invisibility

“Assume you are invisible to anyone in a car or truck–completely invisible, and so act accordingly,” says longtime bike commuter Sean McDonnell. Not to make you paranoid or anything but until 2007, the year Boston got its Bike Czar, our fine city was rated one of the worst in the country for biking. Now, a recent poll in Bicycling magazine shows that Boston has crawled up to spot #26 of America’s 50 Best Bike Cities. Ranking aside, obstacles still abound. Crazy drivers. Clueless door openers. Bike-munching potholes. Black ice. Flighty Canadian geese. And not enough bike lanes.

But, if you keep your eyes open and your peripheral vision fine-tuned, you’ll be okay. Make eye contact with drivers before you cross the street in front of them. When you’re zooming by parked cars, glance to see if there is someone in the driver’s seat that might door you. Ride around black ice and keep a wide berth around those unpredictable birds from the north. Go slowly and be cautious. And, potholes? Just think of them as the guy on the T with halitosis and keep away. (When you get to your destination, call the Mayor’s hotline: 617 635-4500, and report the road chasm or the downed branch. “It should be fixed within 48 hours,” says the Mayor’s office.)

And while you’re at it, keep your ears open, too. That means no iPods, headphones, or cell phones. “It’s too dangerous,” says Cambridge bike commuter Herb Wagner. Save your pod cast or Kiss 108 listening for the car.

Biking Tip 2: It’s the clothes, not the weather

In bad weather, forget about looking good. On the outside, that is. You don’t want to arrive at the office or a hot date looking like a drenched dog or smelling like a wet sheep. So, cover up and break out the foul weather gear. Buy some rain paints and a real waterproof jacket and make sure it has a hood to keep your hair under your helmet dry.  In the winter, wear what you might wear skiing. That’s right–balaclava, goggles, ski pants, gloves and warm coat. It ain’t pretty, but when you arrive at your destination just hightail it into the bathroom, shed your outer layer, and slip into your true sartorial self. Oh, and don’t forget the bike fender. It will save your clothes from a nasty dirt line down your backside.

In good weather, anything goes. You don’t need biking clothes or shoes to ride a bike. Ladies, just beware of the wind in your skirts.

Biking Tip 3: Be nice

Although it’s easy to feel self-righteous on a bike and think the rules of the road shouldn’t apply to you because you are not contributing to the world’s greenhouse gases, please think again.  “Cars are bigger and drivers can be nasty,” says Lisa Cermesak, recognizable by her helmet with horns.

Humility on a bike keeps you out of the emergency room. It also adds to the positive feedback loop: Fewer accidents mean more bikers; more bikers demand more designated lanes, resulting in fewer cars and traffic jams. That equals more smiling Bostonians.

So, as landscape architect Mary Webb says, “Just be nice.” She’s the one pedaling across the Longfellow Bridge, proudly sipping her coffee from her recently added cup holder.

Bike on.

(I have been biking in the Boston area for 7 years. I ride in all weather—snow squalls and sunshine—and love riding at night lit up like my neighborhood restaurant. I’m slow, so when you pass me, wave “hello”.)

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9 Responses to How to Ride a Bicycle in Boston: Three hard-learned tips for keeping it safe on the streets

  1. jodislater says:

    hello.

  2. jodislater says:

    and I totally need a coffee cup holder.

  3. I agree. Although too many potholes. I’m not steady enough and would spill all over myself…

  4. Martha Bebinger says:

    Geese – really?
    I’m still skeptical about the clothes.
    I love the coffee holder – where can I get one?

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