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Menino puts new spin on getting around the Hub

Reveals zeal for bike riding

Mayor Thomas M. Menino pedaled down River Street in Hyde Park yesterday on his daily predawn bike ride. Mayor Thomas M. Menino pedaled down River Street in Hyde Park yesterday on his daily predawn bike ride. (GEORGE RIZER/GLOBE STAFF)

When Mayor Thomas M. Menino discovered the benefits of speed walking, he exhorted everyone in the city to lace up and join him. When he came down with skin cancer, Menino launched a heartfelt crusade for early screening. When he lost weight by cutting down on pasta and other carbohydrates, the mayor once known as Tank began preaching the benefits of the new Menino diet.

Now, the mayor has discovered bicycling.

Menino purchased a silver Trek road bike three weeks ago and has been riding it regularly through his Hyde Park neighborhood. Each weekday at about 5 a.m., the 64-year-old mayor straps on a black cycling helmet and an arm band with red reflector lights and sets off alone on a leisurely, 45-minute pedal. He acknowledges that another public crusade is brewing.

"We're going to do more in our city with bikes," Menino decreed upon his return home from a ride yesterday.

The mayor's new fixation is already drawing cheers from cycling enthusiasts, who for years have been fighting for more respect on Boston's narrow and oft-congested streets.

"I'd love to ride with the mayor," gushed David Watson, executive director of MassBike.

At City Hall, the reaction has ranged from disbelief to wary anticipation of early-morning phone calls from Menino, ordering workers to fix potholes or burned out streetlights he notices on his rides.

"Oh, no! That's all we need," said one staff member, who declined to be identified for fear of retribution. "It's bad enough when he's in a car."

The mayor said that when he is steadier on the bike, he'll be making more of those calls.

"When I get more experienced at this, I'll be able to ride the whole city," he said, visibly excited during an interview in the kitchen of his Chesterfield Street home.

The mayor's latest habit began to take root about four months ago, when his chief of policy and planning, Michael Kineavy, began bicycling and sharing his enthusiasm for the sport during conversations between Cabinet meetings and other official proceedings.

At first, the mayor called him crazy and teased him. Being something of a practical joker, Menino began placing anonymous packages outside Kineavy's office, first a Dora the Explorer bike helmet, then a bell, and finally a set of rainbow-colored handlebar streamers.

"One day, he said, 'Where's my bike?' " Kineavy recalled.

Soon after, the mayor plunked down $800 for the three-speed automatic roadster with all the fixings: gloves, helmet, cargo room under the seat. It arrived at City Hall during a meeting of the Strategic Crime Council and the mayor's excitement was clear, attendees said. He asked a staff member to wheel it in. He put the helmet on and showed everyone his new vehicle.

He hadn't been on a bike in more than 40 years, so he started slow, going farther each day.

"He'd say, 'I did 25 minutes today,' then '30 minutes,' " Kineavy said.

The mayor, whose driver takes him to work and to events most days, has had to endure some ribbing. "One of my grandkids said, 'How can you ride a bike when you can't even drive a car?' " Menino said.

Donovan Slack can be reached at dslack@globe.com.

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