Boston continues to enjoy a Renaissance in biking. On a good day, it seems like the lions and the lambs (also known as the motorists and the cyclists) have found a way to get along.
And so it is with a heavy heart that I confess: I have become a lion. Even worse, this lion won't be riding his bike this Friday for Bike to Work Day.
It's not because I don't want to: For the past nine years I have either ridden my bike or walked to work almost every day. Driving was reserved for when I had meetings in Worcester or Westborough, and even then, I made sure to carpool with my colleague and good friend, Gordon.
But a few months ago I started a new job that is a 45-minute drive from where I live. This means I can no longer ride to work. Even worse, there is no public transportation anywhere near my office.
And so, I have become something I had taken great pride in not being: a motorist.
And I have to say, I don't feel too good about this.
I knew that driving to work would be hard. I also knew that I would miss riding my bike, even in the snow, sleet and freezing rain.
And yet this tradeoff has been worth it. My work as a psychologist with high risk youth who are involved in the juvenile justice system has been more rewarding than I had hoped it would be.
Though I still feel kind of crummy about my carbon output. Plus I miss my 60-minutes-a-day of biking: it was the perfect stress buster. As opposed to driving in traffic, which is the perfect stress enhancer.
Fortunately, this cloud has a silver lining: one of my colleagues lives nearby. Even better, my colleague is funny and smart and easy to get along with. And so we have begun to carpool whenever our schedules allow. Now I don't feel so badly about my long drive. And the ride flies by, even when we're stuck in traffic.
What do we talk about when we talk as we drive? Traffic, the kids we both care deeply about, our own families, and the Bruins.
Sure, it's not as good as riding a tandem, but it’s so much better than driving alone.
And so on Boston’s Bike Week I, a lapsed bicycle commuter, offer a toast to my fellow cyclists: May the wind always be at your back, and may you keep the rubber side down. And if you choose to ride this Friday to Government Center, enjoy your well earned breakfast burrito. I'll be thinking of you and wishing I could join in the fun.
Jonathan Simmons is the author of Here For The Ride: A Tale of Obsession on Two Wheels.
And if that’s not enough, Ciclismo Classico is hosting a Bike Travel Film Festival on May 20th in Arlington.
Photo courtesy of Meghan ChiampaLast week's "On Biking" column featured three dedicated local cyclists who change up their biking habits when temperatures--and snowflakes--fall.
Bravo, winter cyclists! There seems to be a bumper crop of you this year, and it's great to see you pedaling through all this rain, sleet, and snow.
Commuters, your grit is inspiring. Those of you churning through the slush to stay fit or for pure enjoyment, hats off to you, too. It looks like fun.
Winter riding isn't everyone's kind of party. It's not mine.
I began to wonder, after the recent blizzard, about other people whose riding habits change when it snows. Six local and very dedicated bike lovers agreed to talk with me about parking their bikes, either full-time or part-time, this winter.
Here are the first three:
David Watson, Executive Director of MassBike, rides a lot less in the winter. Instead of his usual two-wheeled commute to work, he hops the T.
He'd rather ride. He misses it, and because he is off his bike, he feels "out-of-shape and more stressed," he writes in an email. But the mess on the roads, the many layers of warm clothing, and his 45-minute commute in sub-freezing temperatures discourage him, particularly in January and February.
In short, the ride is no fun.
Massbike is all about promoting bicycling, but Watson believes that suffering through foul weather on a bike is unnecessary.
"I tell people it's fine to take time off the bike, or use it for shorter trips, or only for weekend rides when you've got more time to deal with the mess and the gear," Watson writes. "Ride when you are comfortable riding--your bike will be waiting for you."
Edward Skipka, who works at Landry's Bicycles on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, has stopped biking this winter, too.
"It's cold," Skipka says. "You can do it with the right gear--the windproof clothing, the layers--but I don't own that stuff."
Skipka used to live in the Back Bay, but he recently moved to Everett. Which is another reason he is on a bike vacation.
"Everett is not a great place to ride," Skipka says.
It's a more industrial area. "There are big rigs flying around," he notes, "and there's an unsafe bridge near Revere Beach. It has grating, and I can see down to the water. A bike could slip on that pretty easily."
Particularly if it's icy. So Skipka isn't biking right now.
He really misses it. "Not riding, I don't feel awesome," he says. "Not riding, it takes a part of my being out of me."
In the meantime, he is using an indoor trainer and watching movies like "Caddyshack" to make the time pass.
It's way more interesting, he says, to be outside.
"When the weather warms up, I will bike more."
Jothy Rosenberg doesn't bike outdoors in the freezing cold, either. Rosenberg, author and host of the television show "Who Says I Can't," has Reynaud's Syndrome, a circulation disorder of the hands, feet, or both. It results in numbness and pain, and it makes cold weather biking miserable.
"I've seen my fingers turn chalk-white," Rosenberg says.
He could wear gloves with chemical packs, he says, and he does for skiing and snowshoeing. But biking is different because it calls for steering and shifting gears. Manual dexterity matters. "You don't want to wear mittens," Rosenberg says. "So it's really hard to keep your hands warm."
Which means that when the temperature drops, he takes his workout indoors. He spins, where it's warm.
Rosenberg has one more challenge when it comes to winter biking: he has one leg. Cold weather is a problem for all amputees. "We don't have normal circulation or musculature in the stump," Rosenberg explains.
Which makes it a body part that's extra difficult to keep warm. When it gets really cold, Rosenberg sometimes wears a hat on his stump.
But he's not biking outdoors right now. This winter, Rosenberg has parked his bike. He's spinning, and he's swimming. He's philosophical, and maybe a little bit wise, when he talks about the seasonal shift.
"We were meant to have seasons," Rosenberg says. "It's really good for us. The end of the season is a blessing in disguise. I have to take a break from cycling. That's the plus side of the seasons: switching gears. And then I get all excited when it gets warm again."
Because, of course, he can bike again.
Next Week: Three more cyclists on winter riding
Susan Meyers is a Brookline writer. Her new book, "The Hamster Ride &25 Other Short Biking Stories" was published this month by Climbing Ivy Press.
Winter bike riding, why?
Because gotta train, so much fun, and cabin fever.
Winter riding, why not?
Because frostbite, slippery uneven roads, and the swaddle of extra cold weather gear. And not everyone owns a set of studded tires.
Need another reason to stay inside? Watch this wonderful silent film.
“The Snowball Fight” was directed and produced in 1897 and is in gorgeous black and white. It takes less than a minute to view, though I guarantee you'll watch it at least twice. It was filmed in Lyon, France by Auguste and Louis Lumiere, brothers, and among the very first to make “moving pictures.” The music is credited to Anouar Brahem.
Enjoy! And keep your eye on the cyclist's hat.
Susan Meyers is a Brookline writer. Her new book, “The Hamster Ride & 25 Other Short Biking Stories'' was published this month by Climbing Ivy Press.
When I headed out for a bike ride this morning, a little after ten, the snow was light and the wind had not yet picked up. The visibility was good, and it was hours before vehicles (I’m assuming the Governor meant cars and bikes) would be banned from the roads.And even though I was riding in a snowstorm, I felt safe pedaling along the Paul Dudley White Bicycle Path that runs along the Charles River. I was close to the city and yet smack dab in the middle of nature. If I squinted hard enough, it looked like I was in the woods of Maine.
This, I thought to myself, is pure biking bliss. And it was. Right up until my mid-section got soaked by a wave of salty, sandy, slushy water, kicked up by a car driving past as I waited to cross Bridge Street.
The good news: I was only about 45 minutes from home. The bad news: I am no Ernest Shackleton. Meaning, I was starting to get cold and I feared that I might get frostbite of the belly. What had started off as an epic adventure was now just a race to the finish line.
Up until I was swamped by that Tsunami of snow, I was doing great. I had worn enough layers and Windbloc to stay warm without overheating. I had brought two bottles of bug-juice to keep from dehydrating, as well as a tasty (well, it was tasty when I was hungry) freeze dried energy bar. My oversized mittens kept my fingers warm, and my lightly tinted glasses kept the wind and the snow that was blowing sideways out of my eyes. Meaning I could see the trail and most of the bumps in the road.
For most cyclists, snow means riding on an indoor trainer. Which, I have come to believe, is a form of torture that should be banned by the Geneva Convention.
But riding through the woods, over hard packed snow, that is a pleasure, one of nature’s gifts to cycle-philes like me. Sure, pedaling through the woods will not make me faster. And the hard ground makes my bike feel like a boneshaker. But a ride through the woods puts my mind at ease. On my bike, pedaling along, the snow falling around me, the Charles River beside me, I felt a deep sense of calm. It was like outdoor yoga on two wheels.
So that Tsunami of slush? Had I been walking, I would have been annoyed. But with all of those feel-good chemicals coursing through my brain, I saw things differently. And so, I decided to laugh. I decided that somewhere, buried deep inside me, was an inner Ernest Shackleton just waiting to come out.
Enjoy the ride, I told myself. It’s just a little wet stuff. No big deal.
And so I did. I smiled, I laughed, and I thought about the long hot shower and the warm cup of tea that awaited me.
As I crossed the B.U. Bridge, I decided to take a detour and visit my friend Mark, the manager of my local bike shop. I was a sight, and I wanted to be seen. I also wanted to laugh and compare notes with someone who knew that a ride like this was epic, not crazy. Someone who could appreciate the beauty and joy I felt from expressing my Shackleton.
But when I rolled up to my local bike shop, I saw a sign announcing that they were closed. I guess that made sense. After all, who goes to a bike shop in the middle of a snowstorm?
I just hope that Mark, and all of my friends, at all of the bike shops all around town, were able to enjoy their own epic adventure, on or off of the bike.
Jonathan Simmons is a psychologist and an avid cyclist. His book, “Here For The Ride: A Tale of Obsession on Two Wheels,” is published by Climbing Ivy Press.
Two weeks ago I drove to work for four days in a row. For most Americans, that is the norm, but not for me. For the past ten years I have lived near enough to my job that I can walk, bike, or take the T to work, except when I have meetings outside of Boston.
But two weeks ago I was working on a group project in Westborough. Which meant five days of driving. Sure, I could have biked to Westborough. I’ve done that in the past (once), though it was a warm summer day. But two weeks ago was the week when we were hit by an Arctic cold front, and Boston Harbor felt more like Baffin Bay. Not to mention that I would have had to head out before dawn and not get home until well after supper if I wanted to commute by bike. Plus I would have to find a way to carry 15 pounds of files and a computer on my back. All of which meant that even for me, a guy who likes to rack up the miles, riding to work was not going to happen.
And so I drove.
My first day of driving to work went fine. My car, unlike my bike, has heated seats. Except for a brief traffic jam, my commute that Tuesday was without incident. I even got to listen to The Allman Brothers Band rock out at the Fillmore East.
The next day was cold, once again. The wind-chill was brutal, and it felt well below zero. But no traffic jam, just me and those Allman Brothers grooving along.
But by Thursday, a switch got flipped. It was still cold, and I still liked The Allman Brothers Band. But that night, I felt antsy and restless, and a little on edge.
I was having two-wheel-withdrawal. I missed biking to work.
Most Americans drive everywhere, whether it’s to run errands (often less than a mile away) or get to work. Until recently, that seemed fine.
But no longer. Climate instability and the real cost of that gallon of gas mean that our auto-centric culture is simply no longer viable. As Mayor Menino is fond of saying, car is no longer king.
But even if it were, and even if we didn’t have to change, driving here, there, and everywhere, day after day, takes its toll. Traffic jams, the high cost of gas, and the hours spent strapped in to our cars: it’s a recipe for angina.
Drum roll, please: here’s where the bicycle steps in to save the day. Biking is good for our waist line, our wallet, our planet, and our mental health. If Big Pharma could bottle the bike, they’d have a blockbuster medication that would make them even richer.
On Monday, after my week of driving, I smiled as I biked to work. I felt happy, both from the feel-good chemicals that coursed through my brain as I pedaled, and from the fact that I was not in the traffic jam to my right.
On Monday night it began to snow, a carpet of white that blanketed the roads. As I pedaled home along the Charles River, I once again rolled past the cars that were stuck on Storrow Drive. The snow blew in my face and muffled the sound from my tires. I felt like I was in a real-live shake-me-up.
My commute home was so much fun that I added an extra loop to my ride. I wondered if anyone driving was doing the same. And when I got home I felt invigorated rather than depleted.
Nothing too complicated going on, just the power of the pedal on a cold winter night.
Jonathan Simmons is a Brookline psychologist and avid cyclist.
For most cyclists, winter is a time to get in some cross-training. When it’s well below freezing and the wind-chill makes it feel close to zero, anyone with an ounce of common sense knows not to ride outdoors.
And then there’s the 1-percenters, the cyclists who think that snow and sleet and ice and cold make life interesting. For those weirdos on two wheels (I include myself in this category), winter is a perfect time to channel our inner-Shakleton and keep on trucking no matter what Mother Nature throws our way.
Friends ask us how we can pedal through the cold and the snow. When the mercury dips below freezing, layers and Windbloc will keep you warm. Many a winter morning I’ve had to unzip my jacket to keep from overheating. As to dealing with the snow and the ice, I am grateful for studded tires: they are truly a gift from the Gods of cycling. The 294 tiny studs embedded in my tire keep me glued to the ground. Sure, they look kind of strange (like some sort of Medieval weapon), but they keep me upright.
After our first snowstorm of the season last month, I swapped out my regular tires for my studded tires. And then I rode across fields of snow, through the woods, and along the banks of the Charles River. It was epic.
And then came Thursday. The thermometer outside my kitchen window read eight degrees. I tapped the side of the glass to make sure that the mercury had not gotten stuck.
Eight degrees: even I knew that was cold. But I had my layers and I had my studded tires. What could go wrong?
It turns out, quite a lot.
After two miles of spinning, my pinky went numb. One mile later I lost all feeling in my ring finger. One block further and my middle finger was frozen, too.
This was not epic, it was just painful. And so I surrendered.
But don’t get me wrong: surrendering did not mean that I stopped riding in the cold. Though I did accept the fact that I needed a new pair of gloves.
The truth is that I’d needed a new pair of gloves for over a year. My old ones were as close to threadbare as a pair of winter gloves can get. Still, I thought they were fine. My cold morning ride made me see the light.
My local outdoors store was having a 30% sale on gloves and mittens. But because it was late in the season there weren’t too many gloves or mittens on hand. In fact, none that were my size. I was about to head home empty handed when I spied a pair of XL mittens.
Now I don’t have big hands: I can palm a grapefruit if I really stretch my fingers. But XL: those gloves looked like they might fit Shaq’s hands.
But for cold weather riding, those huge mittens were perfect. The extra pocket of air meant that my fingers were wrapped in a layer of warmth. And best of all, they were 30% off (did I happen to mention that cyclists tend to be frugal?). I decided to take a chance. If they didn’t fit, I could always regift them to Shaq.
The next day it was 20 degrees out, a veritable heat wave, a January thaw. Even though it felt positively balmy, I put on my mittens for my ride into work. When I arrived my fingers felt like they were wrapped around a hot mug of cocoa.
Bring it on, I thought. Snow, sleet or freezing rain: with a warm set of mittens I realized that nothing Mother Nature could throw my way would keep me off of my bike. The Gods of cycling would be pleased.
Jonathan Simmons is a psychologist and an avid cyclist. His book, “Here For the Ride” will be published in March.
Nicole Freedman this week returned to her old job as director of the City of Boston’s bicycle programming, city officials announced.
Freedman, a Wellesley native and former Olympic bicyclist, worked as director of Boston Bikes from the program’s launch in 2007 until last April, when she stepped down from the post to take a job as the executive director of Maine Huts and Trails.
“Over the past five years, the program has made tremendous strides, but there’s always more work to do,” said a statement from Freedman. “We’re looking forward to another successful year of cycling in Boston.”
As director of Boston Bikes, Freedman has worked to raise awareness about bicycling in Boston, in an effort to make it more popular and safe, city officials said.
She oversaw major initiatives, including the launch of the Hubway bike share system and the installation of about 50 miles of bike lanes and 850 bicycle racks.
Freedman helped welcome the first professional bicycle race to Boston in nearly two decades, city officials said. Under her leadership, city helped donate more than 1,000 bikes to low-income residents and provided on-the-bike training to nearly 8,000 youth.
“In 2007, we set out to make Boston a world-class bicycling city, and Nicole was the clear choice for a leader who both shared that vision and had the passion to make it a reality,” said a statement from Mayor Thomas M. Menino. “Since her departure, Boston Bikes has continued to thrive and improve access for all cyclists, and we’re thrilled Nicole has joined us again to keep that momentum going.”
Freedman left her City Hall post as the so-called “bike czar” on April 20; her first day back was Wednesday. During her nearly nine-month absence, Kris Carter served as interim director. He will now return to his advisor to the mayor.
“I’m so excited to be back in Boston, and grateful for the vision of the mayor, and the work of Kris Carter and the team of people who have continued to lead Boston Bikes on a successful path,” Freedman said.
Her key priorities moving forward will be to continue efforts to: improve bicycle safety, reduce accidents and to make infrastructure improvements, including cycletracks and expanding the Hubway program, city officials said.
“When Freedman started in 2007, Boston was perennially ranked one of the worst cycling cities in the country,” the city said in a statement. “Under her leadership, the City became a nationally-recognized biking city, receiving a Silver level award from the League of American Bicyclists.”
But, the growth of biking in Boston has not been well-received by all, including by some who say that cycling can be dangerous to those riding the bikes and others around them. Last month, a Boston University student became the fifth bicyclist killed in a crash in the city during 2012.
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