I was up in Boston this past weekend to watch the Red Sox games in good company. I wouldn’t want to move back there, but that city was very very good to me. And though few people will admit it, Boston is a great biking city. First the downside:
There’s always the risk of getting yelled at by a townie in Charleston or South Boston. One of the few good things about gentrification is that yuppies are less likely to yell and throw shit at bicyclists. My favorite line (not at the time) was, “get a car, you fag!” And this happened right outside my front door in fag-friendly Cambridge. I couldn’t help but think of the line from some WWII movie where a goy gets put on the train to a concentration camp and says to a Jewish fellow passenger, “for you it’s a tragedy. For me it’s a mistake!”
I should also point out that there is much more conspicuous drunk driving in Boston than I’ve noticed anywhere else. I don’t know if it’s because all the bars close at the same time, there are fewer normal drivers on the road at 2AM, or people just drive drunk more. But I've seen a lot a cars swerve in Boston and not elsewhere. I would try to avoid biking when the bars closed. I don’t really think about that in New York.
So yes, you have to be willing to be an urban biker and fight a bit with traffic and yell at the odd car or two. But where don’t you have to do that? Biking is great in Boston!
Boston is small enough that you can bike everywhere. And public transportation stops after midnight and cabs are expensive so there’s really no alternative. And because Boston closes at night, if you’re biking late, you get the streets all to yourself! And you can also bike out of Boston in about a half hour and feel like you're in the country (really it’s just rich suburbs, but you feel like you’re out of the city). You can't do that in New York. And Cambridge has put in a lot of bike lanes.
And there are a lot of bikers in Boston. Probably because a full 72% of the city are college students. Even in their shitty winter there are more bikes in Boston than there are in non-hipster neighborhoods of New York.
And I’m partial to biking in Boston because that’s where I really came into my own as a biker. What I learned in Amsterdam, I developed in Boston. I can bike at all times, in all conditions, and all weather.
So I’m back in Boston. I got a great bike to ride. One of my friends is a 130-pound women (I’m a 200-pound man) with a nice road bike. When I put up the seat all the way, it was only about an inch too short for me. And the bike was great!
So I’m with my other friend (husband of my 130-pound friend) and I propose biking to Castle Island. John and I used to bike to Castle Island regularly after work (and drinking and smoking) at 2AM when we worked together at Salamander. And I continued biking there as long as I lived in Boston. Castle Island is the tip of South Boston. From Cambridge/Somerville, it’s about 13 miles round trip.
This view is looking West to South Boston. Pleasure Bay is in the center. Fort Independence is on the bottom. And there’s a great causeway (going off to the left) that encloses Pleasure Bay.
It’s a great bike ride for many reasons. It’s never boring because you pass through about a dozen different neighborhoods or zones (Inman Square Somerville, Inman Square Cambridge, East Cambridge, Longfellow Bridge, Back Bay, South End, residential Southie, parky-Castle Island, causeway-Castle Island, industrial Southie, "new" Southie/convention center/Fort Point area, Downtown Crossing, and Beacon Hill. Wow!). And once you get to Fort Independence, you can smell the salt air. Then on the causeway, which has no lights, there are only two sluices for water to go in or out of Pleasure Bay. So there’s always a raging current going one way or the other and the nice sound of rushing water.
This picture is from one of the sluices looking North toward Castle Island (and my apologies to whomever I stole this pictures from on the web).
Another highlight is the downhill on Bowdoin Street from the Statehouse to Cambridge Street. There's a great high-speed left onto Cambridge St (watch out for the 3 manhole covers). Best to stay on top for a while to time the light. But then it’s downhill all the way to the Longfellow Bridge. The next time you have to pedal you’re at the top of the hill and in Cambridge. To make that left turn onto Cambridge Street without breaking taught me how to lean and trust my bike. Cambridge Street in Boston is now bumpy as hell. But it was freshly paved and smooth when I lived there. (Cambridge Street in Cambridge, however, was bumpy as hell when I lived there, and is now smooth and even has a bike lane!)
My friend surprised me by how fast he went. He doesn’t bike that much. He pointed out that he weighs 40 pounds less than me (and he’s much taller). That’s just about like I’ve got a five-gallon bottle of water of extra weight as baggage. Yikes.
I've always liked it, but coming from New York, biking in Boston is a treat!
By the way, there’s some sublime bike porn at http://nordicgroup.us/s78/flashlights.html. Click on the Japanese girl on the right.