Cycling In Boston, Part I

I’m sorry I haven’t posted in a while.  I was in Boston.

Every so often, I get to go somewhere for my work.  This week took me to Boston, Massachusetts, for a short three-day stay.  More specifically, I was in the town of Cambridge, which lies just northwest of downtown Boston.  I arrived late Wednesday morning and had no commitments until Thursday morning.

Bet you can’t guess what I did!

Ok, you read the title of this post and therefore you have a pretty good idea of what I did.  I walked immediately down Massachusetts Avenue near the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and presented myself to the good people at Cambridge Bicycle.  I had done my research beforehand and knew they had bicycles to rent.

Cambridge Bicycle

Cambridge Bicycle Shop is a neat little store, sandwiched between Mass Ave and Front Street, which meet on a sharp angle.  There were several employees in the store and I was the only customer on what promised to be a cloudy and rainy day.  I found the employees to be very friendly and helpful.  In a few minutes, they had selected a Raleigh Classic Roadster from their fleet and adjusted the saddle to my size.  They threw in a lock and helmet in the bargain.

Massachusetts Avenue

I was all set to ride, except for the fact I had only a half-baked plan on how to proceed.  I wanted to get to downtown Boston to see the historic sites and I also wanted to take a spin down the Charles River, which the maps indicated had a bike path running along its shore.  This would not be long enough to fill the seven hours I had.  The helpful employee suggested The Minuteman Bike Path, located just a short 20 minute ride up Mass Avenue.  I could take that as far West as I cared to and it was advertised as a very pleasant route.  And with that, I set off with the sense of exhilaration that  comes from being at large in an unknown place.

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My first task was to make it to the Minuteman Path alive.  Mass Ave is a very busy street, with two lanes of traffic each way along with additional turning lanes at intersections, which occur frequently.  Boston is a northern city, and I was reminded that common features for places above the snow line are pot holes and cracked asphalt.  Despite all this, I found the experience to be not nearly as stressful as normal city riding, due to the bike lane in which I traveled.  I was to learn that bike lanes are quite common and I found a large number of cyclists traveling on them.  It wasn’t like Beijing or anything, but there almost always was another cyclist in sight.  Upon reflection, this isn’t very surprising as I was traveling past multiple universities, including MIT, Cambridge, and Harvard.

Minuteman Path

Due to my caution, insistence at stopping at red lights, lack of physical ability, or some other reason beyond my imagination, the trip took me 30 minutes vice the advertised 20.  This caused me to stop just about every pedestrian I came across for the last mile, for fear I had overshot my mark.  In any event, I found the path and began pedaling westward.  I can’t say I was overwhelmed.  I suppose one bike path is like the next – plenty of trees with glimpses of surrounding buildings and the occasional crossing with a road.  Still, it was a lot quieter than being on the roads and it was easy to see why this path is a major cycling commuter route.

I pedaled for over an hour on this route.  The day was still cloudy but the rains which had been falling here for the past few days had stopped.  The pathways were still wet but the Raleigh’s fenders and chain guard kept me largely dry, although a subsequent review of my photos from this period of the ride demonstrate some moisture got on my camera lens.  Sorry about that.

My biggest problem was the humidity and getting used to the Raleigh’s upright riding position.  I found myself moving my hands off the widely spread grips moving them closer to the stem on the handlebar.  I also needed to learn how to make the best use out of the bike’s three gears.  I quickly developed a system where the middle gear worked best on the flats, the top gear on the descents, and the bottom gear on the hills.  I hoped there weren’t going to be many hills because the steel-framed Raleigh was just a tick heavier than my Madone.  By “a tick,” I mean like an elephant is just a tick heavier than a dog or a semi tractor trailer is a tick heavier than a moped.  When the rather substantial lock and the basket which carried it are also considered, the Raleigh is perfect for puttering about town, but not so desirable for century rides.

“The Old Burial Ground.” Nine Minutemen killed at Lexington and Concord are buried here.

I got off the pathway near a park called The Great Meadows in East Lexington and made my way south.  Along with the town of Concord further to the west, Lexington is famous for the first battle of the American Revolution.  It was here that the Shot Heard Round The World was fired.    I would liked to have seen those battlefields, but they were too far west and it was time to turn back toward Boston.  I soon found Belmont Hill and climbed it, which was precisely the sort of climb I didn’t think my bottom gear was up for.  I shouldn’t have doubted it, though, as I managed to make it to the top, albeit with considerable effort.  When combined with the high humidity, this effort had soaked through my shirt and cargo shorts.  I was very much missing my lycra at this point.

The Charles River at Watertown

After a brief excursion the wrong way down Pleasant Street (which brought me all the way back to a crossing point with the Minuteman Path), I wound my way southward and finally reached Watertown and the Charles River.  Unlike Cambridge, I found the roads in this area to be much like any other suburb – very busy (like the city) but devoid of cycling infrastructure (unlike the city).  I paused briefly on the bridge for some pics and noticed a heron standing in the water.  I tried to take a pic which would make Tootlepedal proud, but I don’t believe my camera was up to the task.  I tried, Tootlepedal!

The Heron

Now on the south side of the river, I turned eastward toward the city, which was out of sight for the moment.  The pathway along the river was fantastic, and afforded many great views and interesting things to see such as the yacht and rowing clubs which dotted the shore.  It was great not dealing with traffic and the path even allowed travelers to pass under several of the bridges, removing the need to cross traffic, which was beginning to build with the evening rush hour.

The Charles River

In case you were wondering, the Charles River is named after Charles I of England.  The English explorer John Smith (founder of Jamestown) had explored the area and originally named it the Massachusetts River.  Upon presenting the map to the king, Smith said he tended toward “native” names but His Majesty should feel free to make any changes.  Humility was clearly not one of Charles’ strongest traits as he renamed the river after himself.  This is ironic in that Charles would shortly be known for antagonizing Puritans and it was those same Puritans who were settling in Boston.  Apparently, the antipathy wasn’t so strong as to cause them to change the name.  Then again, it probably would not have been wise to go about changing the names of things decreed by the king, no matter what your relationship might be with him at the moment.

Harvard University

In short order, I was in the heart of the city once again.  I had hoped to find Fenway Park, home of the hated Red Sox baseball club (well, hated by me anyway).  Time was pressing, and I had to forego that trip.  Instead, I pressed on to the first of the tourist sights I hoped to visit – Boston Common.

George Washington, overlooking Boston Common

Dating almost to the founding of Boston in 1634, the area was originally used as a cow pasture, burial ground, and a place to hang criminals.  The British Army camped there in 1775 and it was from this location they departed to seize the weapons of the Massachusetts Militia on April 19 of that year, resulting in the Battle of Lexington and Concord.  The land was given over to public use in 1830 and is arguably the first ever urban park in the world, depending on how you measure such things.

A college student trying to fund his education (or so he claimed)

The Common was quite pleasant and was rapidly filling up with people enjoying what had turned out to be a nice day.  The sun was even beginning to peak out from behind the clouds.  I took an extended break on a bench and watched the world pass by.  I had been on the go for over three hours and traveled about 30 miles.

Since this is the place where I paused during my ride, it seems like a logical place to pause in this story.  Stay tuned for the second installment and learn of my travels into the heart of the historical district, the North End, and my subsequent trip to Bunker Hill.  Naturally, I shall then wrap things up by making sweeping conclusions on all things cycling in the greater Boston metro area!

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15 thoughts on “Cycling In Boston, Part I

  1. I lived on Mass Ave for a year and loved to walk along the Charles. So great to see the city, but still have the easy to navigate path. On Sundays, they close Starrow Drive (the crazy busy street that follows the river) and lots of people come out to play. Plus, you caught one of the classic sights – a scull out on the water.

    • There were dozens of sculls and scores of sail boats, but I didn’t want to overwhelm you with a zillion pics of them! I was impressed with the number of boat houses and yacht clubs (private, university, and public) that dot both sides of the river.

  2. Swan boats! I loved those when I was little and we lived in Foxboro. They were magical to a 3 year old–and I’m still pretty happy to see them. 🙂

  3. What a fine picture of the heron. I particularly like the way you have got it placed in its environment instead of these constant irritating close ups you see on other blogs.

    You seem to have cycled just about everywhere so I hope you have some good stuff left for part two.

    • The poor 5x optical zoom of my camera denied me the option of an extreme close up. I would say the average shutter speed would have precluded an exciting action shot, but the heron was moving at a very pedestrian pace.

      Although the distance left to travel is relatively small, it was packed with interesting tidbits so there is still plenty of material for part two!

  4. Nifty! It’s nice when a person can find the time to explore the city when on on business trip.Especially by bike!

    I don’t know if Raleigh still uses the heron as its emblem, but it’s still neat that you saw a heron while riding a Raleigh. The company ain’t what it used to be but I’ve see a few few nice bikes by them of late. One bike shop here has a Port Townsend and Sojourn on the floor and they are pretty appealing bikes. The Classic Roadster looks like a nice one to glide around the city on.

    As far as long 3-speed rides go there is the Lake Pepin tour in Minnesota (this very weekend!) which is about 85 miles. However, it is advertised as a “lycra-free event”.

    • I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t notice the emblem on the bike. The Port Townsend is on my short list for a touring bike when I buy one some year. Your comment about the company has now got me worried about that!

      I would be fascinated to attend the Pake Pepin event only to stand at the start/finish line to observe the various fashion strategies and see how they worked out in the end. I’m sure it can be done but I wouldn’t be excited about trying it.

      • Oh no, don’t mind me, I’m just one of those vintage bike guys that feels that a little of the soul went out companies like Raleigh when they moved production out of their country of origin. I really do think the Port Townsend looks like a good bike: modern but with a nice classic style. I was tempted to take one for a spin at the LBS.

  5. “Fenway Park, home of the hated Red Sox baseball club (well, hated by me anyway).”

    Don’t tell me, you’re a secret Yankees fan in Senators land …. I mean Nationals land, the Senators did move, didn’t they?

    • Yes! Although after ten years in DC I have a soft spot for the Nationals, the Yankees are my team. Yes, the Senators have moved. You can find them in their current incarnation in Dallas, where they are called the Texas Rangers.

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