I bike commuted in Boston for a year. This is what I learned

As soon as I became a full-time professor, I knew I had to sort out my commuting situation. Driving isn’t an option as I didn’t want the expense of another vehicle plus daily parking charges. Taking the MBTA from my house consumes over an hour and comes with extra aggravation that could fill an entire blog post on its own. I could possibly run, but Berklee faculty don’t have access to showers on campus. There is even a shower stall in my office, which they’ve helpfully capped off :rageface:

On paper, I’m the ideal candidate for bike commuting:

  • 5 mile distance
  • mostly flat
  • 80% of commute is along a dedicated bike path
  • Berklee provides a secure bike parking location

The no shower thing is still kind of an issue, though. So, I decided to try an e-bike. An e-bike is mostly like a regular bike, but with a DC motor and battery. You still pedal and everything, but it is like someone is giving a push the entire way and you don’t care about hills. Also, it ends up being faster than a regular bike. I can get door to door in less than half the time as the MBTA.

Shiny new e-bike procured, I set out on my commuting adventure.

iZip E3 Path+ — with battery, motor and heavy-duty frame, this bike is 50 pounds and rides like it. Definately my workhorse.

Riding a bike in Boston is a lot safer than it was 25 years ago

When I arrived in Boston in the late 80’s I tried biking like, once, and quickly decided it wasn’t for me. Today, we have miles of bike lanes and they’ve made commuting much safer. Cars will still double park in the bike lane, and they still have to make right hand turns across the bike lane and pedestrians will pop out randomly, but bike lanes are like express lanes. Traffic can be at a standstill, yet the bike lanes are open, which must piss off cars which brings me to my next point…

Motorists still hate you

People in cars hate you for existing. They’re angry, especially if you’re moving and they’re not. I’ve been honked at, swore at, nearly killed many times and peed on. Traffic sucks in Boston. Every person on a bike represents one fewer car on the road. Bikers are the solution to congestion, not the problem.

Velocé Nimbus with Ergon GP-1 grips — minimal, nimble, aggressive and fun if you don’t mind getting sweaty

You need different bikes for different kinds of weather

After nine months of daily commuting, I needed a new chain, cassette, rotors, and brake pads. e-bikes put extra torque and stress on individual components. The total bill came to $170. I needed a beater bike that I could run in foul weather and take some of the burden off my expensive e-bike. I got a single speed for $200 that worked great. My commute is mostly flat after all, I didn’t expect it to be a problem… until I hit a 20 MPH head wind. So I got a third bike that sits between the single speed and the e-bike. I take the e-bike when I have heavy loads or during windy days. I take the single speed when conditions are wet. I take the eight speed for everything else.

Priority Eight — Gates belt drive, hydraulic brakes and internally-geared Nexus hub (yay, no derailleur or greasy chains!) Extremely smooth, silent, low-maintance and enjoyable to ride.

The T will allow you to bring your bike

This one blows my mind, but it makes sense. Busses are equipped with bike racks that are easy to use. One day I blew my tire, so I just walked my bike to the closest bus stop and continued from there. You can even bring your bike on the subway, as long as it isn’t the green line or during rush hour.

The weather isn’t as much of an issue as I thought

With the proper gear, I’ve been able to ride pretty much year round. If there are snow banks on the road (aka, the bike lane), I don’t bike. Otherwise, I’m good. Modern fabrics are amazing. A merino wool blend works great as a base layer, and I also use a lightweight outer shell that blocks wind and rain, yet still breathes. Layer as needed.

Lights are critical safety items

Reflectors won’t do for city commuting. You need to outfit yourself with seriously annoying blinky business. You should be able to see your light reflected in street signs four blocks away. I can really tell a difference in driver’s attitude at night. For lights, you want something that goes on and off easily and charges via USB without disassembly. Avoid lights that make you take out the battery to charge. Avoid lights that use a mount because you might want to use the lights on a different bike.

Buy cheap accessories if you enjoy paying for things twice

Every time I try to go cheap: bike lights, panniers, bike pump, it ends up being a mistake. Buy it right the first time. For a bike pump, you want something that stands up on its own, has a built-in gauge and supports both Presta and Schrader valves. And don’t mess around with cheap bike locks, just get a Kryptonite U Lock. I use one set of lights and one lock for all three bikes. I just had to find additional Kryptonite Transit frame mounts for the additional bikes.

I love biking again

When I was 11 my parents gave me an awesome Schwinn Super Le Tour which I rode everywhere until I got my driver’s license. I used to love riding a bike, but getting a car made me forget that. Now I can’t wait to go to work because it means I get to ride my bike.

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