Mother’s Day Ride for the CCG Foundation

Join us on Sunday, May 10th 2015 for the 4th Annual Christina Clarke Genco Mother’s Day Memorial Ride! Bike Newton has been a proud sponsor of the ride since its inception in 2012 and will continue this year in full support of safe cycling.

The Christina Clarke Genco Foundation is in loving memory of Christina Genco, a Newton resident, who tragically lost her life in 2011 in a biking accident.  The Memorial Ride will start at Newton City Hall and estimates over 300 cyclists and 100 volunteers.  The majority of funds raised will support affordable housing projects in partnership with Bike & Build and Habitat for Humanity.

The Ride is set up for families as well as experienced cyclists, with bike routes including 68 miles, 34 miles, 17 miles, and a 3.4 mile “Kid Fondo” Family Ride. Join us for a fun day of safe cycling, entertainment, music, food, and prizes!

Register today on BikeReg!
Check out what’s included in your $45 tax-deductible registration donation

Can’t ride, but still want to help?
Volunteer, donate, or simply spread the word by inviting your friends to our Facebook event!

Register for the 3rd Annual Tour de Newton


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I know it may be hard to believe, with glaciers still interfering with bike lanes, but registration for the 3rd Annual Tour de Newton is now open!

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Register for Tour de Newton, June 21, 2015

We’re introducing some new features this year, based on participant feedback from last year:

1. The Petite Tour: For less experienced riders, a 5 mile Tour starting and ending near Mason-Rice School. Details about the route will follow soon.

2. The Contra Tour: For more experienced riders who want to move a little faster, the Contra Tour will start and end in Newton Centre, and go in the opposite direction from the other 14 tours.

All ride start times are 9:30 sharp. Please arrive early!

The entry fee is the same as last year. (No inflation! Sweet!):

Children: $5
Adults: $10
Families: $25 (Must register entire group at once for the family rate.)

Want to be a ride leader or sweep? Please email Bike Newton. This year, ride leaders and sweeps will register on a separate form; don’t worry, that link will be posted soon.

Winter Biking, Extreme Winter Version

Bike on a snow pileFirst off, let me acknowledge that all people have their limits. Mine is 10 degrees and any snow. I’ve gotten some advice from folks whose lower limit of temperature hasn’t yet been plumbed, and I’ll be upping my game soon with the addition of a balaclava. But not for a while yet: once the snow starts flying, my old retrofitted Peugot takes a berth in the garage and I’m on foot and the T until Mr. Heat Miser comes out of hiding for a while.

But lately I’ve been hearing from the Boston Cyclists Union about serious winter bikers, the kind with fat tires or studs, and the celebration of bicycling through the worst that Mother Nature can dish out (and as we all know, the bar has been raised this winter). Then I discovered that one of Bike Newton’s own, Nathan Phillips, has been on two wheels through most of the last three weeks. To drive away cabin fever just after Winter Storm Neptune has finished, and because I’m sure I’m not the only one wondering whether winter bikers are more crazy or more heroic, I’ve asked him to answer a few questions:

BN: I know you go from Auburndale to BU, but what’s your route, how far is it, and how long does it take you?

NP: I mainly use two routes which I mix up for variety. One parallels the Mass Pike, mostly Washington St. to the multi-path on Nonantum Road, and side roads into BU. The other route wends over to Beacon Street at Zervas School all the way in almost to Kenmore Square. Each route is just over 9 miles and takes about 40-45 minutes one way.

BN: Have you been biking through all weather all year?

NP: Pretty much. I bike in rain or snow. I draw the line at blizzard conditions or when there is lots of ice on the ground – which is not often the case during snow.

BN: Is this your first season of battling the snow?

NP: No, but its definitely one of the biggest. The biggest obstacle is the lack of a shoulder, so I’m sometimes forced into ‘vehicular cycling’, that is, waiting in line with the cars.

BN: What would make you say, “No way. Not today”? Has it happened this year?

NP: Blizzards or conditions favoring black ice.

BN: Any special bicycle equipment, like studded tires?

NP: I’ve just used my regular single speed commuter bike, with its normal tires. They’ve worked fine in the the slush and ground snow, as long as I ride a little more deliberately. But I’ve been eyeing a fat tire Surly over at Harris Cyclery for some time now. They told me that these bikes are popular in Alaska for snow riding.

BN: What about snow and salt buildup on the bike? Do the brakes even work?

NP: This is the part that makes me dream about Hubway coming to Newton some day. The maintenance. I do have salt build up, and while I’ve squirted the bike down with a bottle mister, it really requires more of a pressure wash, which I’m reluctant to do around the house because it will cause a frozen mess.

BN: I know I have trouble below 10 degrees, because my fingers go numb and my eyes tear so much that I can’t see. How do you keep warm?

NP: I’ve had to upgrade my gloves, and by trial and error found that wearing six layers (poly + cotton longsleeve + 3 zippered pullovers + shell) works well no matter how cold it gets. The balaclava is super important. I also having eye tearing issues; I thought about some ski goggles but haven’t done that yet.

BN: Why?

NP: Biking is by far the most reliable way to commute on a schedule, under normal conditions and especially during these extraordinary conditions. I have no anxiety about automobile gridlock or the ailing MBTA. I feel very fortunate to have the health to be able to do this.

BN: What else can you tell our reading public about biking in a Boston Winter?

NP: With the snow, it’s better to ‘take the lane’ on narrow streets than to try to stay on the (non-existent) shoulder. I haven’t had any road rage directed at me yet, perhaps because I’m often on the tail of the car in front of me and not holding up car traffic.

pru snowdrift

Mass State Police Get It

state police academy insignia

Two state troopers in Massachusetts* have put together a training bulletin called Bicycling on Roadways that demonstrates a clear grasp both of current Massachusetts law and of genuine safety issues facing bicyclists. Bike Newton applauds the effort, and has requested that the Newton Police Department adopt the document and use it in their training regarding bicyclists on Newton streets. This training bulletin could help Newton move forward considerably on one of the League of American Bicyclists 5 E’s: Enforcement, and get us that much closer to being rated a “silver” Bicycle Friendly Community.

Highlights from the Training Bulletin:

  • Bicycles are a “primary mode of transportation for many people.”
  • Bicycling on a roadway is not disorderly conduct.
  • “The only reason to arrest someone who has committed a bicycle infraction is: if the offender fails to state his true name and address or provides a false name and address after they are stopped for a ‘traffic law violation’ on a bike.”
  • Key bicyclist and motorist violations are research-based, and listed under “How You Can Reduce Bicyclist Injuries and Deaths.”

*Sgt. Lawrence Kiely & Tpr. Brian Paquette


Tour de Newton Planning

Through the cold days of winter, the intrepid planning committee for Tour de Newton (Sunday, June 21, 2015) continues to meet, braving the near-zero January temperatures on foot and bike in order to plan for you a glorious day of biking in June.

What’s up? Registration will be up and running before you know it. As we sort out details of sponsors and float crazy ideas about how many participants we think we can handle and bicycling the route backwards (maybe not so much wine at the next meeting?), we’re also putting together the registration site. Target date for opening registration: February 1.*   In order to hit that date, we’ll all have to be drinking more coffee than wine for the next few weeks.

If we hit any snags, the date may have to move, but we’ll let everyone know every which way we can. Until then, hang tight! Or loose. Or whichever way you hang. And keep biking in spite of the cold! Me, personally, I’ve only missed a few days so far. It’s so invigorating to beat the cold!

1/31/15 Update:

*OK, so we weren’t drinking enough coffee. Still many things to resolve before we open registration. But hey, we’re still 2 months ahead of last year’s registration. We’ll keep you posted!

June 21, 2015: The Next Tour de Newton

Save that date! While the days shorten and winter looms around the corner, it’s time to look forward to the balmy days of June, namely, Father’s Day, that traditional day of 20%-off sales of power-drills and gas grills.

And the Tour de Newton! We don’t have the details yet, but we have the date: Sunday, June 21, 2015. Ah, I can feel the warm breezes now. When the winter chill threatens to get you down, just repeat to yourself Tour de Newton, Tour de Newton… and sure as the summer solstice will come around again (hey! on June 21!), so will the Tour de Newton.

Newton Bicycle Update Video

After a series of technical glitches beyond the capabilities of this newbie webmaster, Jenn Adams of NewTV came to the rescue of Bike Newton and uploaded the 1 1/4 hour video of September’s Bicycle Update to Vimeo. Thanks, Jenn! Now all of you who missed this excellent review of Newton’s efforts to achieve League of American Bicyclists Bicycle Friendly Community Silver status, can view it at your leisure.

  • LoisUpdateVideoEngineering of accommodations – William Paille, Director of Transportation, city of Newton
  • Education of cyclists and drivers – Steve Heinrichs, Director of Education, Bike Newton, Officer Dawn Fleming, Newton Police Dept., and Julian Philips, Safety Garden Design Consultant
  • Encouragement –  Lois Levin – Bicycle Coordinator, City of Newton
  • Enforcement – Sgt Jay Babcock, Newton Police Dept
  • Evaluation – John Pelletier, co-chair Bicycle Advisory Committee, Newton


Bike Your Way to Being Smarter and Happier. If You Dare.

Son of Steve is well into his first month of middle school and all the changes that entails. He’s hit that point where the honeymoon is over. The novelty has worn off, and the reality of earlier mornings, heavier backpack, crazier schedules, and more teachers and classes and assignments to keep track of has set in. He sighed this morning a heavy enervated sigh and said, “I wish Saturday would hurry up and come.” He’s tired. Psychically tired. There’s been a heroic level of adaptation going on, and it’s taken a toll.

The other big change has been a major drop in physical activity. Last year, he walked six tenths of a mile to school and back every day. This year, he rides the bus. It’s taken a measurable toll on physical activity. How measurable? About a 50% drop, as measured by the fitbit he’s been wearing for the last year and a half. In elementary school, he could dependably rack up 12,000-15,000 steps daily, sometimes exceeding 20,000. So far in middle school, he hovers in the 6-7,000 vicinity, rarely topping 10,000. Part of that is the missing walk to school, and another part is the lack of physical activity programmed into the school day: a drop from two to zero recesses, and a drop in the frequency of P.E. classes.

I’ve seen a number of studies surfacing lately that have connected exercise with mood and cognitive abilities. A longitudinal study in Britain found that car commuters who switched to biking, walking, or public transportation tended to improve their moods. Findings were further reinforced by effects of lengthening commutes: an additional 10 minutes of car commuting led to higher levels of anxiety, whereas an additional 10 minutes of commuting by bike, walking, or public transportation led to lower anxiety.

A US study on schoolchildren found that daily after-school exercise (about 4,000 steps in two hours) substantially improved children’s attention and cognitive skills during school, actually doubling some measures over the control group.

So it’s pretty clear he needs to get his activity back up, and barring a sudden revolution in Newton’s top-tier-college focus on academics, that ain’t gonna happen during school hours.

So what about walking? The walk to middle school is twice the distance (1.2 miles) of his elementary school. Though I walked that far in middle school, I started in 7th grade, not 6th. And backpacks just weren’t so overloaded in those days. Also, I don’t relish sending him across the Parker St. bridge over Route 9, new signals notwithstanding. I don’t feel comfortable entrusting his safety to Parker Street’s impatient, distracted, speed-addicted commuters. The only crossing that was close to that perilous in my own middle-school walk (a four-lane arterial) had a police crossing guard, because it was right in front of the school.

What about biking? It’s hazardous: the most direct route involves Parker St. A Brown student on a bike was injured last week on Parker (Bike Newton–and others–are attempting to find out more about the incident). But I’m looking into alternate routes: one possibility is to cross 9 at the signal at Woodcliff Road and take back streets, cutting out most of Parker. So here I am, a big proponent of biking, a bike commuter, and a bike blogger, and even I hesitate to send my child to middle school on a bike. What is wrong with this supposedly sleepy, safe little city? Or, alternatively, what’s wrong with me? (Maybe I know too much?)

This is where the rubber hits the road, isn’t it? This is where I experience the hesitation that most people have had about making a transition from driving to biking: is it safe? And this is when I have to be stern and remind myself: is it safer to lack exercise and activity? Safer to let the mind go soft in a stew of inattention and anxiety? I know my own mood and mental acuity have improved since I started bike commuting a few years ago. Should I really be denying those benefits to my child?

OK. I’ll have to try a test run. Maybe I can bike it with him a few days to see how it goes and see where the trouble spots are. Of course, we’ll soon be cut short by dark mornings and inclement weather. But maybe by then we’ll have braved the route on foot, and he can experience the joys–as I did–of a 1.2 mile walk to middle school in all kinds of weather.

Biking like a Kid

School has started up again, which means I’m seeing more kids on bikes during my morning commute through Newton. One in particular I’ve seen several times pedaling hell-for-leather on the long slope down Parker St. towards Route 9. He’s got that look on his face, the one that says he’ll be on a bike for life: he just can’t believe he can go this fast. About half of his attention is on his madly pumping legs, so it’s clear he’s taken up with the joy of the body in motion. Such single-minded delight! In spite of his lack of attention for the road, which I admit worries me a little, his joy is infectious. I smile as I continue steadily up the hill he flies down.

Later in the ride I catch up to another biker. It’s on the long climb up Beacon from Centre to BC. That’s the part of my ride where either I’m passed by someone who doesn’t seem to notice the slope, or I catch up to someone who hasn’t labored up this hill every day for a few years. So, I catch up to this middle-aged man (like me), but only very slowly – slowly enough that I’m not going to pass him. I’m behind him all the way up the steep, narrow section near Elizabeth Cady Stanton Mary Baker Eddy’s house*, observing his style.

He’s looking down at his legs and feet a lot, straining against the high ratio he hasn’t shifted out of. And he’s swerving, partly to avoid obstacles like that divot next to the storm drain right where the bike lane reachest its narrowest point, but partly to make corrections in his path as his attention refocuses on the road ahead. Maybe, too, his body is telling him to take switchbacks to make the climb easier. So I can tell he hasn’t been at this all that long. I’m happy to see someone coming back to biking, the way I did a few years ago.

Over the crest of the hill, I’d have expected him to coast, but he pedals like mad, just like that kid flying down Parker. But that’s not a wise choice here: cars are stacked up to the light at Hammond St. an arm’s length to his left, and there’s green light ahead, and he’ll reach the end of the bike lane, where the cars are about a foot from the curb, in seconds, just when those cars start moving. But that’s when he surprises me, and no doubt a few drivers, by swerving left into an opening and swerving again to follow the double-yellow down the middle, next to the wide-open turn lane. Is he turning left? If he is, he’ll have to slow and wait for a gap, because the oncoming line of cars is already moving. But no: he swerves to the right into another gap between cars. At this point, I’m reaching the squeeze of traffic right before the gamut of potholes at Hammond St., so I have to mind my own business.

When I look up again, he’s straight ahead of me in the bike lane, pedaling like mad downhill. This is where I’m nearing the end of my ride–a left into the BC campus–, so aside from being mindful of traffic, I can relax. Coasting, it’s easy to reach 30+ mph. I ride the brakes a bit, eyeing traffic behind me in my mirror. I look back and confirm a nice wide gap, signal, and move into the traffic lane for a left turn. Thankfully, there’s a nice wide gap in oncoming traffic, too, right after a white Toyota. And there’s my biking colleague, swerving from the bike lane into an uncomfortably small gap, and then darting to the left of the mid-road crosswalk sign to take the left into BC before the oncoming Toyota.

Were he 20 years younger, it would be easy to ascribe his recklessness to his age: 20-somethings are self-absorbed immortals, right? But he’s in the vicinity of my own age, which is good, because it makes me stop and reflect. Did I do crazy things like that a few years ago? I hope not. But maybe.

More than resembling a 20-something risk-taker, he resembles the kid flying down Parker, at once absorbed in his embodied joy and totally unmindful of his potentially lethal surroundings. And it’s not just a lack of mindfulness of risks. There’s a lack of mindfulness about the entire road situation, as if he’s alone in a wilderness dodging inanimate objects, among which he, an interloper, has no place.

That’s my moment of insight. Recklessness isn’t necessarily the behavior of someone who owns the road: it can also be the behavior of someone with no place. Having no place, he invents places willy-nilly. He dodges through, in a solo sport. A street is not a place to be: it’s a place to get through, to survive, an obstacle course. But if you see it that way, you become an obstacle yourself. You don’t attune to the rhythms of traffic, you don’t see the drivers on their way to work with plenty of their own troubles, you don’t see the whole environment or the constant dialogue that goes on between people with a place on the road. You see moments, gaps, and opportunities, and press them spontaneously and suddenly.

For all his mad downhill pedaling, and for all his darting and weaving through gaps, he reaches the BC campus only about a second ahead of me. No doubt his heart is racing with exertion and adrenaline, and maybe that’s part of what he seeks. But that’s all part of the same picture: biking like a child, bounded by one’s own needs and senses, unable to see the bigger picture and balance your own needs with others’ needs.

It comes with experience. I’ve been at this biking-in-traffic thing for a while now. I’m no expert, but I don’t think I bike like a kid, either. At some point, I recognized both my vulnerability and my capability to do harm, and I became a different biker: stolid, predictable, aware of everything around me, and every year a little more lit up by blinking lights and safety yellow.

So it’s a tricky balance. We want more people of all ages to take up biking. And one of the joys of biking that keeps people on bikes is some combination of maneuverability, freedom, and taking joy in the body’s capabilities. In short, the joy of biking like a kid. But we want people to be safe, too, and to be safe, we have to trade some of that joy for the less visceral pleasure of having a rightful place on road and with the traffic.

But only some of that joy. Because what can beat the joy of riding home down Chestnut Hill at the end of the day? I just don’t get that experience in a car.

*Now you know my terrible secret: I’m so bad with names that I confused the founder of Christian Science with one of the earliest leaders of women’s suffrage.