A different spin on the city

If you can pedal, you can tour the Boston waterfront, with a few stops to get your bearings

Andrea Girimonte and Karina DiDonato, both of Argentina, take a break at the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal in South Boston. Andrea Girimonte and Karina DiDonato, both of Argentina, take a break at the Black Falcon Cruise Terminal in South Boston. (Kayana Szymczak for The Boston Globe)
By Necee Regis
Globe Correspondent / July 11, 2010

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You may have seen them, in their helmets and gear, traveling in packs from the North End to the Fenway, from the waterfront to Cambridge. It’s a great way to learn about the city, and you don’t even have to own the bike.

On a steamy evening in early summer, Ted Schwartzberg is preparing for the 6 o’clock Bikes@Night tour, one of three or four offered daily by Urban AdvenTours. As my fellow riders arrive, Schwartzberg outfits each of us with a helmet and water bottle, and adjusts the height of our hybrid bicycle seats for optimal comfort. We’re taught how to brake and use the gears, and are encouraged to take a test spin before meeting nearby at the statue of Christopher Columbus in the North End.

There are five of us: three participants and two guides. (Depending on the number of riders, larger groups are split up and assigned guides.) Although the tour is popular with visitors, on this evening we are all from the area.

Megan Allsup, a South End resident, admits she hasn’t ridden a bike in a long time. This is the second excursion for Allsup’s friend, Madeline Carr of Brookline, who describes the Emerald Necklace tour as “awesome.’’

Bikes@Night is geared to exploring the waterfront, a good choice on a day when temperatures topped 90 degrees. After a lesson from Schwartzberg on arm traffic signals, we take off, single file, tooling along the Rose Kennedy Greenway, cycling past the Aquarium and children in bathing suits cavorting in a fountain. We squeeze past cars in a bumper-to-bumper Friday night jam.

We stop at the Intercontinental Hotel, near Independence Wharf, and Schwartzberg launches into a brief history of the harbor, Fort Point Channel, and the intricacies of Chapter 91, a Massachusetts law that protects the public’s access to waterways. We’re impressed. It turns out that by day, Schwartzberg is an urban planner at the Boston Redevelopment Association. On nights and weekends he gives bike tours.

“Biking is the best antidote to sitting in an office all day,’’ he says. “I never owned a car. In the day, I ride in my suit.’’

Our other guide, Chris Thompson, earned a degree in political communication from Emerson College. A later perusal of the tour company’s website reveals a staff rich with degrees from Berklee College of Music, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Northeastern, Boston University, and Wesleyan, with interests as diverse as economics, city planning, backcountry skiing, international relations, rock ’n’ roll, and chamber music. What they all have in common is a passion for cycling and a love for the city.

“Everyone who works for me rides,’’ says Andrew Prescott, 34, Urban AdvenTours owner and self-described CWO (chief wheel officer).

Prescott had bike shops in two other locations before moving to the Mercantile Wharf Building close to Quincy Market on Atlantic Avenue. (His sales and repair shop is just a few doors from his AdvenTours and rental office.) “We needed to be in the tourist area,’’ he says.

Back on our bikes, we cross the bridge to Fort Point Channel, turn right on A Street, and loop around Melcher onto Summer, with Thompson pointing out fun places to eat and drink. Although daily routes are roughly the same, there is flexibility within each tour.

“Routes are based on the personal experiences and knowledge of each guide, as well as the speed and agility of the riders,’’ says Schwartzberg.

We stop again at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, and are regaled with stories of how the city was founded and grew. From this vantage point, it’s easy to imagine the spine of Washington Street as a narrow isthmus connecting Boston to the mainland before the South End was created by landfill in the 1840s.

The warmth radiating from the cobblestones and asphalt is offset by a light breeze from the harbor. We’re soon off again, happy to be riding, and wind our way to the Marine Industrial Park, our shadows stretching ahead of us. We cycle past the Boston Design Center and the Black Falcon Pier, shifting gears as we pedal up a ramp leading to a long, mainly empty parking lot overlooking the harbor islands.

This is our longest rest stop along the route. Schwartzberg points out the highlights of the 360 degree view: the airport traffic tower in East Boston, the Bunker Hill Monument in Charlestown, the downtown skyline, and the egg-shaped domes of the wastewater treatment plant on Deer Island, while Thompson snaps random photos of the tour that will be available later on Flickr.

Before we’re ready, it’s time to head back. We pass the Harpoon Brewery, where, Schwartzberg tells us, the “tanks were shipped from Germany, and the beer is made with Boston water.’’ A beer would be welcome right about now, but we continue onward, passing the big white tent that’s the Bank of America Pavilion, the Boston Fish Pier, and Anthony’s Pier 4 Restaurant. (Mmmm. Some grilled fish would be tasty with that beer.)

At the Institute of Contemporary Art, we pause again before continuing into town on a stretch of the Boston Harborwalk, a network of trails and walkways from East Boston to Dorchester. We stop again at the John Joseph Moakley US Courthouse to admire the city in the fading light, and then cruise to the North End, swooping behind the Aquarium, where seals are visible behind newly installed glass walls.

We arrive back at the shop at 7:45, sweaty and pleased with ourselves. The thought of taking the subway home is unsettling.

“We also sell bikes,’’ said Schwartzberg.

Necee Regis can be reached at

If You Go

Urban AdvenTours
103 Atlantic Ave.
Three or four tours daily at 10 a.m., 2 p.m., and 6 p.m, 1 3/4-2 1/2 hours, $35-$50, includes bicycle, helmet, and water.