Dave Watson, the director of MassBike, has been riding to work for the past six years. Dave used to be a practicing attorney. He also used to be 25 lbs. heavier.
His weight loss secret? “I started riding my bike to work.”
From both his experience as a bicycle commuter and the director of MassBike, Dave has witnessed huge changes in the Boston bike scene in the past six years. “The demographics have visibly shifted. In 2006 I noticed that many of the people who commuted were what I called super-commuters: older men wearing spandex on racing or touring bikes, with a lot of equipment. Now that’s the exception rather than the rule. There’s a wider age range and both men and women are out riding their bikes. And they’re not on fancy bikes, not in fancy clothes. It’s become a more accepted part of getting around town.”
If you're one of the area's growing legions of bicyclists, or want to join, then you’re in luck. May is bike month, and this week is Bay State Bike Week, what Dave described as “A statewide celebration of biking to remind people that bicycles have a place on the road.”
Dave described the changes in the area's bicycling climate as “Overwhelmingly positive. When you see people who are dressed up in funny looking clothes it can be very intimidating. Seeing regular people on bikes isn’t threatening. It makes people look and say hey, I can do that, too.”
Dave acknowledges that there is a downside to more people riding around town. “A lot of those people are less aware of how to bike safely. Maybe they don’t know that bikes are supposed to follow the same rules as cars.”
This being Bike to Work Week, I asked Dave for some pointers for people who are in the category of what is described as “interested but concerned.” Interested in riding their bike. Maybe to work, maybe to run errands, and maybe just for fun. But concerned, too: about arriving safe or sweaty and without a secure place to store their bike.
Dave has a few suggestions for safer biking. “If you really want to get a leg up, taking a class is a good idea. MassBike and lots of local bike shops offer classes just to get people acclimated.”
If you don’t have the time to take a class or you’re a DIY kind of person, Dave offered up a few suggestions to make your ride safer and more enjoyable.
“First off, get a bike that fits you. If it doesn’t fit you it won’t be comfortable and you won’t use it. Then learn some of the rules of the road so you know what you’re supposed to do and what others are supposed to do.”
Finally, Dave suggested that you “Plan your route (in advance). Figure out a route and test it out when you’re not in a hurry so you can get a sense of whether it will work for you.”
When people ask Dave if it’s dangerous to bike, he tells them, “It’s challenging. Less challenging in some places, more challenging in others. But if you get a bike that fits, learn the rules of the road, and plan your route in advance you can be safe riding in Boston.”
Bay State Bike Week is chock full of bicycle fun: breakfasts, workshops, art shows, Brookline’s Bicycle Parade, and movie nights, to name just a few. My favorite event is Bike Friday, a series of nine group rides that starts in the surrounding neighborhoods of Boston and meets up at City Hall. It provides a chance to meet other cyclists and enjoy a free breakfast downtown. Cyclists love the word free, so there are sure to be plenty of bikers enjoying their breakfast burritos.
Boston has come a long way in a short time, from one of the worst places to ride in America to one of the best. Still, Dave knows that there’s much work to be done to convert people who are interested into people who bike.
In the meantime, why not join in the fun and give it a try?
For a round up of Bike Week events, go here.
Jonathan Simmons is a psychologist and an avid cyclist. His book, “Here For the Ride” will be published later this year.