Bicycling is a great way to get around town and a great way to relax. Riding a bike dramatically increases your transportation flexibility, your shopping and relaxation options, and can be a “built-in” form of daily exercise once your schedule becomes overbooked. You can get almost anywhere you want to go, even downtown, in less than 30 minutes. And most of the Harvard campus and surrounding areas where students tend to live are pretty flat, so it’s not too strenuous.
Gear and Preparation
Gear up! A helmet, a blinking tail light, and a headlight for your bicycle are safety necessities to make sure you are visible to drivers, especially when it’s dark or in bad weather. Invest in a strong lock—bicycles do get stolen.
- Front (white) light
- Rear (red) light
Required by law from 30 minutes prior to sundown to 30 minutes after sunrise; biking without them can lead to a fine or bike impounding.
Like your lights, it’s necessary for your own safety. If for any reason you end up in an accident, the first question (like seat-belts in a car) will be if you were wearing your helmet. Wear one.
Many students use a combination of a strong, solid U-lock and a cable lock; this is the best combo to secure your bike. Make sure you can lock your frame, not just your wheel, to the bike rack with the U-lock. Use the cable to secure your wheel.
Optional, but when it rains, these will keep splash marks off your pant legs.
- Reflective gear
The law says you must wear reflectors on your ankles if your pedals do not have them. It doesn’t have to be a fashion statement, but having any extra reflective gear on either your bike or your body will improve visibility to drivers, especially when riding home after a late night at school, or after having fun in Central Square.
You should also register your bike with the Harvard Police, and put your registration sticker on your bike.
Buying a Bike
There are a number of well-established, independent bicycle shops in the area. Most offer repair services in addition to sales.
Broadway Bicycle School is the closest shop to the GSD. Worker-owned and collectively run full-service bicycle shop. They’ll teach you how to fix your bike. They also have tools and stands for rent, and repair parts for sale.
Quad Bikes is the non-profit bicycle shop for the Harvard community and one of the least expensive bicycle resources. If you order a factory-direct bike online and don’t know how to assemble it, they can do it for you.
Ace Wheelworks is in Porter Square and is considered one of the best bike shops in the area.
Cambridge Antique Market: If you’re looking for a used clunker to fix up, aside from Craigslist and the GSD Fellow Students email list, you can try the basement here. Hours vary, so check online.
Bikes Direct is an online bike store where you can get a new bike for as much as half off the retail price. They ship free in their factory box and come mostly assembled. If you have bike tools and a little bravery, you can probably finish the job yourself. If not, have it shipped to Quad Bikes and they’ll do it for you for $40 (but call them first).
Renting a Bike
Hubway, Boston’s bike share service, has an ever-increasing number of stations in the Boston area that you can use 24 hours per day spring, summer and fall. Many stations in Cambridge are now open through the winter as well. You can get annual, monthly and short-term passes, and there is a Harvard student discount. The best part is that you can use the bikes one-way and drop them off at another station. Be sure to bring your own helmet!
Renting Bikes for Adventures
If you don’t own a bike or if you have visiting guests whom you would like to take on a bicycle excursion, it’s easy and affordable to rent one through Cambridge Bicycle.
Bike Safety in the City
For general tips on riding in the city, see bicyclesafe.com. Be sure to check out the area’s largest advocacy groups: MassBike and the Boston Cyclists Union. If you have never biked in an urban area before, you may want to take a class in safe cycling through Harvard’s Commuter Choice Program or through a local bike organization.
Always wear a helmet and at night use lights, both front and rear. Ride your bicycle in the street, in a bike lane or on the right hand side, and follow vehicular driving rules, including obeying signal lights and stop signs. Hand signal to cars and other cyclists when turning, and if it’s unsafe to turn in the car lane, use crosswalks instead—it’s called an “L-turn”—and yield to pedestrians!
Avoiding Car Accidents
Watch for cars pulling in and out of parking spots, and for passengers opening driver’s side doors. Avoid riding in drivers’ blind spots, and pick routes with bike lanes whenever possible. Pay extra attention to buses and large trucks, whose drivers often aren’t able to see nearby bikes. When waiting at a red light, pause a moment after it turns green to be sure no cars are speeding through a red light.
Lessen tire pressure for better traction. Perhaps get nubbier tires if you usually ride on slick tires. Don’t brake if you encounter black ice; instead, steer straight and don’t pedal until you’ve passed the icy patch. Your pedals can be slippery in the snow and ice, so wear shoes with good traction.
Don’t Bike on the Sidewalks
You shouldn’t, but if you must ride on the sidewalk, go slowly and yield to pedestrians or get off your bike. Note that bicycles are prohibited on the sidewalk in most of Cambridge, and in all business districts in Somerville.
Discounted Bicycle Helmets
Heavily discounted bike helmets are available at the Harvard Commuter Choice office in the Smith Campus Center.
Seeing Boston by Bike
If you already bike to the GSD, take advantage of your two wheels and go explore the city. These are three classic bicycle trips that will introduce you to a Boston you can’t really experience by foot or in a car.
The Charles River: Most people have spent some time on the Esplanade, but there is a continuous path from Paul Revere Park in Charlestown out to Waltham. The 13 mile ride takes you past gorgeous views of the city, numerous university campuses (including MIT, Harvard, and Boston University), and a series of dams and waterfalls. Upriver, little blue heron tracks indicate where to go when the path crosses major roads. If you want to make a loop without retracing your path along the river, you can take little back roads to Auburndale Park in Newton and ride back on Commonwealth Avenue.
The Harbor: Although the Harborwalk is mostly for walking in the North End and Downtown, where it wiggles too much to be pleasant on a bike, it’s a great way to explore South Boston. The ride along the water’s edge from Castle Island to Savin Hill Cove is about five miles. More adventurous riders can continue on Morrissey Boulevard to connect with the Neponset River Greenway, which extends another three miles to Central Avenue.
The Emerald Necklace/Southwest Corridor: In one long, pleasant nine-mile loop, you can travel along the Emerald Necklace from its northern end at Boylston Street to Forest Hills, and then up the Southwest Corridor Linear Park to Back Bay station on Dartmouth Street. Primarily on paths, this route travels through numerous Boston neighborhoods and offers the chance to stop at any of the museums in the Fenway, Jamaica Pond, or Arnold Arboretum. If you get tired, you can always hop on the Orange Line.