The Love/Hate of Bikes in Boston

Oliver and I met in a bike shop in Central Square this summer, and I’ll be honest; I was instantly smitten with his whole vibe. He seemed hip, unfussy, and fun, with perhaps an air of being from out of town. The smart style, sharp features, and general joie de vive suggested he might be European. (I would later learn he hails from California). I wasn’t necessarily looking, but when it hits you, you know. Love.

After being stopped dead in my tracks by his good looks that day, I decided I had to learn more, so I did what any gal would do these days. I ran home and Googled him.

Sure enough, I found everything I needed. Nay, the typical checklist one seeks to find from a mate’s online persona, such as interests, occupation, and the lack of a criminal record. Instead, I sought to find: design inspiration, price range, dimensions, and available colors.

Let me explain: Oliver is not a mate. He’s a bicycle (albeit a handsome one).

However, not everyone loves Oliver the way I do. Some Bostonians hate him, along with all bikes: handsome or homely, speedy or slow cruising, purchased or rented through the recently launched bike share program, Hubway. (Let’s not even get anyone started on messengers or pedi-cabs). It wasn’t until I bought a bicycle that I realized how divisive two-wheels can be.

First, Globe columnist Brian McGrory wrote a piece calling for a citywide ban on bicycles. He was being cheeky, but try telling that to the bevy of bikers who took to Twitter in protest. McGrory wasn’t merely sharing an ornery, anti-biking opinion of his own as much as he was giving voice to a larger group of Bostonians who feel the same way (one hallmark of a bona fide journalist). I would soon learn that this group included a client to whom I teach yoga in Beacon Hill.

“Can I just tell you: I hate bikers,” she said recently before a 6:30 a.m. session, the vitriol awake before I was.

She proceeded to tell me a story about the most deplorable biker behavior I’d ever heard (speeding the wrong way down Charles Street, nearly overrunning her and her small children as they stood in a crosswalk, and, then, hurling a despicable and misogynistic insult as he passed). I listened with my mouth agape, shaking my head in dismay, and decided to skip the part where I proudly announce that I rode my bike to her house for the first time, and that his name is Oliver, and he’s dreamy.

Finally, a sleek, black, commercial SUV nearly turned Oliver and me into mangled metal and yoga parts when the driver neglected to signal and turned left in front of me on Tremont Street. I managed to bail out of the way before being seriously injured, but when two Emerson students, who witnessed the whole thing — “Oh, shit!” I heard one say in the flash of near disaster — rushed over to help, I just stood and stared.

“Do you want me to stop the car?” a maybe-sophomore asked.

“Um, I don’t know … No, I’m OK. Thank you,” I mumbled.

My right hand hurt from hitting the driver’s side door, and I was shaking with fear or adrenaline or both, shaking so much it was as if I’d tried to wear a bikini to Gillette Stadium in December. If there was any doubt about the love lost between motorists and cyclists in Boston, here it was. I wasn’t a brash biker plowing down pedestrians. I was a cautious newcomer to bike commuting, in a bike lane, wearing a helmet, peddling a bike with a basket, for God’s sake! And I almost became road kill for someone getting chauffeured to the airport from the Ritz.

I could barely steady my voice and fight back tears enough to I ask, “Is my bike OK?”

Oliver needed only a minor realignment after the accident, but it would seem Boston residents (both on four wheels and two) need the same. Last week, Boston police began ticketing bikers for offenses such as running red lights (no word on name-calling in crosswalks), but it remains to be seen if this measure will do anything for the rift between those who love the way life looks from a bike and those who, most assuredly, do not.

Is the new enforcement meant to protect bikers and create efficient traffic habits? Or, is it just another way of sending the message that, despite the increasing number of bikes in Boston, there’s no interest in sharing the road? Bikes are better for the environment. People who forgo driving create more parking spaces for people in cars, and the added exercise improves the overall health of the city’s residents. For these reasons alone, one would think bikers would get a little love.

Or, at the very least, some respect.

  • Caroline

    It is a shame that bikers who don’t know what they’re doing ruin it for everyone. As someone who doesn’t bike OR drive in the city, I find it infuriating and a little scary when bikers speed through red lights without slowing down as I’m trying to cross the street.

    I also think a lot of people perceive bikers as arrogant and a bit “holier-than-thou” because of the pontificators who like to make it clear that THEY care about the environment, whereas selfish drivers are awful planet-haters who don’t care about anyone besides themselves. Again, a minority of people ruining it for everyone.

    All that said, I think good bikers are a great thing for the city. If I were an experienced enough biker I would probably bike around the city more. Everyone just needs to follow the rules of the road and cooperate.

  • Jerome

    I have been riding bikes as a primary mode of transportation since 2005, in Montreal, Boston and New York. Each city has its own bike-safety quirks, and each does something really well.

    Montreal has an east-west “piste cyclable” or bike track, completely separated from the road by a curbstone and a few feet of cement. Drivers (even taxis!) respect cyclists and the only real opponent is Old Man Winter, with wind chills of -40F making it a bit unpleasant to commute on an island named for its “royal mountain.”

    As a recent transplant to New York from Boston, I appreciate the awesome bikeways across all the bridges. Where else can you go 20+ mph downhill without fear of reckless left-turners? Certainly not on the left-side bike lanes on First and Second Avenues. These green-painted strips seem at times to be nothing more than auxiliary parking for inexperienced Zipcar drivers, staging areas for the wispy and tipsy model types spilling out of overpriced midtown bars into yellow cabs or lanes for pizza delivery guys on janky electric-assisted bikes with huge baskets going the wrong way with no lights.

    This brings me to Boston. As much as our drunken-cow-path roads make it impossible to travel in a straight line EVER, I can feel the everyone-else vs bikes war lightening up. It’s been years (ok, a year) since the last time a protein-loaded backwards-cap SUV bro-dude followed me onto the sidewalk on the BU bridge after I informed him he dangerously cut me off. Cars seem understanding when we have to swerve out of the bike lane because of otherwise intelligent BU underclassmen who seem to have lost the gene responsible for common sense. The World Naked Bike Ride this summer gained more applause than court summons while cyclists demonstrated that we lack the steel cage protecting cars by shedding our second skins for a jaunt around Back Bay and Camberville. Even cops in Harvard Square smiled as dozens of nude or nearly nude cyclists pedaled by.

    As long as there are multiple modes of transporting people between points in space, there will be hostility. All anyone can do is be respectful, follow the rules and WATCH OUT because everyone else isn’t. Be safe out there whether you’re driving, walking, biking or using one of those crazy skateboard things that swivel and only have two casters instead of four wheels. (What ARE those, anyway?)