Our fair (biking) city

Cambridge was awarded Gold-Level Bicycle Friendly Community status by the League of American Bicyclists on Saturday, May 18. Just before the Cambridge Sweet Ride began in front of the Public Library, the Mayor was presented with the plaque, and we came to know that Cambridge is

  • the 260th community in the country to receive Bike Friendly status
  • the first city on the East Coast to receive Gold status.
  • the second city east of the Mississippi (after Wisconsin).

The ride itself consisted of two parts, thoughtfully organized on either side of a bathroom break at the Public Library. The first part, called the “Sweet” Route took us to places in Central and Kendall Squares and thence to East Cambridge. The second part, called the “Savory” Route went to Harvard and Porter Squares, returning to the library via Julia Child’s house on Irving Street.

I had attended a small community ride in Somerville last week – one of the many events commemorating bike week – and expected this to be a similar one, but that wasn’t the case at all. By my conservative estimate there were easily about 400 cyclists, including some people from Somerville and the neighboring cities. While last week’s ride in Somerville required only a small police escort, Saturday needed a massive operation, with several policemen shepherding the traffic. This being Cambridge, the police were on bicycles, complete with blue blinking lights. During the ride, as we went along Beacon Street, someone joked, “On a Cambridge Sweet Ride, you have to be careful, if you take a right turn you’ll find yourself in Somerville.”

It was an easy-paced, orderly, 12-mile affair, and the most interesting part of it, for me, was too look at the sheer variety of cycles. Here, unlike in most other parts of the country, cycling is a recognized as a way of life, rather than the province of awesome lycra-clad physical specimens who push their own bodies to incredible levels of stamina. There were a few of those too, and they gamely adapted to the 7 mph average speed, merging into the throng of bicycles: There were mountain bikes, and hybrids, and beach cruisers, and cross bikes repurposed into single-speeds, and dirty extra-cycles still carrying the mud from past touring expeditions, and children on little bikes enthusiastically climbing up the sloping roads, and children in little carriers behind their parents, and there was even a “bakfiets” which a lady pedaled vigorously from start to finish while her little one looked out at the world.

Everywhere, people would stop and watch – they had no choice but to do so, as the group was so large. On the sweet route, the hip crowd sipping their weekend coffee and pastries on outside-chairs waved as we passed. In East Cambridge, a little brother took his littler sister’s arm and exclaimed, “Look! there are so many of them!!”. My favorite part of the ride was also its most unexpected. We were passing a non-descript parking lot containing USPS vehicles, and some delivery-men-and-women were out and about. They saw us, and began to wave, and clap, and then someone in a van had the bright idea to play rhythmic beats on their truck horns. Before we knew it, the entire USPS lot was a delirious and endearing cacophony of vehicle horns and claps.

Having done a few of these rides, I see some familiar faces now. We don’t know each other by name, but conversation comes easy. There are men and women from the ages of 20 to 75, doing different kinds of jobs, and living very different lives, having in common a simple love for the practical bicycling way of life. If you heard their conversations about fenders and bike art and do-it-yourself mud flaps refashioned from linoleums, you might think that they’re a bit crazy or even ┬átiresome. But, I like being in their midst; they’re my kind of people.