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(new) Urban Bike Commuters, Assemble!

Hi everyone. Longtime co-op member, first-time poster. With my return to my office in Kendall Square in September, I've started to commute in a day a week to get the hang of things before everyone else (including the college students!) floods the roads in the fall, whereupon I'll be doing that 2, maybe 3, days a week.  I've got a Tern Vektron Q9 ebike and absolutely love it.  I'd love to hear people's tips, ideas and thoughts for good gear.  I ride with an REI daypack, a Tern pannier and a Topeak seat bag with bike and tire repair stuff.  And a helmet and u-lock, of course.

My daily commute is a 6 mile ride to the Commuter Rail station, get on the train, fold up the Vektron, get off the train at North Station, unfold the bike, and bike the 2 miles to KSq.  The Boston to Cambridge ride is quite good (especially in Cambridge!), since there are LOTS of ritzy green bike lanes, but, being Boston, other roads are, um, challenging.  I do plan on getting out of the office occasionally during the day to explore on the bike.  I'm mostly concerned about 'doing the wrong thing' while biking and would love some pointers from more experienced folks.

30 Replies

Fortunately, my company is already checking those boxes.  We are scheduled to move next year from our current location in Kendall Square (which already has a bike room and (I understand) some kind of lockers and/or showers) to a brand new facility about ten blocks away.  Bike rooms, lockers and changing rooms with showers are already being planned (as well as a bike shop/repair shop on campus) and there is a very concerted effort by the cyclists here for as plush and spacious facilities as possible.  Plus, there are Blue Bike stations right outside for those who don't want to ride their own.


Hi @ntriano - It's great to hear that your company is providing those resources for cyclists!

Biking in an urban core is definitely a different experience than more rural or suburban riding, so it's a great plan to have started early while there is less traffic on the road. 

When I am biking in the middle of a city, there are a few things that I try to keep on top of mind:

  • Sidewalks are generally not for bikes, so make sure you know your city's rules
  • Parked cars can mean quickly opening doors from drivers inside, so pay attention when riding alongside them
  • Sometimes crossing a busy intersection can be more manageable if I get off of my bike and walk it, especially if I would be starting from a stopped position

There are also a few Expert Advice articles that you may find helpful on this topic. We suggest taking a look at How to Bike in Traffic and Urban Bicycling: The Basics of City Riding to see if there are any tips you haven't come across before.

Hopefully others in the community will also weigh in with their suggestions.

If you're keen to share, we'd love to stay updated on how your commuting and city riding goes. Have fun!

At REI, we believe time outside is fundamental to a life well lived.

I bike commuted consistently beforee retirement - up to 20 miles round trip, fortunately with showers available.  A couple of thoughts that may be useful.

Wear bright clothing, the easier to be noticed.  Any color is preferable to a black helmet.  Lights, both front and rear are a welcome means to increase your visibility.

I did not enjoy riding with a backpack, preferring to keep all my gear in my panniers.  I did use a small, minimalist backpack which I could pack up and place in a pannier, then carry into the workplace

Riding in Tucson, AZ, I always carried a water bottle in a cage.  You may not have the same problem in Boston.

Follow traffic regulations, stay off sidewalks, except when walking.  i see riders blatantly trashing rules of the road they are asking for trouble.

i found bike commuting a real plus, arriving invigorated in the morning, and rested and relaxed in the evening (usually).  Enjoy!!

Superusers do not speak on behalf of REI and may have received
one or more gifts or other benefits from the co-op.

So far, so good!  The only kink I've found is the MBTA.  I have been able to find space for my bike on the Commuter Rail (the "wheelchair' area of each car, which is never occupied by wheelchairs, but oftentimes by able bodied people), but the T doesn't make it as easy as they could for folks to bring their bikes on.  The best thing would be for them to have a bike car (or, at least a car with a couple of rows of seats removed to park bikes) but they're still in the dark ages, bike-wise.  That said, if I hustle on to the train I can claim a space, fold my bike, and have a seat.

Boston is getting better for bikes, but there are a couple of streets that are positively a thrill ride (I don't mean that in a positive way.)  I've taken to creating a wall of light facing behind me to increase my visibility, with additional blinky lights on my helmet, daypack and seat post.  And a Hornit horn, which is positively ear-splitting, because nobody could (or, chose to) hear my bell as I approached.

Overall, though: fun!  And SO much better than driving.


Having commuted on an approximately 30-mile round trip to work & back over parts of 30 years in the Midwest, I found that one of the most essential gears was a mirror:  seeing what is behind you, whether it's another bicycle, a car, a deer, or an attacking in-flight Canada goose, is very important and can be life-saving.  I used the type of mirror that fits on the bow of my cycling glasses (also essential equipment; I liked the amber lenses for lower light situations).  The eyeglass mirrors take some time to get used to but are superior to the handlebar mirrors:  much quicker to get a rear view, and there are no road vibrations to interfere with rear visions or to knock the handlebar mirror out of position.  And tires:  use high-quality tires with a high rating of puncture resistance.  Cycling in cities invariably will involve riding through broken glass on trails, sidewalks, and sometimes streets (Monday mornings seemed to be the worst for broken glass).  Sometimes you see the glass; sometimes you don't:  it doesn't take much to cause a flat.  Cheap tires will generate many flats.  You may become an expert at fixing flats on your bicycle like I did, but the annoyance factor will be high.  Regardless, I always traveled with two spare inner tubes, and there were several trips when I used both of them.  I even ruined a tire on broken glass on a side street.  So, I kept a spare fold-up tire in my extra water bottle cage just in case.  Bike lights, both front & rear, and also very important to keep you visible to vehicles and to other bikers and pedestrians.  And, it's trite but true:  establish eye contact with vehicle drivers at intersections.  Being in the right on a bicycle is small consolation if you're injured (or worse) in a bike/car collision.  Those are my suggestions.  Good luck; be careful.

I commuted for years, 20+ miles each way from Wrentham to Canton so leaving in the dark. My first suggestion is to be visible! That being, get a very bright, almost annoying rear light. You're pretty much responsible for what is coming at you. And then enjoy your ride by mixing it up. No need to go in a straight line, that's why we ride.


Always assume you are invisible. Just because you made eye contact with a driver doesn't mean they actually see you. When in doubt, walk the bike.

I've done many tours over the past 20 years, riding through both country and city. I city-ride every weekday morning.

The number one thing is be seen. Day or night, I have a flashing rear light going. In high car traffic areas I have my front light flashing as well.

The other big thing I stress is either act like a car or a pedestrian, but not both. Be decisive but not reckless. Signal and obey traffic laws, particularly when around car drivers. The majority of accidents I've seen is when drivers did not know the intent of the cyclist.

I ride as far right as safely possible, but when it is questionable if both a car and a bicycle can fit through a certain passage, I take the lane. I would rather have a driver temporarily miffed at me than risk my safety.

In making turns or encountering stop lights on streets, act like a car. Use turn lanes like a car.

Under the theme of always be seen, I always rode with a reflective (at night) or 

high visibility (daytime) vest when it was warm and a yellow reflective rain jacket when it was cool. I am surprised how often it rained unexpectedly. Lights mounted on the helmet worked well.  I could swivel my front light at drivers to make sure they could see me but not long enough to aggravate or blind them. The rear light is higher and easier to see.
 Bike shares are great for short rides in the city but wear all the safety gear 

My number one piece of advice is to keep in mind that you are commuting. Your goal is to arrive safely.  Don't be in a rush and avoid taking on fitness as your primary goal.  Most of my fellow cyclists I encounter doing "the wrong thing" have either chosen risk (like running lights or using earbuds) or are pushing to ride faster than is safe.