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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

I was a downtown biker for a couple of years a long time ago. I would support all the comments about being visible and heeding road rules but also take special care at intersections when you stop….be ready to jump off and move up to the curb when stopped next to big-rigs, duck boats, and especially rental box trucks. Especially with rentals, people don’t always judge the turn radius correctly and often don’t use turn signals. Pedestrians can’t hear you and will step out between cars, not crossing in the crosswalks. My two most painful accidents were both being ‘doored’ by people exiting cars. One, I was probably going too fast down Summer Street ,the other on Tremont I blame the driver….but car always wins in these situations.( opening a door to a car is considered the drivers “fault’ for entering traffic badly)


Let's face it, Massachusetts is not the most bike friendly state. This is a small list of things I do to help keep myself safe.

  • Remember the survival term "Bigger, Brighter, Better." because you want to be seen.
  • Always hand signal.
  • Wear reflective clothing in low light situations especially on parts of your body that move.
  • Make sure your lights are bright enough and oscillating.
  • Don't worry about being a fashionista! Keep your reflectors on your wheels and peddles.
  • Make eye contact with drivers at intersections.
  • Be obvious about your intentions.
  • Use a mirror. 
  • Watch out for Duckboats, trucks, busses and other limited maneuverability vehicles.
  • Car doors, car doors, car doors!

Follow the rules of the road the best you can (not easy but kinda important).

This is what "I" do to be safe your milage may differ. I've been bike commuting for ten years and I'm also a long distance bikepacker. God luck and have fun.

Somewhere along the way someone told me about defensive riding from a New York City bicyclist. Some things I cannot live without would be front blinky lights (to catch the attention of cars that might otherwise pull out in front of you) and a rear view mirror for my helmet or sunglasses and a taillight. I ASSUME people are texting and distracted so I ride that way. Still, I feel biking is in many ways safer than driving in a car and my eyesight and hearing and all of my senses are completely turned on while I ride. That helps. Bright clothes and lights are mandatory in my opinion. If you can find that New York City bike commuter book, they might have some great tips. I never read it, but got enough of an education through my friend to put some things into place. 

About 10 years ago I commuted 4 days a week to work on my road bike. My trip was 12.5 miles one way and ran from East Providence RI to Johnston RI thru the busy downtown Providence area. My two tips get a helmet or eyeglasses mirror that way you can look left to see what traffic is approaching. There is a big benefit not having to look down to a handle bar mounted mirror. When you are riding in traffic assume you are invisible. Even with strobe lights mounted front and rear I still get cars pulling out in front of me. Motorist either don't see you or don't properly judge your approach speed (I would imagine ebikes would present more of a problem to motorist because they can go faster than most cyclist ride). Hope this helps. Be well.


I've been a bike commuter since I've been a commuter, in Philadelphia, NYC, Los Angeles, San Francisco.

Lights!  Be seen, and SEE the inevitable potholes after the sun sets.

Beware of bus stops - the ground will be slick with oil, and especially slippery after a light rain.  Also be careful of train/light rail tracks, and practice going over obstacles with your front wheel perpendicular to it.

Another thing I like to do to make riding more enjoyable is to map out alternate routes on google maps ahead of time. I've found that bicycle paths aren't always the best place to ride - they are often on the busiest boulevards, when you could instead ride the entire lane on a slower-moving shaded residential street. It might be longer, but if you're having fun, that more than makes up for it.

I’m a long-time Denver commuter (3.5mi each way, year round) and one-time bike courier (many years ago).

-Make biking to work a habit and the path of least resistance—I understand you intend to make this a part-time approach, but the anything less than about 3x per week  tough. This prevents making it a habit and the path of least resistance to getting to work. It makes any bump or obstacle to biking into a barrier for that day. Making a habit makes it really hard to do anything other than biking to work. Ways to make it a path of least resistance start with having your gear/clothing together and in ready access, having your route(s) (see below) mapped out, and using your bike for more of your non commuting trips  (which add up to more of the weekly trips we take) whenever possible.

-Ditch the spandex and KOM mentality—Given your bike choice this doesn’t sound like it will be an issue, but the more bike commuting is something other than a race, the more variety and enjoyment you will derive from an otherwise mundane process of getting to work. Do it sometimes, sure, but not every time. Smell the roses along the way. (See below about routes.) Don’t be that person who bikes way too fast for the conditions/congestion in a given area and makes like they are “entitled” to operate at that speed and everyone else is in the wrong.

-Explore alternate routes—In addition to google maps which was mentioned, there is no substitute for exploring routes in real life—especially side streets. These are often overlooked in deference to bike routes (+1 to the person who said these are not always the best commuting routes and often better for local traffic). Also, there is a philosophy about biking and walking being one of the only forms of commuting where more time actually increases happiness (unlike being in a car/transit where the inverse is true). Sometimes the best bike route is not the quickest. I know we need to be efficient, but on the way home, there’s nothing more fun than banter at stop lights with a group of happy people on bikes. Or stopping for a beer with friends in some tucked away neighborhood you’ve discovered on your commute path home.

-Front (white) and back lights (red)—make sure both allow you to be easily seen at night and that the front also illuminates the path in front of you with enough width and 

If your bike storage is not secure, there is bike insurance available, that includes liability, and medical, emergency transportation in addition to bicycle replacement.  Do not depend upon your auto, and home owners and normal medical insurance to provide decent bicycle coverage...

Highly visible rain wear can also be helpful on wet days...


I commute in New Orleans, and the one thing that has benefited me the most is being as vigilant as possible. Don't use headphones and be aware of what is around you - traffic, pedestrians, car doors, etc. We live in a society that asks us to divide our attention constantly and riding on city streets is a time to do the exact opposite. Stay focused on your surroundings, because you never know when someone will do something stupid. I have avoided a few close calls by being vigilant. 

Plan ahead and if your ride home will be at dark, bring lights and reflective gear.   

Get a good set of mirrors if you don't already have them, always go in the direction of traffic and yield when necessary and you should be okay.  Hope this helps and happy commuting. 



 please  make sure, even during the day, that you are well lit...front and rear!

 always follow the rules of the road as if you were driving ( 1 way streets are just that...1 way!!!).

 always single file if you go out with a friend or group. 2 a breast is NOT a good idea while riding the road, besides it gives bikers a bad name with motorists and is dangerous for both bikers and motorists.

 just use common sense and be safe!