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Spurned by state, cyclists vow to hold ride on Marathon route

A midnight marathon rider waited with his bicycle to board the commuter line toward Hopkinton in 2012.

Greg Hum

A midnight marathon rider waited with his bicycle to board the commuter line toward Hopkinton in 2012.

Public safety officials said they would like to see an end to the Midnight Marathon, an annual unofficial bike ride from Hopkinton to Boston on the Boston Marathon route the night before the race, and have nixed a special commuter rail train to ferry cyclists to the starting line.

But the turnabout is not a direct result of the Marathon bombings at the finish line last year, officials said.

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“Because this has grown to be such a big event, it’s something that basically we’re trying to discourage — not from a Marathon bombing security perspective, but from a safety perspective,” said Peter Judge, spokesman for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. “It’s an accident waiting to happen.”

“God forbid there is a major issue or accident — there are [responders] who will be dealing with all that through the night who were supposed to be somewhere at 5 in the morning,” Judge said.

At the request of local police, MBTA officials said that they will not provide a train for the cyclists, as they did last year.

But ride organizers said the event will still go on. Organizers pitched a plan to use the train to stagger riders’ starts and divert them away from the race’s start and finish lines — an effort to avoid getting in the way of Marathon preparations — after the Boston Athletic Association had asked that the ride not take place. Without a train, organizers said, people will still come, but will charter their own buses and vans — with no central coordination.

“It’s just going to be a lot less organized,” said James Cobalt, founder and director of Boston SOS, the group that helped coordinate the train last year, “which I think is not what they wanted.”

The BAA did not comment for this story, and directed questions to MEMA.

The Midnight Marathon, which grew out of an informal gathering of friends five years ago, was meant as an ode to spontaneity: No sign-up, no registration, just show up and ride. Last year, the event drew between 1,000 and 1,500 participants, 700 of whom came on the provided commuter rail train.

The growing numbers led public safety officials to complain the bike riders were a noise disturbance and distracted police from focusing on preparation for the Marathon.

Still, the T decided to get on board with the event after hundreds of cyclists showed up to take the last train to Hopkinton in 2012. Last year, commuter rail staff offered Boston SOS a train specifically for the cyclists, charging twice the normal price of a ticket and enlisting 25 volunteers from the group to help load bicycles. This year, only four bikes will be allowed per coach on the normally scheduled train.

With the increased focus on Marathon security this year, many worried the ride would cease to exist.

But Cobalt said the interest this year is greater than ever — and few seem deterred by the absence of a train. Some cyclists, he said, have already organized shared rides to get to Hopkinton.

“There’s so much more momentum this year,” Cobalt said. “Even without the train, the riders feel it’s important. . . . It’s almost a spiritual thing to do this year.”

Josh Zisson, an attorney who specializes in bicycle issues and had attempted to negotiate an agreement with the BAA to establish rules for this year’s ride, said many riders have said they want to demonstrate they will not be intimidated by terrorism. “It’s this chance for people to participate in the Marathon even if they aren’t runners,” Zisson said. “Everyone sort of wants that opportunity.

Martine Powers can be reached at martine.powers@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @martinepowers.
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