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Boston Cyclists Union encourages bikers to brave the cold

About 30 cyclists rode in last Sunday’s Winter Solstice Ride. (Below) Benai Kornell of Somerville wore special glasses for the event.Photos by Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff/Boston Globe

When Amy Ingles moved to Brighton from Atlanta about a year ago, she realized she’d have to prepare herself — and her bike — for New England’s sleet and snow before cycling through the winter.

Ingles now knows that wool tights are a critical base layer. She owns a pair of waterproof “lobster gloves” — a cross between gloves and mittens — and plans to don a balaclava, a face mask, when the temperatures dip even lower.

She’s also outfitting her bike with fenders to prevent the winter sludge from flying up from her tires and onto her and her clothes.


“Everyone has been so helpful telling me what clothing to wear, what gear to buy,” said Ingles, 34.

The guidance has come from members of the Boston Cyclists Union. To encourage commuters to brave the elements and ride their bicycles year-round, members have organized winter socials and group rides, to offer tips and teach would-be winter warriors about biking through the cold.

Kevin O’Neall, a Boston Cyclists Union organizer, said the winter-cycling initiative is part of the advocacy group’s mission to change the culture around biking.

“It’s really to bring awareness to the fact that it’s one of the greatest means of transportation,” O’Neall said. “We want to let people know that biking in the winter is not only possible, but it’s not as uncomfortable as one might think.”

On Dec. 21, O’Neall and Ingles joined about 30 other bikers who gathered for a 4.5-mile Winter Solstice Ride organized by the Union. From Jamaica Plain, the cyclists headed northeast toward the Southwest Corridor Parkway and Columbus Avenue, then west on Massachusetts Avenue into Kendall Square.

O’Neall, who organized the ride, said the campaign is meant to show that anyone can ride through winter.

“It’s not just people who were at one time a bike messenger or a cyclo-cross racer,” said O’Neall, who once worked as a bike messenger. “It’s moms, it’s dads, it’s students, the working class, upper class. It’s everybody.”


The solstice ride went from Jamaica Plain to Kendall Square, where cyclists then went to Flat Top Johnny’s.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff/Matthew J. Lee

While still not as popular as other modes, bike commuting is becoming more popular in Boston. According to the League of American Bicyclists, the percentage of bike commuters in the city has more than doubled from 1990 to 2012, from less than 1 percent to about 2 percent.

In Cambridge, 6.5 percent of commuters travel regularly by bike. In Somerville, nearly 8 percent of commuters use bikes.

But in each city, the number of riders declines in the winter, when ice and frigid temperatures often make for an uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous ride.

The Boston Cyclists Union got the idea for the campaign to recruit new winter bikers last year, when members encountered icy conditions on the Southwest Corridor Parkway, a heavily trafficked path for bike commuters. They mounted a social media campaign to urge the Department of Conservation and Recreation, the state’s parks agency, to do a better job of maintaining bike paths during the winter. The cycling advocates say that if more people bike through the winter, municipalities will be forced to take better care of bike paths.

Conrad Crawford, the director of the office of external affairs for DCR, said officials worked to update the agency’s snow and ice removal plan to better accommodate bikers. Now, the department is required to deice such parkways within 12 hours, rather than 24.


In addition to the regular socials where cyclists gather over beers to share winter riding tips, volunteers go out one morning every month to heavily trafficked bike corridors to pass out breakfast burritos and coffee.

The group ride, held on the shortest day of the year, was an easy, hill-free trek through some of the metro area’s most commonly used bike paths and bike-friendly streets. The ride ended at Kendall Square’s Flat Top Johnny’s restaurant, a favorite of the bike union’s members because of its owner — avid cyclist John Adams.

At 34 degrees with snow flurries, the weather was relatively mild as O’Neall led the crew, pulling along speakers blasting Wilson Pickett and Clarence Carter songs. People on the sidewalks waved at Rebecca Albrecht, a participant who had attached a mini Christmas tree to the back of her bike.

The ride attracted a range of people. Peter Cheung commutes from Jamaica Plain to Revere every day. On serious winter days, he rides a 20-year-old bike with studded tires — which give him enough traction to ride over ice — and heavy-duty fenders.

Cheung’s winter riding advice is simple: “Expect the worst.”

But there were also bikers like Brian Newman of Jamaica Plain, who has not ridden his bike in the winter since moving to Massachusetts in 2011. After Sunday’s ride, he says he’s now willing to give it a try.

“It’s a good way to get out and interact with your neighbors in an otherwise isolating period,” Newman said.


O’Neall smiled when he learned the event had encouraged Newman to cycle more.

“That’s exactly what this is about,” he said.

Peter Cheung equipped his bike with studded tires for the winter.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Nicole Dungca can be reached at nicole.dungca@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca.