There is a great article in the Globe today about the Charles River Wheelmen and their Saturday Morning Fitness Ride in Needham. The weekly ride has proceeded uninterrupted for 617 weekends, including a few during blizzard conditions.
When we first moved back to Massachusetts from California in 2002, we lived in Needham. Every Saturday morning, around 815am, I would suddenly see a brightly-colored peloton of riders turn down South Street. That inspired me to want to join. My wife and I had mountain bikes in California, but they weighed a ton and we never really got into it. But we went out and bought a pair of hybrid bikes and began riding.
The roads in certain areas of Massachusetts are inconspicuously marked with “arrows” signifying informal bike routes. The Saturday fitness ride is a simple inverted “T” pointing the direction of the ride and indicating where to turn. The northwest suburbs around Concord are serious cycling country as you will find intersections with four or more different symbols painted on the side of the road. Follow these arrows and they will take you on bike loops of 30-50 miles or more. While we found it difficult to make it to the start of organized group rides, we made an adventure out of going to the start of these rides and following the arrows.
The great thing about cycling in Massachusetts is how green the countryside is. Out in the suburbs, just past Route 128, there are miles and miles of roads past farms, fields, and conservation land, and passing through the many classic New England town commons. Ice cream shops make a great resting point. And occasionally you meet up with other cyclists.
As we had kids, we invested in bike trailers and bike seats to take the kids along for the ride. With three kids now, it is harder, but someday soon, they will be ready to start riding their own bikes!
The reason I say the Saturday Morning riders changed my life is that it led me to start a more active lifestyle. The irony is that I have never actually made it to that ride; I was always too late and now, I would have to ride over from Westwood (and leave my wife with 3 kids for hours!) But as we rode the beautiful country roads of Needham, Dover, Sherborn, Wellesley–and took trips out to Concord/Acton/Boxborough, we found something we loved doing that also made us healthier. I was 210 lb when we left California; I’m 179 now. I had been a smoker for years, but stayed quit and have no desire to go back. When it got too cold for me to ride, I started running and, because I was fitter to begin with, enjoyed it and started running marathons.
Another aspect of cycling is harder to quantify–it is the greater sense of participation in the environment. When I was working in Boston, I bike commuted whenever possible, and felt a much greater connection to the city because of it. It’s not just about saving gas or being healthy, there is a feeling of connectedness when we ride or run through our communities, taking time to absorb the sights, sounds, smells, and feeling of the environment through different seasons and different conditions.
I have not ridden my bike since my crash a few months ago, but it’s more due to weather, road conditions, and lack of time than injury (I am completely fine!). But I am looking forward to the day when the snow melts and I carve out some time again to return to the road. Until then, I run when I can.