Friday, April 12, 2013

Midnight Marathon Tips

Recently we've been on about the Midnight Marathon, when 700+ cyclists take a train to the Boston Marathon start line and, at midnight, bike back. Well, the race sold out, we posted some suggestions (*) on how to participate if you didn't snag a ticket (we did). Today the Boston SOS asked for suggestions on their website. As a bike commuter, professional evangelizer and possible blowhard, here are some suggestions to having a safe, fun ride:
  • Choose a comfortable bike right for the conditions. I, for instance, have three bikes to choose from:
    •  I could take my road bike. The pros: it's fast and rides dreamily. The cons: do I want to have my carbon bike jostled amongst other bikes on the train, if the road is wet it won't be that great a ride, it doesn't have a fender, and I'd have to wear by not-walky bike shoes. Also, if I want to carry a bag (with layers and street shoes, perhaps) it's less conducive to a comfortable riding position.
    • I could ride my mountain/commuter bike. The pros: it's reasonably road-worthy. There's less of a chance of flatting out compared with the road bike. I can walk in the cleats, and it's a little more comfortable from a bag position. Oh, and it has a fender if it's wet. The cons: it's certainly not up to roadie speed, but it's also no slouch. So I might not be taking pulls, but I can probably do some drafting. Plus, I got the brakes repaired last spring. The granny gear is a little sticky to get in and out of, but I doubt I'll need it on the mostly-downhill route. I'll probably go this direction, unless I really want to go fast. But in the dark, speed is not necessarily your friend.
    • I could ride a Hubway. The pros: pretty comfy for short rides, and it has a basket. The cons: It's heavy as sin. And slow—good luck breaking 20 mph except on the longest downhill. It's a bear to get on to the train. And at the end of the ride, I'd have to bike it back to Central and then walk home at 2:00. Oh, wait, I'd be on a Hubway. 3:00. Plus, if they don't waive fees (they probably will) it's a pricey ride.
  • Wear comfortable clothing, bring layers, and if it might rain, bring something rainworthy. Last year, we stood in the rain for an hour while everyone detrained, and then the first uphill to Hopkinton was pretty wet. It wasn't cold—the next day would be scorching hot, remember—but with wind and rain it was not a good time to be in jeans. This year looks dry and seasonably cool, with temperatures during the ride in the upper 30s and light winds. Certainly bring and wear gloves. And remember that at 20 mph there's a bit of a wind chill. Brr!
  • Bring some flat-fixin' stuff. Other people will have it, sure. And bicyclists love each other. (Last week, after I blew out a tire in Arlington, a passerby brought me a new tube and floor pump. Hooray!) But still. Bring a patch kit, and maybe even a spare tube. If you can't use it, someone else can.
  • Bring lights. You know what, bold isn't enough here. BRING LIGHTS. And while we are at it, WEAR A HELMET. First, lights. State law stipulates a front headlight and a rear reflector or light. Bring a rear light. Or two. The more light, the merrier. Sure, everyone else will have lights. But there are cars along the route. And you want them to see you. Plus, everyone else has lights which is really cool:

    While we're at it, helmets. For god's sake, wear a helmet. I do not need to explain this.
  • Obey the laws. The lights are a law. Staying in the right lane is a law. Not running red lights is a law. While you might skip the letter of the law, at least comply with the idea of the law. Don't get hurt, and don't unnecessarily piss off motorists (not that you'll see many). And don't bike down 135 at 40 mph in the left lane. The roads are open to traffic. There's just not much of it.
  • Don't get your ass kicked by the police. Okay, that was a Chris Rock reference; more to the point: if the cops show up, do what they say. Last year, a couple of Southborough cops showed up at Southborough, and then left when they saw there wasn't much fuss. But last year pretty much no one knew what was going on except those of us on the train. This year, we've been all over the Globe and social media, so there might be cops out patrolling in various towns along the route. They're there for our safety. Be nice to them.
  • Know the route. The route is well-marked and pretty intuitive. Basically, follow the port-a-johns. A quick primer for the route:
    • Start on Route 135. It's downhill at the start. A lot.
    • There is a traffic light in Ashland on a downhill. You might be going 40, so you might have to brake. A lot.
    • There are DIAGONAL RAILROAD TRACKS on both sides of Framingham. Last year it was wet and there were lots of crashes and some injuries here. Even if it's dry, slow down and turn to cross them perpendicular. And let others know about it, too.
    • 135 merges with 16 in Wellesley, but there's no real turn.
    • You'll begin to see some more traffic around Route 128.
    • About a mile after 128—half a mile past the Woodland T stop and Newton Wellesley—the course turns up Commonwealth Avenue at mile 17.4. These are the Newton Hills. There's a firehouse on your right. (I grew up a block from here, too.) Take a right on to Commonwealth. If you get to West Newton and the Mass Pike entrance, you've gone (a mile) too far.
    • There are three major hills in Newton. The first climbs about 100 feet over half a mile, and there is then a gradual descent to Walnut Street (City Hall). For there, it's another 100 feet up Heartbreak Hill, followed by a flat section across Centre Street. Then it's another 100 feet up to Hammond Street, followed by a screaming descent through BC.
    • Once you cross in to Boston, traffic will pick up. The streetcar tracks are in the median to your left.
    • At about mile 22, you take a right on to Chestnut Hill Avenue and a left on to Beacon Street. A few very important notes:
      • Chestnut Hill Avenue has embedded streetcar tracks. Stay in the right lane to avoid these. There shouldn't be much traffic, but this is not a place to speed up. I can tell you from experience that if you put your wheel in the track you will go down. The one time I did that I somehow flipped over the bike, unclipped and somehow landed on my feet, but I wouldn't want to try that again.
      • At the bottom of the hill in Cleveland Circle, you take a left on to Beacon. There's a pretty elaborate light, and you'll be taking a left on to the inbound lanes to the right of the streetcar tracks in the median.
      • Speaking of which, holy streetcar tracks, batman. There are lots of tracks in Cleveland Circle. Slow the fuck down and don't die, okay?
    • Beacon Street is nicely paved and has a bike lane. And some traffic. Watch the downhill in to the light at Washington Square.
    • After Kenmore Square, the marathon route crosses under Mass Ave. At the Bowker Overpass (Charlesgate) get over to the left (there's a left-hand bike lane) to go through the underpass.
    • The marathon route then takes a right on to Hereford. This street is one way in the opposite direction. It's only two blocks, and it's not well-traveled at this time of night. Plus it may already be closed to traffic and certainly won't have any parked cars. Still, go slowly and watch for oncoming traffic. Or go another block to Gloucester (not quite the official course).
    • Take a left on Boylston. And sprint to the finish!
  • Hang out at the end, especially if you are an early finisher. The marathon folks had no issue with us hanging around in their finish pens last year; how nice of them! Cheer on your compadres as they come down Boylston. Make some friends, and see if there's anyone going home in your direction (or to an all-night eatery; stupid Boston won't let us drink after 2 a.m.). Then, once you're ready, head home. With 1000 cyclists (or so), for the first few miles, you might have some company.
It should be fun!

(*) According to the Midnight Marathon FAQ, bikes won't be allowed on other trains. However, according to MBTA policies, they are. If you are taking another train (9:20 to Franklin, 8:30 to Framingham) consider printing out or having on your phone the MBTA bike policies, and be firm but polite with both MBCR staff and non-biking customers. Kindness goes a long way. And if they don't let you on and you're still keen to ride, you can probably bike to the start by the time the train loads, travels, unloads and then we all make our way to the start.

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