By Pete Stidman
Bicycling groups aren't yet endorsing candidates
for public office, holding back-room meetings at
City Hall or clogging the roads with bicycles, but
for the first time in decades, the
neighborhood-based bike group seems to be back.
DotBike, a small group of dedicated bike
commuters, formed during the city's bike summit a
year ago, now others are following suit.
In May, Allston-Brighton Bikes took shape. Last
week, RozzieBike and JPBike held their first
meetings. It's got all the makings of a trend.
This kind of thing happened once before though
few, if any, are alive to remember it. Back at the
turn of the last century, bicycle clubs were
multitudinous. On one Sunday in April, 1895, the
Boston Morning Journal reported 25,000 cyclists on
the streets in one day.
Beyond just advocacy groups or organizers of
rides, cycling clubs in those days represented
centers for socializing in general. Groups like the
Metropolitan Wheelmen, the Diamond Club and the
Tonkys spent their non-pedaling time organizing
contests of billiards, chess, whist and pedro.
Dorchester sported a few, such as the Tiger
Wheelmen and the Rahkajak Wheelmen, and there was
even a Press Club wheeling around. Some, like the
Roslindale Cycling Club, even owned buildings to
house their clubs and put on dances and shows.
Bound together by regional and national umbrella
groups like the League of American Wheelmen, the
groups advocated for road improvements long before
potholes were on every mayor's radar and for
Locally, wheelmen groups campaigned against an
1899 park regulation that required all bikers to
carry acetylene lamps on their cycles when
traveling through the Emerald Necklace at night,
even though the park was well lit.
Earlier this month, when the Boston Parks
Department held a meeting about Franklin Park
transportation plans, members from DotBike,
RozzieBike and JPBike made up nearly half the
audience. They advocated for a bike lane on Circuit
Drive and other amenities, but they weren't the
"In such swarms do they frequent the Boston
parks that, in planning the great meeting place for
promenaders, carriages and riders in Franklin
Park... it has been deemed essential to lay out a
separate way for bicycles," wrote secretary to the
Metropolitan Park Commission Sylvester Baxter in an
October, 1892 issue of 'Arena.'
In those days, races were held in Franklin Park,
cyclist clubs were featured centrally in papers
like the Dorchester Beacon and the Jamaica Plain
News, and some even endorsed city council
candidates. They were much like what DotBike and
others say they hope to become.
"The idea is fantastic and it's one of the
things a lot of us have been hoping for," said
Steve Miller, head of Hub on Wheels, a yearly bike
festival. "There are some groups that are playing
the big view, but you also need someone who is
really local, finding the bike routes that need
help, good spots for bike parking and helping
No place has that been more clear than along
Massachusetts Avenue in the South End. Between
Albany and Westland Avenue, the street is due to be
completely reconstructed, a prime time to create
bike lanes. But neighborhood associations in the
area have long worked on a plan that included
planters in the middle of the road. Limited space
pitted the associations against bike and pedestrian
advocacy groups reacting to the plan. A final
solution has yet to be worked out.
"Part of what's happening is that there's a new
epic of people who are invested in cycling," said
Miller. "In a sense we have to open up our
processes to let this uprising be heard."
In Dorchester, DotBike has run formations in the
Dorchester Day Parade, led several bike rides,
helped out in District C-11's annual Bike Rodeo,
advocated for dozens of new bike racks that are
popping up around the neighborhood, and attended
dozens of community events and meetings.
Along with the Talbot Harvard and Bernard
Neighborhood Association and the Talbot-Washington
Safe Neighborhood Initiative, DotBike is beginning
to press for a bike lane on Talbot Avenue between
Peabody Square and Blue Hill Avenue.
"Our main goal is getting more people to ride,"
said Andrew Schroeder, a key member. "If you can do
that within your community it's definitely more
Quite a few members of DotBike have been active
in the neighborhood other ways, such as Vivian
Girard, also a leader in the Five Streets
Neighborhood Association, Debbie Munson on the
Executive Board of the Ashmont Hill Association and
Roseanne Foley, who works for DotWell advocating
environmental health in the neighborhood.
"A lot of people think we're the lycra-nazi
crowd, but no, it's all cyclists," said Laura
Smeaton of the nascent RozzieBike group. "It's
about realizing that we have some common needs. I'm
seeing so many more riders over the past year. It's
just been phenomenal. If we all got together we
could really have a strong voice in the city and
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