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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Tuesday, June 25, 2024

Tufts biking culture attracts commuters, hobbyists, mechanics and athletes

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Bikes and American university campuses seem to be entangled with each other. Biking is a special mode of transportation with an emphasis on sustainability. At Tufts, the same is true, with the addition of a budding culture of adventure, craftsmanship and sport. 

Transportation by bike is a relatively easy feat at Tufts if students leverage the resources available to them. Tufts Bikes offers and maintains a complimentary bike share program, used bikes are affordable on reselling websites, and Bluebikes is a reasonably accessible city service. 

Once obtained, bikes can be used for various excursions — grocery runs, trips into surrounding towns or leisurely rides to The Fells. Members of the Tufts cycling team have gone even farther with their bikes, riding to have coffee in Concord and taking part in competitions all over New England.

Aidan McCreary, president of Tufts Bikes, explained the steps Tufts students need to  take to access a bike. 

“I think the most accessible thing would be [to] check Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist, or BuyNothing,” McCreary said. “It’s probably going to be a bit rough around the edges, you [might] have to fix some stuff, but I would steer people towards older, simpler bikes, as they break less. And if it’s just [for] commuting, old bikes work great.”

McCreary also offered another solution: the bike share program managed by Tufts Bikes. This service operates through the front desk of Tisch Library and has a rental process similar to any other product available on loan. 

Bluebikes, a subscription-based public bike share system serving the Greater Boston area, is another option available near campus. Tufts community members can sign up for a yearly membership at $67.50/year and can borrow bikes from stations found on the app. The closest stations to the Medford/Somerville campus are on Packard Avenue and Powder House Boulevard.

While there are multiple ways to procure a bike, Tufts’ hilly terrain does not necessarily make it a very bike-friendly campus. Therefore, one may have to look beyond the hill for excursions. 

McCreary noted that some Tufts students will bike to Cambridge, as the path to get there is relatively flat. In Cambridge, there are plenty of businesses to explore, as well as trails along the Charles River. More scenic options in the area include the Middlesex Fells Reservation and Mystic River Reservation, which have trails lined with trees and streams.

McCreary demonstrated that it is feasible to run errands on a bicycle as well, although it might involve some problem-solving. 

“I think you can definitely [run errands] on a bike. There is a learning curve, … learning what’s the best way to transport things. Is it a backpack? Is it a crate on the back of your bike?” McCreary said.

Through his experiences running errands and traveling by bike, McCreary has found some positive and negative quirks of the greater Boston area’s infrastructure. 

McCreary noted that the presence of bike lanes in the Somerville/Cambridge area is well appreciated by bikers like himself. These lanes allow freer passage for bikers, yet McCreary still described how bikes compete with cars.

“I think the biggest hurdle is just getting comfortable riding in traffic. … That’s where having a dedicated bike trail would be useful because then you don’t have to negotiate with traffic,” McCreary said.

The dedicated bike trail that McCreary mentioned is something that could be improved in the area, as he found that there is a constant tradeoff between utility (bike lanes that take you to shops) and enjoyment (serene, crowd-free rides). 

Roads that are not maintained well can also lead to bike deterioration. Tufts Bikes not only provides a university-wide bike share but also holds mechanic hours to offer free bike repairs.

These mechanic hours are hosted for two hours each Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 28 Sawyer Avenue, and feature a quorum of passionate student-mechanics. These artists are willing to fix both big and small issues, as well as teach clients how to fix bikes themselves. McCreary stated that many of his fellow mechanics are avid cyclists, which enables them to develop an understanding of a bike’s engineering over time and experience.

McCreary joined Tufts Bikes upon the encouragement of his sister. 

“The summer before my freshman year, my sister decided to bike across Massachusetts,” McCreary said. “I followed her in a car, and I tried to fix whatever things broke on her bike. And afterwards, she said that a lot of colleges will have a biking club or a bike mechanic club and that I should join it. So freshman year, literally a few weeks later, I signed up for Tufts Bikes, and I really enjoyed it.” 

The Tuft Bikes headquarters on Sawyer Avenue keeps a steady inventory of common parts — brake pads, chains and spokes. McCreary said that there are some parts that are in higher demand, specifically inner tubes and patch kits, both used to fix tires.

McCreary also gave some tips for caring for one’s bike.

“The single best thing to do is keep it inside, or at least covered when you’re not using it, … especially because winters here have so much salt and … runoff that will rust your chain really quickly,” McCreary said. “The other [tip] is just replacing rubber components. Especially [on] older bikes, the rubber will dry out and crack pretty quickly, or it will be dried out when you get it. … Replacing those components will make the bike a lot safer and a lot better to ride.”

The age of a bike largely dictates how easy it is to manage, McCreary noted. Older bikes are easier to fix because they require metal rather than plastic material, the latter being more fragile. The prices of old bikes, as previously mentioned, are much lower than bikes that are brand new. 

Alex Bobroff, captain of the Tufts cycling team, broke down the differences between the costs of new bikes.

“An entry level road bike will be $1,000 to $2,000, a good road bike will be $3,000 to $6,000, and the top end will be like $15,000,” Bobroff said. “The cheapest ones [are] usually going to be aluminum [and] heavy. Also, the components, like the shifting … it’s not going to be as crisp. Once you start moving up, you get into carbon fiber frames, carbon fiber wheels, aerodynamic frames. … And once you get to the top level, it's designed by F1 engineers. It's wireless, [with] electronic shifting.”

Bobroff noted that he and other team members have worked in bike shops before — a major opportunity for discounts. Bobroff, in fact, was entitled to a 60% discount on bikes while he was an employee.

Bobroff is part of a fleet that forms the Tufts cycling team: the competitive, racing-focused biking collective on campus. Most of the team rides for at least six hours a week, and some at the higher end will devote sixteen to eighteen hours a week to cycling. The team also strives to include people at different skill levels, by scheduling leisurely rides to coffee shops, for example.

Outside of these rides, Bobroff described how the team puts effort into practicing racing skills.

“In the fall, we do a lot of skills training. A lot of people don't realize, but the sport, bike racing, is very different from just riding a bike,” he said. “An analogy I like to make is, thinking that [since] you're good at riding a bike and [assuming] that that will mean you'd be good at racing is like thinking you're fast at running and [therefore] you'd be good at soccer. Because, cycling is very skills- and strategy-focused.” 

As the competition season nears, the racing gets more intense. Practices are divided into two varieties: skills and group rides. 

Skill practices are designed to instill racing skills, such as sprinting. Bobroff elaborated that the sprinting skills practice trains the Tufts cycling team to practice the form required to reach a high speed during the last ten seconds of the race. 

Bobroff also described group rides — practices aimed to train the legs by going larger distances. These sixty to eighty mile rides don’t include a café stop, and are focused on keeping a good pace — around sixteen to seventeen miles per hour on average. 

As winter nears and the temperature drops, the cycling team is passionate enough to keep preparing for the upcoming season in spring, according to Bobroff.

“[When it’s cold], we do indoor [training] … a lot of us do try to just ride [outside] during the winter … my cutoff is … under 30 degrees … but if it's like 32 to 33 [degrees], we'll do it,” Bobroff said.

Bobroff noted that over the past three years, abnormal temperatures have enabled him to resume training outdoors as early as in the first week of February — a crucial time to prepare for the competition season which begins in March.

In addition to collegiate-level competitions, the Tufts cycling team attends general USA Cycling competitions. Last year, the Tufts cycling team representatives raced in the third out of four levels (category C), with the exception of Bobroff, who raced in the second level (category B).

“[USAC competitions] are … at a higher level. But bike racing is an extremely experience and skills-based sport, so any experience possible, even if it means, like, you [drop behind] the group or you just do poorly, it's always [an] important experience,” Bobroff said.

Ann Ward, the Education and Outreach Program administrator at the Tufts Office of Sustainability, expressed that the office champions biking as a sustainable activity and seeks to promote it at Tufts.

“The OOS supports and educates others about sustainable transportation, including biking, on our campuses,” Ward wrote in an email to the Daily. “We partner with BlueBikes on a discount program for Tufts community members and share information about Tufts Bikes’ student run bike share and repair station. We maintain the Tufts EcoMap, which allows students to find these and other biking resources on our campuses quickly. There is also a page on our website dedicated to housing all of the ways that students and employees can get access to and use these biking resources.” 

Ward explained that the OOS has had to pivot to make their sustainability initiatives COVID-19-friendly. 

“In terms of biking specifically, the pandemic provided the urgency to secure a partnership with BlueBikes to provide a safe and sustainable transportation option at a discount to the Tufts Community,” Ward wrote.

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