Thursday, November 17, 2011

Dusk in the Afternoon

Dusk at 4pm
Cycling home the other day, I caught a glimpse of a clock in a storefront window. At 4 pm it had already grown dark. Like other signs of winter's approach, this gave me a pang of anxiety. The early onset of darkness restricts my mobility, and after two winters as a cyclist I still have not found a good solution. 

The main issue for me, is that the two major "commuter trails" we have in the Boston area - the Charles River Trail and the Minuteman Trail - are completely unlit. When it gets dark they turn pitch black. This directly affects my long-distance bike travel, because I regularly use these trails as "highways" to get to suburban destinations 8-12 miles away, both for transportation and for roadcycling. At one point I was determined to conquer the darkness with super bright lights. I was pleased to find that it was indeed possible to cycle on the trails after dark with a strong enough headlight. I would go slower than usual, but it was good enough. However, the one issue I had not considered seriously enough was safety. On the Charles River Trail, I've now been startled several times by intoxicated men in my path. And on the Minuteman Trail last week a group of highschool boys stuck branches in my spokes as I cycled past them. There were maybe six of them, and they'd been sitting on the edges of the narrow path, smoking and waiting for a cyclist to ride by so that they could do this. Under the cover of darkness people who are capable of violence tend to lose their inhibitions, which makes unlit trails problematic. But the alternative routes to the destinations to which the trails take me are along busy roads, and I do not find them viable to use on a regular basis.

So what am I planning to do about this?.. Probably nothing, other than making sure to make it home before dark if I am using the trails, which basically means restricting my mobility again for the duration of winter. Oh I know, I know. I could "be braver" and do those long trips on busy roads. Or I could become a "bring lights to the trails" activist and dedicate my life to getting petitions signed and funding allocated. But the reality is that most cyclists who find themselves in this position simply give up. We should not be faced with those choices just because we want to continue cycling safely and conveniently as the days grow shorter. 

70 comments:

  1. There are a couple of such trails near us - North Tyneside's Waggonways, which are re-purposed light railway routes. These are great routes, though the compacted gravel surface isn't great for skinny tyres.

    I use these routes quite a lot, but have never experienced the kind of problems you've had. They feel socially safe - I'm not sure if this is because I'm a 6ft tall bloke, or because the Waggonways are out of town routes that are too far for drunks to stagger / groups of oiks to bother walking to!

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  2. oh god, I still have bad memories of trying to navigate the Minuteman in the dark, with weak headlights and a broken pair of glasses. I was only on the path for the Bedford section and got back on 2A as soon as I was inside Rt. 128, and nothing bad happened but the creepiness factor was off the charts.

    Personally, and I think I've mentioned this to you before, when I used to commute through there on a regular basis, I would not use the Minuteman in the winter. Illumination aside, once the snow comes, it's a pretty icy and treacherous mess in many places. I've found 2A and Mass Ave to be a pretty good substitute in most cases ... it's just the aforementioned crossing over 128 where it can be a little harrowing, especially if your bike isn't up to merging with cars that are coming on and off the cloverleaf.

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  3. Interesting. I too find mobility restricted in winter due to darkness when the busy streets are dark at rush hour and have snowbanks, potholes hidden by snow, and black ice.

    Fortunately in Pittsburgh the trails that serve as bicycle highways, while sometimes dark, have been free of malcontents so far. They cover lots of the city, but they are not plowed and develop nasty icy ruts. After a couple falls last season, this year will be a test of studded tires, but without them there have typically been a couple weeks overall when I can't reliably use the trails.

    So far, the solution is like yours - winter is just a different way of life as far as venturing further than a couple miles.It does help to live in an urban setting close to stuff you need. But it's surely the hardest part of the cycling-not-driving life to recommend to others.

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  4. I ride Minuteman Bikeway frequently and I have the same feelings. It is difficult to use it in winter. While I didn't have any incidents with guys sticking sticks in my spokes, I find it not much enjoyable to use due to very poor illumination and ice.

    I wrote about it recently ( http://bostonbybike.blogspot.com/2011/11/darkness.html ). Minuteman trail in Arlington/Lexington area is mostly a path in the forest, which makes it pitch black even at full moon. I suggest some very strong lights for such a ride. I use DiNotte and they are really good.

    Once snow comes, it gets even worse. Since trial is in the forest, sun doesn't get there most part of the day and the path gets icy. Of course, no one shovels snow on this path so unless you have a mountain bike with spiked tires I would stay away from Minuteman in winter. Just like cris wrote above: route 2A is a good substitute even though this means riding with cars.

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  5. Let me give you a typical Texan's perspective. I'd bring a couple of friends with me. "Smith" and "Wesson" come to mind.

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  6. Ah, prototypical MUP behavior. You need a Moonlander to command respect.

    So, did you crash/was your bike damaged/how many of them did you injure?

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  7. GR Jim - I was riding the Paper Bicycle and the wheel simply chewed up the branches. No spoke damage afterward.

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  8. cris - I've cycled on Mass Ave to and from Lexington before. During some stretches it's okay, during others not so much. I can do it when necessary, and I can especially do it with another (more aggressive) cyclist taking the lead. But alone and at night I just don't have the nerves for it on a regular basis.

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  9. I also use an unlit cycling path that is lined with trees..Its very dark at 6 pm when I'm cycling. Last night my light burned out. Just before I reached the path. I was not impressed...I was even thinking earlier in the week that I should get a second one.
    Anywho I biked very slowly and rang my bell at any turn or hill, as well as when other cyclists were near. I wear a reflective neon vest, so hopefully they saw me with their lights. The only thing I could see was the median yellow paint stripe on our path.

    Last week after the time changed, people didn't ajust right away...So many dog walkers were out wearing dark clothes, with a black dog and a black leash, and no lights! I almost ran into a little dog that was off leash...
    Now most have some reflectors or flashing lights. I still can't cruise at max speed though.

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  10. Yikes! How disgusting, the juvenile disregard for humanity you experienced.

    I just bit the bullet and ordered modern dynamo lighting for my daily commuter (the Jeunet), as I've decided to commute year-round with it. Fortunately, I don't need to ride MUPs much at all, and 99% of my riding is on lit streets. However, I want to make sure I'm seen and I'm tired of finding dead batteries in my lights.

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  11. Yikes! i never had to deal with people like that. I have a B&M IQ Cyo on my bike and find it plenty illuminating. there are folks that have insanely bright lights coming towards me and the lights are probably angled too high, and so I'm always wondering, "Am *I* blinding these people too?"

    once December rolls around, my Minuteman commuting both to Burlington and back are in pretty much complete dark. I will agree with you that it's not as fun as riding in the summer, but it's still a lot better than sitting in my car on 128 in the pitch dark.

    that said, night riding can be really fun. Somervillian and I did a great ride around the Blue Hills with a nearly full moon, and it was so delightful. The best part was that we we rode 30 miles and were home by 9:30!

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  12. JPTwins - After it starts snowing do you switch to the road, or drive? A commute to Burlington and back is a pretty big deal.

    I've spoken to roadcyclists before who continue to train throughout the the winter by taking the roads at night. I tried it last year and have to admit that I find it scary. The snowbanks basically mean that I have to take the lane at all times and compete with cars, and even then there are patches of black ice that I can't see until the last second. I just don't feel safe going at the speed I'd want to go at under those conditions.

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  13. @V -

    Bleah. That's really unfortunate. The Arlington police might be interested in hearing about this.

    I do three things on the MM trail.

    First, I'm usually on a longtail, a heavy bike, strong fork, big rims, many (36) spokes, and I'm a big guy. Probably less of an option for you, and not necessarily compatible with riding a cute/sexy bike.

    Second, really bright lights, not normally on near pedestrians, unless I don't like what I see, then they're all on. 300 lumens, roughly, half of it through a flat-wide lens. Makes the front end of the bike hard to look at.

    Third, helmet light, tight beam. Normally I look away from other people, but if I'm not comfortable, right in their face. It's blinding-bright, and if I rebuilt it today, it would be 40% more blinding.

    For winter ice, I use studs. Again, longtail, makes slides easier to recover. Last winter was pretty bad, but I never fell, though I did go some distance "sideways" once.

    I also practice stable-riding, A LOT. So, no-hands, kicking trash cans (careful, you can hurt your foot), hand-pruning bushes/trees intruding on the bike path, that sort of thing.

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  14. JPTwins - After it starts snowing do you switch to the road, or drive? A commute to Burlington and back is a pretty big deal.

    I'll be honest, in that once there's too much snow/ice, i take a break. last year, with the massive snowfall we had, my break was for two 1-month sections. But I also did ride on 2A/Lowell/Middlesex Tpk quite a few times. The Emerald Necklace Path is also usually cleared nicely and is free of hooligans.

    I guess i was just saying that i try not to let the dark stop me. And the studded tires I got back in April may or may not be ridden -- that's a LONG way to ride on metal spikes.

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  15. That's really too bad. I would call the police, every time, and keep after them to do something about it. But I understand your reluctance to put yourself in a dangerous situation.

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  16. Discretion is the better part of valour.

    He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day.

    From that brief description there's no way to tell if those kids wanted a quick laugh or if it was more serious mischief. Either way boundaries have been crossed and that is a volatile situation. Anything or nothing could make it far worse the next time, those kids have claimed turf and you have no good options.

    I've been lucky in those situations and haven't lost yet. Riders I know who on all counts are larger and tougher than me, and in a group, have lost.

    Wait for warm weather and reinforcements. Tactical retreat from that trail. JCW

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  17. JCW - Right. I had no intention of stopping alone in the woods with six 17-year-old boys who had just tried to make me fall off my bike. They may be over a decade younger than me, but I am pretty sure that even individually they are still stronger. And who knows what they'd been smoking. Later I considered calling the police, but wasn't sure what town this happened in.

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  18. Three points I would make, as a cyclist and professional prosecutor: first, call the closest police department and discuss the overall situation with them. Police appreciate the opportunity to be proactive and prevent crime. Second, carry pepper spray and a whistle. Third, use the brightest LED headlight you can find.

    Affordable Luxury

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  19. Drat, now I've gone and looked up the Moonlander and I want one! Snow and beach would be my friend.

    I tend to avoid the unlit trails if I am riding alone and I would definitely report that incident to the police in all the potential towns, doesn't matter. Takes them so long to respond to anything to do with cyclists that it may require a number of people reporting this type of thing. Technically, the act has the potential for death, so should not be treated lightly.

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  20. I saw the Moonlander at Interbike. Have to say I wouldn't mind having either one of those or the Pugsley for winter!

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  21. My brother-in-law is a cop in DC and he says, whenever you see something like this, call the police. "It's not like they're doing anything else."

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  22. How many of us take shortcuts through parking lots, college campuses and other non-street pathways? One danger that lurks is that shortcut that is open and visible during the day can be rendered hazardous at night with a chain across the driveway or entrance. For whatever reason this seems to be a practice that of course poses enormous danger even with headlights.

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  23. In Montana we always carry pepper spray when mountain biking in bear country. Sounds like it might come in handy on the Minuteman Trail.

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  24. Ugh- stupid kids. It brings to mind all the attacks over the years of women jogging in central park after dark. Makes me shudder with anger.

    Glad you are ok. Pepper spray just in case the bike goes down one day?

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  25. don't give up the fight

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  26. I commute year-round, including winter. Fortunately my usual route, the SW Corridor Bike Path, is always plowed the morning after a storm, and it's reasonably well-lit.

    I do carry pepper spray (requires a permit in MA) and an AirZound horn on my dark winter commutes. And I keep a second bike set up with snow tires for icy days.

    It's wonderful to be out on my bike the morning after a fresh new snowfall, with the right equipment!

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  27. I'm happy to hear that situation wasn't worse and that you're OK!

    I'm a tad bit larger than you are,and male,and have never had those problems while riding...not to say that being larger and male would prevent it,but though it could be considered as a snide remark,one person mentioned his two best friends,Smith and Wesson,above...I have a conceald carry permit for my Glock,am both trained and experienced with it (not to mention a combat vet),and in direct defense of my life or another's wouldn't be afraid to use it-hopefully just showing it wit confidence would be enough to defuse a situation,though personally I'm prepared if it didn't. Regaurdless,there would be consequences,I would learn your state and city's laws if I were to carry (I do carry,BTW).

    That said,pepper spray,and a good self defense class wouldn't hurt,and I firmly believe everyone should know how to defend one's self rather than to trust the mercy of a would-be assailant. Always carry a cell phone too,and let someone know exactly where you are going,and an approximate time to expect you (or expect you to check in).

    I agree,call the police (quick! What's the number for 911? :p),file a report,use your blog and connections locally to gather support. Yourself and bike riding\loving friends (of which I consider myself :) )are not only tax paying voters,but members of the community. I don't mean to sound harsh\etc,but it's their duty,and their job to serve and protect,which includes on the trails. It's a sad world we live in when someone's afraid to ride their bicycle due to some P.O.S's meth-fed terrorism.

    All that said...yeah,getting dark in the afternoon-early evening kinda sucks =\

    Disabled Cyclist

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  28. dr2chase:
    Third, helmet light, tight beam. Normally I look away from other people, but if I'm not comfortable, right in their face. It's blinding-bright, and if I rebuilt it today, it would be 40% more blinding.


    I use a helmet LED headlight for just this reason (in addition to a lower, bike-mounted headlight). I don't normally shine it in peoples' faces, but when I see an a**hat coming towards me who I don't believe is being too aware, I can aim the light in his face at will simply by turning my head. Being able to get one's attention by willing your light in any direction as needed is a Good Thing.

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  29. I am sorry to hear of your awful encounter. Those young miscreants may just have been up to mischief, however, they may have been testing you and would escalate their violent act in the future should you happen along at the opportune time. I have a few thoughts regarding self-defense I'd like to share. The best defense is to put distance between you and your attacker(s). Unfortunately for you, this means to travel a different route. Perhaps in time, and as the weather becomes less friendly for "hanging out", they will lose interest and move on. I agree with the other respondents in that it is very important for you (and other cyclists) to report these events to the police. Also, I would think any local bike commuting advocacy groups should be made aware so they can take these concerns to the city counsel members. Lastly, some type of defensive device(s) need to be carried; a very bright light shined directly into the eyes can cause severe pain and disorientation to the attacker allowing one to have time for escape. I recommend hand-held tactical lights made by Surefire. They concentrate an extremely bright beam that would make many bicycle lights "envious". Also, pepper spray and a loud shrill whistle are time-honored and useful for defense. Unfortunately, some habitual criminals have trained themselves to be tolerant to pepper spray! Also, taking a course on self-defense might go a long way in boosting your confidence. Obviously, when there is more than one attacker, one's odds of a desirable outcome go down. Lastly, carrying a weapon is an option some choose to take. This, of course, depends on your state and local laws. The decision to do so is a very personal one and not to be taken lightly. It should be accompanied with very good training. I apologize for my wordiness but I feel strongly about an individual's safety and the ability to protect themselves. I hope you the best and wisdom in deciding what to do.

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  30. Just buy some reasonable lights and commute by road.

    I've commuted by bike for 30 odd years now, winter and summer, to all my jobs in busy, traffic infested Manchester, Leeds, Liverpool, Bradford and London, with commutes varying from 3 to 14 miles each way.

    It's not a question of being brave, but of being confident in traffic and that only comes with experience. I don't really find commuting in traffic in the dark much different from doing it in daytime.

    If you aren't used to commuting on roads then why not start next spring, and then you'll be used to it by the time winter comes again?

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  31. pete - One can be confident and competent in a situation, but still dislike it - and that is exactly how I feel about the busy roads. I've been commuting on roads for 2.5 years now and do it daily for distances of several miles each way. For the longer trips, there is just no way of getting around the fact that riding on busy roads for 10 miles at a time "sucks" compared to riding on the nice woodsy trails that lead to the same destinations.

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  32. You counted to six and saw them clear enough to see they were about 17 years of age. That's already quite a lot to give the police. I'll assume you have a definite location where this occurred. Kids that age are going to be super territorial, narrows the field a lot. Tell the police. They may not do a thing. Costs you nothing and when it happens again the police have a start.

    Discharging a weapon from a moving bike is a nonstarter. Not going to happen. Keeping in motion is what you want. Take a fall and look for where the Smith & Wesson is? Umm, no. Pepper spray is hard to aim even when standing still, will not take down six. I've used a bike as a ram when five blocked the road. It worked. I'll never know why the fork didn't break.

    Never give up. This old cyclist was mugged (not while on a bike) three years back. Assailant introduced himself with a sucker punch, knocked me down and knocked me unconscious. I came to with two guys in my pockets. Screamed like a maniac and stood up. No fight, I don't know how. Kept screaming. They looked at me like I'd risen from the dead and ran. Never give up.

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  33. Please call the police, even if your not sure what town you were in. Try to find a mile marker to give a reference point after you are safe. If you call 911 on a cell, the call goes to the state police and they reroute the call to the local PD.
    If the incident isn't reported, the Police won't know that any action needs to take place.
    There have been incidents on the Southwest Corridor Park where muggings were not brought to the attention of the police until DRC recovered two wallets in the bushes while cleaning the park.

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  34. Jennifer in ScotlandNovember 17, 2011 at 2:28 PM

    I've been struggling with this very problem and I am glad you have written about it. I cycle along an unlit canal path and then a woodland path. I have great lights but the spookiness factor gets to me. Nothing has happened but I feel vulnerable. For various reasons (including hilly terrain and fear of traffic) I can't contemplate using the roads as an alternative. Having decided to give up cycling to work over the winter, I now get up 30 minutes earlier and travel on 2 buses, crawling through traffic and listening to the chatter of noisy teenagers, all the while thinking 'why am I doing this?'

    One colleague and a friend have both expressed astonishment at the fact that I would even contemplate cycling along lonely paths in the dark. I think I allow this to affect my thinking too much. Weighing everything up (including the fact that cycling keeps me happy!) I think I prefer the spooky cycle and am tempted to push myself gently to come to terms with the perceived risks involved. It's a tough one though.

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  35. @ Pete 2:07.

    "It's not a question of being brave" Um, yes, yes I think it is. I personally am terrified to ride in a lot of high traffic areas, especially after dark or with uncertain road conditions. I think most people would consider me a very confident urban cyclist, but taking the lane on a lot of MA roads is a big leap of faith that people will be paying attention and also not intentionally run you down, and requires a significant degree of bravery. And if being confident only comes with experience, how are you supposed to start riding confidently?!?

    Velouria- glad you're OK, and those sound like really scary incidents!
    I consciously choose not to ride on the Charles paths at night in the winter because of that, but fortunately I have other good on-street options in the lower basin. There aren't as many good choices as you go west. For me, carrying a weapon isn't an option, nor do I feel like I would rely on a very bright headlight to blind people. I hate to say it, but you might need to start doing a multi-modal commute if you can't find out of the way neighborhood streets as alternatives, as there are bus lines that duplicate some of those routes. Now you just need a folding bike!
    This is one of the major arguments against mandatory sidepath laws and against relying on MUPs as transportation facilities.

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  36. I rode the Nashua rail trial to Ayer, MA (12.5 miles) last weekend to check out a few restaurants I had read about to plan a social ride for the spring. The trail was still strewn with debris from the October snow storm. I got a late start and rode one of my slower bikes. On the way back home I had to rely on my trusty nite rider light and it was just me and a roadie on the path once we reached NH. He did not have a light and I kept up with him well and we looked out for one another along the way. I enjoyed the night ride, but at the same time I was glad that we reached the parking lot at roughly the same time.

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  37. I would definitely report something to the police in Bedford/Lexington/Arlington about the incident on the Minuteman. Even if you don't know exactly where it happened they should be aware of it and I think will want to do something about it. Here in Bedford there is a Bicycle Advisory Committee who are concerned with issues like this. If you want to limit your involvement then maybe they can advocate for you. The other towns have similar committees as well. Here's some contact info: http://www.minutemanbikeway.org/Pages/contacts.html

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  38. This is a scary story! I would report it to the police too, as others have said. I have never experienced deliberate assault while on my bike, though I have found that the scariest thing that happens to me at night is pedestrians stepping out from the kerb. They are totally invisible and seem to appear from nowhere, and if they are drunk it is doubly dangerous! Even the best bike lighting does not let me see them, only good street lighting, and that is not always present.
    Vicki

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  39. Just a thought,
    Does the nature of your work in the western burbs allow you to time shift so that you can be home by dark?
    You have enough bikes by now that surely you could put snow tires on one of them (lynda?) and make it a winter workhorse? Doesn't she have 700c tires? I know you've been less than enthused about studded tires in the past, but if you're going to have to ride the icy/ snowy paths a lot, they might make some sense..

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  40. My one freelance job puts me on unlit rural roads late at night on occasion, a 20-30 mile ride home in the dark isn't too bad during warm weather, but with snow and cold rain it's a bit of a nuisance.

    As far as traffic goes, though, I sometimes feel like cars notice me better when it's dark (I've got a few lights and some reflective gear on the bike and my helmet, and when there's rain or fog I also throw a hi-vis vest over my jacket), they certainly give me more room.

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  41. Glad you are ok, V. That is really scary. Hopefully your MUP's have those little number markers about every half mile - if you see anything shady again, when you get to a safe spot you can call 911 and reference the marker number. They should be able to figure out whose jurisdiction it's in from that. Maybe there's even a map online with the marker numbers, if you recall where on the trail the incident took place.
    I agree with another poster who said the kids will probably hang out in the same area and could be there again, so a call to the police might result in them getting caught.

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  42. Another vote for at least mentioning to the police the location and description of the incident. There's a small chance it might ultimately help others avoid a similar encounter if the police even make the slightest effort to follow it up and visit the area (even though they may well do nothing).

    A few months back I was cycling down a packed main road at peak hour here in Rathmines in Dublin (Ireland) I watched a group of kids (boys and girls) laughing in front of the mall entrance and then saw that they were randomly throwing things into the traffic as it passed from just 10 feet away. Amazingly no one seemed to be doing anything. Then just as I passed one absolutely fired some object (a stone?) at a passing motorcyclist/scooter and hit him direct on the helmet. Nothing happened and the scooter rider just drove on. And they all seemed to think that putting someone's life at risk was absolutely hilarious. But it shocked me enough to make me jump off my bike and head back 20 metres to shout them out of it. Needless to say they were unashamed and then started into me. I simply warned them that another word/threat and I was calling the police. I actually pretended to... but to show how little they cared one of them followed behind mimicking my phone call with his hand. They did move on once I cycled off however.

    In any case, this is not a story about being macho. More about being impotent. You really feel at a loss when facing juvenile mob-mentality and I'm sorry for your encounter V.

    But on a more happy note, we are now Vincitore buddies! So as soon as you manage to bring it on a plane all the way across the ocean, we'll organise a Dublin Vincitore ride.

    Still loving the site from far away... even if I don't comment that often!

    Best,
    E. (in Ireland)

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  43. A nice man, Vic:

    http://vicsclassicbikes.blogspot.com/2011/09/cyclest-attacked-by-pack-of-wilding.html

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  44. @V - having just traversed the MM today from Nourse (between Trader Joe's and Park Ave. bridge near Gold's Gym) and Alewife, I think it is safe to say that you encountered some fair weather fiends. Only dog-walkers, commuters, and a jogger.

    Here's the (home-made) helmet: http://gallery.mac.com/dr2chase#100060/IMG_0679

    DiNotte makes some nice helmet lights, too, though theirs are more expensive.

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  45. Here it gets dark around 6 pm. I'd love to have dedicated trails but what you described there would also be a concern here. Darkness limits mobility. Riding with others may help, or going to a city planning meeting and suggesting lights for the trails. If enough cyclists show up at planning meetings perhaps lighting will be considered by the city.

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  46. have not read every comments but you know, i have no idea how bright those hub generator lights are. but the current generation of led lights get 500+ lumens with rechargeable cells that last many hours. you actually become more, not less, visible in the dark because drivers are hardwired to see bright lights. so commuting in the dark, while not pleasant, becomes reasonably safe. i suggest this because it is always better to avoid confrontation whenever possible.

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  47. Velouria, this is so frightening and I agree with the others who have urged you to report this incident to the police. It could have turned out so differently - I'm glad you are safe.

    I too am experiencing the need to reroute my trip home in the evenings. I am not comfortable cycling the MUP I use during the day, as it's very dark and there is quite a bit of graffiti by a bridge I cross. I don't wish to encounter the people defacing the wall, so I had to change my route to one that is longer and much more city-oriented. At first I was uncomfortable with this, especially in the dark, but I'm becoming more confident. And I prefer to know, for my personal safety, that I am among other cyclists, pedestrians, cars, etc. and not alone on a dark, secluded path with undesirables.

    Best wishes in avoiding this type of situation in the future.

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  48. FYI, if anyone is looking to build up a dynamo hub, there is a really good sale on the Shimano Alfine model. They're black, and don't have packaging, but if you can live with that, more than 1/2 price: Bike Stop via bike tinker

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  49. I do not any see options other than:
    1. Start campaigning (better lighting, additional paths etc.)
    2. Park the bike

    4 pm is pretty early to have to rush home by. It totally cuts the day in half.
    Quite frankly, I doubt the kids would have done much to you other than push you around but... You never know. You do not wan to be the 1% statistic where things got wrong in any way. Plus, it is unpleasant anyways no matter.

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  50. Maybe carry an air horn? Something (paint or similar) to permanently mark them so that the police can easely find them later (like is done when professionals is carrying cash?). Maybe a police siren to scare them off? sounds like a lot to carry.. Heard a joke last night about a woman being asked (approx 50 yrs ago) if she was not scared to be alone in the dark traveling from x to y. She said "no, as soon as they drag me into the light they`l let me go". Most of the time I am not scared but tend to keep away from the nasty places. I tend to think that if I am atacked my heavy winter boots and bad temper is going to scare them away but that may not work, I know ;?).
    badmother.

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  51. :( That story sounds horrible. I hope it improves for you.

    I have recently this year heard a story from a girl I know in Groningen who had something similar happen to her on one of the darker streets going out of town. She is now afraid to bike anywhere but the busy central area. They were after her purse most likely as Dutch women carry these huge purses with everything in them from an Ipad to an extra sweater to the kitchen sink. The boys jumped out from behind a car and pushed at her. Luckily she was not completely off balance but was able to continue biking. Getting away quickly was the best thing she could have done. :(

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  52. One of the issues surrounding personal safety after dark is that decent people such as yourself often feel unsafe at night and tend to stay away from places such as unlit trails. The knock-on effect is that the ratio of scumbags to 'normals' quickly becomes unfavourable and the cycle perpetuates itself. There are certain routes I won't use very, very late at night (or on Fridays and Saturdays when there are more drunks about) but I do try to not live in fear.

    As a side-note the Philips Saferide I got a few weeks ago has really helped with youthful miscreants; the brightness of the light means that when I approach they are often slightly concerned that I am riding a motorcycle and not a bike.

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  53. I'd get a LARGE can of pepper spray!

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  54. OK, so, my story -- a few months ago, in the summertime, I was cycling to work through a bad neighborhood, going slowly up hill to a light when, wham, I got punched from behind. At first I didn't know what had happened -- how did I hit something from behind? -- but then I saw the guy walking back to his friends after I crashed. Well, I reached into my bag to get my cellphone to call the police, lying there on the road, and the kids were like, oh, and started drifting off.
    The police came right away, and -- here's where it gets better -- a guy drove up and said he knew who did it, told the police and everything. He'd seen what had happened, was waiting at the light ahead of me, and drove around. So the police have the kid's name, and I wasn't hurt that bad, some swelling.
    I still ride that street -- these days I'm not too worried about teenagers at 7 am -- but I do look around a bit. Groups of teenage boys are just trouble, that's all there is to it.

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  55. There was a case not long ago, along my regular route, of a group of muggers specifically going after cyclists by knocking them over as they rode past in the dark. I never had an encounter with them, and certainly have no intention of giving up on night riding, but it's definitely something that's on my mind some nights. As it is, I've been called out to or verbally harassed on a rare occasions, but never allowed anyone close enough to see if they were "all talk" or any sort of threat (yet another reason not to ride on the sidewalk!).

    Stay safe out there, V.

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  56. Years ago I was robbed on my bike (actually robbed OF my bike). More or less the same scenerio as you have described. A small group of 14 to 15 year olds with wrenches and screwdrivers. Thinking back, if I had the ability to take down just one of them (remember the scene in Stand By Me?) they all would have fled. But alas, I was out "gunned". Pepper spray is nice because it allows you to keep your distance from an attacker, though having a nice long screwdriver as a back-up is a good strategy. If one has to consider the lethal force option it's obviously best to ride elsewhere. But - if one has no choice and lives in a state with legal concealed carry, the Kel-Tec .32 is about the size and weight of a cell phone. I'm just sayin'.

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  57. A recreational trail, in my opinion, should not be considered a transportational route unless there is going to be police patrols on it, snow removal, lighting at junctions and other dangerous spots, etc., as are done for regular roads.

    Much as I enjoy recreational trails, I get very tired of bicycle activists in my area pushing them as major bicycle routes and focusing a good percent of their political energy on them.

    We have trails in the Philadelphia area with similar crime problems. I find the snow removal issue the most vexing. After a snow is when I would find the trail most useful as often the streets are narrowly plowed and you can only use the roads, with drivers likely to skid out on ice, if you take a lane.

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  58. Many of the women I know who use our local Schuylkill River trail between Philadelphia and Valley Forge carry pepper spray. it's a berautiful trail during the day and has some useful transportational potential, but it can be pretty isolated even as it passes trhough some populated areas and there have been a number of incidents on the trail, both day and night.

    I really don't know if that is a good solution or not, someone who knows more about these things would ahve to discuss it. It's even illegal in some states to carry pepper spray without a permit.

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  59. It's probably worth nothing that busy, central areas don't mean safety either. Some of my worst run-ins occurred in the city centre when I lived in the East Midlands. Twice I had teens throw a football into my wheel (it caught my bike off-balance). The worst yet was that the local PC was walking by and didn't even bat an eye, fortunately some passerby noticed it and yelled at the youths. The bad thing about some places is that the young people know that the Police won't do anything, so they feel free to terrorise others in the middle of the day in a busy city area.

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  60. You definitely get large groups of teenagers being loud and taking up the path behind the Arlington high football field.

    The worst are the kids who drink under the overpass near the Gold's Gym or Trader Joes. Occasionally they'll throw rocks at everyone who goes past. The Arlington Police seemed barely interested in reports of underage kids drinking and throwing stones and I have no idea if they went out to actually look for them the last time I called it in.

    I use the path with bright lights until the snow falls (I had a bad spill on some ice last year and I just avoid it once the snow accumulates)

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  61. "I do not any see options other than:
    1. Start campaigning (better lighting, additional paths etc.)
    2. Park the bike

    4 pm is pretty early to have to rush home by. It totally cuts the day in half."


    I don't mean to suggest that this is my one and only cycling route and that I don't ride after 4pm in the winter because of this. I continue to ride in the city year round at all times of day and night.

    When going out of town to one of the trail destinations, what I do is what cycler suggested earlier: When darkness is the only issue (i.e. it has not started snowing yet) I arrange my trips to those areas to be during the daylight hours. It's a pain and still restricts me obviously, but at least I have the luxury of doing that. However once the snow starts, the trails have other problems and I will stay off them entirely.

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  62. For what it's worth, I've never seen kids tossing rocks at either of those two bridges. Worst I've seen is back when the bench was still near the high school, and a lot of broken glass would end up in the path.

    And tonight, there were again no crowds of kids, at least at about 5:30.

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  63. I am sorry that happened! That is scary. I gave up bike commuting this summer when coming across scary groups of people hanging out and smoking. I just got a scary creepy feeling, then two weeks later quite a few people got beaten up in the same place.

    I wish it wasn't like this. I think pepper spray is a good option and a quick protection prayer won't hurt.

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  64. Ick, scary! A friend of mine was hit in the face with a 2x4 by some bratty kids in her neighbourhood just waiting for a cyclist to go by. She was knocked out and the kids vanished. Being a poor marginalized area, nobody would speak up about who did it....needless to say she became pretty scared. While getting poked with sticks is nowhere as bad, it is equally terrifying because the bike can actually lose control and the tire can go flat, leaving you vunerable to some unsavoury kids. For example, I recently had to ride through some tree branches that had fallen, one got stuck in the wheel and up into the fenders and promptly deflated the tire forcing me to walk back home.
    Teenage boys loitering and making mischief like that makes me nervous. you could carry bear spray? An air horn? There are some ridiculously bright self contained bike lights out now that run on rechargeable batteries without costing a fortune. The light & motion urban 500 is really really bright, would illuminate the entire path and area surrounding the path. This would expose the drunk men and teenage punks. It's important to know the activity of the parks. Many perfectly nice by day parks are trolling grounds for seemingly endless men at night. I had some spooky experiences while going for a nice walk at night with men coming out of the bushes...but enough of that image! As for teenagers, are there certain nights they are more likely to be out, and a time frame of creepy activity?
    It is a shame, because with the right bike lights, a cycle through a dark path can be so romantic. I would say try the roads to get around and try not restrict yourself too much. That said, with it sinking into darkness so early, the impulse is strong to stick close to home or warmly lit neighbourhood streets.
    I do not get off work until after 6, so have to ride in the dark and it is scary, especially with wind, rain and ferry traffic all at once.

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  65. The roadway is for bicycles, too, and I actually prefer it to most paths and almost all "lanes". If I am visible and predictable, there are few problems.

    A busy road can even be safer than a less-travelled road, as prevailing speeds are generally lower.

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  66. "A recreational trail, in my opinion, should not be considered a transportational route unless there is going to be police patrols on it, snow removal, lighting at junctions and other dangerous spots, etc., as are done for regular roads."

    They are not.
    But if you are not interested in campaigning for better, you have to make do with that in addition to the regular road.

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  67. I just drove my bf home, he wanted to ride home to a cat he left alone at home and was delayed quite a lot becouse he had a flat. This is a fairly safe area but if he had another flat or if he met some "bad guys" there would be nobody around to help. We just talked about that he needs to upgrade some of his bikes to make them more relyable.

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  68. I ride a canal trail to work and there are a couple of areas under overpasses that make me a little nervous, too. So, I have to rethink rides that end up in darkness. But I've never had an experience like yours. I disagree that rec trails aren't for transportation... what difference is it to the trail or other people on the trail if I'm commuting to work or just riding?

    Anyway -- glad you're safe and like a lot of other people, I'd report it to the police. You never know if there have been other incidents and yours being added to it might provide extra information that the police need.

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  69. I cycle home on the Minuteman path after dark almost every day and never considered it a safety hazard until this week. I assumed since there were SO many other commuters on bikes and on foot out there after dark that it was no big deal. I've even ridden home from parties on the Minuteman all by myself at 3AM.
    Now your story, coupled with the news that a body was found in Spy Pond this week are really making me think twice. Would you mind disclosing where on the path those teens bothered you so that I may avoid it as well?
    Thanks.

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  70. It's now the summer but the situation will be there next winter. I cycle Mass Ave to Lexington all of the time - I prefer it to the path on a weekend - but night is another issue. Drivers being as aggressive/blind-to-cyclists/distracted as they are, that stretch isn't as appealing at night.

    I've heard of crimes like what you describe happening on the bike path so your experience is not unique.

    I run on the trail in the morning in winter before twilight and it spokes me even then, though I suspect the morning is safer than the evening.

    Lighting seems like a long way away since they was a huge issue to get lights to the playing fields in Arlington near Alewife a few years ago. But patrols seem like something more probable than extending the lighting to Lexington or Bedford.

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