In Boston, leaf peeping by bike

Using the newly painted bike lanes, off-street bike trails and the city’s cutting-edge bike share program, three routes through the New England city show off its autumnal allure.

The sky is blue, the air is crisp and the leaves are aflame with gold, crimson and orange. It is autumn in Boston — and a perfect day for a bicycle ride.

Boston’s compact and relatively flat geography is ideal for cycling, and in the last five years the city has implemented a cutting-edge bike share program, the Hubway, and made major improvements to its cycling infrastructure. Using on-street bike lanes and off-street bike trails, three routes through the New England city are perfect for peeping its autumnal colours. Each segment is five miles or less — easy to complete in an hour, with plenty of time to stop and look around. Or, string them all together to see the whole city in its finest fall colours.

Related article: Living in… Boston

Boston lies on the south shore of the Charles River, which wends its way out to Boston Harbour. On the river’s north shore is the city of Cambridge, where this bike tour begins. Start at the Anderson Memorial Bridge near Harvard Square and pedal east along Memorial Drive to get a glimpse inside the gates of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Exuding a stately academic atmosphere, the college campuses are especially attractive when decked out in autumnal hues. The Cambridge side also yields a fantastic vista of the Boston city skyline with jewel-toned trees and  blue-green waters in the foreground.

After about four miles, the path comes to an abrupt end at the Museum of Science. Cross the Monsignor O’Brien Highway and head into North Point Park. Just a few years ago, this was an industrial wasteland; now it is an impressive expanse of bike trails and landscaped greenery, with wonderful views of the Charles River Basin. The new North Bank Bridge crosses over the railroad tracks and under the Zakim Bridge, giving cyclists a direct route to Paul Revere Park in Boston’s Charlestown neighbourhood.

From Paul Revere Park, it is a quick ride over the Charlestown Bridge (keep on the sidewalk, to be safe) into downtown Boston. Here, newly painted bike lanes designate the Harbour Route, which loops one mile around the North End neighbourhood on Commercial Street. This  is Boston’s Italian district; if you have a hankering for a cannoli, take a detour down Hanover Street and pop into Maria’s Pastry on Cross Street. Otherwise, the Harbour Route continues along Atlantic Avenue as it merges with the Rose Kennedy Greenway, the centrepiece of Boston’s newly revitalised waterfront. When the hulking overhead Central Artery highway was redirected underground — a 15-year project that was finally completed in 2007 — the city reclaimed 27 acres for parks and plazas. Taking on a golden hue in autumn, the strip of parkland is now the connector between the city and the water. You cannot ride your bike on the Greenway itself, but rather ride alongside for half a mile on the dedicated bike lanes on the adjacent Surface Road.

Take a left onto Broad Street and again onto Franklin Street where you continue another half-mile through the busy Financial District. Turn left on Washington Street and right on Winter Street, riding through the pedestrian zone to reach Boston Common. In autumn, America’s oldest public park is awash with yellow elms and red maples. You can ride across the Common, but be careful of heavy pedestrian traffic.  

Exit the common at Charles Street and cross to the Public Garden, which is Boston’s beautiful Victorian-era botanical oasis. Cycling is prohibited here, but it is worth dismounting and walking your bike along the meandering paths under a multicoloured canopy of elm, chestnut, beech and gingko leaves. The Public Garden is most famous for its weeping willows shading the central lagoon.

Back Bay
Exiting the garden, climb back on your bike and pedal west through Back Bay, the city’s most prestigious and picturesque neighbourhood. The grand Commonwealth Avenue is a dual carriageway lined with Victorian brownstones and bisected by a tree-lined, sculpture-studded promenade. This is quintessential Boston, with its elegant architecture and flaming foliage. And now it is marked with safe, left-side bike lanes.

After a mile, turn right onto Massachusetts Avenue — where parking was eliminated in early 2012 to make way for bike lanes — and pedal three blocks north to the Charles River. Here you can hop on the Paul Dudley White bike path, a 17-mile riverside trail named for a prominent local physician who was a founder of the American Heart Association and an advocate of exercise and diet to prevent heart disease.

Heading east, the trail traverses the Charles River Esplanade, an enticing waterside urban escape with plenty of grassy knolls and cooling waterways. The lack of traffic leaves you free to focus on the magnificently-coloured leaves reflected in the river. It is about two miles back to the Museum of Science.  

Rolled out in 2011, Boston’s bike-share program, the Hubway, offers an excellent opportunity for visitors to get around Boston on two wheels. Purchase a temporary membership at any Hubway kiosk, pay by the half hour to use the bike (free under 30 minutes) and return the bike to a kiosk close to your destination. The Hubway starts to get expensive after 90 minutes, so visitors wanting to do this itinerary in one go might be better off renting a bike from a local shop, such as Cambridge Bicycle, Urban Adventours in downtown or Back Bay Bicycles .

If you get tired, you can bring your bike on the MBTA subway or bus for no additional fare. Bicycles are not allowed on green-line trains or silver-line buses, nor are they allowed on any train during rush hours (7 am to 10 am and 4 pm to 7 pm Monday through Friday).

If you prefer to let the experts show you the way to go, sign up with Urban Adventours. In addition to their daily City Bike Tour, this environmentally-friendly company offers a seasonal 15-mile autumn foliage tour along the Emerald Necklace, a network of parks and green spaces southwest of the city centre.

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