The MBTA is on Fire again, I’ll take my bike.

It’s 5:30 pm in Boston and I’m about to depart on my daily 5.5 mile commute to Huron Village in Cambridge. It’s 35 degrees, so I stretch Gore Tex cycling shoes over my feet, throw on a jacket, attach my light to my helmet and start the descent down a series of elevators to a parking garage where my bike is locked.

I take a right out of the garage at 4 Copley place and turn on right Huntington Avenue. Immediately the streets are gridlocked, far more than normal. I push through stuck cars and take a left on Dartmouth where I wait wait at the light at Copley Square. As usual valet and delivery drivers for the Fairmount Copley are occupying the bike lane forcing me to maneuver through drivers on their cell phones. I wait for pedestrians to clear the streets outside of Boston Public library and proceed through the intersection on the pedestrian walk signal to avoid conflict with drivers switching lanes across the bike lane.

I continue down Dartmouth cautiously and watch for cars trying to speed past me to cut in front of me for the turn onto Marlborough. I wait at the intersection of Dartmouth, and Boylston for the walk light to come on. I proceed cautiously the wrong way down a one way to avoid riding on the 3-lane speedway that is Boylston Street. I cross Storrow Drive via a foot bridge off Back Street.

From this vantage point I can see tail lights as far as the eye can see; traffic at a grinding halt on Storrow and Memorial Drives. I continue to the Dr. Paul Dudley Bike Path that mirrors the natural contours of the Charles river. I could take Mass Ave all the way to my apartment, but the stress is palpable. On the bike path I’ve never felt more free, especially with the visuals of Storrow, Memorial Drive, and the Mass Ave Bridge and I-90 in a state of relenting gridlock.

Despite it being a brisk but pleasant night my companions on the path are few. I pass by some Canadian Geese wading in the water, as well as a few joggers, I only encounter one other cyclist on this journey. The lights of high rises along Memorial Drive in Cambridge reflect on the water in way that is reminiscent of a painting by Claude Monet. For a moment I stop worrying about the typical stressors that come along with urban living; spending all day at a job you don’t particularly enjoy to afford the rising rent, crowding, traffic and the emotional energy it takes to interact with people all day.

This is the way bike commuting should and could be. You should have the time to contemplate life and use exercise as a way to unwind. Bike commuting should not be stressful. Unfortunately I’m in the minority of Boston Bike commuters who can use a protected path for the majority of their commute. I formally lived in Somerville and had to commute through Union and Central Squares using Mass Ave. I can’t tell you how many near misses with cars, arguments with drivers I’ve had and actual threats that I’ve received from drivers; one of which I had to call the Somerville Police about.

I still maintain that bike commuting is a far more efficient way to get around an aging and gridlocked city such as Boston. My 30 minute bike commute would easily become 60 minutes or more depending on the frequent delays of the MBTA. I would have to pay $84.50 a month for a service that doesn’t deliver. Even driving to work would take longer and I’d have to pay an upwards of $300 a month to park in a garage downtown. Commuting by bike is inexpensive, quick and a nice way to stay active doing something you need to do anyway. The fitness needed to commute 50 miles a week by bike is far less than you imagine. In short time it will feel less vigorous than walking.

Unfortunately bike commuting in Boston is not for everyone. Setting out on the streets as a beginner rider is intimidating as riders are frequently put in contention with aggressive drivers who have no regard for the safety of others, roads that are in disrepair, winter weather that leaves city streets slick and icy. It’s estimated that only 2% of Boston commutes regularly by bike and I can understand why. The cities of  Boston, Cambridge, Somerville and Boston are rushing to make efforts to change things. However it feels like a little too late, fatalities of cyclists and pedestrians that could have been easily prevented have sparked the boom. I do applaud cycling advocacy organizations like the Boston Cyclists Union, Mass bike, and livable streets for being so vocal.

No one should die getting to and from work. We live in an aging city that’s in the midst of an innovation boom, yet public transportation and our streets are grinding to a halt. The bicycle is the quickest way around the city. Fixing the MBTA is a far more daunting and expensive task than adding some cycling infrastructure for us to maneuver when the gridlock is too thick to bear and the trains on fire again.

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45NRTH XERVES Review

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45NRTH is a Minneapolis based company that makes bike clothing, tires and accessories for winter riding and comfort in extreme cold. Hailing from a city where it’s currently -15 it’s easy to assume that they know what they’re doing.

I live in Boston where it’s warm in comparison. Our winters tend to be more snowy and sloppy than bitterly cold and icy. I’ve spent the last 6 years of winter riding without using studded tires designed to grip ice. For the most part I’ve spent winters riding the rollers or heading out on a bike with fenders after the roads have been plowed. The winter of 2015-2016 broke me, with 110 inches of snowfall it made the roads extremely narrow and riding on the road was precarious at best.

One of the great things about Boston is we have a great network of bike paths throughout many of the major metro areas. While they do plow, they’re rarely salted leaving them to be a sheet of ice which each thaw and re-freeze. Most cities in the Boston metro do a great job of plowing, making studded tires not necessary if you stick to riding in the city. Lately, I’ve grown tired of dealing with escalated drivers and prefer the serenity of an empty icy-bike path.

I did my research on studded tires and the 45NRTH Xerves seemed to fit my needs perfectly. It’s a 700×30 tire that will fit most cyclocross, touring and hybrid bicycles with ease and clear most fenders. The narrow width also makes it great for cutting through fresh snow. It features a fast rolling center with studs on the side to keep you planted when it gets slick. They come in both 120tpi folding and 33tpi wire bead versions. The 120 TPI will set you back quite a bit at $120 per tire. I opted for the 33tpi wire bead as they were considerably less at $75 per tire. It’s still not cheap, but if you’ve ever crashed on ice it’s well worth it. We generally have 2-3 cold months of the year, so you’ll definitely get more than one season out of them. Consider the fact that a Charlie Card (Boston’s Public Transit) is $84.50 a month.

I’m on my second season with the Xerves. Having never used studded tires I was not sure what to expect, but the Xerves have blown away every expectation or misconception I’ve had about riding studded tires. I will admit that the 33 tip wire bead versions are stiff, but I wants expecting anything less and as a tire I spend limited time on I’m fine with that. I figured studded tires would slow and scary to ride on clean pavement, however the Xerves are not. Having studs only on the side knobs means you don’t feel or hear the studs unless you’re cornering. The Xerves have a wide range of recommend pressure 35-70 psi meaning you can fine tune the ride for the conditions. At high pressure these tires only have a bit more resistance than a standard commuting tire. It continues to blow me away how fast these tires are and how well they feel at 60 psi.

You will need to drop the pressure for the studs to dig in on ice. For snowy days and super slick bike paths, I’ll tend to run 40 psi. My first experience riding these tires on ice was a near religious experience. On a cold night coming home from work I decided to hunt out some sheet ice along the charles river. It was so cold that brakes froze and I couldn’t stop, but out on the ice I tried to make the bike slide sideways and while it start to drift the the studs would bolster you and keep the rubber side down. It’s truly ludicrous what you can get away with on these tires.

While these tires aren’t cheap, the satisfaction of knowing that no weather will force you to ride the bus to work is well worth it. You’re never confined to the trainer unless you want to be. You can zone out riding the bike path to work on a Monday without a single fear of slipping on ice. While others will swerve around ice patches you’ll ride straight through them.

My xerves are on their second season and showing little signs of wear even after seeing mainly clean pavement. The tire I was using as a rear showed some tread wear and was missing some studs. Thankfully 45NRTH sells replacement studs and a handy tool that makes installing them a breeze. This is truly a 5 out 5 product and a must buy if you’re more likely to go outside in the winter than to stay cooped up.