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Biking Boston’s Neighborhoods – by Charlotte Canelli

Charlotte Canelli is library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Read her column in the Norwood Transcript and Bulletin each Thursday. Read past columns here.

My husband and I have recently rediscovered the joys of old-fashioned, two-wheeled, human-propelled biking. Both of us learned to ride clunky one-speed Schwinns over a half-century ago. We eventually moved on to the newer 10-speeds in our teens and abandoned them for decades.

This summer we smartly invested in newfangled 21st century machines. These bikes, called hybrids, have lots of complicated gears, comfortable seats, sturdy tires, safe handbrakes and front-end shock absorbers. They are relatively inexpensive and are truly enjoyable.

I wrote recently about the wonderful off-road rail trails in New England that we’ve discovered on our weekend jaunts. Our biking excursions have grown in length; some of our now-favorite rail trails are 25 miles roundtrip. So we energetically took a leap on Sept. 26 and joined over 4,000 other bicyclists at one of Boston’s favorite events, Hub on Wheels.

You have until the morning of the ride to choose between three different loops – 10, 30 or 50 miles.

We chose what you might call the Mama Bear route. Not too short, not too long – just right. Delightfully, my eldest daughter, a triathlete who had recommended the biking event to us, shaved the additional 20 miles off her normal ride to join us.

While the Hub on Wheels (hubonwheels.org) event was created in 2005, it became the highlight of Mayor Menino’s Boston Bikes Program in 2007.

The event is a fundraiser for worthy causes. This year 500 volunteers organized thousands of riders.  Funds raised supported Technology Goes Home, a program which helps students in Boston’s public schools get the technology they need.

Fundraising is not the only goal, however. Showcasing Boston’s neighborhoods to riders from near and far across New England is the second.

Lined up at the start, all 4,000 of us began at 1 City Hall Plaza, quickly cutting through Beacon Hill to Storrow Drive, which was closed to traffic in both directions.

After making a U-turn at Soldier’s Field Road, all bikers headed back toward Government Center. However, those of us who were 30- and 50-mile riders went off to the south traveling through the Emerald Necklace: the Fens, along the Jamaicaway Path to the west of Mission Hill, and further south to the Arnold Arboretum.

At that point our much hardier companions, the 50-milers, veered further south to ride through Hyde Park. (They later met back up with those of us who know better than to push our limits.)

Our ride became much hillier through Forest Hills Cemetery and Franklin Park, skirting the northerly boundaries of Mattapan. A third rest stop greeted us in Codman Square, Dorchester, but we were pumped and we continued straight east toward the notorious gas tanks near Neponset Avenue, Morrissey Boulevard and Savin Hill Cove.

Dorchester Bay breezes bathed our faces on the oceanfront side of UMass-Boston and the JFK Museum. At the Carson Beach rest stop we grabbed drinks and snacks before continuing north on the Harbor Walk. We ended the ride after traveling on Columbia Road, Summer Street, Northern and Eastern avenues and State Street, back to the center of Boston.

There are 21 well-defined boundaries that are used by the city for services and programs for Boston’s population. We rode through many of those official neighborhoods that morning. More informally, though, there are an additional 84 smaller neighborhoods within the larger ones.

Dorchester has 19 sub-districts and squares, including Columbia Point, Upham’s Corner and the Polish Triangle. Downtown Boston boasts 10 neighborhoods including the Theater District, Haymarket Square and Bulfinch Triangle. Fort Point, City Point and Andrew Square all call South Boston their home.

No matter what town or city we were from, we were all Bostonians that day. All along our ride, volunteers and bystanders stood in all these local enclaves cheering us on and pointing us in the right direction. Several times I was met by a smiling face at the top of a hill assuring me that I was halfway there or that I only had 10 more miles to go. It was one of the most delightful three-hour tours of Boston I will ever experience.

Two books are handy guides to carry with you when visiting Boston’s neighborhoods. Tie on your walking shoes and bring along “WalkBoston: Walking Tours of Boston’s Unique Neighborhoods” by the Appalachian Mountain Club. Or get out your wallet and bring your appetite and discover “Boston Neighborhoods: A Food Lover’s Walking, Eating, and Shopping Guide to Ethnic Enclaves In and Around Boston” by Lynda Morgenroth.

The Junior League of Boston published “Boston Uncommon: A Culinary Journey through Boston’s Distinctive Neighborhoods” in 2007, if you would like to recreate a bit of the city in your own kitchen.

Or perhaps you’d like to visit by simply sitting in a cozy chair in a corner of your home in your own neighborhood. Jordan Worek presents his insights and the photographs of Bill Horsman in a brand new book, “Boston,” published by Firefly Books.

The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston” includes profiles of the city by Susan Orlean, Howard Bryant and Anita Diamant.

A Home in the Heart of a City” is written by Kathleen Hirsch and might well be called a love letter to her 5.5 square-mile neighborhood of Jamaica Plain. Peter Medoff and Holly Sklar write about Roxbury’s Dudley Square in “Streets of Hope: The Fall and Rise of an Urban Neighborhood,” a chronicle of a neighborhood that has witnessed rebirth.

Born Before Plastic: Stories from Boston’s Most Enduring Neighborhoods” was published by Grub Street in 2007 and includes tales from Roxbury, the North End and Southie.

For help searching for these titles, visit the Morrill Memorial Library, call the reference librarians (781-769-0200) or visit the Minuteman Library Catalog on our website, http://norwoodlibrary.org.

Charlotte Canelli is library director of the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Read her entire article in this week’s Norwood Transcript and Bulletin

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