Night Riders: Hundreds of Cyclists Bike Marathon Route at Midnight

By Mikaela Lefrak
BU News Service

It sounds like the opening line of a bad joke: At midnight, a sock monkey, a giraffe, and two fairies hopped on their bikes and began a 26.2-mile ride.

They were among about 500 bicyclists, many in costume, riding the route of the Boston Marathon as part of the Midnight Marathon Bike Ride the night before the race.

“It’s a fun opportunity to get the whole biking community together and go out and support the Boston Marathon,” said Emily Welsh, a graduate student at Boston University, wearing a helmet decorated with a dozen glow sticks.

“Last year we met tons of interesting people doing interesting things,” said the sock monkey, who declined to give his real name. He said he would also be volunteering at the Marathon, though not in costume.

The ride is a community-organized event, founded six years ago by local cyclist Greg Hum with Boston SOS – also known as the Societies of Spontaneity or the Society of Shenanigans – which organizes other off-the-wall events like the annual no-pants subway ride on the T.

The Boston Athletic Association does not officially authorize or oversee the event, though ride organizers said they met little resistance from the Marathon organizers in the past. Last year, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Association (MBTA) provided a commuter rail to get riders and their bikes to the start of the route in Hopkinton.

Relations with race organizers soured a bit this year, after Marathon officials and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) cancelled the commuter train to reduce potential safety hazards, in light of the bombings at the finish line last year. Three weeks ago, The Boston Globe quoted the MBTA as calling the midnight ride “an accident waiting to happen.”

However, in a subsequent meeting between ride organizers and MEMA officials, an agreement was reached that the ride itself should continue.

“We came to the conclusion that statements discouraging the ride would do more harm than good,” Hum wrote in an open letter to the public posted on the Boston SoS website. “We have come to an understanding of each other’s concerns; that MEMA has a responsibility to think about public safety, and that Midnight Marathon will continue regardless of what we say.”

When they rolled down Boylston Street in the early morning hours, riders were unable to cross the actual finish line. Finishers settled for photo ops from a few blocks away, with Marathon street banners in the background. Many triumphantly held their bikes over their heads.

After the ride, hundreds of riders biked to the Boston Common Coffee Co. for a pancake breakfast, a fundraiser for the Home Away Fund. At 3 a.m., bikers were still pouring in for warm food and drink and to share stories with other riders.

James Cobalt of Boston SoS, a ride organizer, said that the continuation of the Midnight Marathon this year was particularly important to him. “One of the main reasons I started organizing these kind of offbeat socials was from a concern over the way the enjoyment of public spaces was being eroded in the name of security,” he said. Though they had to make concessions to various authorities regarding the ride route and transportation, the community maintained the magic of the ride.

“It’s in the gathering at the start, the cheering, the strangers fixing flats, the high fives at the top of Heartbreak Hill, the hugs at the finish, and the carbs in the pancake breakfast right after,” he said.

An informal survey of riders at Boston Common Coffee Co. revealed one conclusion shared by many: they were far happier biking the distance than running it.

“Having done the ride last year and this year, I have a far greater appreciation for the people who actually run it,” said one biker named Tim, as he got ready to cycle home. “It’s amazing what they do.”

Would he ever run it himself?

“No way.”

Cyclists in costumes preparing to bike the Boston Marathon route.
Cyclists in costumes preparing to bike the Boston Marathon route.