From April 14, 2013 Boston Sunday’s Globe Edition
By Martine Powers . Boston Globe Staff
Before racers on foot and by wheelchair and handcycle take to the Boston Marathon route, they will be preceded by another parade of athletes: cyclists, who wake up Monday morning to ride in informal groups from Hopkinton to Copley Square.
But those cyclists often flirt with early-morning road closures, sometimes streaming through the course after police officers have proclaimed roads barred to traffic.
And police say they have just about had it.
“When the roads close, the roads close,” said Wellesley Police Chief Terrence M. Cunningham. “It doesn’t mean we close it for bikes to ride all the way through.”
Law enforcement officials concerned about the safety of marathon volunteers and gathering spectators say they are cracking down on cyclists who take to the roads in the hours before the marathon. Police say they plan to take more aggressive measures this year to wave riders off the route or block their entry onto the course.
Waking up early on Marathon Monday to cycle the 26.2 miles — and sometimes making a round trip of it — is a decades-long tradition. In recent years, the tradition has received an unconventional twist: The Midnight Marathon, when hundreds ride under cover of darkness.
The problem, police say, is when cyclists wait too late in the morning to embark on their rides, hitting stretches of the route after they’re officially closed. For Hopkinton and Ashland, that’s 7:30 a.m. In Framingham, Wellesley, and Natick, it’s 8:45 a.m.
“You turn around to pick up a case of water or a spool of rope,” Cunningham said, “and there’s 30 or 40 or 50 bicyclists coming at you.”
David Watson, executive director of the Massachusetts Bicycle Coalition, a statewide bike advocacy group, said he hasn’t heard recent complaints about bike riders being on the marathon route, but urged people considering the ride to start early enough to avoid road closures, to pay attention to police, and to watch out for people in the streets making preparations for the competition.
“It isn’t a race,” Watson said. “It’s a fun ride, and there’s no reason to be rushing along the course and not paying attention to what’s going on.”
The brushes with police have been damaging to a community often stereotyped as scofflaws — and that can hardly afford more bad publicity.
It may be unfair, Cunningham said, but cyclists’ behavior — especially on a high-profile day like Marathon Monday — is held to a high standard than motorists’.
“I certainly don’t think that it helps improve their image,” Cunningham said. “People will look at these cyclists and say, ‘There they are again, disregarding the rules.’ ”
Lieutenant Brian C. Grassey of the Natick Police said cyclists have prevented officers from safely closing the streets on time, especially because police are simultaneously dealing with confused drivers, race volunteers, and hordes of spectators who begin camping out on the route in the wee hours.
“There’s a lot going on,” Grassey said. “It’s an added impediment to the day.”
Grassey said he understands the appeal of whizzing up and down Heartbreak Hill so close to the start of the race.
“A lot of people enjoy doing that,” Grassey said, “but it’s not appropriate for the way the day is supposed to go.”
It’s a problem that the Boston Athletic Association, which hosts the Boston Marathon, has noticed for years.
“We are aware of the cyclists on the road. We have encouraged them every year to not do their ride,” said Marc Davis, spokesman for the Boston Athletic Association.
It’s a regular topic at marathon planning meetings, Davis said.
“In the end, if they are on the streets prior to the roads being officially closed, then they have the right to be there,” Davis said.
An alternative for riders who would otherwise embark at morning’s first light is the Midnight Marathon, which has recently garnered increased interest after ride organizers planned for a special cyclists-only train provided by the Massachusetts Bay Commuter Railroad.
But even that ride, Cunningham said, is technically illegal, because of a Massachusetts law that cyclists can ride only two abreast on roads.
Police don’t make a fuss, Cunningham said, but sometimes struggle to find enough officers to escort the cyclists during an off-peak hour.
Still, there’s no end in sight for that ride or many others taken in the hours leading up to the race.
This will be the 28th year for the “Hal’s Annual Boston Marathon Day Bike Ride,” which last year brought more than 80 people to the course. They start in Copley Square at 6 a.m. and ride to the marathon’s official starting line and back — 52.4 miles in all — finishing by 9 or 9:30 a.m.
Julio Salado, one of the ride’s organizers, said the group has never had problems with police.
“They don’t obstruct us,” Salado said, “and they expect us to be there.”
“We don’t expect any problems, and we don’t cause any problems,” Salado continued. “We just ride.”