Driving and Biking in the Big City

Biking in the big city – this time San Francisco

with 4 comments

HighI love a city that is truly biker friendly, and San Francisco is. By the time I’d finished my adventure of riding over the Golden Gate Bridge today, I’d seen most of the city and truly felt like I’d sampled a slice of what it would be like to live in the City by the Bay.  And I would love it. The weather was great for this sweaty Houston sauna rider, and the bike lanes were perfect. I can’t imagine what that would look like in Houston, but it would be nice to try.

As my legs begin to turn to stone from about six hours in the saddle, I wonder if I didn’t make my first mistake when I wore an MS 150 t-shirt. The concierge thought it would be no problem for me to go to the nearby Pacific Bike Shop and do the entire excursion on two wheels. The other option would have been to rent at Fisherman’s Wharf and ride a couple of three miles on the way to the bridge and then the mile or so over it. So at least half of what I rode.

Looking up.

Looking up.

The Pacific Bike Shop folks were quite nice and helpful and thought I was up to it, too. I think this happened when I told them I was from Houston. Everyone presumes their city is kinder than Houston and may be correct.  However, he warned me of the “aggressive” drivers. Hmm, I thought. I know aggressive drivers. Well, he said, it’s both the bike riders and the car drivers. As a matter of fact, he said, they have a bit of a feud going on, and I saw two examples of this – one pretty heart-stopping. The first was a driver-biker altercation over a driver being on her cellphone. Whatever was the initial concern, both ladies were too busy shouting at each other to notice they had clogged both car and bike traffic. I won’t even mention the levels of intelligence they were suggesting for each other.

The other nail-biter was a biker who was going a million miles an hour to cross this intersection, sweeping right by my already-stopped-nicely self. This was later in my adventure and after I’d come to understand the dilemma of San Francisco biking. Because San Francisco is so hilly, a biker wants to pace him or herself to miss red lights. The best biking scenario means keeping up a good pace so that you can take the next hill. I saw one guy who could balance on his bike at full stop and for several minutes so that he could pedal onward without a pause. Well, this speeding biker zoomed into the intersection in front of me after the light was completely red in our lane and as cars revved up and headed full speed across the intersection. His agility and brakes were remarkable. He did a full U-turn, reminiscent of Steve McQueen and “Bullitt” on four wheels (get the San Francisco reference?) and returned to his rightful place of waiting. I would have been killed. Seriously. He could have been killed pretty easily. He was a great biker but not a share-the-road type and you heard plenty of honking and shouting until all concerned had passed.

The most interesting cycling feature San Francisco has adopted is this wild, middle-of-the-road bike lane. It’s not true mostly. But, when you come to a thoroughfare-type street with several lanes, the bike path will go to the very middle so that drivers can make their right turns easier. Makes sense, but it took me a bit to get up my nerve to join the hubbub with cars whirring on both sides of me.

So, I biked straight down Folsom from the bike shop all the way to the Bay. Fortunately, an experienced cycler soon passed me and I had her to lead the way. She was pretty friendly and showed me the rules of my new roads, waving me off when she finally had to turn and go her own way. It was perfect role-modeling to get my confidence up for the craziness of Fisherman’s Wharf.

The trek down Embarcadero was an adventure in itself with people-watching as good as or better than I’ve seen (and that includes New Orleans). Three young traveling troubadours with laden cycles, backpacks and musical instruments pulled in front of me at one point, singing and occasionally playing a flute.  My bike shop friends had warned me that it would be crowded with tourists and street vendors, and it was. That’s where I learned that I had excellent brakes on my rental.

As soon as I spotted the beautiful blue-green bay, I saw the Bay Bridge and thought, for a brief moment, that this was going to be too easy. The Golden Gate must be one of the most recognizable landmarks in the world so it didn’t take me long to figure out that I still had a way to go.

The Golden Gate Bridge winks through the fog.

The Golden Gate Bridge winks through the fog.

And, that’s what was most confusing. Just like a trip to the mountains, you don’t truly know how far away they are. That was the case of the misty laden golden beauty who would peak in and out of the fog to give you a peek at her beautiful long lines and girders. At one point, I snapped a photo, sending it to family and suggesting it was about a mile away. It was still at least three miles at that point.

We won’t even mention the steep bike paths in many, many places along the way there. Embarrassingly, I had to get off my rented friend and push, more than once. And one of those times, I couldn’t even get off the bike without going backwards. I didn’t quite fall but I came close and had some weird new bicycling experiences because of the unfamiliar landscape and pretty big, high performance bike. One false move and I’d have been rolling down an incline, leaving most of my skin on the pavement. I saw it happen to one poor tourist and, because of two bad wrecks in my history, was quite cautious.

And finally, I was there. It was pretty cool and not so crowded that I was put off. I had some long passages alone and certainly could stand forever taking in the sights. The bridge itself is high enough that I got a bit weak kneed when I walked to the edge. Today was incredibly windy, and I had to hold on to my camera and sweatshirt.

So then it was time to go home. I would like to say the trip downhill was a breeze, and it was certainly easier. I controlled my bike, though, and never got going too fast.  In the end, the trip had enough newness and danger to make it fun but not too scary.  Definitely one to mark off the bucket list.


Written by commuterchroniclesdbh

June 7, 2013 at 9:02 pm

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Wow, brave sole biking the streets of SF!


    June 8, 2013 at 6:26 am

    • It wasn’t so bad, Barb, and a great way to really see the city. After I got to the hotel, I wished I’d stayed out longer. Those bike lanes are great and there are so many bike riders it feels like cars are watching for you.


      June 8, 2013 at 6:55 am

  2. Denise Hensley,

    I am so proud of you. What a unique way to appreciate San Francisco.


    June 8, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    • I’ve got to tell you that, in my long life, San Francisco was one of my very favorite cities ever and I believe it’s because of the biking equality. I feel like I really saw the city and got to be pretty independent as a tourist. Just about the most fun I’ve had without Big Johnny by my side.


      June 10, 2013 at 4:32 pm

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: