I spent this weekend doing a lot of biking in San Francisco, which is a great way to get to know the city and to get around. I've been told that SF is one of the great biking cities in the United States. But it's famous hills and narrow, windy streets were wee bit intimidating.
I ride a Brompton folder bike, the finest collapsible bike known to man. My Brommie S-type, three-speed has transported me through several countries in a wide range of riding conditions, from the snowy hills of Geneva to the asphalt jungle of the South Bronx. That said, it's small wheel base and three speeds mean that it's not ideal for hilly conditions.
On Friday I did a several-hour ride along the bay from Mission Bay to the Golden Gate Bridge and back. Most of the ride was on bike paths, with a few sections sharing the road with regular traffic and others on wide sidewalks with pedestrians. Note that the ride out to the bridge was for the most part into a headwind, which was kind of a drag but manageable for a reasonably fit rider.
The stretch from Bay Bridge to the Embarcadero is really lovely and leisurely, although typically crowded with tourists and joggers. There is a bike path along the Embarcadero roadway, but riding on the wide sidewalk is so much nicer if slower. I couldn't resist stopping for a coffee at Blue Bottle in the Ferry Building, which created a 15-minute delay, but totally worth it for a perfect macchiato.
The next big stop is Fort Mason park. At the entrance to the park, you encounter a dramatic swoopy pier that's like a giant quotation mark jutting out from Gashouse Cove. You should rest up here, because after this is a long climb up a steep hill into the Fort Mason park. I and most other bikers gave up and walked up the steep grade, which isn't very long but kind of discouraging. That said, this is the worst hill on the bay bike ride, so the rest is gravy. (Or at least, you can tell yourself that as you struggle up the hill.)
There's another nice stretch from East Beach to Crissy Fields. Taking Mason Street is faster, but the gravelly path is a better view. Mountain bikes and hybrids will of course have a better time of it here, but my Brompton handled herself admirably. Lots of great places to stop and rest and take pictures here.
The Warming Hut is the next major landmark on this ride, up a slight grade and offering a nice place to get a snack and catch the view. There's a pier that was full of fishermen when I was there. Despite the "no bikes" sign, I walked my Brompton out for a better view — not recommended. I got a lot of dirty looks from the fishermen, who clearly did not want their territory infringed upon by a sweaty biker. And you have to be careful you don't get wacked with a fishing pole when they cast off!
Less than a mile away is the Golden Gate Bridge. Along Marine Drive, you can turn left up a steep hill to head to the bridge itself. Or you turn right to a lovely lookout point featuring what locals call "Hoppers Hands," a small tribute to the bridge workers who have saved the lives of people attempting to commit suicide off the bridge.
The ride back was a breeze, particularly since I opted for Mason Street to bypass the gravel path and surface streets from Crissy Field to Fisherman's Wharf. I got back to Fort Mason just 30 minutes before the opening of the super-trendy "Off the Grid" food truck gathering every Friday evening.
At the 5pm opening time, I rushed over to the most popular food truck Chairman Bao, which already had a line of about 25 people ahead of me! Chairman Bao makes the most amazing artisinal bao sandwiches, each one a tiny, tasty treasure. I had the pork belly, ginger chicken and garlicky tofu ones, each one better than the last. A sisig taco from Señor Sisig rounded out my dinner selections. Probably a bit heavy for a bike ride, but so worth it.
Finally I rolled back to Mission Bay, happy and full, as the sun went down over the Bay. A highly recommended bike ride.
My next ride: "The Wiggle"!