Bay Area Bike Share

Though California might be seen as a progressive state, San Francisco was relatively late to the party in setting up a public bike sharing system (maybe not for the US, but compared with other global cities).

Launched in 2013, there are 700 or so stations in San Francisco and Silicon Valley and 4,500 bikes for hire. 

It is available only for adults (not cool for teenagers), who have pre-registered, and is intended for short point to point rides, rather than all day hire. 

The bikes look like the standard, solid, heavy urban rental bike, similar to the Parisian Velib’. Step-through frame, adjustable saddle, chain and spoke guards, grip shifters (my nemesis) and hub gears, flat pedals with reflectors, slick tyres and mudgards (fenders). The stations repurpose 2-4 cars each, replacing them with parking for I guess 15-30 bicycles. 

Not having used it, I can’t say how well it works, but didn’t notice anyone riding one while I was in town. Nonetheless I think this is a good initiative, even if it takes a while to build traction (by generally improving the cycling environment and cyclist safety). 

Velobrico Rides: San Francisco to Tiburon, CA, USA

I had a lot of travel with work this month, so what a good excuse to go for rides in exotic places. This time it’s San Francisco! ​


Not the ideal city for cycling you might think, given it’s hilly, but in reality that’s no issue at all.

I mentioned it before, but this is the first time I tried Strava Local, where a few rides were suggested of varying difficulty.

We opted for a “medium ” difficulty ride, particularly given we brought no cycling gear at all. I’d be doing this ride in full-on tourist mode. Jeans, trainers and backpack!

My buddy found a bike rental place very close to our hotel, downtown near Union Square, called “Blazing Saddles” (like the movie). They only had “supermarket” bikes, but all in good working order, disc brakes, triple chainrings, basic suspension and 700c “off-road” fat touring tires. The bike I was given had a suspension seat post, which I asked to be replaced with a standard seat post, fearing it would annoy me on the ride.

Blazing Saddles had a very slick operation and very quickly and clearly explained everything we needed to know, provided maps, ferry tickets if needed, and adjusted the bikes to fit. In Europe this would have taken three times longer, but in the US this sort of thing seems a well oiled machine! (no, I wasn’t paid to say that)

We headed off onto Market Street and out west towards Panhandle, climbing up some gentle hills before stopping at a small neighbourhood breakfast place near Ashbury. SF was still waking up, so very little traffic to contend with at this point.

Lots of cyclists (full-on lycra posse) passed while we were having breakfast, presumably starting out on the same route. So I guess there is a good weekend cycling culture here after all.

After our fill of granola (muesli), fruit juice and latte macchiato (coffee is every cyclist’s best friend – even unsuitably dressed tourist cyclists), we headed off in earnest.

Weaving through small streets and past pretty wooden townhouses we soon reached Panhandle, then Golden Gate Park, where by now a few joggers and families were enjoying the sunshine.


Before long we passed a beautiful waterfall, banks of colourful flowers, a windmill (?!) and reached… the Pacific Ocean!

Arriving under cloud cover and a fresh wind, in 10 minutes this morphed into clear blue skies and warm sunshine. The climate is very changeable here, but this glorious spring weather stuck with us for the rest of the day (hello sunburn).

The water was way too cold for swimming so we dipped a toe, hung around a bit, then headed on.

We rounded the headland to the north, climbing a small hill and onto a coastal path winding through light forest before reaching a golf course and the road back inland towards the Golden Gate Bridge.

After figuring out which side of the bridge was for pedestrians and which for cyclists, we headed over this iconic landmark, then looped underneath it on the north side and continued to Sausalito along some quiet roads.

These quiet country roads would feature for the rest of our ride, with beautiful views of the San Francisco bay, and huge banks of various spring flowers and the strongly perfumed clouds of scent coming off them. Magical stuff.

We continued north, saw a Lacrosse game in action (a first for me), and came to a crossroads. While studying our now crinkled and sweaty map, a lady came over to us and offered her assistance. She suggested we visit Mill Valley, which we hadn’t planned to do. Feeling energetic, we took her advice and headed east, following vague (forgotten) directions.

Steep, narrow, winding roads followed and we probably caused some nuisance to the drivers looking to pass us (American pick up trucks are HUGE and ubiquitous), but all were patient and friendly.

Feeling (looking) hot and lost, a driver volunteered directions, which sent us down a back lane and into some stunning Redwood forest. Sadly I was so blown away I didn’t take any photos…!

We looped back and continued north, heading to Larkspur for lunch. By this point, I guess we had ventured beyond the range of your average tourist, and at a traffic light another lady driver inquired what we were doing, and found us very brave (foolish) to be heading up our intended hill.

Foolhardy as always, we continued and found the climb (Camino Alto) to be pretty gentle after all. Easily done on our supermarket bikes.

At some point I picked up a tiny eight-legged hitchhiker.

We continued after lunch and circled the peninsula to Tiburon, which by now was teeming, to await our ferry back to SF.

We started all the way over there…

At this point my friend revealed he had never ridden more than 20kms in a single ride!

No fuss, no stress. What a legend!

So in summary, we enjoyed a sleepy city, powerful ocean, infinite views, beautiful spring flowers, towering dense Redwoods, small town America, friendly and curious locals, rolling Californian countryside, bustling marinas, a cool glass of local IPA, a ferry ride past Alcatraz and a sore bottom from a wide saddle not intended for hundreds of miles.

What a day!

I feel very fortunate indeed to have been able to enjoy this. A great experience that I can highly recommend.

Thanks California – you were awesome!

Check out our ride on Strava here!

Velobrico Rides: London to Oxford, UK

I was recently in London for work, which was a great opportunity to catch up with a friend and go for a ride. 

We worked out 100kms (c.70 miles) as a decent target and he suggested this route, from London to Oxford. 

I didn’t bring my bike with me (lugging a bike bag to meetings and on the Tube just isn’t workable), but luckily his bike was exactly my frame size and he would use his backup – a fixed gear bike for 100kms of rolling countryside, brave man!

I brought my shoes, pedals, helmet and clothes, switched out his pedals, adjusted the bike fit and off we went. 

The first thing I noticed was that the brakes were switched from how mine are set up. They were front/right, rear/left, which caused some confusion until I got used to it. Apparently this is to keep your strongest hand on the strongest brake while signalling left? Though this doesn’t make sense to me as signalling right (across UK traffic) seems more important than signalling left. But maybe I’m missing something.

We cycled from east London to Liverpool St, put the bikes on the Metropolitain line and headed towards the western edge of London, to Ruislip. 

It was quite strange riding in traffic, crossing junctions and roundabouts (rotaries) on the “wrong ” side of the road, though once upon a time it was completely normal for me (memories of delivering newspapers on Sunday mornings in northern England…)!

We met up with some other friends on arrival and started the ride. 

How lovely the British countryside is (in good weather)! I had a good dose of nostalgia riding along country lanes, between sheep fields, past classic British cars, over narrow bridges, past wandering pheasants, through quaint villages and past (seemingly infinite) country pubs. 

We passed through the grounds of Waddesdon Manor, a beautiful stately home, with a curated estate. The best road surface we saw all day!

My friend planned for lunch at a cyclist-friendly country pub in a village called Quainton (yes really) where we enjoyed a pint of ale, some pub grub, chatted with some other cyclists and enjoyed the warm spring sunshine. 

We chatted about Brexit, the (then) upcoming triggering of article 50, the atmosphere in the UK around that, briefly about the terrorist incident at the Houses of Parliament. There’s a lot going on in current affairs and seemingly some anxiety about the short term future. But we also talked about coffee, bikes, food, family, friends and all that good stuff. 

In the restroom I spotted a vending machine selling this. 

For cyclists or something else 😂? 

We continued the ride, fuelled by cake, espresso, beer, and pub lunch, and arrived in the beautiful university town of Oxford by late afternoon. Unfortunately I didn’t take any photos as I was distracted looking for the train station. 

Caught the train back to London, stopping at a shopping outlet centre where hundreds of Chinese, Indian, Arabic and African tourists boarded the train clutching bags with designer labels. Apparently the second most visited tourist destination in the UK after Buckingham Palace 😳. Who’d have guessed? 

Quite a bizarre combination – sweaty, tired cyclists and luxury goods-bearing tourists 😄. 

Back in London, night had fallen and evening rush hour had arrived. My friend took is on a quiet route that snaked through little side streets to east London, all but avoiding the congestion. We earned the next days’s full English breakfast.

Everyone had slightly different bikes (titanium fixie, steel tourer, aluminium sportive, steel canti-brake flat bar tourer) and varying experience levels but we rode at a pace that suited all, had no technical difficulties. 

There was no talk of KOM/QOM, no FTP, no HIIT, no BS. 

Just friends, the road, the ride. 
Perfect. 

Google bikes

I was at Google’s campus in California this week. 

Great to see they encourage cycling for employees with these fun branded bikes. 


Tandems

I thought tandems were pretty straightforward.

Then I saw these!

Punch magazine, 1955

Carnival!

I recently took the family to Basel carnival. 

It’s an annual festival and local public holiday in Basel, Switzerland. 

Great fun and complete madness as the city dedicates itself to making noise, mischief and silliness for three days. It’s great to see the typically reserved Swiss let it all loose.

There are parades with “waggis” (people in fancy dress wearing clownish masks) throwing sweets to children, flowers to ladies and other random stuff to anyone they fancy (alcohol, bananas, potatoes…) as they travel through the city on floats, usually with some political theme (Brexit, Trump and Erdogan predictably popular lampooning targets this year), followed by drummers and flautists.

But mostly there’s confetti. Bags and bags and bags of confetti. Kids chase after random strangers, stuffing it in clothes, down jumpers and in hair. It fills the streets like snow. 

It’s great fun and I expect to find bits of confetti in my pockets for some time yet!